Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How do you know you're right?

Christadelphians believe they have THE TRUTH. For a minority religion that very few people in the world have even heard of, that's a very bold claim. Not only do they claim to have the truth, they claim that compared to all of the world's more popular religions (and also compared to the many people who are not religious) they are the ONLY ones who have the truth. Their small numbers do not bother them, for they will happily point to quotations such as Matthew 22:14 "many are called, but few are chosen". Ironically, pretty much every other Christian denomination also points to these same quotations as evidence that they are the chosen ones.

So with much intrigue, and a quite puzzled expression on my face, I want to know how this works.

I'm putting the call out to any Christadelphians who may be reading this, to please explain to me how you know you're right.

To make things easier, for the purposes of this post, let's assume that the Bible really is the word of God. All Christian denominations have differing and often contradictory beliefs. They cannot all be right. Either all but one are wrong, or they are all wrong.

Christadelphians, how do you know that you have the truth?

Now before you launch into your standard apologetics and try to convince me of your beliefs, I'm going to ask you to re-read the title again slowly. Take a moment to let it sink in.

I am not asking you to sell me your religious beliefs, leaving me to decide whose beliefs are the right ones. No, that lets you off the hook far too easily. It also puts the burden on me and to be honest I'm not convinced that any religion is true.

Rather, I'm asking how YOU know you're right.

While you're thinking about your answer, let me offer some food for thought...

Communication is a contract between speaker and listener
If God created all humans, and wants all humans to be saved, and if God wrote the bible expressly for the purpose of teaching all humans about him (and telling them how they can be saved), how could it be that 99% of all humans past and present do not understand the truth about God (regarding the doctrine of the trinity for example), and do not understand how to be saved?

How could so many people misunderstand the nature of God, and the purpose of God? Is it because they are all less intelligent? Should it even matter if they were less intelligent? If God really did know the end from the beginning, then surely he knew that so many people would misunderstand the Bible, and yet he still went ahead with it and didn't see the need to fix it. Please help me understand this...

If I am trying to communicate with you, and I am fully aware that you have not understood, will not understand, or perhaps have not even heard what I said, wouldn't your lack of understanding be my fault?

If I then punished you for your lack of understanding, would I not be unjust?

The interpretation problem
Whether the bible is the word of God or not, it must still be interpreted by fallible humans. The same goes for any direct message from God, whether revealed via visions or relayed in person.

Either the human(s) who physically wrote God's words in the Bible interpreted their message, or if they wrote God's words verbatim, then the reader will interpret the message. As any study of reading comprehension will tell you, different people will interpret things differently. Interpretation is coloured by environment, background, culture, language, and all of these things change according to where we live and the time period we live in.

Even when we understand our audience well, we can still sometimes have difficulty communicating effectively. The problem gets a lot worse when we are talking about things written some 1900+ years ago, in a culture we are not familiar with, sometimes in a language no one speaks any more, and often has gone through several periods of editing and translation.

He said, she said
Almost all of the differences between Christian denominations at some point will come down to a difference in interpretation. Some of these differences concern fundamental Christian beliefs. There are cases where different people will be swayed by different arguments, leading to contradictory viewpoints. If two rational, intelligent people can be convinced of two opposing ideas (one each), how should less rational people choose between them? Is it morally justified for God to reward one and punish the other?
Of course, we all like to think we are the more rational ones, and that the reason others are wrong is clearly because they have believed a lie. But what if we are the deceived ones? What if we are not rational enough to know we have been deceived? How could we possibly know?

Perhaps God only wants to save the smart ones? 2 Peter 3:9 suggests this is false.
So help me understand how an all-powerful, all-knowing God could have failed so miserably to get a clear message out to people?

Could it have been less ambiguous?
This is the last question I want to explore here before I hand it over to you to have your say in the comments below.

I have been told that difference in interpretation is inevitable and unavoidable, and that the burden is on us to discover the true message of the Bible. Apparently God is not at all responsible for our failure to understand and agree on what the Bible is telling us.

