John Thomas and Fellowship
(By Jim Phillips, The Berean Ecclesial News, Feb 2007)
A recent effort has been made by some Central brethren to claim that Bro. Thomas was in harmony with them in their policy of loose fellowship. They have published some of his very early writings on the subject which actually are even loser than their fellowship stand. Then, some of his later writings are advanced, tied with those earlier writings in such a manner as to suggest that even while he was writing opposite things, he still believed the things that he had written in those most early days of the Truth, before the ecclesias were formed.
We marvel that these early writings of Bro. Thomas are now being advanced in Central, where so many have worked so hard to discredit the sound foundation laid by Bro. Thomas on so many topics. When we appeal to Bro. Thomas' writings in support of doctrines like the nature and sacrifice of Christ, pointing out his sound logic that "Sin is a synonym for human nature" or "sin could not have been condemned in the body of Jesus, unless it existed there:" there is an apostate class of brethren who nearly scream at us that we are involved in "Pioneer Worship" as they term it. Yet now these same brethren find a few sentences which they think agree with them, and they themselves published these things from the housetops. Four different Central websites, and one Unamended web site, now carry some form of reference (all of them with wrong page numbers, obviously copied from the same source, belying their true lack of interest) to the earliest writings of Bro. Thomas on fellowship.
Do these modern brethren really believe they have found some long hidden writings which now justify their positions, and prove that their position is the foundation position of Christadelphians all along? They haven't! All who read the pioneer writings have known about these sections. They were even briefly advanced and then rejected as opposed to Christadelphian teaching, in the lifetime of Bro. Roberts. Frankly, that these quotes could gain such popularity recently is only possible because many Central brethren have ceased to read the pioneer writings.
There are three quotes from the 1851 Herald which are advanced as support of the Nicodemite position. One of them is advice given in 1851, and two of them are a recounting of events which took place in 1848, on his first speaking tour following his booklet "Confessions and Abjurations " and his renouncing of all held dear by Christendom.
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Jim Phillips and Just So Stories About John Thomas and Fellowship
Brother Phillips claims my attempt has been to show that "brother Thomas was in harmony with" us in our "policy of loose fellowship".
We do not practice "loose" fellowship and we have made no attempt to justify loose fellowship. In this age, a man may assert anything he wants to, as brother Phillips has done. Whether he can prove it or not is altogether another matter.
I advanced the "later" [sic] writings of brother Thomas, at brother Phillips request, but I never claimed the early and latter writings said the exact same thing. In fact, I showed what was consistent and what was inconsistent between the two positions. Brother Phillips would not be able to confess what is consistent between the early and the latter writings of brother Thomas because doing so would undermine the very foundation of Berean fellowship claims, which pretend to be an upholding of brother Thomas' position on fellowship. That principle is that breaking bread is not always equivalent to fellowship. There are responsibilities and other issues which come with that principle, which are better covered elsewhere.
We are then told that while some of John Thomas' latter writings were set forward, "he [JT] was writing opposite things". Brother Phillips does not tell his readers what those "opposite" writings were. And brother Phillips makes no attempt to explain why brother Thomas was writing contradictory things, according to Jim Phillip's own assertion, about fellowship in his latter years. This is all just a nice story which happens to support the Berean position which his readers are to accept on faith that brother Phillips knows what he's talking about -- and that he's accurately representing the parties involved.
Bro. Phillips then brings in the clean flesh doctrine and claims his detractors are of those "nearly screaming" at the Bereans and charging them with man worship for quoting the pioneers. Jim, personally, is aware of the efforts I have made against clean flesh teachings. He has, at times, been a regular reader of my web site -- I know this because he has contacted me on more than one occasion via email about material on the site and has sometimes found changes to the site within a matter of a few days.
