The Christadelphian Position
The seeker for truth will have noticed many fundamental doctrines that underlie the Christadelphian position in this debate. We believe that Christ was our representative, of human nature, who was of morally perfect character. We are all mortal and we are all personally sinners. We all need to be saved from our mortality and from our sins; we cannot save ourselves. Even Jesus, while being free of personal sin, needed redemption from his mortal condition (Heb. 9:12). By association with Christ’s death and resurrection, shown by water baptism and a life of conformity to his words, we can share in his exaltation to immortality at his return. Because Christ was our representative, we are to share in his commitment to God. We are to identify with his crucifixion by putting sin to death in our lives; we are to identify with his resurrection by living in newness of life. If we fail to do this, we openly demonstrate that we do not truly believe in him (Rom. 6:4,11-12).
Knowing this, Megiddo is surely putting up a smoke-screen by claiming that Christadelphians have the neo-pagan view of the atonement held by orthodox Christendom. They know we believe that Jesus is not God but that he is an immortalized man. He was one of us and that is why he is now an effective representative. This is basic to the power and truth of the Bible doctrine of the atonement.
As one of us, Jesus showed us how to overcome sin in our lives. And, because he understands our struggle against human nature, he is wonderfully suited to help us now in our times of need for spiritual help (Heb. 4:15-16).
Because he did not sin, he did not personally deserve to die and therefore God raised him from the dead. In the mercy of God, we, who do deserve to die, can benefit from the righteousness of Christ by belief in him, baptism into his name and a faithful life (Rom. 5:18-19). Furthermore, we have made it perfectly clear that a belief in Christ must result in a right pattern of life. If it does not, we will be rejected at the judgment seat of Christ. Obedience does matter to our salvation. This is not the orthodox view of the atonement, it is the biblical one.
The Christadelphians reject the idea that we are once saved, always saved. We believe that our individual effort is mandatory if we are to remain in the way of life. Megiddo knows this and is simply raising a smoke-screen when it ignores our beliefs in this regard.
Megiddo’s position is that our salvation depends “wholly upon what we do, i.e. our own virtue and obedience.” Because they have this “works only” idea, they deny the connection between forgiveness of sins and Christ’s death. We have shown that Megiddo’s view is directly denied by specific Bible statements.
”In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his [God’s] grace …For by grace are ye saved through faith …not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9). “The kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us …through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace …” (Titus 3:4-7).
God says salvation is by grace through faith, not by works of righteousness which we have done. Understandably, Megiddo has not addressed such passages as they clearly contradict their contention that salvation depends wholly upon our own virtue.
How can Jesus be our Savior (and why does “Jesus” mean savior?) if we effect our own salvation? The redeemed praise Christ, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain and has redeemed us to God by thy blood.” Why would they offer such praise if they were saved wholly by their own virtue? The salvation and forgiveness of those who lived before Christ was dependent upon the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:15). Why is this true if salvation is a matter of individual obedience without reference to Christ’s blood? Why is salvation dependent upon the resurrection of Christ, after he had set the example in his life (I Cor. 15:12-21)?
Be Thankful For Grace
Megiddo says we must become perfect. If Megiddo is right, no one but the Lord Jesus will be saved. Consider Abraham- “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6 NIV). After this time, Abraham did not behave flawlessly: at age 85, he shared Sarah’s doubt, taking her handmaid to conceive an heir; fourteen years later, he doubted that he and Sarah could have children at an advanced age and, that same year, he deceived the Philistine, Abimelech, regarding the status of Sarah (Gen. 16:2; 17:17; 20:2). Abraham’s faith was very great and led him to offer Isaac, trusting God would raise Isaac from the dead. It was not adequate, however, to result in unblemished conduct. According to Megiddo, Abraham could not be considered righteous until he had reached a point of sinlessness. Thankfully, that is not the way God works.
Consider Moses— “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter …By faith he forsook Egypt …Through faith he kept the passover …(he) obtained a good report through faith …” (Heb. 11:24,27,28,39). Yet within a few months of his death, Moses committed a very serious sin which led to his exclusion from entering Palestine at that time (Num. 20:12). Like many people whom God saves, Moses did not steadily improve throughout life to a point of sinlessness (cp. Asa, Jeshoshaphat and Josiah, noting their last recorded action is a transgression, II Chr. 11,12; 20:37; 35:22). Megiddo’s message that we must reach a point of no more sinning is not the Bible’s message.
Consider ourselves— the great Christian command is to love one another. Of love it is said, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). Who would ever dare say they do not, even by thoughtlessness, occasionally work hardships and ill on others. Despite good intentions, our forgetfulness and insensitivity (aspects of our human nature) make it impossible for us to reach a point of not sinning.