It may be true that some differences in interpretation are unavoidable, but surely it could have been made a lot clearer than it is. After all, we read in 1 Cor 14:33 that "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace". (this is rather strange when compared to Matt 10:34 but I digress).

The evidence that it could have been written much more explicitly can be found in the BASF (though one might well argue that the BASF actually makes things much more complicated). However, the mere presence of, and reliance on the BASF demonstrates that Christadelphians feel it necessary to rewrite the central message of the Bible in language that is more explicit. If humans can do it, why couldn't God do it?

In other words, why is a statement of faith even necessary?
Hint: I'll tell you why - it's because the Bible is too ambiguous without one.

In essence, since there are many things in the Bible that can be, and indeed have been, interpreted multiple ways, Christian denominations feel the need to formulate a statement of faith, to limit these interpretations to just a single one.

The question is, which one?

And now I believe we have come full circle...

So I guess it's over to you.

How do YOU know you have the truth?


  1. I suspect you may be in for a rather long wait. Cds alone have the truth because they say so. No further discussion or proof is necessary because they are right and everyone else is wrong.

    1. I second that, they are the smartest know all's in the world, only their version that counts, you ask them " because they know"

    2. I find they are impossible to debate with. Every point made against their beliefs is simply waved away, because it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible. They and they alone are correct and anyone who disagrees with them must be stupid. I have personally sat through a talk where the speaker dismissed evolution and natural selection with a dismissive wave of his hand as "a load of old rubbish". He is right and 150+ years of scientific research and evidence gathering is wrong, because he thinks so. It would be laughable, if he wasn't lecturing a large group of youngsters and giving them a warped view of the facts as he sees them.

    3. Mark, when I got involved with CD's. I used to look up to them for such a great knowledge, but it doesn't take long before you realise that this cult minded sect is fanatical, religious psychos, and nothing more, I cannot understand how people believe these nuts, how they are able to prophesy about the future events that may happen, and when you point out the failed predictions, the best they can come up with is" oh, anyone can make a mistake". So what blunder after blunder and all those followers believe these preachers, because they are privileged to hold the key of knowledge. What a garbage.

  2. A broad generalisation Mark. Yes there are (unfortunately) many CDns who "Have The Truth" and are unable to understand their own biases and preconceptions or to realise how arrogant they sound (as there are in many other small exclusive denominations with their own versions). However there are plenty of others, like me, who realised quite early on the absurdity of thinking that of all the billions of people in the world only a minuscule number of them were privileged enough to inherit the True Understanding, and so who, despite remaining loosely connected to our CDn backgrounds, would think of themselves as Christians first, who accept that the CDn understanding seems (in many cases, though by no means all however-many clauses of the BASF) plausible, but would not either a) insist that only those who understand things in the same way can be "saved" or even b) insist that those doctrinal lists are the most important things anyway. Love, justice, mercy, compassion - those are (or should be) the "weightier matters" : the Apostles' Creed is a simple enough description of the Gospel message: if I have all knowledge and understand all prophecies but have not love, I am nothing. Jesus claimed to be "the Truth" - the Word made Flesh, so any claim to truth is in following his example, not in a list of rules or in a checklist of doctrines, however well-referenced. I am quite sure there are many, many things that we have all failed to understand, and I look forward to continuing to learn more about the world and our place in it, rather than assuming all the answers are clear already. That makes me no doubt not a "proper Christadelphian" (as a theistic evolutionist that is already true for many people anyway) but frankly I don't care about that. Enough people I know think similarly for there to be a viable way of remaining in the community at the moment, at least in my particular part of the UK. But I realise that in other parts of the CDn world expressing such views is anathema and so the only way is out, as you have found Steve. Absolute certainty is unattractive, except in the realm of mathematical proof - and even there we have to spend a lot of time agreeing on definitions and a shared understanding of what the basic assumptions are.

