What do Christadelphians Believe about Salvation?
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©1999|
|Christadelphians believe that people are saved by faith in Jesus as Savior plus good works qualifying them for eternal life|
What do Christadelphians Believe about Salvation?
Salvation, Works, Atonement
Christadelphians believe that people are saved by faith in Jesus as Savior plus good works qualifying them for eternal life. However, as is true in Mormonism and most other cults, while they may claim to teach “salvation by grace,” the claim is buried beneath a landslide of demands for works righteousness. We may note the following seven points.
First, salvation is a process. “Salvation… commences with a belief of the gospel, but is by no means completed thereby; it takes a life-time for its scope and untiring diligence for its accomplishment… [It] is a work of slow development, and can only be achieved by the industrious application of the individual to the means which God has given for the purpose.””
Second, eternal life is given at the resurrection, not the point of one’s faith in Christ. In a teaching similar to traditional Armstrongism, Christadelphians allege that we are first “conceived.” This is the process of salvation begun by faith and baptism. Then we experience growth “in the womb” by obedience. After death, at the resurrection—assuming we have maintained righteousness in life—we are then spiritually “born.” In other words, at the resurrection we become spirit beings. Then, and only then, are we saved. The following statements reflect the Christadelphian misunderstanding of biblical salvation, especially the nature and interrelationship between regeneration, justification, sanctification and glorification:
The Bible calls this continuing process “salvation.” Because it begins at baptism
Peter says “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21 NAS), while Jesus promises that
“whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). But the process of
salvation cannot be completed until Christ comes again, when he will give everlasting life to those who have grown fit for it. Hence the New Testament also
speaks of salvation as something we must wait for.
The New Birth, like the old one of the flesh, is not an abstract principle, but a
process. It begins with the begettal and ends with the having been born…. Having
been begotten by the Father by the word of truth, and born of water, the first stage
of the process is completed. He is constitutionally “in Christ.” When a child is born, the next thing is to train him up in the way he should go…. This is also the
arrangement of God in relation to those who are born out of water into His family on
earth…. That by so doing he may be accounted worthy of being “born of spirit,” that he may become “spirit,” or a spiritual body; and so enter the kingdom of God,
crowned with “glory, honor, incorruptibility, and life.”… He is then an incorruptible and living man, “equal to the angels”; and like them capable of reflecting the glory of Him that made him. This is the end of the process. He is like Jesus himself.
To the contrary, the Bible is clear that eternal life is given at the point of faith in Christ and is therefore not a lifelong process such as sanctification (John 5:24; 6:47; 1 John 5:13). Thus, at the point of faith a person has already been regenerated (born again) and justified (declared righteous).
Third, belief in the covenants is necessary to salvation. In Christadelphianism, belief in Jesus alone is not sufficient for salvation. One must believe in the covenants also, and that one will inherit the land of Canaan and eventually the world. One must also possess knowledge of what the Bible teaches if one would be saved. “Salvation in the kingdom is
not promised to those who only believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and died and rose again for sin. It is equally necessary to believe in the promises of the covenants; not more so, but equally so.” “By ‘the great salvation’ is meant deliverance from the grave by a
resurrection to life, and a share in the kingdom of God. This, as we have seen, is predicated on faith in the promises made to the Fathers, an Abrahamic disposition [the same mental attitude and knowledge], baptism into the name of the Holy Ones, and faith made perfect by works.”
Fourth, people are saved unto equality with Christ. “They can attain unto the ‘glory of God,’ ‘divine nature,’ the ‘name of God,’ and complete ‘oneness with Him.’ The Lord Jesus attained unto all this, and thus had the name of God bestowed upon himself, a name that he promises all true believers, who are described as being ‘heirs of God’ with him (Romans 8:17)…. In short, the Bible sets out the hope that what Jesus Christ is now—glorious, divine, immortal—the redeemed can become.”
Fifth, the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone is erroneous:
Christendom, which has gone astray from the doctrines, has also forsaken the
commandments of Christ, if ever it made them a rule of life…. Popular theology has
reduced them to a practical nullity. It has totally obscured the principle of obedience as the basis of our acceptance with God in Christ, by its doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’…. While faith turns a sinner into a saint; obedience only will secure a saint’s acceptance at the judgment seat of Christ;… a disobedient saint will be rejected more decidedly than even an unjustified sinner.
It is not at the instant a man believes that he is justified.
I have termed it a twofold justification by way of illustration; but it is, in fact, only one. The two stand related as cause and effect; faith being the motive principle it is a justification which be-gins with the remission of sins that are past, and is perfected in obedience unto death. The idea may be simplified thus. No exaltation without probation.
