Beginnings

Two events, both of which occurred in Germany at the turn of the 15th Century, marked the dawn of what is commonly called the Protestant Reformation: In 1456, Johann Gutenberg and his assistants produced the first book ever printed from movable type; and in 1522, Martin Luther, a former Catholic monk, translated that same book into the common language of the people.

The book, of course, was the Bible. And within a generation, it would be freely circulating throughout much of the continent — made accessible for the first time by the new printing technology, and intelligible by virtue of Martin Luther’s work.

Wearied by centuries of superstition and spiritual tyranny, people now turned with eagerness to the message of hope and love they discovered in God’s Word. Rapidly, there sprang up communities of “Bible-believers” known by a variety of names including “Anabaptists” or “Re-baptizers”, because of their belief in the necessity of adult baptism; and “Adventists”, because of their firm hope in the literal return of Christ. Most commonly, they were called simply “Brethren”.

Persecuted by both Catholic and Protestant “state” churches (including Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans), the “Brethren” suffered on all sides because of their unpopular doctrines, such as:

  • There is one eternal God, not a three-part godhead — and Jesus is His only begotten Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, which is the power of God (Isa 45:5; 1Ti 1:17; Luk 1:35). [See Lesson, Trinity, history.]
  • Man is mortal; thus, his only hope for eternal life is through a resurrection in contrast to the unscriptural idea of an immortal soul that goes to heaven at death (Psa 49:12-20; 1Co 15:12-50; Joh 11:25; Rev 20:4).
  • There is an absolute necessity for adult baptism, as opposed to the sprinkling of infants (Act 2:37; Mar 16:15,16). [See Lesson, Baptism, summary.]

Christ’s true followers understand they are “strangers and pilgrims” in the earth; with no vested interest in the political, military, and social affairs of a world order destined to pass away (Heb 11:13; 1Pe 2:11-13; Mat 5:38-45; Jam 4:4).
Under the steady, unremitting pressure of their enemies, congregations of “Brethren” disbanded and scattered throughout Europe, fleeing for their lives from one country to another. When apprehended, many Brethren and their children were summarily executed by Catholics and Protestants alike. Other groups of the Brethren survived persecution by modifying their doctrinal positions, continuing for some years as “Mennonites” or “Baptists” or “Unitarians”. But in the process, these Brethren lost, with each passing generation, more of their unique birthright of Bible truth.

The Modern Brethren

The brethren today, called by the Greek name “Christadelphians” or “Brethren in Christ” (cp Col 1:2; Heb 2:11), trace their modern history to the pre-Civil War era. It was in the mid-19th Century that an English physician, having decided to emigrate to America, set off as ship’s doctor on a sailing ship. Dr. John Thomas had shown no particular interest in religious matters when he began his medical career in the 1830’s, but an event was soon to happen that would change that, and alter the entire course of his life.

Most Atlantic crossings were routine affairs by this time, but on Dr. Thomas’ voyage, the ship met some unexpected bad weather and almost sank. For the first time, John Thomas faced the reality of his own mortality and discovered to his dismay that he had no certain idea of what lay in store for him beyond death. In the midst of the storm at sea, he vowed that, if he survived the crisis, he would not rest until he found a satisfactory answer.

The ship weathered the storm, arriving late but safe in the New World, and John Thomas kept his vow, beginning a life-long search for the Truth.

For a time, Thomas associated with a small sect that showed some promise of helping him find his answer. But soon it became evident to the doctor that many of the doctrines they taught were inconsistent with the Bible. Dissatisfied with “popular” teachings, Thomas found nowhere else to turn but to the Bible itself. And, having come to the source of Truth at last, he devoted the remainder of his life to a careful independent study of the Scriptures.

What he found led him to the unavoidable conclusion that the Christian church had strayed far from Divine teaching in the 19 centuries since the days of Christ and his apostles.

Despite their relatively recent beginnings, the Christadelphians (the name John Thomas suggested for those who came to share his beliefs) are not a new sect in the same sense, for example, that Mormons are: the founder of that group claimed to have received some new revelation from God. John Thomas made no such claim — nor do Christadelphians who have come after him. Thomas’ beliefs were the result of a careful and thorough study of the Bible alone — nothing more! He was in no sense “inspired”, nor did he claim to be.