Historical Christadelphian Approaches - 11

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Index of Early Genesis, A review of historical Christadelphian approaches

by Bro Ken Chalmers, January, 2016

11. Conclusions

11.1 What is certain

The following sets out what is certain based on the aforegoing review:

  • There is universal agreement within our community with the majesty of the Genesis opening, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”!
  • There is not, nor ever has been, agreement amongst us that “this creation was created by our Father 6,000 years ago in six literal days”.
  • The former position has never been one which was considered a ‘true principle’ or essential, defining a basis of fellowship.
  • As the foregoing paper has shown, there have been many views over the past 150 years of our community’s history concerning what ‘the beginning’ was, when it was, the age of the universe and the earth, when creation occurred, including the Gen 1 creation, over what timeframe creation may have occurred and how God may have done it.
  • Most, if not all, the views expressed are speculative! Most, if not all, have the “open question” approach. Our early brethren discussed and wrote about how the record should be read in the context of current discovery during their day. Their position was left ‘open’ for the simple reason that man’s discoveries and his interpretations of them, were constantly changing.

11.2 Why not ‘further explain’ our Statement of Faith?

Once again, have events in the past provided us with guidance on current circumstances and difficulties? In a similar troubling time in our community 50 years ago, the editor of the Christadelphian magazine expressed himself as follows:

“I do not purport to know what means the Almighty chose to use in the creation nor how long a period of time any part of it may have occupied. I do not regard the statement ‘that God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ as giving a literal description of the methods used, nor do I question that some measure of interpretation must be brought to bear in understanding the early chapters of Genesis . . .  We therefore must be honest with ourselves in recognizing that some measure of interpretation in the reading of the early chapters of Genesis is inevitable, and it would be unreasonable to try to fix that interpretation precisely at the level of science of a hundred years ago. Belief in every word of Holy Writ does not necessarily mean belief in every word in its most literal sense, or we should believe literally that ‘the devil goes about as a roaring lion . . . ‘ ” [1]

He continued later in the same editorial as follows:

“The dangers confronting us—as perhaps always in the history of the Truth—are thus twofold. On the one hand, brethren who are devout students with a great knowledge of Scripture may come to view it (creation) through spectacles so tinted with the human wisdom of our time as to be unable to see it in its simplicity, and so to import into it a subtle bent which confirms it more to the image of this world. Something very like this did happen in the early centuries with disastrous results to the Faith. On the other hand, a large proportion of our community are so fearful of this danger, and so aware of their own inability to deal with intellectual subtleties that they may throw us into the opposite extreme where there is no room for fresh thinking of any kind, and any attempt to let Scripture speak to us afresh and make its own impact would be suppressed in favour of adherence to particular forms of words and modes of expression which are hallowed by association with the past. Many of us who view with deep distrust some of the ideas put forward in recent times regard also with misgiving the more extreme reactions aroused against them. . . . 

“The unhappy state of the Brotherhood at the present time is recognized on all hands, and little good purpose is served by allotting blame. The solution is not to be found in formulae which say either too much or too little. Either they attempt so to define belief as to force one limited interpretation where there should be reasonable scope for difference, or they use a form of words which, whether the framers see it or not, can be used to cover a wide diversity of beliefs. Yet the distraction from our major aims and tasks; the distress of mind cause to earnest but unsophisticated souls—including, perhaps, a large proportion of our sisters; the sense of distrust of brethren and the growing intensity of feeling, are evils which reproach us deeply in days when we may be very near the end of our sojourn in this order of things.

“The solution is certainly not in division with all its evils. Those who have had experience of the past know how little Christ and his truth are likely to be served by that course.”[2]

A more recent editor expressed himself similarly about matters not contained in the Statement of Faith:

“Such subjects must not be introduced to determine fellowship; individuals and ecclesias who wish to do so risk separating themselves from the Brotherhood whose fellowship is based solely on the teachings included in the Statement of Faith.”[3]

Presumably statements of elaboration or clarification should be viewed similarly as inadvisable strategies in dealing with such issues.

