EDITORIAL: More on the Road Ahead
March/April editorial ‘The Road Ahead’ aroused much interest and
constructive comments which we hope to expand upon in future issues of
membership numbers are not necessarily an indication of spiritual growth,
they are substantial enough to indicate trends. In the first five years of
the 20th century [1900-1904], there was a net increase of about
1,355 in the number of Christadelphians in the United Kingdom. That is,
when you compare the number of baptisms against the number of deaths and
withdrawals from fellowship, there was a growth of 1,355. A century later,
what do we find happening amongst Christadelphians in the U.K. in the last
five years? There is a stark contrast. There has been a substantial
decrease every year; in both 2000 and 2003 there was a decrease of 156
both years. Comparing numbers of new members against numbers of deaths and
withdrawals, our community reduced by about 780 members in the last
five-year period. Such a substantial reduction, in an ageing community,
with fewer young people being baptised and retained in fellowship, demands
serious consideration. It is failing in our duty to ignore these facts by
shutting our eyes to them.
commonly held view is that this is a ‘sign of the times’, with people just
not being interested. I submit that this is unfounded and contrary to the
facts. Overall there are more baptisms world-wide today than ever before;
internationally we are an expanding community.
Statistics of religious decline in the U.K. for ‘Christian’ organisations
like our own show our decline to be greater than the average, perhaps
indicating a particular British Christadelphian problem, which may also
account for the United Kingdom’s decline being greater than that in N.
America and Australia.
Guide for 1999 shows that there were then 6,214 Brethren and Sisters in
Africa. The 2004 Guide shows a gigantic expansion to 12,932 – more than
doubling in five years. Whilst this phenomenal growth is exciting, in case
the success encourages complacency, in percentage terms it is only half
the increase seen in Eastern Europe. The CBM Guide shows 241 Eastern
European members in 1999, rising to 921 in 2004, a threefold+ increase.
Whilst the numbers may go up or down, projecting the present rate of
growth in Africa and Eastern Europe for the next 30 years indicates there
could be 3,908,641 Christadelphians, yes, nearly 4 million, in these parts
in contrast to a further decrease of 4,680 in the UK, by present
trends. The fact is, this is the pattern of growth that has been achieved
in the last five years. Pessimists think it will not continue. The same
pessimists five years ago thought such an explosion as has occurred
ridiculously impossible. Optimists feel the chart on the next page could
even be an underestimate, especially if other areas expand. The
Christadelphian Advancement Trust has played a part in furthering the
gospel of recent years, thanks to the generous support of so many and the
Lord’s blessing upon the work, without which all would be impossible, we
hope to continue to work with all the other Christadelphian organisations
and individuals to preach the gospel to all nations.
INCREASES PROJECTED FOR THE NEXT 30 YEARS.
| || AFRICA|| EASTERN EUROPE|| |
| 1999|| 6,214||241|
| 2004|| 12,932||921|
|Next 5 years|| 26,898|| 3,518|
| 10 years|| 55,947|| 13,483|
| 15 years|| 116,369|| 51,333|
| 20 years|| 242,047||196,092|
| 25 years|| 503,457||749,071|
| 30 years|| 1,047,190|| 2,861,45|
Africans or Eastern Europeans boast in their numerical increases. Further
research indicates great potential in Asia and South America where the
surface has barely been scratched (at the moment). So let us all banish
the pessimism and replace it with confident optimism. The Truth is
triumphant and penetrating into the four corners of the earth – the
potential is enormous.
emphasizing the need for increasing commitment, one must not underestimate
the very substantial amount of work being done by so many today, but every
dedicated missionary worker confirms that the harvest is great, but the
Christadelphia there is some apathy, lack of real commitment and even at
times antagonism, towards forwarding this vital saving work, to give the
perishing the hope of salvation. Personal prejudice, infighting and
internecine conflicts appear to be crippling us. This should not be.
With the above background let
us start to consider a few African readers’ comments and suggestions of
the ‘road map’ ahead. Bro. Raphael Mkeya of Tanzania made a number of
thoughtful and positive suggestions, he wrote:
rather depressing to know that membership in Britain is declining
sharply…This pushes me to ask the question, Why is membership decreasing
in Britain? Britain is supposed to be the main stem of the faith. If the
stem is thinning, do you think the branches will hold? This calls for
more work at home than abroad.”
- Bro Raphael Mkeya.
The need for “more work at home” is certainly very true. However,
substantial national and local efforts and regular meetings are held in
the UK, much money is spent, very often with little or even no apparent
results, but the work is persisted in. The CALS does a grand job on their
national advertising. The Seminar principle adopted over the past years
has had results, but by far and away the most effective way of preaching
is by personal contact, as the results over the past hundred years
indicate. Owing to materialism and the growing decline in interest in UK
Christianity, some find it awkward to make a more personal witness.