But Jim is playing to his captive audience, assuming they are ignorant of my own defense of the truth on the atonement and my regular quotations of the pioneer brethren. Of course if Jim can put all who disagree with him in the same bucket -- clean flesh anti-pioneer false brethren -- then the battle of ideas is over with, before his readers have to start thinking. Readers will not need to read further. Bereans have too much to lose if they were to admit that the leader of the charge against Berean fellowship claims is an outspoken advocate against clean-flesh and a thoroughly pro-pioneer Christadelphian.
I do not know which web sites brother Phillips refers to when he speaks of "four different Central, and one Unamended". I do not know for what purpose other web sites have posted material so I do not defend their position blindly. But I will note that brother Phillips misses no chance to cast aspersion on others: he assumes all have wrong page numbers. Differing page numbers might be accounted for by different editions, or reprints, such as in the case of brother Phillips very own book! He claims that the (supposed) incorrect page numbers belies their true interest. Of course those persons he criticizes may have looked up the text in electronic copies, even on the web, where page numbers are not needed and therefore they were not double checked.
Jim asks "do these modern brethren really believe they have found some long hidden writings". I do not think anyone believes they have found "long hidden writings". This really indicates a kind of arrogance that is embarrassing to point out. Of course, it is OK for brother Phillips, or for any Berean I guess if we are to judge by Jim's words, to make a selective modern presentation of the pioneer writings on fellowship as he has done. Supporting status quo Bereanism is OK. Challenging it is not OK.
There is an irony in that I only published on the topic because Jim challenged me to prove Berean representations of the pioneer brethren were inaccurate. So I documented it. And now Jim, instead of dealing with all the quotes he left out, he dismisses those writings on a specious charge. He's at once thoroughly familiar with them but dead silent on what they are. Conversant and competent to speak to them but presently mute. The quotes never appear in this article of brother Phillips -- and for many of them I suspect a search would find them missing from any Berean publications or republications -- and then the article ends with a promise of moving on to brother Roberts' writings! How thorough a job!
Bro. Phillips then says, "because many Central brethren have ceased to read the pioneer writings." Jim could have as easily said, if he were not telling such a prejudicial story, "Apparently we Bereans are not good readers either because there are a good number of passages from the pioneer writings which we have failed to account for in our fellowship practices". But that would spoil the story. It would disturb his readers who do not want to be told that they have been mislead and that their support of "the pioneer fellowship position" is a comfortable and happy delusion daubed and held together by the mortar of modern documents (1950's).
Then Jim tells us that there are three quotes which are advanced to support "the Nicodemite position".
First, the label Nicodemite suggests non-Bereans are all about hiding our faith. This is defamatory.
Second, I never claimed that the 1851 quotes were accurate statements upon fellowship. Even Jim admits, elsewhere (p. 63) when it suits his argument, that they are more liberal than any Christadelphian Fellowship position and yet in this paragraph he claims, without any qualification, they are "advanced to support the Nicodemite position"!
The first two quotes by Bro. Thomas, are related to his "non-fellowshipping" of the reformists in 1847. Bro. Thomas was baptized for the final time in 1847, immediately upon the writings of "Confessions and Abjurations," Following this, he travelled to Britain in 1848 to lecture there on the truth which he had uncovered from the darkness that make up the world's religions. Bro. Thomas' views on fellowship at this time, were such that he continued to fellowship with the Church of Christ (sometimes called Campbellites, or the Disciples.) In the United States, he regularly fellowshipped men who embraced all the traditional Christian beliefs. He did not believe he had the authority to exclude any man from fellowship, whether Trinitarian, or immortal soulist. He was also very interested to continue to remain associated with these congregations, in an effort to preach the gospel to them.
He had upset many of the ruling class among the Campbellites, with "Confessions and Abjurations." He squarely attacked the new clergy being set up by them. These men seized on "Confessions and Abjurations" to reason that Bro. Thomas had disfellowshipped the Campbellites, and therefore, that the Campbellites should not make their Churches available to Bro. Thomas. But many of the common members of the Campbellites were anxious to hear him.
