A Short History

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Alexander Campbell was born in Antrim, Ireland in 1788 to a Presbyterian preacher. Alexander had the advantage of being taught at home by his father who was keen on education and an able teacher. At the earliest opportunity Alexander, whose ambition was "to be the best scholar in the country," went to the University of Glasgow where his earnest desire was to prepare himself for preaching the Gospel. Because his father was a Presbyterian Alexander became one too, though it was to be some years before he examined the Bible for himself and when he did he found that the will of God and His teachings were not being taught.

At the age of 19 he joined his father who had moved to America and they were both keen to free themselves from the restrictive teachings of the Presbyterian Church, and so, following the motto "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent," it was not long before they began to doubt many of the religious theories to which they had adhered. The Bible was their guide and supreme authority and the practise of infant baptism was the first doctrine to be renounced.

Alexander found himself somewhat in accord with the Baptist Church and for seven years from 1823 to 1830 he published "The Christian Baptist." He used this magazine to try to correct some of the errors he saw in their teachings, but he eventually cut loose from the Baptists and sought out those who wanted to worship God in the liberty of Christ.

For Alexander the only Church was the one established by Christ and he called upon his followers to worship as the New Testament directs. Being convinced of the evils and inherent sinfulness of sectarianism, he contended that nothing should be bound upon Christians as a matter of doctrine which was not as old as the New Testament. His actions were condemned by the Baptist Church.

Dr. John Thomas was born in Hoxton Square in London in 1805 where he grew up and studied in medicine. In 1832 he emigrated to America and on reaching there the ship "ran ashore on Sable Island, and it was supposed she would be lost with all hands." Fearing the worst Dr Thomas vowed that if his life be spared he would seek the truth of Bible teaching.

Shortly afterwards he was introduced to a Mr Walter Scot, a Campbellite and was convinced by him of the need for baptism by immersion. In 1833 he met Alexander Campbell, who was impressed by Dr. Thomas´ knowledge of the Scriptures and was persuaded to speak upon several Bible topics. As a speaker of no mean ability Dr. Thomas found himself in demand preaching what he at that time believed to be the truth.

In 1843 Dr. Thomas began editing "The Apostolic Advocate." But the next year a rift developed between Alexander Campbell and Dr Thomas over the amount of knowledge needed before baptism, and the understanding that the faithful would be raised at the second coming of Christ. This rift was never healed.

Also in 1843, Dr Thomas was introduced to William Miller, the leader of the Millerites. Mr. Miller predicted the Second Advent of Christ was imminent and that the millennial age would then commence. Dr Thomas incorporated the doctrines of the close arrival of the Second Advent of Christ into his teachings. In 1846, when Dr. Thomas travelled to New York City he began a series of lectures and he based his speeches on thirty doctrinal points, which would later become part of his book EIpis Israel (The Hope of Israel).

John Thomas was rebaptised in 1847, and afterwards travelled to England in order to establish a community of followers there. When he returned to the United States once again, he moved his home base from Richmond to New York City. In 1854 Dr. Thomas' followers became known as "The Royal Association of Believers" based on the idea that the saints were the royal priesthood. This community was the first group of Dr. Thomas' followers to be independent of any existent congregation. The constitution of the group was reported in "The Herald of the Kingdom and the Age to Come."

We here give two paragraphs of interest from the Constitution:-

  WHO ARE INVITED TO MEMBERSHIP?

The wisdom from above being first pure, and then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy - we cordially invite all immersed believers of the gospel preached to Abraham, Israel, and the Gentiles, by the Angel of Jehovah, Moses, Jesus, and the apostles, who are disposed to illustrate this wisdom from above in word and deed, to unite with the undersigned for the purpose set forth in No.3.

WHO HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP WITHOUT MEMBERSHIP?

Being the Lord´s Table, and not the table of the Association, all of good report within the city or without it, who, believing the gospel of the kingdom, have been immersed, are cordially invited to worship with us; the only privileges withheld being a participation in the direction of our affairs, and speech without previous invitation.

 
In 1861 the Civil War broke out, and Dr Thomas travelled to the South. During this time Robert Roberts (see below) emerged as the unofficial leader of the communities of followers in Great Britain. In 1864, the title "The Royal Association of Believers" was replaced with "Christadelphians." One of Dr. Thomas´ beliefs was that Christians should not partake in war. "It was not just that to register as conscientious objectors required the loosely organized congregations to choose a name, but the war itself required believers to make a stand for what they believed." During the war Dr Thomas wrote "Eureka" (Greek heurisko = to find), a work of three volumes explaining his interpretation of the Apocalypse (The Book of Revelation). The second volume was controversial in that he predicted Christ´s return would be sometime between 1864 and 1868 and as a result of this concern some groups of followers departed.

