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Reviews | Christendom Astray

Christendom Astray

Robert Roberts

Paperback, hardback or e-book (ePub)

272 pages

Christendom Astray

The Christadelphian review (from December 1958)

Christendom Astray

SEVENTY-FIVE years after it was first published in book form with this title, this work has yet again been reprinted and the demand for it never ceases. It has frequently been put into libraries and many thousands of copies must have found their way into the hands of “strangers”. My father’s copy in the 1899 edition, bought in 1901, bears the marks of careful reading and checking, and recalls the days when brethren and sisters really studied it in their own homes before handing it on to others. It is interesting to read bro. Walker’s preface to the 1899 edition that “the book is re-issued in the hope that it may prove to be the last that is required”.

The production of each edition of any work entails proof-reading, and this work done in recent months has convinced me more than ever of the value of Christendom Astray. A new generation naturally has a different outlook on many things from their forbears, but our faith and doctrines never change, and reading this book without prejudice it must be admitted that most of it could have been written for today. It is the text book for both public and private preaching; for Sunday School teachers; for those whose minds are disturbed about doctrine. Incidentally it may seem surprising that even that much misunderstood word “metonymy” is explained, and apparently was understood by humble working brethren sixty or more years ago. Bro. Roberts’ comment is “This is intelligible to the smallest intellect”. Today, in spite of higher education, there are those who neither know the word nor how it is applied in Scripture. In fact its use recently has been challenged as something “new”!

Apart from setting out our doctrines, bro. Roberts loses no opportunity of pointing lessons on personal conduct and the right attitude to the things of the world, and one puts the book down with the feeling that if his advice were taken in the kindly spirit in which it is written, many of our ecclesial troubles would never arise.

The present generation cannot too strongly be urged to read this book through as a whole, as well as to use it as a text book for reference. This is not to say that new methods of presenting the Truth should not be thought out, but originality only comes easily to those who already possess a solid background of whatever subject they are handling. Here is the book that provides that background.

DORIS MARTINDALE

The Testimony review (from July 1975)

Christendom Astray

THE CHALLENGE in the very title of this book is in marked contrast to the obscure and sometimes meaningless titles often used as lecture subjects in recent years. No doubt this reflects the public attitude towards doctrine as such. All shades of opinion and all religious systems will applaud good works while few regard sound doctrine as important or indeed relevant to Christianity. Older readers will remember the days when local clergy took exception to our beliefs and challenged them in the local press and from their pulpits. It was not so very long ago when brethren risked the loss of their employment when they became Christadelphians.

The outstanding characteristics of Christendom Astray are its lucidity and its continual reference to the Scriptures.

It should not be necessary to give quotations from a book that is so well-known to us and so readily obtainable, but it will not be out of place to stress some of the conclusions which show that the book is still up-to-date, although written more than a century ago. The opening paragraph is a case in point: “That Christendom is astray from the system of doctrine and practice established by the labours of the apostles in the first century is recognised by men of very different ways of thinking. The unbeliever asserts it without fear, the church partisan admits it without shame, and all sorts of middle men are of the opinion that it would be a misfortune if it were otherwise. The unbeliever while himself rejoicing in the fact, uses it as a reproach to those who profess to follow the apostles whom he openly rejects; the churchman while owning the apostles as the foundation, regards it as the inevitable result of the spiritual prerogative vested in “the church” that there should be further unfoldings of light and truth leading away from the primitive form of things; and the moderate and indifferent class accept it as a necessary and welcome result of the advance of the times, with which they think the original apostolic institution has become inconsistent.”

From time to time critics have asserted that the Bible is immoral and even pornographic. Again quoting Robert Roberts: “The effect of the Bible is to make the man who studies it, better, happier, and wiser. It is vain for the leaders of unbelief to assert the contrary; all the facts are against them. To say that it is immoral in its tendencies is to propound a theory, and not to speak in harmony with the most palpable of facts. To declare that it makes men unhappy is to speak against the truth; the tormented experience of some orthodox Christians is no argument to the contrary, when it becomes manifest that the Bible is in no way responsible for their delusions.”

