Thursday, June 06, 2013

Pleased to Meet You! Hope You Guess My Name!

On this blog, and elsewhere on the Internet, I talk about my religion. This post is a thumbnail sketch of the community I belong to.

My denomination is a very small community. It's found worldwide, but all together we have about 60,000 members total. We call ourselves "Christadelphians," and we believe that we've managed to recreate the first-century Christian community. Well, we haven't recreated their practices, and I think most of us know that. Our practices come from our founding, in the 19th Century, and resemble the Puritans and other Protestant denominations like that. But we believe that our beliefs are extremely close to those of the 1st Century. I'll talk about our beliefs another time.

Within our community, almost everyone knows almost everyone. And we have some fairly strict social norms. For the vast majority of Christadelphians, we are a lay, patriarchal, millenarian, unitarian, evangelical, apolitical, community of Bible students. What does that mean?

A lay community. That means we're a community of laymen. We don't have any clergy. Everyone takes turns leading the service on Sunday, or delivering the sermon, or performing baptisms or weddings. Everyone teaches, and everyone preaches, with few exceptions. Nobody is "ordained." In fact nobody ever seeks an education in theology, Bible scholarship, or any related subject, with extremely few exceptions. We're not only laymen; we're self-taught.

Patriarchal. That means we're laymen. The men teach, preach, perform baptisms, etc. Women do not fill those roles. The few Christadelphian churches where women do those things, are considered extreme. In principle, it also means that the husband is the head of the household. In practice, most Christadelphian men would blush to "rule" their household in the way that a 19th-Century husband would consider a matter of course. But the average Christadelphian household is definitely an unequal partnership.

Millenarian. That means we believe that Jesus Christ will literally return to the Earth, literally resurrect the dead, and literally set up a world-wide kingdom that will last for 1,000 years (that's the "millenium" in "millenarian"). This, or something close to it, was generally believed in the 1st Century. Millenarianism  has enjoyed surges of popularity over the centuries, including the 19th Century when our group was founded, but today that belief is at a low ebb, and we are one of fairly few denominations that actively believe this. (Technically, the Catholic Church teaches a version of this, but it's so severely de-emphasized that even most Catholics are unaware of it.)

Unitarian. That means we believe that Jesus is distinct from God. We call ourselves "biblical unitarians," to distinguish ourselves from "unitarian universalists." They believe that Jesus was just "a man with a unique relationship to God." We believe he was much more than that: he was literally the son of God, with only one human parent. That makes him more than human, and in fact makes him divine--without making him God himself.

Evangelical. That means we believe in preaching the gospel. Like most "evangelical" churches, we consider preaching one of our highest values. Often, this is to the exclusion of things like giving to the poor, doing charitable work, etc. In practice, fewer of us preach, and preach less of the time, than we'd like to believe about ourselves. That's not surprising, though: our ideal is so lofty that it comes with a heavy load of guilt, and to some extent we reduce the guilt by kidding ourselves. We try our best, though. (Note: we are not associated with the evangelical movement, even though we fit the general definition with regard to evangelism.)

Apolitical. That means we don't vote, don't campaign for political candidates or parties, and don't seek positions of rulership over others. For some, it means that we also refuse jury duty. For most, it means that we wouldn't even run for a spot on the local school board--I'm not sure whether any given Christadelphian ecclesia (i.e., church) would tolerate that or not. We consider ourselves "separate from the world," and politics is the epitome of "the world." We are also conscientious objectors to military service, for the same reasons.

...of Bible Students. Our very highest value is Bible study. Naturally, as with evangelism, that means we also deal with some guilt and some kidding of ourselves. Our study doesn't quite measure up to our aspirations, nor to our self-image. Nevertheless, as Christian denominations go, we are unusually committed to regular reading of the Bible and to thoroughly learning general Bible knowledge and also learning at least enough apologetics to preach and defend our beliefs. This makes us stick out from the rest to such an extent that our "Learning to Read the Bible Effectively" seminars usually attract lots of visitors from neighboring churches, and many of them continue attending our Bible classes for years--without ever leaving their present church--because, "Our pastor just doesn't know the Bible like you do." We're not very sophisticated students, sometimes, but we're very sincere and, often, very devoted students.

I believe that sums up my community in a nutshell. If anyone has something to add, or ask, or disagree with, then please feel free to comment below. Respectful comments only, please.