    1. If you voiced your opinions at the majority of Ecclesias, the members would be queuing up to present you with a letter of disfellowship!
      It sounds to me that you have already left the CDs, in mind if not yet in body.

    2. Nice response, Elgar. I specifically targeted this article towards CDs and in general I have few issues with theists who take a more modern view of the bible. I still don't find theism convincing, no matter which way you paint it, but I'm not really bothered if other people do. Just so long as they keep their religion out of politics and science education...

    3. Mark - yes we did have the d/f threat from one ecclesia, but it was by no means universally supported, and would probably have split the meeting 50;50,: we moved to our current more tolerant ecclesia before waiting for a vote. There are a lot of people who think similarly on such issues - some keep quiet for the sake of peace but others do speak out more publicly to at least give the new generation the benefit of a wider range of views. But you are right that my mindset is somewhat out of step with the mainstream and I'm not sure whether I will always remain a CDn: however for the present we have found a home in the liberal fringe which is larger than many would like to imagine.

  3. Most CD`s have been born of CD parents and brought up to the belief that CD`s are the only ones who have the truth. They continue life with this view, reinforced by the continual reflection from their entrapment mirror of close contact with other Cd`s and other CD activities. Very few have the chance, by getting a niggling doubt or two maybe, of starting to consider the wee possibility that Cd`s may not have all or even any of the truth. Most then don`t continue the pursuance of this doubt, leading to finding out where the CD sieve leaks. If they would only do this they would find Elgar`s variations to be the sweet music of freedom.

  4. It's an Enigma certainly....

  5. Delph believe not know in the truth.we say hey the bible says thus about heaven going war and baptism and that's it.humbly throwing ourselves at Christ's mercy seat and trying hopelessly to copy him

    1. How strongly do you believe?

      I find it rather disturbing to hear people talk about being helpless and begging for Christ's forgiveness. The only forgiveness you need is your own, not the forgiveness of some invisible guy you don't really know (let's be honest here, you don't really know him - what is his favourite colour, favourite food, what did he look like, would you recognise him if you saw him - you have absolutely no idea who he is except for a few anecdotes written about him by anonymous authors).

    2. As for trying to copy Jesus...

      Have you ransacked any temples lately?

      Accused anyone of committing thought crime?

      Called your audience a "generation of vipers" ? Try that one in a Sunday night lecture. See how loving and kind people think you are.

      Spent any time with publicans lately? what about prostitutes?

      Have you cut down a fig tree because it didn't have any figs on it when it was out of season? (seriously, whose fault was that really? Didn't God make the tree and the seasons, and then Jesus comes along and curses it for being that way).

      Do you talk to people in parables to intentionally obfuscate your message? (just in case they understand, and then you'd have to save them - Matt 13:15)

      Have you advocating the killing of children who insult their parents? (Mark 7:10)

      Have you murdered any pigs lately? I mean, Jesus surely knew that there are no such things as demons but he chose to pretend that the demons left the man and went into the pigs, just to deceive his audience and validate their ignorance.

      What a nice guy Jesus was.

  6. Everybody prior to the Christadelphians corrupted or mis-read the Bible. Only when they came along did things get sorted out. With the Christadelphian reading of the Bible, each time a new interested person passes through the waters of baptism, a new "Bible Student" emerges who independently studies the infallible word of God and finds out for himself that it is a perfect consistent whole. As each prophecy comes true, the correct nature of this approach is confirmed, in minute detail.
    You say that the Bible could have been clearer. To say so is simply to admit to being too lazy study it properly. The correct thing to do is to assume that the Bible is inerrant, that way, it all fits together. Only when you introduce human ideas that it is not, and give them equal value with scripture does it not work. That is your error, the world's error, but not an error that Christadelphians make.
    Christadelphians do everything "Bible in Hand" so no errors are made. When they choose luxury holidays and cars over helping the poor, when they commit or encourage adultery, when they defraud, when they break families, when they disfellowship and turn their backs on brethren in sickness, they do it all "Bible in Hand", to the glory of God.
    The order is this: Interested person>Bible Student> Baptised> Bible student> act on Bible knowledge>go into world and live by bible.
    That is why they are right Steve, and the rest of us wrong, and the reason why you, me, Mancott etc are no longer with them. Elgar is a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

    1. haha, you are so right :)

      I know you're using sarcasm but I'd just like to say "If the Bible couldn't have been clearer, why have a BASF?"