Megiddo claims forgiveness comes when we overcome a sin and transgress no more in that way. Such reasoning may apply to robbery and drunkenness but it hardly applies to being thoughtless, insensitive or sarcastic. Just when we think we are exhibiting love, we realize we thoughtlessly caused much trouble to another person. When considering the finer virtues, scripture confirms what is an observation of sincere believers: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).
Imputed Righteousness Equals Forgiveness
The truth is that when we believe and are baptized into Christ, we enter into a most blessed relationship with God. He forgives us our sins; He counts our faith for righteousness; He considers us part of His own family. He works with us and helps us develop personal holiness, unless we forsake the Truth and persist to walk in sin.
Megiddo rejects the idea of imputed righteousness. In doing so, they reject the forgiveness of sins, because having righteousness imputed to us simply means one’s sins are forgiven. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8).
This is not a mystical matter of someone else’s righteousness being attributed to us. In the gracious purpose of God, this is a matter of the forgiveness of our sins being made possible through the righteousness of Christ. In other words, God counts our attitude of faith as righteousness and deals with us as if we were actually righteous. In Bible terms, we thus have a righteousness that is of God.
The Issue Of Fairness
Megiddo claims that God is fair and will deal with us “exactly” as we deserve. If that were true, no one would have a chance as we are all sinners and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Forgiving sins is not fair; it is merciful. As already indicated, Megiddo speaks of forgiveness of specific sins when a person ceases to commit that kind of sin. In acknowledging even this form of forgiveness, Megiddo concedes the whole fairness issue. We do not want fairness, we want mercy.
Being judged according to our works is speaking in relative, not absolute terms. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David were upright men, all of whom will be saved (Heb. 11:39-40). Yet they all sinned and came short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). They were upright in that, after their commitment of faith to God, they “walked before thee (the LORD) in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart” (I Kgs. 3:6). They committed sins, but sin was not the pattern of life in which they walked (I John 1:6-7).
God is fair in that He is not biased by race, economic condition or social standing. He is fair in that He saves those who believe Him and walk in His way but He will destroy those who disdain His commands. Thankfully, He does not give us “exactly” what we deserve, for all we deserve is death. As Paul says, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24).
The Typology Of The Mosaic Law
Because Megiddo believes that every type has a spiritual, abstract antitype, they have to deny that the Mosaic institutions pointed forward to the Lord Jesus, except for the obvious type of the high priest. The New Testament points out that many other aspects of the law also typified Christ. Jesus is also the antitypical altar (Heb. 13:10). And the bodies of the animals who were burnt “without the camp” pointed forward to Christ, who “that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13:11,12).
Megiddo asks where is it “that Jesus was typified by anything other than the high priest?” The whole of Hebrews 7 – 10 show that Jesus was typified by the sacrifices: “(Jesus) needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself …Nor yet that ye should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others: for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself …so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many …By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28; 10:10-12).
The point could not be more clearly stated. The daily sacrifices typified the Lord Jesus as did the annual ones on the day of atonement. He was the antitypical burnt, sin and trespass offering as well as the antitypical scapegoat. Megiddo’s challenge is clearly answered.
The passover lamb also pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ. True, it was not a sacrifice for sin; true, again, that the unblemished quality of the animal is an exhortation to personal obedience. The fact is not changed, however, that the blood of the slain lamb saved from death those who relied upon it. This aspect of the ritual is directly applied to Christ: “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7).
There are many passages, as Megiddo admit, which “seem to say that the literal death of Christ is instrumental in our salvation.” To explain these away, Megiddo have gone down a tortuous path of twisted semantics and fallacious logic. They seek to “prove” that the references to Christ’s death and resurrection refer only to an example which we should follow by spiritually dying to the flesh, rather than also being the means of atonement for our sins.
Megiddo asserts that the typical is literal while the antitypical is spiritual. The inaccuracy of their assertion is obvious. They admit that the Lord Jesus is an antitypical, yet literal, high priest. The vine is a symbol of Israel, but this does not mean that the vine is not a literal plant, nor does it mean that Israel is something symbolic. “At the second time Joseph was made known unto his brethren” (Acts 7:13), as Christ will be accepted at his second coming by his Jewish brethren, having been rejected by them 2,000 years ago. Thus the life of Joseph has a literal antitype. Melchizedek was a non-Levitical priest, and a king of Jerusalem. As such, he typified Christ (Heb.7). This does not mean Christ will be only a symbolic priest and king. The wine represents Christ’s literal blood. If Christ meant us to see the wine as symbolizing only his exemplary life rather than his literal blood, he would have said, “This is my way of life.” Substitute “way of life” for “blood” and his words make no sense: “this is my blood [way of life] which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Our salvation is based upon his literal death, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
Megiddo equates the “word” with the “blood” of Christ. They say: “The blood cleanses and the word cleanses. Therefore, the blood is the word.” But I wash with soap, and I wash with water. But this does not mean that soap is water. Again, they fail to appreciate that the end product, i.e. cleansing and salvation, results from a number of different factors, not just one (i.e. obedience to the word). Obedience to the word is a necessary response to “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
While there is much figurative language in scripture, we make a grave mistake if we fail to see the literal reality that underlies the powerful lessons expressed in figures of speech.
