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Splitting the kirk

On November 1 2010 a message was sent to members of my home church by email. I had urged the writer not to cause a split, but instead to discuss his differences with me on a personal face to face basis; this was refused. At the members' meeting three days later a tied vote on my exclusion from activity was the result.


Part of the message was a 'resume of events', misleading or false in several respects. Below is an annotated version. Further down this page you'll find the full text of the 1 November message, followed by a summary (from me to a committee member) of the faults I found in it. These inaccuracies could have had a significant impact on the members' decision that followed.

Annotated version of the 'resume' showing faults

A brief resume of events since last March


At the March ABs meeting, 5 members attended at their own request to express concerns about the teaching of Bro David in Bible School, particularly with regard to Creation and evolution and miracles and to ask that a restriction on Bro David teaching in Bible School which had been agreed by the ABs in the summer 2009 should be implemented. It was agreed to write to him, but this was afterwards changed to a proposal to meet with him to convey this decision to him.


On Easter Sunday despite being asked not to speak on the subject of evolution by me, (after discussion with Bro [AW],) Bro David gave an evening address in which he plainly put forward the view that the Genesis account of Creation in chapters 1-3 was to be taken entirely figuratively and had to be matched to evolution. No. The address sought (perhaps not very successfully!) to show that faith and the evidence of the natural world need not be in conflict, but can be in harmony (and must be, since the same God is the author of both). To support that thesis I put forward the view that gradual creation, over a long period of time and involving apparent common descent under God’s guidance, was a possible way of looking at Genesis. At the following ABs meeting further concerns about this were expressed to Bro David, ( who had asked to attend to discuss the previous concerns), and arrangements were proposed for a meeting with Bre David, [JB], [PA] and [CB] to ask him to clarify his views. In the meantime Bro David was asked not to preside or speak and also Bible School, although under extreme pressure False. A simple request. from Bro David he was allowed to preside on Sunday April 10th.


Circulation of Bro David’s view by e-mail to the ecclesia, including a copy of a letter sent to the Christadelphian magazine but not published together with recommendations to read three books, including Denis Alexander’s Creation or evolution, - do we have to choose? which sets out the views which David has been promoting False. I recommend the books as worth reading (as I would others which take quite different views). I have at no time endorsed the opinions set out in those books wholesale. as do the other two books recommended.


On May 30th Bro David met with Bre [PA, CB and JB] to ask Bro David to clarify his views; the notes of the meeting were subsequently agreed by David to be a fair and accurate record. This meeting confirmed that Bro David thought that Adam and Eve were born naturally and therefore were not a special creation. Subsequent to the meeting Bro [CB] expressed privately to Bro [JB] his views and these were conveyed to the ABs meeting in June, and concealed from the EMM but the ABs decided to continue the restrictions,

Having reviewed the reports of the meeting with David, at the June meeting the restrictions were reaffirmed by the ABs pending further discussion with Bro David about his views. These restrictions were endorsed by the June EMM, when the matter was separated from the AB’s minutes to allow full discussion prior to a vote of 20-2 in favour.


Since that time, whilst some individual discussions with Bro David have taken place about his approach to this subject, there has been no open Bible discussion with bro David Absolutely untrue. I offered such a discussion months ago and several took part at my home. I have had discussions at length with all ABs and with several others. on the subject of special creation and the implications of his views for the rest of the Gospel. There has been considerable concern for the welfare of Bro David and Sis Viv. I see little evidence of this from [JB]. Fortunately others have behaved in a more helpful manner. A response by Bro David to questions from the ABs about a number of Scriptural passages brought a brief and cryptic reply, which was felt to require further discussion.


At the September meeting there was a very long discussion at the end of which a proposal was passed by 4 votes to 3 that Bro David should be asked to preside and speak on Sundays and Thursdays and at CYC but not at Bible Hour or Bible School and to steward and doorkeep, subject to approval by the EMM.


Bro David refused this proposal I don’t recall it was for me to ‘refuse’: I am not an AB. I presented an alternative which was endorsed by the committee at its next meeting. and subsequently wrote to ask that he should be allowed to speak at Bible Hour if he allowed the ABs to approve the subject, content and approach in advance and that Bible school should be left to the decision of the superintendant and parents. At the October ABs meeting, this was approved 4 votes to 3 subject to EMM approval; brethren [JB] and [PA] requested that their votes against the proposal be publically recorded. 1 vote was recorded for the proposal in absentia. A meeting between Bro David and the rest of the ABs to address the Scriptural issues planned for October 13th was called off without explanation. The meeting was unnecessary as the ABs had already come to a decision.