    2. Joseph, once you are immersed in the christadelphian water of knowledge ( baptism ) and as you come out the water you inherit the KEY of knowledge. Now the Pope hold's the key's to heaven and CD's have the key of knowledge. All of a sudden these people from this sect are above all, they know it all, everything they say is correct, they are special, out of this world but in it, they look down on Christians, agnostics, atheist and all other religious people in the world, nobody knows anything but they are full of "the truth". Because their interpretation of scripture is correct, how old is the world, science means nothing to them. Yet Mr. Thomas said that the world was more then 10000 yrs old. But science tell's us that is more then that but many still say, oh no only 6000 yrs old. Debating a CD is impossible, " because the know"

    3. hum... In the decades I spent as a CD not once did I ever see anyone encouraging Adultery...are you sure you're not exaggerating a little?
      What I saw was a group of fallible people, a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. I never saw anyone turning their back on the sick either...
      There is certainly a level of False Pride in thinking themselves to be the sole holders of "the truth" but I find any of the unsavoury CD actions mirrored in other churches, or by non church goers for that matter.
      toughen up, buttercup...

    4. "but I find any of the unsavoury CD actions mirrored in other churches, or by non church goers for that matter."

      Coming up with examples of other people doing similar wrongs does not help your claim. It should be obvious, yet people use this tactic all the time. Rather than making CDs look better, you're just making other churches look worse. So now instead of CDs being justified we just have a longer list of people who are guilty.

      "toughen up, buttercup..."

      I'm sorry, but no you don't get to wave away someone else's experience just like that. You gave an anecdote of your own experience ("What I saw was ...") and it seems you automatically assumed that your experience was more valid than Joseph's, and then proceeded to downplay his experience and tell him to "toughen up".

      Of course, it would be much more difficult to actually consider that perhaps your experience doesn't speak for everyone.

      Don't be too quick to downplay the influence that CDs can have on children, and the psychological ball and chain that fundamentalist religion instils in young minds. There are few people more dangerous than those who believe they are right and have a god on their side.

  7. You`re getting sadder and sadder Joe. Your tarry brush is too busy brushing over Christadelphia as a whole. Their behaviour is not all as wayward as you portray. There are good folks there trying to be upright and good Cd`s as well as citizens. Where they`ve got it wrong is their belief, which is mostly from an indoctrinated upbringing and perpetuated by unthinking following of that indoctrination.
    Banging on about your own sad experiences only makes you a sadder and sadder man. If you look for it you can find more positive behaviour to savour.
    It`s the misguided and unthought about beliefs which should be highlighted, not the few individuals whose unsavoury actions find a pedestal of prominence in your waking moments.

    1. Mancott,
      Don't presume to understand the depravity that my ecclesial brethren have sunk. Rather than speaking up for the lovely brethren and sisters you know, and making apologies for them, try answering Steve's question, or better still get them to. Mine is the only reply that attempts to, and it sounds pretty silly doesn't it? But the first two paragraphs are what they claim. The last is indeed my bitterness, but remains true none the less.
      Rather than worry about my sadness, why not tell Steve why you though YOU had the truth?

    2. Joe,
      How can I understand "the depravity" to which you say your ecclesial brethren have sunk? I don`t know them and I only have your word for what has happened. Which I have to accept as I trust you.
      But, I do think somehow you have to move on.
      As far as telling Steve why I thought I had the truth. It`s simple. I was indoctrinated into CDism from birth and continued to be so for almost 40 yaers until I had the good fortune to step away from a "dead" ecclesia for a while, which gave my brain chance to re-group.
      I`ve gone over this several times on John`s blog, as you know.