However, the stark fact is that Christianity in Britain is in decline. In
the last five years 2,600 churches have closed and with congregations
shrinking the demise is likely to escalate. This is not the pattern
worldwide where active belief in ‘Christianity’ is expanding.
| ||1970 ||1995 ||% change |
| || Africa|| 247,110||551,700 ||+123 |
| || Asia|| 192,100||993,400 ||+417 |
| S. America|| 128,200||419,000 ||+227 |
| China|| 52,400||425,960 ||+694 |
majority of our converts have a ‘Christian’ background, indications are
that, whilst we have to preach everywhere, we need to focus greater
attention on areas where we are likely to get the best results. When the
fishermen-disciples had fished all night and caught nothing, they were
surprised because they were doing their ‘normal thing’. However, at
Jesus’ command to “cast the net on the other side of the boat, and you
will find some” (John 21:6), they caught a great multitude. This can well
be the lesson for us today: to cast the net on the other side of the sea
of nations where we will find we can catch men.
when Jesus told the men to “launch out into the deep, and let down your
nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4) that they caught “a great number of fish.”
Bro. Harry Whittaker, commenting on this, says, “There was initially a
marked reluctance on the part of the twelve to ‘launch out into the deep’
of the Gentile sea (Galilee of the Gentiles), but ultimately there came
such a ‘haul’ of converts that they were quite inadequate for the
situation. So it became necessary to call others to their side that the
harvest of this Gentile sea might be gathered in” (‘Studies in the
Gospels’ ch. 29). So let us all take Jesus’ teaching to ourselves in
the present rate of decline, and should Jesus not return for some years to
come, there will still be a few thousand Christadelphians in Britain.
There is a deep understanding and commitment to the truth, with many
having years of experience in dealing with all sorts of problems,
organizing of meetings etc. This is something which is and can be of
enormous benefit in establishing the truth in new areas. We are pleased
to be able to work together with those of you abroad as we see the truth
growing in your areas. We must say, as did John the Baptist when Jesus
commenced his ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. We are
privileged to help you become strong, dynamic ecclesias, which should
ultimately become independent communities with which we are all in
fellowship as the one body of Christ.
understandable that from an African point of view some see Britain as the
“main stem of the faith” because most of the initial work in Africa
was done from the UK. Those in the Philippines seem to see the Australians
as their “main stem”, whilst in S. America they would see it as N.
America. Like nations that over the centuries rise and fall, so, too,
have the centres of the truth: Jerusalem, then possibly Central Europe and
today probably Australasia, Britain, and North America. Maybe these areas
will also soon, have ‘had their day’.
like to emphasize that established Christadelphian ecclesias in
whatever country of the world, are not under the control of any other
country or body. They are each totally independent and autonomous, but
united together by their understanding of the word of God, the basic
teaching of which is expressed in our ‘Statement of Faith’.
seems an attitude held by some that the truth is primarily for
English-speaking people; that they are some kind of superior ‘chosen
race’. But this, of course, is not so. The gospel is for all people of
the world, which embraces all nations. Only 320 million have English as
their mother tongue, that’s less than 20% of the world’s population. The
redeemed will have come “out of every tribe and tongue and people and
nation” (Rev. 5:10 NKJ) or “every tribe and language and people and
nation” (ESV). If it were to be an average, only 20% of them will have had
English as their native tongue. Hence the need for our literature in all
languages. Bible Basics is available in 50 - plus of the major
languages and an acceleration of the work is needed.
business, political and religious world there is a desire for
‘centralized’ control which, from a human point of view, has some merit.
It is most undesirable, however, for Christadelphia to have such a
‘hierarchical’ system. Bro. Roberts wrote in the Ecclesial Guide:
independence should be guarded with great jealousy, with the
qualifications indicated in the foregoing sections. To form ‘unions’ or
‘societies’ of ecclesias, in which delegates should frame laws for the
individual ecclesias, would be to lay the foundation of a collective
despotism which would interfere with the free growth and the true objects
of ecclesial life. Such collective machineries create fictitious
importance’s, which tend to suffocate the truth. All ecclesiastical
history illustrates this”.
the major limitations to true independence in Africa is poverty
Not everyone is poor, many are materially independent and they and their
families do not suffer undue hardship. The same goes for Biblical
knowledge and practise; some are great students and mature expositors of
an increasing number are trapped by the downward spiral of poverty.
Because of this they are unable to obtain a balanced nourishing diet thus
making them prone to disease, but they lack the resources to obtain proper
medical treatment. Consequently they are physically weak, unable to work
the land satisfactorily or to obtain good employment. This results in
them being unable to afford education for their children and thus the
poverty trap continues. So, apart from helping those in the mission
fields spiritually, we should also be helping them out of the poverty trap
independence and healthier living – something that cannot be achieved
overnight. However, part of the solution is to think of ways of
addressing their medical, nutritional and educational needs and
suggestions of how to achieve this are welcome. On page 17 we start to
look at some help with the medical problem.
summary, each part of the body of Christ needs something from other parts
of the body in order to function properly. Remember how every person
received the same amount of manna, even though the stronger gathered more,
and the weaker gathered less (2 Cor 8:14-15). This happened because there
was a sharing of the resources they had gathered - resources, which God
had given. And so there was, what Paul calls in his commentary upon this,
an “equality”. And this is the unity, which there could so easily be
amongst us. It is this unity, not uniformity but true unity, which
is my daily prayer.