EDITORIAL: More on the Road Ahead

My March/April editorial ‘The Road Ahead’ aroused much interest and constructive comments which we hope to expand upon in future issues of Gospel News

Whilst 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.

The 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.

The CBM 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.


 1999 6,214241
 2004 12,932921
Next 5 years
 26,898 3,518
      10 years
 55,947 13,483
      15 years
 116,369  51,333
      20 years
      25 years
      30 years
 1,047,190 2,861,45

Let not 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.

In 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 labourers few.

Within 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:

“It is 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.

                                          ‘CHRISTIAN’ CONGREGATIONS

% change
 Africa 247,110551,700 +123
 Asia 192,100993,400 +417 

 S. America
 128,200419,000 +227

 China 52,400425,960 +694
As the 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.

It was 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 these days.

Even at 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.

It is 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’.

I would 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’.

There 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.

In the 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:

“Ecclesial 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”.


One of 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 the word.

However, 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 to material 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.

In 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.

Marcus Heaster

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