Bro David subsequently requested that the matter should not be discussed at the EMM; on this being refused he then e-mailed all the ecclesia. The point is that the EMM was moved to a date on which I cannot attend because of a major and long standing professional commitment for which i am responsible.

The circular against me (from [JB], until then church secretary)


1st November 2010


Dear brethren and sisters,


In the light of the importance of the EMM discussion on Thursday regarding the position of Bro David Brown I have decided to step aside from the position of ecclesial secretary in order to set out the key issues with regard to Bible teaching and to give you all an opportunity to consider these before the meeting. These issues were highlighted in two letters sent to Bro David privately recently, in the hope of receiving answers or being able to discuss the issues with David. David has so far declined to agree a meeting and has only sent a brief acknowledgement. The references to Alexander are to Dennis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution- do we have to choose? which David recommended in one of his circular e-mails.


The key issue is Special Creation – recent letters to Bro David.


Having read your letter [of 14th October] I think that this is the right time for me to try to set out more clearly for you the concerns which I and some other ABs have about the beliefs you have expressed regarding the Book of Genesis. What I have to say I say as your brother in Christ and not as an AB or ecclesial secretary, but I know that my views are shared by many others in the ecclesia.


1. The central issue is the fundamental importance of Bible teaching on the special creation of Adam and Eve as the first man and woman


In the discussion with [CB], [PA] and me back in the Spring, you made the following statements:


“Death had clearly existed before Adam and Eve, who should be seen as the first couple to whom God showed himself and his purpose at a stage where humanity had become capable of having a knowledge of God. He was unsure whether this situation had come about by special creation or as a result of gradual development;… Adam was probably a descendant of a long line of previous human development and that Adam and Eve were most probably born by the normal method of conception and birth. Their “creation” in Genesis therefore referred to God giving them a new start;”

Source: Record of the one official meeting with ABs [JB and PA] and Bro [CB]; this was approved by David as “a broadly fair account”

Such a view throws up many questions:

·         Firstly, the central teaching of Scripture is that as God has created men and women and made them “a little lower than the angels” He has particular care for us as the key figures in His creation and as the centre of His purpose with the earth. This is particularly stressed in the very clear teaching of Genesis 1-3. It is much harder to understand this purpose if mankind is simply the result of evolution, since this makes us the product of a line of development from single cells to complex organisms and merely a little higher than apes. If man is not a special creation in the image of God how can we understand God’s purpose with the earth being centred on man?

·         Secondly it contradicts completely the Biblical teaching that “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man …and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” The details of Genesis 2-3 are very straightforward and clear and bear no suggestion of being figurative, - being specifically endorsed in the New Testament and there also used to reinforce the teaching of the Apostle Paul about the place of men and women in the ecclesia. Your suggestion that this and other detail in Genesis 2-3 cannot be accepted as literal because it is “implausible*” is not reasonable since the Scripture teaches us to accept in faith many things which others claim are implausible.

·          Thirdly, to deny the special creation of Adam and Eve as the first man and woman is to raise huge problems of what had been happening prior to this. You suggest, as do the books you recommend, that death and suffering existed before the sin of Adam and Eve; this in total contradiction to the teaching of the rest of Scripture, for example, by one man sin came into the world, and death by sin. To suggest that this simply means spiritual death is to reinterpret the text in a way which is not credible*.

*In Genesis chapters 2-3 the word used for dying is the common Hebrew word muth. In 430 uses in Scripture there is no suggestion anywhere that this means anything other than physical death; for example, “Joseph died…Nadab and Abihu died..Elisha died and they buried him.” Similarly in the rest of Genesis the word plainly means physical death, from the deaths of the aged descendants of Adam and Eve to the deaths of the patriarchs and their family members. So on what Scriptural grounds should we believe this to be anything except physical death?

The notion that there was a human population living, suffering and dying prior to Adam and Eve also raises awkward questions as to why they were dying, since sin was not introduced to the world until Adam and Eve’s disobedience; this makes it impossible to understand the connection between sin and death which Scripture so clearly makes.

