A critique of the book
by Aleck Crawford
Part 1 - Prologue
A radical attack
No cultic hero-worship
The meaning of repentance and the means of conversion
Evangelical viewpoints abounding
Part 2 - Detailed Analysis
"The hope of Israel", a fundamental part of the gospel
The theological word "soul" and Finney's 'testimony'
"Justified by faith alone"?
"Life after Life"?
"Repositioning the Judgement"
Innuendo on Thomas's "rather suspicious illness"
"Dr. Thomas and his nihilistic teachings"
Innuendo about John Thomas's wife, Ellen
"The hope of Israel",or "no hope"? is a critique of the book "Unmasking Christadelphianism :The Hopelessness of 'The Hope'" by Branson Hopkins [which appears at the beginning of our Web site]. An ex-Christadelphian, Hopkins makes a series of attacks upon a number of Biblical (and Christadelphian) doctrines, as well as ad hominem4 attacks upon John Thomas and Robert Roberts, foundation members and prolific authors within the group. Most of the comments he makes about supposed errors in our Bible based doctrines have been dealt with fully, almost all of them in an outpouring of debates -- which by popular opinion their opponents lost -- and by a large number of pamphlets, newspaper and magazine articles, and books 5 such as Christendom Astraypublished over 100 years ago; but also more recently in books such as Wrested Scriptures, The Doctrine of the Immortality ot the Soul analytically examined and Refuted,The Trinity true or false?,The Christadelphians - What they believe and preach, and The Spirit. The Bible Magazine also has covered many of the relevant subjects. So there is no need to deal with all the attacks that Hopkins makes since most of them have been dealt with fully before, and these writings have stood the test of time in that they have never been successfully proven wrong.10
This latter fact is why Hopkins tries to discredit Christadelphian pioneers and their doctrines by an historical approach that is difficult for the na´ve person to answer, whether they be a new member, or considering joining The Truth. It was the despicable trait of Amalek to attack those who could not easily defend themselves. This is why we reply. Otherwise we would ignore his efforts and press on with something more positive. But if this reply enables shepherds of today to prevent one sheep from being lost to the wolves then we will be satisfied. It is a known fact that Hopkins tried to "draw away disciples after [himself]"11 in Auckland, New Zealand -- therefore readers can conclude for themselves what the Biblical description is of Hopkins.
It must be understood that all men make mistakes, so we will not be defending behaviour that is unscriptural. Nor will we defend any doctrine that is unscriptural since Christadelphians are seekers of the Truth God has revealed in His word, not promoters of pagan mythology or tradition, as are most of the churches, including their evangelical wings. If Hopkins has unearthed something in God's word relating to the fundamentals of the gospel that we are unaware of, then we will admit it.
For example, it is observable that John Thomas was still learning some aspects of what he wrote about the Bible in his Confession and Abjuration and Declaration written in 1847 and in Elpis Israelin 1848-49. We generally agree with his later writings13 where those clarify what he had said earlier.
This critique is in two parts. The first forms a prologue14 that introduces the reader to the sort of argument that Hopkins wishes his readers--by a superficial consideration--to swallow, and suggests why they shouldn't if they value eternal life. It also enables someone who wants to know what this is all about, to do so without wading through the somewhat detailed and documented defence to be found in the remainder of this critique. Those who require the hard evidence will want to read and grasp the second part so they can respond when Hopkins or his misinformed associates attempt to strike again.
Although great weight may be placed by his publisher and his followers on the fact that -- because he is an ex-Christadelphian -- Hopkins will be able to expose Christadelphians, those who properly study the rebuttal that follows will find out that he is not the authority he claims to be. This is evident throughout the critique, but especially in the last subject dealt with. The careful reader will discover that Hopkins has forgotten (or ignored) large sections of the inspired word of God, for which he has substituted undocumented innuendoes, untestable experiences, and theological fables adopted from pagan Babylon, Egypt, and Greece.