11.3 Addressing problems – respectfully and effectively

Again, in providing advice that might be even more relevant now, our earlier brethren, in identifying issues that were of concern and needed discussion, have suggested what is needed and the spirit which ought to be pursued as follows:

“We are strongly of the opinion that the problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgements that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times.”[4]

It is to be regretted that our brotherhood has not turned its attention to the solving of these difficulties at any time in the past 50 years. The current ‘discussion’ has grievously failed to observe the spirit which the Watford brethren expected and instead proposes, in some quarters, withdrawal if a particular view is not agreed and in similar quarters[5] misrepresents those amongst us who have views similar to those set out in some ‘propositions’ of previous writers (e.g. Alfred Norris). This is not how a community that claims to be ‘truth based’, should be “solving these difficulties”.

11.4 So what are the Problems?

We can summarise the problems which we have as follows:

  • Our past brethren have identified areas of concern where further discussion was required. The Watford statement above was set during a particular controversy concerning the origin of man. At about that time, the editor of the Christadelphian identified the topic as a problem that we needed to address (see The origin and existence of man). This discussion has never occurred.
  • We adopt adversarial positions characterised by ‘rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgements’ and behave so poorly that many ‘regard with misgiving the more extreme reactions aroused’ by attempts to raise and discuss issues that our forebears have indicated we must address.
  • We misrepresent contrary views, something which bro Islip Collyer has repeatedly addressed, for example:

“We may state most emphatically, however, that it is wrong to exaggerate the faults of anyone or to find ugly and misleading names with which to label those who do not quite see eye to eye with us. It is quite possible to be valiant for the Truth and zealous for the Lord without being unfair even to those who are mistaken, and it is always wrong to be unfair. In faithfulness we must point out the danger that in great zeal for the jots and tittles of the law men may lose sight of the foundation principles. All their faith and works may become valueless through lack of charity.”[6]

  • Our writers have repeatedly said that Genesis is not science. If we agree with this position, then why do we read it as if it must be consistent with our current ‘world view’ and scientific understanding?
  • We do not have an agreed definition of terms. For some brethren, ‘creation’ is an immediate and instantaneous act, whereas others see it, in effect, as Divine fiat expressing the Creator’s intention working inexorably to an ultimate outcome consistent with His creative word.
  • Because a significant proportion of our community has been persuaded that we believe in a literal six 24 hour days of creation approximately 6,000 years ago, that it is a ‘certain principle’ of our basis of fellowship and are either ignorant, or disagree with the range of views which others in our community have expressed over the past 140 years, conflict is inevitable.
  • We do not appear to have the honesty, as a community, to accept an earlier, highly esteemed editor’s advice, to accept the evidence if it is true and simply ‘revise somewhat’ our interpretation. Nor the advice of one of his successors that leaving some things as ‘open questions’ is not unreasonable.

11.5 A requirement for caution

Our past brethren seem to give us further example and advice for now, in that they have been very cautious and advised caution, in addressing these problems. The following is about aptitudes varying within our community, and also recognising the nature of the language that Genesis uses and how it may, or may not, be related to scientific discovery.

“Many of the community have no problems in their understanding of the early chapters of Genesis, but they must realize that others do find difficulty in interpreting them. We must remember that these chapters were written to convey essential basic teaching to many generations of God’s people living in very different environments. For centuries, indeed for millennia, these early chapters of Genesis have borne witness to God’s creative power and purpose, written in language which could be easily understood by all men and in this respect in contrast to the constantly changing character of scientific views. This teaching, if it were to instruct each generation, must be written in language they could all understand. A creation story written in the language of Victorian science would have been unintelligible to all earlier generations and out of date for subsequent generations. The early chapters of Genesis describe what God did and the results which followed God’s creative activities. It is important to recognize that the Divine modus operandi is not disclosed because believers do not need to know this. Those with scientific training may speculate on this, but in my judgment they are unwise if they attempt too detailed a reconciliation between Genesis and current scientific views.”[7]

In addition, the following excerpt draws attention to how a community ‘position’ may make less attractive the message of the gospel and potential conversion to Christ, for one who may have an aptitude and competence in science, and, while confidently assured that ‘in the beginning God created’, has a particular view on ‘how’ and ‘when’.