On May 5th.1868. Dr Thomas returned to England where he had greater success attracting followers. Birmingham became the centre of the Christadelphian movement in Great Britain, and the followers in this city were known as the Central Fellowship. Before his death, Dr Thomas made one final tour of the Christadelphian congregations in the United States. He died on March 5th.1871 in Jersey City, and was buried in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Benjamin Wilson was born in 1817 in Halifax in England. He belonged to the Baptist Church with his brothers Joseph, John and James, though not happy with the restrictions of their Church doctrines. In due time Benjamin went to America, met Dr Thomas and was baptised by him as a Christadelphian. By 1857 Benjamin Wilson had set up business as a newspaper editor in Geneva, Illinois, U.S.A. and published the first section of The Emphatic Diaglott. This translation was completed by 1864 – an interlinear Greek-English translation of the New Testament. It was considered a great work of its time and was the first translation ever to render 1 John 5:7,8 correctly. The effect of this "revelation" was electrifying for it came at a time when so many people were beginning to doubt the teaching of the Trinity and naturally rejoiced to find this verse spurious while the Trinitarians were angry.

However Benjamin Wilson did not stay with the Christadelphians but was instrumental in establishing other churches.

Robert Roberts, born in 1839, was only nine years old the first time he heard Dr Thomas speak, and was a mere fourteen when he was baptized and joined the ranks of the Christadelphians in Scotland. Mr Roberts became a newspaper reporter but found time to go around preaching and spreading the beliefs of the Christadelphians. He later became editor of The Christadelphian Magazine and was in a position to give direction and guidance to Christadelphia on both sides of the Atlantic, so when Dr. Thomas died Robert Roberts assumed "Peter´s Chair" and enforced his views with little opposition amongst his friends; but caused many to split away from the Christadelphian community, especially in America, and those that remained were destined never to live peaceably together again and controversies arose which eventually led to the many divisions within Christadelphia. Robert Roberts was very assertive by nature and brooked no opposition, saying on one occasion, "We have passed the investigation stage." Add to this blinkered and dictatorial attitude, the formulation of the Statement of Faith, which in effect posthumously disfellowshipped Dr Thomas, the growth and development of further knowledge and understanding within the Christadelphian community was severely inhibited and has remained so ever since.

Edward Turney was a Christadelphian and a business man in Nottingham. In 1873, two years after the death of Dr Thomas, Edward Turney and Robert Roberts fell out. Edward Turney was the editor of The Christadelphian Lamp. History has shown that Edward Turney followed on where Dr. Thomas left off by developing and rationalizing his beliefs with a better understanding of Scripture. For although Dr. Thomas had come a long way since he met Alexander Campbell, he seemed uncertain of his own beliefs and teachings over the years. He was challenged on one occasion for having changed his mind yet again, to which he wisely replied, "Must I ever hold to one belief for the sake of consistency? May such a calamity never befall me. I will change my mind every day if need be until I get it right at last." Edward Turney is best known for his booklets, "The Sacrifice of Christ" and "The Two Sons of God." Both of which proved to be superior in exposition to anything previously written in understanding and explaining the Atonement.

Andrew Wilson, a nephew of Benjamin Wilson, and a road sweeper (by choice, to give him time to study scriptural Greek and Hebrew) in Scotland. Andrew left the Christadelphians and wrote several short booklets in opposition to their doctrine of the Atonement, and his views echoed those of Edward Turney. He joined a group which the Christadelphians called the Renunciationists because they had renounced the Christadelphian doctrine of the Atonement.

Fred Pearce was a miner from South Wales, and a very prolific writer. He communicated his thoughts to the Renunciationists through the Nazarene Fellowship Circular Letter, inviting correspondence and freely discussing Bible topics unhindered by sectarianism.

Ernest Brady was a business man from Birmingham and a Christadelphian from his youth. However, when he saw that some Christadelphian doctrines were not supported by Scripture he was turned out of that community but wrote more strongly than ever before through the medium of the Nazarene Circular Letter which, following the death of Fred Pearce, he edited for many years. Ernest never tired of writing in opposition to Christadelphian teachings on the Atonement, Sin-in-the-flesh, God-manifestation, Mortal resurrection, Judgment and Baptism, and he produced a large number of booklets dealing with these and other controversies. The Nazarene Circular Letter continues to this day with its main readership being among the Christadelphian community, many of whom quietly support it.

The common thread running through most of the people mentioned above is one of resolute independent thinking in the face of all opposition; people who through prayer and Bible study refused to be tied to creeds of any kind and were always ready to change their views whenever a better way was seen.

Because of this we print on all our literature:

"The Nazarene Fellowship has no constitution, creed or statement of faith outside the pages of the Bible. It has reached its present understanding by reading and discussion of Scripture and study of any and every variety of opinion, past and present. If or when anyone feels that he can show that any point is in conflict with reason or revelation, we are glad to discuss it, for if we are wrong our chief aim is to get it right, but we do not attach much importance to tradition."

We have many booklets available on our website and please feel free to download any you wish. We would point out, however, that none of these have been written especially for the website having been written over the past 130 years and in response to articles or letters which usually challenged our beliefs.

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