The Christadelphians are a nontrinitarian Christian Britain and North America in the 19th century. They are primarily found in the English-speaking world, but are growing elsewhere, with Christadelphians now found in approximately 130 countries.
The Christadelphians were founded in the 19th century by John Thomas (1805 to 1871), a medical doctor originally from London, England. Thomas emigrated to the United States in 1832 and became closely associated with Dr. Alexander Campbell, founder of the movement that later became the Churches of Christ. Thomas broke from Campbell and took a group of students with him. This group had no formal name until the time of the American Civil War, when a group affiliation was required to register for Conscientious Objector status. The name "Christadelphian" was then devised from Greek roots meaning, "Brethren in Christ".
During Thomas' association with Campbell, both men were greatly concerned with questions of Christian eschatology, though in time Campbell became convinced that Thomas placed too great an emphasis upon it. Thomas in particular was convinced that biblical prophecy was "the key to understanding of the scriptures": by demonstrating that biblical prophecy accurately predicted the course of human history that followed, Thomas concluded that one could thereby prove that the Bible was the inspired message of the Supreme Being. Naturally, any such scheme of interpretation would also make predictions about the future, leading to the time when Jesus Christ would return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God that would bring an end to history. Christadelphians since 1948 have made much of the fact that John Thomas in the mid-19th century predicted the re-establishment of the nation of Israel, and claimed it would be a clear sign that the return of Christ to the earth was imminent. Prophecy is still an important element in the group today, though there are generally more varied and broader approaches to the specifics of interpretation.
Thomas returned several times to Britain to lecture. Groups were formed there based on his ideas, called "ecclesias", from the Greek for "church", as Thomas felt the word "church" had become debased. Among the early converts was Robert Roberts, who became a powerful speaker and very efficient organizer. He devised the system of ecclesial governance that is still largely in use to this day and sustains a worldwide organisation based almost entirely upon volunteer labor. Roberts also founded and became the first editor of the magazine which took—with Thomas' blessing—the name, The Christadelphian. As a result of this magazine's influence, Birmingham has long been regarded as the center of Christadelphianism and, despite the lack of any formal hierarchy, the editor of The Christadelphian is generally respected within the group.
Christadelphians believe in the literal return of Christ to the earth and the re-establishment of the God of Kingdom in Israel, this being the subject matter of the Gospel preached by Jesus and based upon the promises that God made to Abraham and David in the Old Testement. Many of the distinctive beliefs of Christadelphians are closely associated with their fundamental emphasis on the historical timeline of God's plan. For example, Christadelphians reject immortality of the soul, claiming instead that the dead are in a state of non-existence awaiting the Resurrection, and that their reward will be on a restored Earth, rather than in Heaven. As part of this, they reject the notion of Satan or the devil; the Christadelphian system has no Hell as a place of torment in the afterlife, and so it has little use for a devil. Christadelphians instead claim that wherever in the Bible the words "devil" or "Satan" (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/forums/index.php?showforum=18) occur, they should be understood either poetically as a symbol of man's inherent impulse to conflict with God's plan or in reference to specific political systems or individuals in opposition or conflict. Christadelphians consult original biblical texts in the face of disputed passages (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/forums/index.php?showforum=19), claiming that sometimes biblical translators - even of the KJV - were unduly influenced by many erroneous doctrines that accumulated over the centuries as a result of corrupt church councils (and sometimes even added their own beliefs to the text. (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=12))
Apart from the elements of their system directly touched by their analysis of biblical prophecy, in general the Christadelphians pursue a primitivist interpretation of Christianity. In fact, many Christadelphians claim a non-specific kinship with the historical Anabaptist movements. The Sunday service centers upon bread and wine, a "Closed Communion" that is extremely important to them, offered to all members who have undergone immersion baptism. Christadelphians are conscientious objectors (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=62) (but not pacifists) and emphasize personal morality. They generally agree with Evangelical Christianity's characteristic presentation of the doctrine of salvation by faith but emphasise the need for demonstration of faith through "works", including baptism.
Rejected Mainstream Beliefs
Critics deny that Christadelphians are "Christian", due to their rejection of doctrines that critics consider nearly universal among "true" Christian denominations, including:
- Immortality of the soul - Christadelphians believe that death is the end of conscious existence and that the hope of a Christian lies in resurrection;
- Existence of a devil entity - Christadelphians believe that when the Bible speaks of a devil it is talking about (a) the human tendency to do wrong and (b) temptation and opposition from external sources (such as individuals and institutions);
- The trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Trinity - Christadelphians believe that Jesus is not the second person of a triune Godhead, but the only-begotten Son of God who was born to Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, lived as a mortal human being, died on the cross and was raised from the grave to immortality. The spirit is understood to be God's power in action, not a third member of a triune Godhead.