·         Fourthly, the whole of Scriptural teaching about the position of mankind in relation to God and his ultimate purpose rests on the foundation of the special creation of Adam and Eve. This includes the Scriptural teaching on freewill, the vital link of the promises of salvation to the nature of the sins of Adam and Eve, and the link between sin and death. It is not true to suggest, as Alexander does, that literal death is not seen as a punishment for sin. There are dozens of Biblical passages which proclaim that it is. Genesis is quite clear; - Adam and Eve’s sin led to physical death, human suffering and a deterioration of the world God had made very good. “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death spread to all men..” 

2. In consequence of this, it is hard to see that the views you have expressed regarding the position of Adam and Eve will not have an impact on your teaching regarding other Scriptures relating to sin, death and salvation

·         These Scriptures cover a substantial number of other subjects which you might speak about on a Sunday evening or at CYC or at Bible School. Indeed, looking at the new Junior lesson book of the CSSU there are at least 6 lessons which you could not teach whilst holding the views you have declared because what you have said does not agree with the lesson notes.

·         If you have a radically different view of the creation of Adam and Eve from that held by 98% of Christadelphians, it is pretty hard to see how you can present the Bible teaching which we set out in our Christadelphian Statement of Faith, especially clauses 3, 4 and 5 :-

3.    That the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth on the earth was necessitated by the position and state into which the human race had been brought by the circumstances connected to the first man (I Cor 15:21,22, Romans 5:12-19, Genesis 3:19, 2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

4.      That the first man was Adam, whom God created out of the dust of the ground as a living soul, or natural body of life, “very good” in kind and condition…. (Gen 2:7, 18:27; Job 4:19, 33:6, 1 Cor 15:46-49, Genesis 2:17)

5.      That Adam broke this law, and was adjudged unworthy of immortality, and sentenced to return from the ground from whence he was taken – a sentence which defiled and became the physical law of his being and was transmitted to all his posterity.. (Gen 3:15-19,22,23; 2 Cor 1:9 Romans 7:24, 2 Cor 5:2-4; Romans 7:18-23; Gal 5:16-17; Romans 6:12,7:21; John 3:6, Romans 5:12, 1Cor 15:22; Psalm 51:5, Job 14:4)

·         The Genesis record and the rest of Scripture are in agreement that the finished Creation was very good, a cause of rejoicing amongst the angels and the delight of the Creator. This perfect creation was marred by the sinfulness of men, initially by the sins of Adam and Eve, but afterwards also by our ongoing tendency to sin. The restoration of the conditions of Eden when the Kingdom is set up is a very clear teaching of Scripture from beginning to end. This Bible teaching is totally different from the narrative claimed for evolution.

3.    The Genesis record reads as a straightforwardly factual account, why should we find it hard to accept it? There is no suggestion anywhere else in Scripture that it is not factual, quite the reverse. A garden is described in a geographical location, the forming of a man and woman from the dust of the ground is described as an actual event and they are named as specific individuals, animals are referred to, one of which has physical powers not usually belonging to animals today, but is described plainly as “one of the beasts of the field which the Lord God had made.” The Lord God walks in the actual garden in the cool of the day like those of earth now, the punishments on Adam and Eve are all too physical, - sweat, toil, thorns and thistles and death.” We can recognise the shame of Adam and Eve and their desire to hide from God even though we know that God sees all things. We see their despair as they are sent out of the garden into a changed world. In short, the narrative hangs together, so why should we not take it literally??

You have also argued that these chapters are only figurative. Although the symbology of these events is drawn on throughout Scripture, so is their literality, and the symbology does not mean these events are purely figurative or myth. The cross of Christ is a powerful symbol, but the crucifixion an all-too-real event. Likewise the Flood, the plagues in Egypt and the wilderness journey. Do you accept this?

4.    The alleged diversity of views about Genesis


You have repeatedly claimed that your views on Genesis 1-3 are part of a broad spectrum of views held by Christadelphians and that one view is as good as another. Even at best, this claim is doubtful. Within a limited spectrum, there are varied views about the six days of creation, but these have not extended openly to embracing theistic evolution. And I have yet to come across a Christadelphian author of repute for Biblical understanding who would commend your view of Adam and Eve. So perhaps you could tell me where in the writings of the key authors of Christadelphian history I can find endorsement of your views denying the Special Creation of Adam and Eve? For example, are there sections in Elpis Israel, Christendom Astray, the writings of Harry Tennant, Alfred Norris or indeed any Christadelphian author of repute which agree with your view??


