Homosexuality has been an issue within all parts of Christianity for many years, and it looks like the issue will remain open for many years to come. In this light, this article addresses what a Christadelphian should believe about homosexuality. It does not address the interpretation of particular passages of scripture, which have in any case been analysed elsewhere in great detail.1
The Basis of Fellowship
The Christadelphians are a religious body that share a common set of beliefs. What are those beliefs? An initial answer might be that Christadelphians believe what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, that answer is not sufficiently precise. Many, perhaps even most, Christian denominations claim to believe what the Bible teaches. As Robert Roberts said:
“It is not enough for an applicant [for baptism] to say he believes the Bible, or the testimony of the apostles. Multitudes would profess belief in this form who we know are ignorant or unbelieving of the truth, and, therefore, unqualified for union with the brethren of Christ.”2
This is why Christadelphians use a statement of faith (and a summary of the commandments of Christ) as their basis of fellowship. The second and third clauses in the model constitution in The Ecclesial Guide are
That we accept and profess the doctrines and precepts of Christ, as taught in the apostolic writings, and defined in the annexed Statement of Faith and Epitome of the Commandments of Christ,
That we recognize as brethren, and welcome to our fellowship, all who have been immersed (by whomsoever) after their acceptance of the same doctrines and precepts.
This basis of fellowship does not define what Christadelphians believe — only the Bible does that — but it is a clear statement of the beliefs that unify the Christadelphians. Anyone who accepts what the basis of fellowship teaches can be a Christadelphian. Conversely, anyone who rejects any part of the basis of fellowship cannot be.
The Statement of Faith has various forms, and this article is directed to individuals and ecclesias that use the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF), although the conclusions should be of interest to users of other forms of the Statement of Faith.
The Statement of Faith remains as relevant today as it did in the days of the pioneer Christadelphians. A recent article in The Christadelphian, said:
Even though each ecclesia has its own statement of faith (sometimes with wording produced locally), ecclesias are part of the Central fellowship because they recognise the BASF as a faithful description of the One Faith. It is therefore a very serious matter if a brother or sister cannot accept the teachings listed in the statement of faith. We do not simply accept that these doctrines are based on the scriptures, but that they are first principle teachings, and therefore provide solid ground on which there can be fellowship with other believers. We do not fellowship anyone who believes differently about these critical teachings, anyone who does not treat them as first principles, or anyone who wants to add further doctrines as tests of fellowship.3
Fundamental Christadelphian beliefs — that is beliefs that are essential to being a Christadelphian — cannot be more liberal than the Christadelphian basis of fellowship, and they cannot be more conservative. That is the underlying reason for the basis of fellowship.
The Christadelphian basis of fellowship is not just about doctrine it contains “a list of some of the leading features of the Lord’s commandments for daily living.”4 Of particular note is commandment 44 in the Epitome of the Commandments of Christ
Refrain utterly from adultery, fornication, uncleanness, drunkenness, covetousness, wrath, strife, sedition, hatred, emulation, boasting, vain-glory, envy, jesting, and foolish talking.
The Christadelphian basis of fellowship does not contain detail on every possible idea or behaviour. However, it follows that if an issue is not mentioned in the basis of fellowship then that issue cannot be one on which fellowship can be decided. To do so is to add further beliefs as tests of fellowship.
It should also be mentioned that the Statement of Faith and the Epitome of the Commandments of Christ are clear and simple documents. They deliberately do not hide their meaning in confusing language and indirection. To do so would be to defeat their purpose. ey are not about hiding beliefs: they are about making beliefs clear.
It is perhaps best to conclude this discussion of the nature of fellowship with another quote from e Christadelphian,
Worldwide fellowship exists because there is a common basis, so anyone sharing in that fellowship should honourably uphold the faith on which it is based, neither seeking to reduce or minimise its requirements, nor trying to extend or increase them.5
What does all of this have to do with our subject? To put it simply, whatever the true Christadelphian position on homosexuality is, it must be compatible with the Christadelphian basis of fellowship. Christadelphians cannot allow fleshly or humanistic thinking to influence them, regardless of whether their human desires tell us to include or exclude. Christadelphians cannot add to the basis of fellowship for this (or any) issue, because in doing so they would be departing from Christadelphian beliefs.
What do the BASF and the Epitome of the Commandments of Christ say about homosexuality? They say nothing. The Christadelphian basis of fellowship says that adultery, fornication, and drunkenness are wrong, but it says nothing about two men (or two women) living together in a lifelong, publicly celebrated, monogamous relationship. It therefore follows that no Christadelphian can make monogamous homosexual relationships a fellowship issue.
While it could be argued that ‘fornication’ includes homosexual behaviour, the word in Biblical use refers to heterosexual sex.6 In Jude 7, ‘fornication’ is contrasted with going aer ‘strange flesh’ which many consider to be a reference to homosexuality. In 1 Cor. 6.9 ‘fornication’ is contrasted with ‘effeminate’ and ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’, two terms that many people believe are references to homosexual behaviour.7 I know of no documents that state or imply that the author of the Epitome of the Commandments of Christ intended ‘fornication’ to include homosexual sex, and the author clearly did not intend a particular understanding of ‘effeminate’ and ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ to be a basis of fellowship: if he did, then he would have included it in the Epitome. Extending ‘fornication’ to include homosexual sex is adding indirection and hidden meaning to the Epitome of the Commandments of Christ and is thus going against the spirit of the basis of fellowship with its clear statement of beliefs. Finally, it must be said that no reasonable person could regard a lifelong, publicly celebrated monogamous relationship as fornication.
Where an issue is not defined in the basis of fellowship, Christadelphians have always been free to have a range of opinions and beliefs. An ecclesia that adheres to the normal Christadelphian basis of fellowship must accept into fellowship a Christadelphian who accepts monogamous homosexual relationships as scriptural, just as it must accept into fellowship a Christadelphian who believes that Scripture condemns them.
Many people reading this article may be shocked or disgusted at the thought that the Christadelphian basis of fellowship allows a homosexual couple to be Christadelphian. To allow those feelings to influence fellowship decisions is nothing more than allowing fleshly thinking to dominate. Remember that fellowship isn’t just about spending time with those you would get on with from a human perspective, it is about worshipping in unity with individuals that our earthly thoughts may not necessarily like. The glory of Christ-like fellowship is that people with the same fundamental beliefs (as described in the Christadelphian basis of fellowship) can live together in unity, rather than developing a culture of utter uniformity as many of the other churches force their members to do.
1. E.g., Helminiak, D., What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality; and Gagnon, R., The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.
2. Roberts, R., The Ecclesial Guide, s. 34.
3. ‘What is a Christadelphian?’, in The Christadelphian, November 2009, http://web.archive.org/web/20120411070100/http://www.thechristadelphian.com/magazine/specialarticles/article3.html
6. See, for example, Matt. 5.32, 1 Cor. 7.2, and 1.Cor. 5.15–18.
7. Ashton, M., Homosexuality and the Church: Bible Answers to Moral Questions, http://www.christadelphia.org/pamphlet/homosex.htm