We apologise for the negative tone of this critique. To have written otherwise would have greatly lengthened it. Rather than doing that, we suggest that you read The Christadelphians - What they believe and preach for yourself and perhaps talk to a member of the Christadelphians about your questions. You will then discover the joy and peace of true Christianity. You will also discover that it was prophesied in the first century that what Jesus and the Apostles said and wrote by inspiration in the Bible would be changed to fables by the majority and that only a few would hold the truth (see Matt. 7:13, 14).
This is more than an academic exercise because if you belong to a group that does not understand "the covenants of promise" then you have "no hope, and [are] without God" (Eph. 2:12).
I believe (as do all Christadelphians) that the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 2:13; Heb. 1:1; 1 Cor. 14:37; Neh. 9:30: John 10:35). May God bless your efforts to find the Truth in His written revelation.
4th July 2004 return
Part 1 - Prologue
A radical attack
There can be few things more saddening for Christadelphians to read than a radical attack on their faith written by one who formerly shared that which was "once delivered unto the saints", but who has since abandoned it. It is even sadder when such a disenchanted ex-Christadelphian attacks his former beliefs from an evangelical point of view, choosing to embrace again many of the very doctrines on which Christendom has been astray33 for so long from the clear teachings of Scripture. The personality of the devil 15, the immortality of the soul 16, the present possession of eternal life (with no resurrection to judgement)17, Holy Spirit baptism, the necessity for Spirit guidance as a pre-condition for understanding the Word of God properly 49, and the mere acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord as being sufficient for salvation -- these are just some of the teachings either explicitly or implicitly endorsed by the writer of this anti-Christadelphian diatribe.
The attack is directed, however, not so much at the Biblical basis for Christadelphian beliefs as at the personalities of John Thomas and, to a lesser extent, of Robert Roberts -- as well as at the former's understanding of the Biblical doctrine of repentance. The result is a curiously unbalanced pot-pourri of historical half-truth, of insult, and of innuendo, mixed in with assertive but unsubstantiated evangelical testimony, with very little sustained attention to what matters most of all: the text and the meaning of the Word of God itself.
No cultic hero-worship
The book is shot through, first, with the derogatory classification of the Christadelphian community as a 'cult' 18, based on the assumption that its beliefs were, and are, received as a religious system personally devised by a single founder, venerated and followed as the leader-hero. Such an allegation about the community's relation to John Thomas is not only offensive in its own terms and unbalanced, but it is also a conclusion to which no fair-minded student of the life and work of John Thomas himself would ever come19. Not only was he consistently careful to avoid any kind of personal self-aggrandisement in all that he did 20, but he also clearly derived no gains other than spiritual ones from what, by any standards, was a self-sacrificial course in a life of service to God and to his fellow men. After his ill-fated voyage to America, John Thomas's great ambition in life was to find the truth about Divine salvation and to share its benefits with any others who might choose to accept the teaching of Scripture, free from the accretions of centuries of Christian and pagan philosophy.
It was, after all, John Thomas himself who took steps to avoid his fellow-believers being known as 'Thomasites', coining the name Christadelphian when the American Civil War required the identification of the growing community as a registered religious denomination, for the purposes of exemption from military service. He it was, too, who persistently attached the greatest importance to the need for those who heard him preach, or who read his writings, to compare his conclusions with those of the Scriptures, and to receive nothing from him without first being satisfied that it squared with the only true authority--the Word of God itself. No hint of cultic 'brain-washing' here. Quite the opposite, in fact, with John Thomas's hearers and readers being routinely called on to follow the Biblical example of the Bereans, who "searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).21
Nor were the early Christadelphians themselves (apart from a few misguided individuals, perhaps) guilty of venerating John Thomas the man22. Instead, a frank -- and even sometimes uncharitable -- awareness of his acknowledged weaknesses was, and has been, counter-balanced for the most part by genuine personal gratitude for the part he played in helping to unfold saving truth from the Word of God. Brothers in Christ by all means; but cultic hero-worshippers?23 Not in any sense, no matter how often, or how loudly, our ex-Christadelphian might insist... Christadelphians are, however, quite happy to be regarded as members of the "sect...every where...spoken against" (Acts 28:22), since that identifies them with the first century believers in Christ.