5. You have previously suggested that the matters above and the movement for the synthesising of evolution with Creation are not major issues of any real significance. I hope you will accept from what I have written above that I could not disagree more. Nor do I think that Alexander thinks this is a matter of minor importance; - and those who have taken him to task for his views certainly do not! Take for example the following comments from Should Christians embrace evolution? – a set of essays by scientists and others who reject Alexander’s views of the Gospel outright, both on scientific and more importantly Scriptural grounds.


What is at stake? A lot: the truthfulness of the three foundational chapters for the entire Bible (Genesis 1 – 3), belief in the unity of the human race, belief in the ontological uniqueness of human beings among all God’s creatures, belief in the special creation of Adam and Eve in the image of God, belief in the parallel between condemnation through representation by Adam and salvation through representation by Christ, belief in the goodness of God’s original creation, belief that suffering and death today are the result of sin and not part of God’s original creation, and belief that natural disasters today are the result of the fall and not part of God’s original creation.


"We have furthermore seen that theistic evolution… ultimately renders the gospel’s claims about the coming and work of Christ incoherent."

6. So the issues you have raised are fundamental to the faith we share and of major concern in our ecclesial life together.


This is not a matter of personal offence to be dealt with in the manner of Matthew 18, (although if you are offended by what I have said or done please come and present your concerns to me), but an issue of the core of those things which we believe and therefore I cannot support any suggestion that you should be free to resume all ecclesial duties at this time. I am happy to discuss the Scriptures related to the above comments with you further; - indeed I hope that this is what we will do when you meet with the ABs on 13th October, God willing. (This meeting did not take place for reasons which are not clear to me)


7. Finally, I would remind you that the choice you have is not between having all restrictions removed and leaving the Christadelphian community. Continuing for the present in a restricted role is not a second class option; - for speakers and non-speakers are all equal in God’s sight. I hope that in time you will reconsider your views and the situation will change, but meantime I can see no justification for changing the current arrangements.


With love in Jesus,


[JB]

A brief resume of events since last March


At the March ABs meeting, 5 members attended at their own request to express concerns about the teaching of Bro David in Bible School, particularly with regard to Creation and evolution and miracles and to ask that a restriction on Bro David teaching in Bible School which had been agreed by the ABs in the summer 2009 should be implemented. It was agreed to write to him, but this was afterwards changed to a proposal to meet with him to convey this decision to him.


On Easter Sunday despite being asked not to speak on the subject of evolution by me, (after discussion with Bro [AW],) Bro David gave an evening address in which he plainly put forward the view that the Genesis account of Creation in chapters 1-3 was to be taken entirely figuratively and had to be matched to evolution. At the following ABs meeting further concerns about this were expressed to Bro David, ( who had asked to attend to discuss the previous concerns), and arrangements were proposed for a meeting with Bre David, [JB, PA and CB] to ask him to clarify his views. In the meantime Bro David was asked not to preside or speak and also Bible School, although under extreme pressure from Bro David he was allowed to preside on Sunday April 10th.


Circulation of Bro David’s view by e-mail to the ecclesia, including a copy of a letter sent to the Christadelphian magazine but not published together with recommendations to read three books, including Denis Alexander’s Creation or evolution, - do we have to choose? which sets out the views which David has been promoting as do the other two books recommended.


On May 30th Bro David met with Bre [PA, CB and JB] to ask Bro David to clarify his views; the notes of the meeting were subsequently agreed by David to be a fair and accurate record. This meeting confirmed that Bro David thought that Adam and Eve were born naturally and therefore were not a special creation. Subsequent to the meeting Bro [CB] expressed privately to Bro [JB] his views and these were conveyed to the ABs meeting in June, but the ABs decided to continue the restrictions,


Having reviewed the reports of the meeting with David, at the June meeting the restrictions were reaffirmed by the ABs pending further discussion with Bro David about his views. These restrictions were endorsed by the June EMM, when the matter was separated from the AB’s minutes to allow full discussion prior to a vote of 20-2 in favour.