  8. I get Joe's bitterness, which is understandable. It's easier sometimes to label an entire group with the bad characteristics of a few. We all do it to some extent, whether the baddies are CDns (all hypocrites), asylum seekers (all scroungers), Jews (all bankers), Australians (all loudmouths...) Cretans (all liars..) etc etc. Much harder to get to know and understand individuals behind the labels and to realise that they, like us, have their own faults, blind spots and weaknesses and are shaped profoundly by their upbringing and past experiences. Joe's CDn experience has probably been more limited in range and time than many, and right now he is keen to reject it all and to forget/be suspicious of any positives or good memories/people. It's a stage in recovering from the breakdown of some very significant relationships, and hopefully he and anyone else in a similar position will eventually move on to a healthier perspective which is less black & white. We can't all end up as self-made millionaires in Oz with swimming pools and a 30-year old high horse-riding habit after all .....

    1. Elgar,
      Tell Steve the answer to his question. You are a Christadelphian, why does your lot have the truth, but nobody else? All you have done so far is beaten about the bush and pointed the finger at me.

  9. "It's easier sometimes to label an entire group with the bad characteristics of a few."

    If only that were the case here. Unfortunately when it comes to Christadelphians and their beliefs I would suggest it is the majority that ruin it for the few. Anyway, such generalisations will get us nowhere.

    Christadelphians can be nice people. However in my experience many of them take it upon themselves to criticise any activity or action that they deem unacceptable to their concept of God. In other words, many of them can become rather nasty when someone does something they don't like. That sounds a bit like the God of the Old Testament, don't you think?

    "Joe's CDn experience has probably been more limited in range and time than many"

    Why do you say that?

    Excuse me if this was not an attempt to slightly discredit Joseph's views, but if it was, I'm calling you out on it.

    On the whole, Christadelphianism is and has long been a fundamentalist religion. I accept that some are worse than others, but several things bind them in common.

    * Christadelphians believe that they alone have the truth.
    * The vast majority of Christadelphians accept the BASF or some variant of it.
    * The foundation clause of the BASF states a belief similar to verbal plenary inspiration.

    Membership in any Christadelphian ecclesia is in most cases conditional on acceptance of the BASF.

    Do you accept the BASF, Elgar?

  10. Twice have lost lengthy carefully composed comments- will try again

    Joe - I'm really sorry you feel I was pointing the finger, I was just attempting to be sympathetic to your negative feelings but surmising from your accounts here and elsewhere that your time within the Cdns had been shorter and less geographically wide-ranging than others who were perhaps born into it and have moved around the country belonging to and visiting a number of different ecclesias over decades. In any case none of us can have had meaningful conversations with more than a fraction of the 10,000 (?) CDns supposedly in the UK, let alone worldwide, but I do know of hundreds who would agree with my view that "our lot" DON'T have a monopoly on truth. (for example, the Hoddesdon conference regularly attracts 200+ where the prevailing mindset is very far from narrow). It's not enough certainly, but the "liberal fringe" is a sizeable enough minority to be seen as a threat in many more traditional circles.

    BASF: I "accept" it for what it is, an all-too-flawed snapshot summary of the state of theological debate at the time the denomination was formed, representing an attempt to draw lines which should probably not have been drawn. For many members of my acquaintance it is largely irrelevant, and forms a background somewhat embarrassing anachronism, especially some of the DTBR. For others it remains a touchstone of "doctrines essential to salvation" but if I were asked to sign a document to say I accepted it without reservation I would refuse along with (I suspect) many others who have at least inherited the original denominational predilection to cussedness and independence of thought. In particular I do not accept "VPI" and currently lean more towards the views of Peter Enns

    Steve - on another thread you state "If Christadelphians wish to survive as a community, they need to widen their worldview and start taking science and challenges to faith seriously. For a movement that started out boldly addressing current issues and accepting science, they are now becoming increasingly irrelevant to modern society. They also need to drop the black and white thinking of fundamentalism and open their doors to a more up-to-date theology. I don't see that happening any time soon" .