Sixth, good works are essential to salvation. This idea reflects John Thomas’ belief that people are “justified by works unto eternal life.” Faith only secures forgiveness of past sins. “Faith justifies from all past sins, and ensures peace with God; but works are requisite to retain His favor and secure acceptance at the last.” In the end, good works and obedience are what forgives future sin and establishes acceptance with God. “God forgives sins and bestows rewards only on the basis of belief in His word and obedience of His commands.” “‘Be ye holy, for I am holy’ is the fundamental principle of man’s relationship with God and the recognition of this must shape his life.” “The plan of salvation will be
fulfilled in those (and only those) who hear, believe and obey the commandments of God.”
John Thomas further declared that a “law of works” was required for salvation. “Hence, ‘the obedience of faith’ is made the condition of righteousness; and this obedience implies the existence of a ‘law of faith,’ as attested by that of Moses, which is ‘the law of works.’”
“Salvation is the gift of God but he will only bestow it upon those who have works meet for repentance. It is impossible to do too much for the Lord.”
Thus, for salvation one must strive diligently to live as Jesus did, because only a few are good enough to earn their salvation:
Let him continue in the daily practice of ALL THINGS commanded by Christ, and in
the daily cultivation of that exalted character which was exemplified in Christ himself…. If he put himself into this position, and faithfully occupy it to the end, he will certainly be approved when the Lord comes.
The terms upon which He accepts the sinner are belief in His word and obedience to
His commands…. It is by righteous works that he is perfected in divine character
and made a fit subject for the eternal inheritance.
This precious life and immortality brought to light by Jesus Christ is not to be
indiscriminately bestowed. All men will not attain to it; only a few will be counted
worthy. The precious gift is freely offered to all; but it is conditional. It is not to be given to the faithless and the impure. Perfection of character must precede
perfection of nature. Moral fitness is the indispensable prerequisite, and God is the judge and the prescriber of the peculiar moral fitness necessary in the case.
Seventh, baptism is also essential for salvation. So essential that even a true believer in Jesus will die in his sins apart from it. “Baptism is an act of obedience required of all who believe the Gospel…. It is, therefore, necessary to salvation.” “There is no other way than this, and even a believer of the truth will die in his sins unless he submit to it.”
In light of the foregoing, it is hardly surprising that we find Christadelphians stating that they “do things for God every day. Constantly and consistently we pray, we do our Bible readings, we are faithful in our attendance at every kind of meeting…. We are always willing to serve…. We do a hundred and one little things and we do them every day, not for the praise of man but for the Lord. We keep pounding, and we pound every day.” The Christadelphianism list of things that one must do for salvation is reminiscent of what one finds in Mormonism. Although we have quoted over a dozen different sources in this section, one still does not understand the full impact of just how fully “salvation by grace” is denied until one reads statements like the following:
Is faith by itself enough to secure for us the benefit of the work of Christ? Answer: No: there must be obedience, or “works” also….
[What are] a few of the things we are to do. Answer: 1) We are to love God and
Christ; 2) to do to men as we would that they should do to us; 3) to love one
another; 4) to sympathize with men in their joys and sorrows; 5) to love even our
enemies, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who hate us, and praying
for those who badly use us; 6) we are to be ready to do every good work, to give to
those who ask, to relieve the afflicted; 7) to be faithful even to bad masters; 8) to
pray always and in everything give thanks; 9) to speak the truth always; 10) to be
blameless and harmless; 11) to be humble, brave, joyful, courteous and manly; 12)
to follow after whatsoever things are true, honest, pure, just, lovely and of good
Can you enumerate some of the things we are not to do? Answer: 1) We are not to
be masterful and lordly; 2) we care not to return evil for evil; 3) we are not to
avenge ourselves, but rather give place to wrath, and suffer ourselves to be
defrauded; 4) we are not to do our alms before men, or let our left hand know what
our right hand doeth; 5) we are not to labor to be rich or to love the world; 6) we are not to return cursing for cursing, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing; 7) we are not to grudge, judge, complain, or condemn; 8) we are not to give way to anger, wrath, bitterness, or evil speaking; 9) we are not to conform to the world or to be ambitious after higher things; 10) we are not to be slack in paying our debts; 11) we are not to backbite or speak of other men’s sins until we have spoken to themselves first; 12) we are not to be guilty of adultery; fornication, uncleanness, drunkenness, covetousness, wrath, strife, sedition, hatred, emulation, boasting, vainglory, envy, jesting or foolish talking.
Will the Gospel save us if we are disobedient to those commandments? Answer: No;
our belief of the Gospel and baptism will only be to our condemnation if we live in
disobedience to the commandments of Christ. Only those who do his commandments will at last be among the blessed.