“There is a danger that by insisting on a particular interpretation of Genesis those exploring faith for the first time are given the impression that belief in God stands at odds with the scientific evidence. Placing such significance on this particular issue forces seekers and new believers to make a choice about an issue that is not the core of the gospel message. Did God form life with meaning and purpose? The Bible is clear: Yes he did. How did God form life? If the Bible does not give us grounds to be dogmatic, then perhaps neither should we be.”[8]

11.6 Some previous ‘concessions’

Some of our earlier brethren have raised ‘possibilities’ which may assist us fifty or so years later, in addressing these issues. Consider the following from well known writers in our community:

“The fact is that God’s activity as Creator is in no way being challenged, either explicitly or implicitly—just as the fact that it is He who sends the rain on the just and the unjust is in no way being questioned when the scientist’s explanation of rainfall is accepted, as surely as it is by all of us, daily, when we listen to the weather forecast. The real issue before us is whether (to use two much abused terms) ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’ are contradictory, or complementary, explanations of God’s activity as the Maker of all things. Traditionally, we have vigorously declared them to be contradictory. Now, a growing number among us are not so certain that this is so. What is not generally realized is that this section of our community is not an organized, self-confident group bent on converting the remainder to a new opinion, but a number of perplexed individuals, deeply loyal to the community, desperately anxious not to offend those who do not share their anguish—let alone transfer it to their minds—but who feel that they must be intellectually honest. What they ask of their brethren and sisters is not a change of viewpoint but a change of attitude. None would rejoice more than they if incontestable evidence were finally produced to warrant the most literal acceptance of Genesis.” [9]

“That the words in Genesis 1 in relation to ‘kinds’ do not suggest any sort of evolution is perfectly true. But it is obvious that if the words are to be pressed at all, the additional words ‘let the earth bring forth’ must be given equal attention. While those words, also, do not suggest how the earth was to bring forth its living burden, they do not exclude any mechanism consistent with the process occurring according to the will and commandment of God. As far as the words themselves go, they are as consistent with an evolutionary mechanism as with any other, provided that the guiding and directing hand of God in the matter is preserved. They tell us no more than that God intended and secured that the earth should be populated with a great diversity of living things each with its own characteristics, and they leave us with no certain knowledge as to how He accomplished this end.”[10]

“Even if the most extravagant claims of Darwin were ever conceded, creation would remain as great a wonder as ever. Selection must have something to select. There could be no beginning until there were living creatures in existence, no selection of profitable variations tending to improve eyesight until there was eyesight sufficiently good to be profitable. Selection does not produce anything. At the best it can only choose the best from that which has been produced. Evolution theorists have generally been conscious of the impossibility of explaining the origin of life on a material basis, and when the subject is closely investigated it become (sic) evident that each successive step presents exactly the same difficulty.”[11]

More recent writers in our community have expressed themselves similarly, as this example demonstrates:

“The widespread belief that we have to choose between evolution and creation is futile because it is not a question of one or the other but of balance between both.”[12]

11.7 Does our past approach give guidance for now?

It should be clear to the reader, that over the past 140 years, many different and divergent views have been held by our brethren. It seems extraordinarily odd, that were brethren C. C. Walker or L G Sargent alive today, that they would not be welcome in fellowship at one major Australian annual inter-ecclesial activity! Something is clearly wrong, when a contrived fellowship basis has this outcome!