    I heartily agree - except that in some places it is happening, and for me, at the moment, it is still worth hanging in there. For others the only way is out, and I respect that too.

    1. "It's not enough certainly, but the "liberal fringe" is a sizeable enough minority to be seen as a threat in many more traditional circles."

      Perhaps, but even by your own admission your views are not mainstream (in CD land) and thus you are not representative of the whole.

      I respect your position (though I still disagree with it), but this article is likely not so relevant to you. If you have no problem with uncertainty, and could accept being wrong if given evidence, then you are certainly not the target audience of this article, nor perhaps even this blog.

      "if I were asked to sign a document to say I accepted it without reservation I would refuse"

      This is what I was after. Thank you - you have my respect with regards to your honesty in this case. I know of many in my city who are not so honest, and who will go to great lengths to "pretend" they agree entirely with the BASF so as not to lose their place in their home ecclesia.

      I was essentially the first to be disfellowshipped in this city for accepting evolution, not because I was the first to accept evolution, but because I was perhaps the first to be openly honest about it. I find it difficult to respect those who hide their beliefs in order to avoid disfellowship. Yes, being disfellowshipped can be really hard to deal with, but being honest is the right thing to do.

  11. I have never claimed to be representative of the mainstream, but would appreciate that tarry brush being a little more careful and not gleaning right to the edge of the field (I do love a mixed metaphor)

    1. Hi Elgar. Don't know you but sounds like we have a fair bit in common. I'm a CD in Adelaide (that's right home of the loudest loud mouth Australians!). No we are not alone. Uncertainty and growth should be par for the course.

    2. Hi "Anonymous",

      Unlike Elgar, you would certainly be living in fear of disfellowship if you belong to an Adelaide ecclesia and accept evolution, and the same is probably true if you accept any form of inspiration other than what the BASF says (which is essentially VPI).

      To the best of my knowledge there are no ecclesias in Adelaide that actually accept theistic evolution. There are several ecclesias where you could get by just fine as long as you don't say too much. In my opinion this is dishonest but each to their own. It certainly leads to some quite absurd views about what God requires of you, but again that's for you to reconcile.

      I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for Adelaide ecclesias to accept evolution. Before I left there was a witch hunt ramping up - is that still going?

      It's totally up to you if you think putting up with this behaviour from your colleagues is worth it, but I have to ask - is that really the way you want to live?

  12. Maybe best to put down the tarry brush whilst there are still untarred ears of corn, and to treat them as being ok Cd`s and best not tarred until, whilst wielding and gleaning, found otherwise. (The mixed metaphor lives.)

    1. I dunno, conservative or liberal, it's all the same when you step back and look at it. If you're christian you essentially believe that a bunch of anecdotes from anonymous people counts as good evidence for someone rising from the dead, whilst dismissing the existence of aliens and UFOs even though they are based on the very same kind of evidence (and the witnesses are not anonymous and you can go and interview them yourself because many are still alive).

      Even a small dose of critical thinking will lead a person very quickly to agnosticism and perhaps further to being very much in doubt that any of these claims (UFOs included) actually hold much water.

      But that's just my opinion. People are free to believe what they like, but I'm also free to be sceptical of their claims.

  13. the fact that you have had to amend your statement of faith means you have had it wong before, so why cant you be wrong ever again

    1. This is true. And yet there are still a number of people using the "unamended" statement of faith and not everyone agreed with the amendments.

      Not to mention the vast array of different denominations who differ primarily on how they interpret the bible.

      I suggest that this is clear and undeniable evidence that there is a lot of ambiguity in the bible and anyone who believes that the bible is written by God should probably ask said god to address his failure to communicate effectively with us humans.