When he arrived in England in 1848, he was interviewed by David King, who directly asked him if he had disfellowshipped the Disciples in the U.S., or if any had disfellowshipped him. He answered that he had not, which was Bro. Thomas' perception of the case. He hadn't disfellowshipped them. He had "non-fellowshipped" them, though apparently he wasn't real clear on this point to David King.
This doctrine of "non-fellowship" states that fellowship is between God, Christ and an individual. The individual has no authority to include or exclude individuals in fellowship. If the individual next to us at Memorial meeting is in fellowship with Christ, then we are in fellowship with him. If not, then we are not. We can exercise no control. Therefore, who we break bread with, and what meeting we attend has no effect on fellowship. This is the teaching, as we shall see, Bro. Thomas himself goes away from, but is the one our Nicodemite brethren cling to, in various forms.
Following his meeting with David King, Bro. Thomas then lectured in a few Campbellite halls, till some of the new developing clergy men of Campbellism advanced the copies of "Confessions and Abjurations" to argue that this document "proved" that he had disfellowshipped the Campbellites, and that Bro. Thomas was only lecturing with the purpose of dividing the Campbellite Churches. This led, ultimately, to his being disfellowshipped by the Church of Christ. But even after the Campbellite
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Jim says the first two quotes are about "non-fellowship" of the reformists. If he had told the whole story he would have said that it was about John Thomas' affirmative position of breaking bread with those who he had no delusions about being in fellowship with. John Thomas knew that God would know who was in fellowship and who was not. We have freely admitted that such an open policy goes beyond the bounds of Scriptural instruction. But Jim apparently believes that to tell Bereans that John Thomas believed he could break bread with someone and not be in fellowship with them would confuse his Berean readership who premise their fellowship on worldwide fellowship without exception. John Thomas did not equate breaking bread with having fellowship like the Bereans infallibly do. I have confidence in his readership that they will be able to see the difference between what brother Phillips represents and the facts of the case.
Churches were closed to him, Bro. Thomas went to a Church of Christ convention in Glasgow, as a representative of the Lincoln Church of Christ in England, as their representative, and he now claimed to be in fellowship with them.
This situation in England caused the Campbellites to accuse Bro. Thomas of a falsehood. They reasoned that he in fact had disfellowshipped the Campbellites with "Confessions and Abjurations" and was deceitfully seeking a building to preach his new gospel in, in order to divide them. Bro. Thomas later defended this fellowship action of 1848, in his magazine of 1851.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come. 1851. pg. 82: We do not remember if Mr. Black invited us to speak at his place. A few days after, however, we received a note from Mr. King, dated July 6, 1948, requesting us to meet him at Mr. Black's the next day at half-past three; and stating that "in the event of our not being able to do so, he would thank us to send him a line appointing time and place, as they deemed some conversation requisite before the next First Day." We accordingly went at the time appointed, and had an interview with Messrs. Black and King, and a third person whose name we forget. The object they had in view in inviting us to this conference, as stated by Mr. King in a letter to the Gospel Banner, was to inquire "whether we, when in the States, refused to fellowship those Christians who had not been baptized while possessing those opinions which we held." He meant by this to inquire whether we refused to fellowship those professors called Campbellites. who when they were immersed were ignorant or faithless of the Hope of Israel or Kingdom of God as expounded by us. To this inquiry we answered, that we did not refuse; which is well known by everyone to be the fact. We do not feel that we are called upon to do more than testify to and for the truth. We have not been appointed a judge in these matters by God or men: therefore whatever we may think of the Christianity of persons called Reformers and Baptists, we feel at liberty only to show them the position they occupy in relation to the truth, and neither to refuse nor admit them into the fellowship of God. This is beyond our jurisdiction. We believe that God has admitted us into this fellowship through faith in the gospel of the kingdom in the name of Jesus. Having obeyed this gospel by immersion into the name of the Holy Ones, and continuing to walk in the truth, we have "fellowship with the Father and his son Jesus Christ," and the apostles of the Lord. If others do this, then "we have fellowship one with another," not else. We do not regard the breaking of bread at the same table as a test of fellowship, but the walking in the light as God is in the light." We leave others, such as Messrs. Campbell. Wallis. and King, to cast men out of fellowship; for
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All this background history of David King et al. is totally irrelevant to the real issue of brother Thomas' circa 1848 practices. In another time and place it would be appropriate but this is a pseudo-intellectual exercise that leaves the uninformed reader thinking he knows more about the issue than he really knows. Readers of the Berean article are reading about tangential history, not learning specifics on brother Thomas' beliefs and practices, some of which he consistently carried to his death.