So, is there benefit in future of actually approaching this, as a number of our forebears have done? Genesis is not a science textbook with a scientific explanation as to ‘how’ and ‘when’. So why do we keep behaving as if it is? Genesis teaches us “simply” that God created us, and that we are His creatures. The natural world declares His power and awesome prowess. But what it may, or may not tell us, has NOT been part of our belief system. Our baptismal questions require belief in God as our Creator. Consequently, we have allowed, within our community and fellowship since the days of brethren Thomas and Roberts, a broad range of views and ideas and have left them as ‘open questions’. The following seems to support this position:

“However God did it, and whatever modification in our thinking the discoveries of intelligent men may force upon us, that God did it indeed becomes clearer and clearer with every revelation of the complexity of that which has been done.”[13]

Perhaps concerning ourselves less with ‘how’ and ‘when’ and reflecting more on ‘why’ will engage us as a community and as individuals, in a more profitable exercise that will bring us as creatures closer to the awesome wonder of Him who is our Creator. The approach taken in bro Dan Weatherall’s book is relevant:

“The following chapters are not about how God created. Rather, the fundamental objective of this study is to understand why the Genesis creation is as it is. Conveniently, this stance has created for itself some clear and sensible limits to the scope of this study. If methods of creation and physical science are to be ignored then many topics are almost certainly outside the scope of this review. Matters such as Theistic Evolution, Young Earth Creationism, dinosaurs, the fossil record, the vapour canopy theory, a global or local flood ad infinitum, are at this juncture left by the wayside in the confidence that they are not the prime message of Genesis 1. Whatever we believe on these things, we should all, as honest Bible students, be able to unite around a study of the deeper significance of creation. As ‘the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy’ Romans 14:17), so too, the power of the Genesis creation is not chemistry, neither biology, nor indeed physics; but it is found in those same principles of righteousness, and peace, and joy.”[14]

And in emphasizing ‘why’, may we never lose the awe of the Psalmist when contemplating His Creator . . . 

“I will extol you, my God, O King! I will praise your name continually. Every day I will praise you! I will praise your name continually! The LORD is great and certainly worthy of praise! No one can fathom his greatness! One generation will praise your deeds to another, and tell about your mighty acts! I will focus on your honour and majestic splendour, and your amazing deeds! They will proclaim the power of your awesome acts! I will declare your great deeds! They will talk about the fame of your great kindness, and sing about our justice. The LORD is merciful and compassionate; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love. The LORD is good to all and has compassion on all he has made. All he has made will give thanks to the LORD. Your loyal followers will praise you. They will proclaim the splendour of your kingdom; they will tell about your power, so that mankind might acknowledge your mighty acts, and the majestic splendour of your kingdom.”[15]

  1. Sargent, L G, Editorial, Our Faith and our Body, The Christadelphian, v103, p 124 (1966)
  2. Sargent, L G, ibid, p 125.
  3. Ashton, M, Editorial, The Christadelphian, v135, p386 (1998)
  4. Watford Ecclesia AB, Statement from the Watford Ecclesia in The Christadelphian, v 103, p543 (1966)
  5. The author of this paper believes that the recent series Genesis Foundations in the Christadelphian magazine has been a regrettable and unhelpful contribution to this necessary discussion. It has been characterised by misrepresentation and inaccuracies by a number of its authors and, at times, could be described as ‘excitable’ rather than ‘calm’ in its tone.
  6. Collyer, I, Principles and Proverbs, p 87, Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association (1959)
  7. Bedwell, W, ibid, p510 (1965)
  8. Launchbury, J, More Reasons – more evidence for God, Jesus and the Bible, p 59, Willow Publications (2014)
  9. Barling, W F, Letter to the Editor, The Origin of Man, The Christadelphian, v102, p 464 (1965).
  10. Norris, A D, Where Science and Religion Meet, The Christadelphian, v101, p535 (1964).
  11. Collyer, I, Conviction and Conduct, p32, The Christadelphian (1968)
  12. Fowler, A, Twenty Essays in a Search for Truth, Ortho Books, p 10 (2011)
  13. Norris, A D, Where Science and Religion Meet, in The Christadelphian, v101, p 487 (1964)
  14. Weatherall, D, Create in Me – the power of the Genesis Creation, p 16, self published (2010)
  15. Psalm 145 v 1-12 (NET)

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