Since that time, whilst some individual discussions with Bro David have taken place about his approach to this subject, there has been no open Bible discussion with bro David on the subject of special creation and the implications of his views for the rest of the Gospel. There has been considerable concern for the welfare of Bro David and Sis Viv. A response by Bro David to questions from the ABs about a number of Scriptural passages brought a brief and cryptic reply, which was felt to require further discussion.


At the September meeting there was a very long discussion at the end of which a proposal was passed by 4 votes to 3 that Bro David should be asked to preside and speak on Sundays and Thursdays and at CYC but not at Bible Hour or Bible School and to steward and doorkeep, subject to approval by the EMM.


Bro David refused this proposal and subsequently wrote to ask that he should be allowed to speak at Bible Hour if he allowed the ABs to approve the subject, content and approach in advance and that Bible school should be left to the decision of the superintendant and parents. At the October ABs meeting, this was approved 4 votes to 3 subject to EMM approval; brethren [JB and PA] requested that their votes against the proposal be publically recorded. 1 vote was recorded for the proposal in absentia. A meeting between Bro David and the rest of the ABs to address the Scriptural issues planned for October 13th was called off without explanation.


Bro David subsequently requested that the matter should not be discussed at the EMM; on this being 

refused he then e-mailed all the ecclesia.


[JB].

 Summary: what's wrong with the 1 November letter?

  1. It was not true to say I believed ‘that the Genesis account of Creation in chapters 1-3 was to be taken entirely figuratively and had to be matched to evolution.’ I explained that I view the first few chapters as being more figurative / pictorial and less literal than do many others; it’s a question of degree, on which there’s a wide spectrum of opinion in the community. And it’s not a question of ‘matching to evolution’ as though the Bible has to be squashed into compliance – it’s simply trying to see Scripture and science in harmony. Moreover, I see very considerable scriptural evidence for a more figurative view of the chapters, as I’ve explained elsewhere.
  2. There was no ‘extreme pressure’ from me regarding April 10th; arrangements had been made and it was late in the day to change, so it was a matter of a simple request.
  3. It is quite wrong to describe Denis Alexander’s book as setting out ‘the views which David has been promoting’ – [JB] seems it have a bit of an obsession with this book – as though I endorsed it entirely. It was simply one of several I recommended as worth reading, certainly with some points I agree with and doubtless others that I wouldn’t. Similarly [JB] has quoted at great length from another book (Nevin et al) to oppose me; I’m not sure he’s read it in full (I have) but I am quite sure he wouldn’t agree with its argument against ‘gradual creation’ because it’s not Trinitarian (!), with its defence of the ‘full deity of Jesus Christ’, with the interpretation of Genesis as ‘Satan’s invasion of the earth’ after a rebellion in heaven, and so on!
  4. [JB] implies that since June ‘there has been no open Bible discussion with bro David’. I find this really unacceptable. Both before June and since, I’ve spent many, many hours in discussion in good faith; I’ve tried to document what I think; I offered a discussion about ‘origins’ months ago and several took part at my home; I have had discussions at length with all the ABs and with numerous others. The June decision – after [JB] failed to share with the meeting [CB]’s carefully considered view which I’m sure you’ll agree was highly relevant – was to exclude me from participation while some concerns were worked through. I co-operated with that process in good faith and a conclusion was reached, albeit by most though not all ABs. It is extremely regrettable that John not only campaigned against the conclusion of the members of his own committee but chose to do so in a way that split the ecclesia and hurt many people on all sides, instead of discussing it on a personal basis as I’d asked him to do. In particular, his actions have left Viv in a distressed and tearful state and I continue to be very concerned about her.
  5. It was not for me to ‘refuse’ the proposal referred to from the September ABs’ meeting: I‘m not an AB. I presented an alternative which was endorsed by the committee at its next meeting.
  6. The meeting on Oct 13th was not ‘called off without explanation’: it was simply unnecessary as the ABs had already come to a decision. I had offered to attend a meeting of the committee; in fact I offered to attend on Oct 6th even straight after a 20 hour flight, but was telephoned during the meeting so say it was unnecessary.
  7. ‘Bro David subsequently requested that the matter should not be discussed at the EMM; on this being refused he then e-mailed all the ecclesia.’ The point is that the EMM had been moved to a date on which I could not attend because of a major and long standing professional event for which I was responsible. I couldn’t simply approach those I’d allegedly offended, because John refused to tell me who they were: hence the email. 

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