our own part we pass not sentence, whatever we may think the party may deserve, "until the Lord come." We show what the truth is, where it condemns and justifies, and leave the application to particular cases to the individuals themselves. We are not lords over men's consciences; when these become sufficiently enlightened they will not rest until they do the truth, and then all will work well. That we do not "refuse" those who are immersed on Campbellite and Baptist principles, is manifest from the fact that the churches we visit are principally composed of such. We desire to enlighten and save them, not to anathematize and proscribe them, while at the same time we testify that no immersion is worth a stiver which is not predicated on faith in the things of the kingdom and the name of Jesus." [End Quote: Our Underlining] Note the following points from Bro. Thomas' pen in 1848-1851.
1). Bro. Thomas was asked directly by the Campbellite leaders whether or not he refused to fellowship Campbellites. He answered that he did not refuse them, neither did he refuse Baptists or other reformers. He felt that fellowship belonged to God, and he had no authority to include or exclude.
2) Bro. Thomas says he was not appointed by God to judge whether or not he could exclude Campbellite, Baptists, and other Reformers.
3). Bro. Thomas taught that he does not regard breaking of bread at the same table to be a test of fellowship.
4). Bro. Thomas affirmed that the meetings he visited (and the subject was refusing fellowship) are principally made up of Reformers, Baptists, and Campbellites, and he believed that it was not his position to exclude any of them.
5). Bro. Thomas affirms that he breaks bread and meets with individuals, to whom he testified that their immersion was not worth a stiver.
6). And finally, Bro. Thomas said that it was his intention to behave this way "until the Lord come."
There is more that we could quote to show that Bro. Thomas had no problem in associating for breaking of bread with most any man who showed up at the same church as he did, in 1848, but this should suffice to show Bro. Thomas' mind at that time. In some of his writings, he affirms he breaks bread with congregations where 100% of the individuals believe in the immortality of the soul. (This doctrine was particularly singled out by the Campbellites for their attacks on Bro. Thomas, since he had called the doctrine "a damnable heresy" in "Confessions and Abjurations. ") Clearly, Bro. Thomas, in 1848, did not believe that his salvation was at all effected by those who he broke bread with.
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The first thing to note is that no Christadelphian body today, practices this belief as set forth by Bro. Thomas. No ecclesia in any fellowship, that we are aware of, will freely fellowship any Church of Christ, Baptist, or Reformer of any stripe who shows up Sunday morning. No Christadelphian, that we are aware of, will attend a local Church of Christ, Baptist, or other reformer meetings, till they are disfellowshipped by them. So the thing that must be clear is that no Christadelphian group truly identifies with these early teachings of Bro. Thomas.