Example And Exhortation
Christadelphians look to Christ as the great example to follow. But he is more than an example, he is the Savior. We agree that there is much exhortation to personal godliness in the death and resurrection of Christ. Megiddo has done a good job of pointing that out. But there is redemption as well as exhortation in the cross and the resurrection to glory that followed. Megiddo see the exhortation but needlessly reject the redemption.
Tragically, if a person rejects redemption in Christ he is still in his sins. No matter how much right doctrine a person may believe, no matter how holy he might live, he remains unforgiven: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood …where is boasting then: it is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” (Rom. 3:23-27).
The great irony is that personal righteousness will only be developed by those who rely upon God in faith rather than upon their own virtue and obedience. By being forgiven in Christ, we have a right relationship with God in which He helps us to develop the fruits of the spirit. In addition, we are motivated by His love in giving Christ and by Christ’s love in giving himself.
If we yield ourselves to the word and work of God, striving to cooperate with Him in the molding of our characters, our faith brings forth righteousness (Gal. 5:5-6). “The just shall live by faith” speaks of how the just become just. They do so through faith in God. Consequently, they do not look at the goodness that develops as their virtue. They do not feel such goodness warrants God’s favor, for they know any virtue they have is attributable to God in their lives.
Being forgiven in Christ precedes the development of such personal holiness. “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psa. 130:3-4). Knowing we are forgiven, every sin does not rest as a crippling burden on our minds (Heb. 9:14). If we are not walking in sin but are walking in Christ, the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin; we thus rejoice as forgiven people (I John 1:7).
There is no conflict between redemption by faith in Christ and the development of personal holiness. When rightly understood, our growth from repentant to upright people is dependent upon our forgiveness. The Megiddo approach is much like Rabbinic Judaism which started with the demand of obedience and pointed to forgiveness and sonship as its goal. The gospel starts with the free gift of forgiveness and sonship through faith and points to righteousness as its goal.
The Need For Baptism
Failing to acknowledge our need to be associated with Christ’s literal death, Megiddo rejects the need for immersion into Christ in their steps to salvation. Again, this is a tragic mistake. Immersion into Christ is when the forgiveness of sins begins: “Buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses …” (Col. 2:12-13 RSV).
If we are faithful to our commitment, God has designated this humble act as the starting point for a life of forgiveness and the development of the fruits of the spirit.
This debate has shown the need to have a framework upon which to hang all our Biblical research. It has shown the need to understand the whole system of basic doctrinal truth which is in scripture. Just one major mistake, in one element of that system, leads to a denial of the basic Gospel message. It is tragic that Megiddo members have so many elements correct, but are astray on this fundamental issue of the atonement. We Christadelphians would dearly like to have more contact with anyone who is seeking the full system of truth. I would be delighted to send a free copy of our 380 page book Bible Basics to any who care to write to me and also to answer any questions concerning the matters presented in this debate. My address: [P.O. Box 1903 Vilnius 2012 LITHUANIA firstname.lastname@example.org].
In the course of this debate, we have touched upon most of the main elements of the true Gospel. Man needs redemption because he is mortal and because all of us have sinned. Our redemption was made possible by God through Christ, our redeemer, the promised descendant of Eve, Abraham and David who was to destroy sin’s power. Being of our nature and acting as our representative, he destroyed sin in the very arena of sin’s dominion, his human nature. Thus he was not of God’s nature, neither did he physically exist before his birth.
By water baptism into his death and resurrection, we become “in Christ” (hence “Christadelphians”—brethren in Christ). We, therefore, live now in the spirit of the resurrection, walking “in newness of life,” serving God and not the flesh (Rom 6:11).
In grace, we have been granted forgiveness of sin by being “in Christ,” but we still have the very real possibility of falling from grace. Our personal righteousness springs from a firm faith in Christ’s redeeming work for us. We strive to endure the daily crucifixion of the flesh which being “in Christ” entails, knowing that “if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.” We therefore look forward to his return to establish God’s kingdom on earth when our warfare with sin will be over. We eagerly anticipate the day of resurrection and judgment, believing that, through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ we will stand “faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” In that day, we will realize, even more than we do now, the degree to which “God was in Christ …not imputing our iniquities unto us.” In that day, we will express our praise for God’s redemption through Christ even more powerfully, with far greater intellectual clarity and vigor: “To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
Duncan Heaster, October, 1992.