Is there forgiveness for those who, having submitted to the Gospel, may fail in
rendering a perfect obedience to the commandments of Christ? Answer: Yes; if there
were not, no flesh could be saved. But forgiveness is conditional on our confession
and forsaking our sins; and also on our being forgiving to others; and forgiveness is only granted at the intercession of Christ. If we are unforgiving, or if he refuses to intercede, there is no hope for us.
Christadelphians may also occasionally assert that they “cannot hope to achieve perfection” in this life, but in light of the above requirements one would hardly suspect it. Here is the Achilles heel of systems of works righteousness. Besides being impossible before God, we are never told how much obedience is necessary or at what point a believer is perhaps forever lost. The Bible refers to the absolute hopelessness of all forms of works-salvation, and it declares that the completed nature of the atonement makes them unnecessary (Gal. 2:15-4:31; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 9:30-10:4; Heb. 10:14). Scripture declares that today we may know, with absolute certainty, that our sins are forgiven, future sins included, and that we actually, now, possess eternal life (John 5:24; 6:47; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13; Heb. 10:14; 1 John 5:13). Eternal life, once acquired as a present possession, can never be lost, since it is eternal by definition. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24 NAS).
Further, Christadelphians stress that Jesus Christ was only a representative, not the atoning Savior of the world. “A very circumscribed and superficial view of the gospel is that which finds it stated in the words ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.’” The Apostle Paul, however, said just the opposite when he emphasized, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you… by which also you are saved… unless you believed in vain [i.e., falsely]. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-3 NAS, emphasis added).
In Christadelphianism, the reason Christ had to die was not because God’s wrath was
outraged at sin, but only because God required the death of the sinful nature. Thus when Christ died, the death of His sinful nature somehow secured forgiveness of our past sins.
Further, Christians who believe in the atonement by that belief cut themselves off from salvation:
We wish to emphasize the fact that Jesus Christ came as a representative, and not a
substitute for man. It is common to represent Christ as one of a trinity of Gods who
came down to earth, entered a mortal body and substituted Himself for sinful man,
enduring the suffering and death due to sinful man, thus saving them from the wrath
of God and eternal torment in a lake of fire. Then there is the teaching that Christ
was the subject of “immaculate conception,” therefore being sinless in nature. Again, there are numerous “clean flesh” theories which seek to show that Christ’s nature was different from the rest of humanity. All such theorists succeed in one thing: They forever cut themselves off from any hope of salvation. For such a redeemer could not fulfill the requirements of the redemptive plan. The divine scheme of redemption required the death of the nature that had sinned.
The Death of Christ was not to appease the wrath of offended Deity, but to express
the love of the Father in a necessary sacrifice for sin that the law of sin and death which came into force by the first Adam might be nullified in the second in a full discharge of its claims through a temporary surrender to its power; after which
immortality by resurrection might be acquired, in harmony with the law of
obedience. Thus sin is taken away, and righteousness established.
Clearly, the death of Christ means something entirely different to the Christadelphian than what it means for the Christian.
- The Bible Companion, p. 1.
- Great News for the World, p. 53.
- John Thomas, Elpis Israel, pp. 135-136; cf. p. 128.
- Christadelphian Messenger, No. 4, “The One Hope of Everlasting Salvation”; No. 47, “Christendom Creeds not Christianity,” p. 1; No. 11, “A Refuge from the Judgment Storm,” p. 4.
- Thomas, Elpis Israel, P. 315.
- Ibid., p. 318.
- Who Do You Worship?, pp. 62-63.
- R. Roberts, Christendom Astray, p. 241.
- Thomas, Elpis Israel, p. 259.
- Ibid., p. 261.
- Ibid., p. 259.
- Christadelphian Instructor, p. 17.
- Christadelphian Messenger, No. 26, “It Does Make a Difference What WE Believe,” p. 3.
- God Whom We Worship, p. 22.
- What is Death?, p. 15.
- Thomas, Elpis Israel, p. 133.
- Minute Meditations, pp. 25, 34.
- R. Roberts, Christendom Astray, p. 240.
- Christadelphian Messenger, No. 56, p. 4.
- R. Roberts, Christendom Astray, pp. 53-54.
- A Declaration of the Truth Revealed in the Bible, p. 51.
- Thomas, Elpis Israel, p. 260.
- Minute Meditations, p. 85.
- Christadelphian Instructor, p. 225.
- J. Marshall, Portrait of the Saint, p. 76.
- Thomas, Elpis Israel, p. 315.
- Christadelphian Messenger, No. 56, p. 3.
- A Declaration of the Truth Revealed in the Bible, p. 28.