The second point is found if we briefly consider Bro. Thomas1 comments about a convention in Glasgow in 1948 that he attended on behalf of the Church of Christ at Lincoln even after he had been disfellowshipped by the Campbellites. Bro. Thomas had understood that he was going to be singled out for condemnation by this assembly. He was therefore anxious to go to defend his name and his teaching against these attacks. The Campbellite meeting in Lincoln, England, then appointed him as their designate to this conference. Here is Bro. Thomas' account of this event:
Bro. Thomas1 writings as recorded in "Life and Works of Dr. Thomas. "When the church at Lincoln was called, we presented its letter, which was received. The presentation of letters being over for the night, they were read in the same order. The Lincoln letter was also read, when a delegate and 'evangelist1 arose, and moved that Dr. Thomas be refused a seat among them. This was cordially seconded by another. The motion was based upon the allegation that we were not a member of any reformation church in Britain. This objection was pre-eminently sectarian. One would have expected that a convention of 'apostolic or primitive Christians' would have taken higher ground than this, and have objected to us on the plea that we were not a member of Christ's body mystical. Without examining the legality of the baptism of the Lincoln church, they had become of the same faith with us. and therefore, as stated in their letter, we were in fellowship with them in this matter: whether we and the church were recognized by the Invisible as joint members of the; 'one body.9 is quite another question: for all conventional purposes we were members of their society, and recognised as such officially by their elder. We objected to their motion that our membership with the believers at Lincoln was no affair of theirs. This was an item they could not consider, having no jurisdiction in the case. It belonged exclusively to them at Lincoln. The real question before them was whether the church there was to be recognised as 'a reformation church,' or not; if they acknowledged it, and they had done so by officially inscribing it upon their list of churches, then no delegate of a sister church, be he 'evangelist' or layman, nor a plurality of delegates, had any right to say that they should not be represented there. The
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Brother Phillips now writes, "no Christadelphian body today, practices this belief as set forth by Bro. Thomas" yet on page 1 of his article he wrote without qualification, "There are three quotes from the 1851 Herald which are advanced as support of the Nicodemite position."
Here is a lot more filler historical material. Brother Phillips is avoiding the arguments and issues and instead telling us about historical details that have no bearing on doctrinal ideas that are laid against the Berean/Dawn/Old Paths/Separatist position.
Lincoln church was in fellowship with all the "reformation churches9 in Britain. Its elder was unexceptionable in standing and character; had been one of their 'evangelists,1 having surrendered for the purpose an endowment among the Baptists, but had been superseded by the management of Mr. Wallis.
Here Bro. Thomas acknowledges that he is in fellowship with the Campbellites in Lincoln, but he questioned whether or not Deity would consider him and Lincoln Church of Christ both of the one body. This really explains his fellowship position at the time. He could be in fellowship recognized by men, while he knew that fellowship was not possibly recognized by God.
Also, note his conclusion. He says that he is in fellowship with Lincoln, and Lincoln is in fellowship with all the Churches of the reformation. There is an important observation in all this. Even at this point, Bro. Thomas recognized that to be in fellowship with an organization of brethren meant that you were in fellowship with all those in that organization. This principle of fellowship is well acknowledged in the writings of Bro. Thomas, and in those of his enemies in those days. Bro. Thomas didn't question whether or not he broke bread with those who he said believed a "damnable heresy." He knew he did. He just didn't feel that he had any responsibility to do anything about it, or that he incurred any responsibility for it, at this time. As we shall show, this attitude will change greatly.
This is a very important point when examining his teachings at this time. Bro. Thomas did not deny that he was in close association with error. He recognized that in maintaining his relationship with brethren, like those in Lincoln, whose very baptism he openly questioned, he in fact was in fellowship with them. Where can this concept come from, but 2 John 11? He had no question as to the principle of fellowship, and how it was extended among brethren. He just refused to believe that he had any responsibility in being in fellowship with these men. (to be continued)
Bro. Jim Phillips
[Next month, God willing, we shall include "Bro. Roberts Sets the Matter Clear"]
Brother Thomas did not claim he was in fellowship with all the Churches of the reformation. This is the position Jim Phillips puts into the mouth of brother Thomas but not what brother Thomas said himself. Furthermore, he plainly states, the doctrine that to break bread was not to necessarily be recognized as "in fellowship" with the Lord. There is a world of difference in what brother Thomas states and what Jim Phillips puts into John Thomas' mouth.
And I also will note that, in 1848, per Jim Phillips' assertion, the "beloved" brother Thomas was a "Nicodemite". Or does brother Phillips apply his pejorative labels as selectively as he quotes John Thomas?
PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING
1) Amongst other things, brother Thomas' latter writings includes this: "Declare what you as a body believe to be the apostles’ doctrines. Invite fellowship upon that basis alone. If upon that declaration, any take the bread and wine, not being offered by you, they do so upon their own responsibility, not on yours. If they help themselves to the elements, they endorse your declaration of doctrine, and eat condemnation to themselves. For myself, I am not in fellowship with the dogma that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh" (John Thomas, The Christadelphian, 1870, p. 16) "All whom the apostles fellowshipped, believed it; and all in the apostolic ecclesias who believed it not—and there were such—had not fellowship with the apostles" (ibid; Note: these quotes are just a few years before brother Thomas' death). "Would you have any fellowship with those who believe or teach these things? Answer: 'My fellowship is with the apostles; they had many brethren who were bewitched and disgraced the truth.'" (Answer by John Thomas, The Christadelphian, 1870, 155)
2) Not only does brother Phillips not quote the above but he claims at the beginning of the article that "opposite things" than the above were written at the same time. Will brother Phillips step up to the responsibility that now rests upon his shoulders of telling his readers what "opposite" quotes he has that were written at the same time? Having made a search of those writings I can say with a great level of certainty that brother Phillips will not be able to contradict the above quotations. But I challenge him to do otherwise.
3) I also request that brother Phillips either reconcile the "opposing" quotations or tell us that he believes brother Thomas' pen was schizophrenic. I will say, I do not believe there are any opposing quotations. Brother Phillips introduced the idea as an escape from facing quotations he cannot face while he holds Berean misrepresentations in his bosom.
4) Readers should assess the Phillips article considering 1) how much irrelevant history we have been led through and 2) the amount of pejorative complaint and labeling (Nicodemite, non-readers, anti-pioneer, clean flesh, screamers, lazy/disinterested) he engages in.
The history is quite interesting and quite relevant in some respects but not as a specific consideration of doctrinal principles concerning fellowship. Brother Phillips had limited space to work with. So why he chose to provide us with quotes that were primarily history and not doctrine concepts is a judgment that every reader should make. Is brother Phillips concerned that a closer look would betray the Berean position?
5) Notice that brother Phillips is anxious to move on to "Bro. Roberts Sets the Matter Clear". How about those "latter" quotes from brother Thomas before you change the subject and misrepresent brother Roberts?
The Lord speaks about the man who built his house on the sand. You always detect sand when a man talks all around an issue without actually dealing with it and when he hides from evidence that has been handed to him.
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."
He that hath ears to hear let him hear what the spirit saith.
Footnote: The article previous to Jim Phillips' article is entitled "Purity of Fellowship Within the Ecclesia" by one D.L. a recent Berean convert from Central. There is background to this brother that no Berean readers will be aware of that make his advocacy of Fellowship purity nothing but irony. Brother DL was a member of my own ecclesia and left our meeting angered because (do any of these actions suggest DL is concerned about Purity of Fellowship?):
1. DL wanted his wife's elderly mother baptised without any examination or confession of faith. We would not allow the baptism without an examination.
2. DL wanted ecclesial members here to participate in the baptism of his wife's granddaughter, whose parents were not in fellowship with any Christadelphian Fellowship. We did not participate since there were Central ecclesias local to the case and who were not called on to conduct the examination and baptism.
3. DL wanted us to break bread with his new sister (granddaughter) and bring her into Central without any examination, through a "back door", so she could attend a Bible school, even though she was baptised by private family outside any existing Fellowship. We did not want to be involved in "backdoor" politics.
4. DL wanted us to recognize an "ecclesia" being started by this same family, even though there were local Central ecclesias which they could have attended or were more properly suited to respond to this family's situation. This was another "back door" action we refused to participate in.
5. Then after DL joined the Bereans, DL and his wife brought a family member, a long standing (some 20 years) baptised but disfellowshipped (for adultery) Central brother into the Bereans as a newly baptized brother.
Is this the kind of "Purity of Fellowship Within the Ecclesia" that Central brethren are lacking? It's time the Bereans quit welcoming into their arms every disaffected or disfellowshipped refugee whose only qualification is that he is ready to gainsay the Central Fellowship!