No one doubts the importance of the Reformation in causing people to search the Bible for their basis of faith. Again the author pin-points both the weakness and strength of this movement when he writes, “Protestants are in the habit of believing that the Reformation abolished all the errors of Rome, and gave us the truth in its purity. Why should they hold this conclusion? Were the reformers inspired? Were Luther, Calvin, John Knox, Wycliffe, and other energetic men who brought about the change infallible? … If the reformers were not inspired or infallible, is it not right and rational to set the Bible above them and to try their work by the only standard test which can be applied in our day? Was it likely that the Reformers should at once and in every particular emancipate themselves from the spiritual bondage of Roman tradition? … though it was a ‘glorious Reformation’ in the sense of liberating the human intellect from priestly thraldom, and establishing individual liberty in the discussion and discernment of religious truth, it was a very partial Reformation so far as doctrinal rectification was concerned.”

On the other hand the immense importance of the basic Bible teaching is made crystal clear, for example that concerning the mortal nature of man. To quote again: “It is of the highest importance that this truth should be recognised. It is impossible to discern the scheme of Bible truth while holding fundamental error on the nature of man. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul will be found to be the great error of the age, the mighty delusion which overspreads all people like a veil, the great obstruction to the true growth of Christianity … It has rendered the Bible unintelligible, and promoted unbelief by making the Bible responsible for a doctrine with which its historic and moral features are inconsistent. It has taken away the vitality of religion by destroying its meaning.”

Later on he speaks of the reason for the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the Apostles and early disciples: “If the early churches, consisting of men and women fresh from the abominations and immoralities of heathenism, and without the authoritative standard of the completed Scripture which now exists, had been left to the mere power of Apostolic tradition intellectually received, they could not have held together. The winds of doctrine blowing about through the activity of ‘men of corrupt minds’ would have broken them from their moorings and they would have been tossed to and fro in the billows of uncertain and conflicting report and opinion, and finally stranded in hopeless shipwreck. This catastrophe was prevented by the gifts of the spirit. Properly qualified men, as to moral and intellectual parts, were made the repositories of these gifts and empowered to speak and exhort with all authority.”

The doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ is dealt with logically and fully. Robert Roberts concludes this section with the clear and satisfying argument, “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. Literally this would prove the existence of believers before the world began, for properly a thing must exist to be an object of choice; actually it only proves Divine foresight. The glory which Jesus had before the world was, was the glory which God purposed for him from the beginning … It was the glory he had in the Father’s purpose, but in no other sense.”

Readers with old copies of Christendom Astray will find that there was a chapter on “Prophetic Signs and Times” which has been omitted in the later editions. While the general period to which the prophetic times relate is quite clear the exact calculations depend on starting dates which are open to question. Only the passage of time will reveal these. There is also the question of the identity of certain powers both national and religious. The modern phenomena of conflict between major powers being carried on through the support of small nations, and the almost overnight changes in policy which transform political situations make interpretation in the light of present-day events even more complicated. It is with the growth of all kinds of political and religious ideologies backed by the power of the sword that we realise more and more the up-to-date nature of his words on the Kingdom of Israel under Christ, “Nothing will break into this intellectual slavery but the iron rod of the Son of David. When he comes to vest in his single person the authority now exercised by all the kings and parliaments of the world; when he lays hold with unsparing hand upon the vested interests which obstruct the path of general progress; and shivers to atoms the rotten fabrics of respectable superstition; when he overturns the institutions which foolish crowds fall down and worship … He will judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. In that day there shall be one Lord, and His Name one.”

It is possible some may have never read this book through, some may not have read it for a long time, some may not like its forthright statement of the Truth as it is in Jesus. Perhaps we could all with benefit now read it and consider closely once again those things which are most surely believed among us. We are reminded of the words of another writer: “Again and again we discover that the more true we are to our old title deeds, the better able we are to meet our present liabilities”.

H. J. SALTER

(Originally appeared in the July 1975 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 279-280), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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