Christadelphians claim that none of these doctrines is legitimately to be found in the Bible, which they regard as authoritative.
There are believed to be approximately 50,000 Christadelphians worldwide, in around 130 countries. Christadelphians usually call their congregations "ecclesias".
There is no central Christadelphian organisation or hierarchy. Ecclesias are autonomous hierarchy and all organization between them is cooperative. Ecclesias in a city may hold occasional joint activities combining youth groups, preaching, and Bible study.
In the absence of a central authority, co-operation between ecclesias is based on the "Statement of Faith" (http://www.christadelphia.org/basf.htm), originally formulated by Roberts. Many ecclesias append a statement of "the commandments of Christ" (http://www.christadelphia.org/command.htm), composed of direct quotations from the Gospels, to the Statement of Faith. Anyone who publicly assents to the doctrines in this statement and is in good standing in their "home ecclesia" (if they have one) is generally welcome to participate in the activities of any other ecclesia. Christadelphians are not permitted to take communion with any church which does not assent to the doctrines of the "Statement of Faith".
Christadelphians reject paid ministers. Most male members are eligible to teach and perform other duties, and these are usually assigned on a rotation, rather than having a designated preacher or minister. Governance is handled with a democratic model, typically with an elected committee for each individual ecclesia. This unpaid committee is responsible for the day to day running of the ecclesia and is answerable to the rest of the ecclesia's members.
Almost all Christadelphian congregations restrict the role of women, which is regarded as a matter of doctrine. Practices vary widely, but typically women are not eligible to hold elected offices or to lead services. They are generally allowed to participate in discussions, teach children, perform music, vote on business matters, and engage in most other activities.
Christadelphian ecclesias actively preach to their neighbours and co-operate at a regional, national and international level in evangelism. Most children of Christadelphian parents are highly encouraged to become Christadelphians themselves, and the retention rate from generation to generation is correspondingly high. Baptism, by immersion, is available only to individuals who have reached the "age of reason", and Christadelphian youth are generally expected to request baptism between the ages of fourteen and twenty.
Differing groups within the Christadelphians
There have been several schisms within the Christadelphians, particularly in the early years of the community, which have resulted in separate groups of Christadelphians, each known as a "fellowship". In the nineteenth century Christadelphians were divided over the questions of "the inspiration of the Bible", "resurrectional responsibility" and "clean flesh", into two main fellowships know as "Central" and "Suffolk Street".
In 1957 the "Old Paths"  (http://www.gospeltruth.info) fellowship was formed when Central and Suffolk Street merged and a minority refused to agree with the decision, stating that they were maintaining the original Christadelphian position of Robert Roberts on doctrine and fellowship. The Old Paths continues today with members worldwide  (http://www.christadelphians.co.uk).
In many cases, the issues were resolved in later years, or the minority group died out. Among those that continue, the most significant in terms of numbers (though confined to North America) is the "Unamended" fellowship. This group arose in the 1890s over the doctrinal issue of who among the dead would be raised at the return of Christ. The Statement of Faith, which had been unclear on the issue, was amended to make explicit the majority opinion, that resurrection and judgment is not limited to those who are baptised. Those who accepted this amendment became the "Amended" fellowship, while those who did not became the "Unamended" fellowship. Members of each group were not generally welcome to take communion within the other groups. In recent years there has been growing interaction between the two groups, resulting in reunion in some areas. Divorce and remarriage remains another unresolved issue; there is no widespread consensus on this subject, and it is generally left up to individual ecclesias to decide the matter internally.
Christadelphian Publications and Resources
- Gospel Truth (http://www.gospeltruth.info)
- The Christadelphian Sunday School Union (http://www.cssu.org.uk)
- Christadelphian Books Online (http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/index.html)
- The Bible Truth CD Online (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/btcd/index.html)
- Online Pamphlets (http://www.christadelphia.org/pamphlet.htm)
- Online Books (http://www.christadelphia.org/books.htm)
- AdelphosWeb (http://www.adelphosweb.com/)
- The Armoury (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/forums/index.php?s=f9cb2638e3f881819ace3f62b939d4ab&c=7)
- Bible Basics (http://www.bbie.org)
- Downloads (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/htm/downloads.htm)
Other organizations commenting on Christadelphians
- Apologetics Index (http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c93.html) - entry on Christadelphians
Response to various critiques of Christadelphian beliefs and practices
- Christadelphian Apologetics (http://www.thechristadelphians.org/forums/index.php?showforum=21) - responses to various critics.