Hopkins is strong on insults, which--in the absence of solid argument--are his particular stock-in-trade. John Thomas, for example, is described as a "seducing spirit" (p. 19), a "manipulator" (p. 35), and a "false prophet" (p. 36). Hopkins calls him "paranoid" (p. 38), and a "deceiver" (p. 46), and asserts that he "died while still in his sins" (p. 75). According to Hopkins, he "controlled, dominated and manipulated other lives" (p. 81), left "a legacy of strife" (p. 81) and, even today, "continues to hold back people from receiving God's gift" (p. 82). These are just a few of the serial slurs which arise from the prejudiced and cursory survey of John Thomas's life which Hopkins offers--all, of course, from the point of view of someone seeking to justify their departure from and rejection of Christadelphian beliefs. In the final analysis, thankfully, the Lord himself will pass the only infallible judgement on John Thomas the man and the preacher, and Hopkins has no more right than the reviewer to pronounce on someone else's motives. Yet common justice requires at least a word or two about the kind of personal condemnation which Hopkins heaps upon John Thomas throughout the book.
Suffice it, therefore, to say just a few things here, at least by way of illustration and of partial redress.
The accusation that John Thomas was a "seducing spirit" is framed within the context of his increasingly controversial preaching, during the 1830's and 40's, among the Campbellite Disciples. It was among this fervent group of Christians that he first threw in his lot on arrival in America as he set about keeping his vow to find the truth about God and the afterlife following his near-fatal experience at sea. The particular topic raised by John Thomas at the time in question was the doctrine of resurrection and judgement--an important issue by any standards, and one on which his growing familiarity with the teaching of Scripture was leading him to question the prevailing view of his Campbellite teachers. To claim, as John Thomas did, that he knew what was "written in the law and the testimony, and...the meaning of it"24, can only be interpreted as the behaviour of a "seducing spirit" by someone who wishes to smear his conclusions.
It is certainly not a dispassionate assessment of the situation--especially given that Hopkins offers no hint of any Biblical basis for his disagreement. Instead, our hostile critic merely asserts that John Thomas was motivated by pride, self-justification, and a covert and calculated desire to draw the Disciples "into a front line spiritual war" (p. 19). Perhaps it would be expecting too much from someone who has set out to blacken John Thomas's character to hope that they might just consider the possibility that he may have been motivated by a genuine desire to see the truth of Scripture prevail? Instead--so typical of the many other derogatory 'conclusions' that he draws--Hopkins merely asserts what he had set out to 'prove'. In so doing, he exemplifies a form of prejudice--a closed and circular form of reasoning--which no human court would find acceptable. And, in any case, the issue which really matters is not "Was John Thomas a seducing spirit?", but rather, "Was there a Scriptural basis for what he said?" Significantly, Hopkins neither asks nor answers this absolutely crucial question.
The meaning of repentance and the means of conversion
Again, the claim that John Thomas "died while still in his sins" is directly linked with the particular view that Branson Hopkins takes of the doctrine of repentance. "He died without the cost of surrender in personal repentance", asserts Hopkins, by way of 'explanation'. Yet this seems a remarkably presumptuous judgement for anyone to make, not least since the Lord God has committed all judgement into the hands of His Son (John 5:22). The assertion can be summarily dismissed, of course, for the simple reason that it is based on an evangelical notion of repentance, which is notably lacking in Scriptural foundation. In fact, the principal support for Hopkins' view comes in the form of personal testimonies from a series of witnesses, including John Wesley, Charles Finney, Andrew Murray, and finally Hopkins himself--none of which may be expected to carry much weight with those whose source of authority lies far beyond the limits of nebulous personal experience.
Apostolic teaching about repentance--which John Thomas cannot reasonably be accused of 'inventing'--makes it abundantly clear that it is a state of mind deriving directly from an intelligent understanding (and a committed acceptance) of the Divine arrangements for salvation. Time and again the Scriptures show us enlightened men and women, once confronted with the truth about God's way, recognising their need for the forgiveness of sins, putting on the name of Jesus Christ in baptism, and turning their lives around in faithful obedience to God's requirements. This is the Biblical pattern of true repentance, exemplified in such passages as Acts 2:37-8 25, Acts 8:35-8, and Acts 16:29-34. This understanding of repentance identified by John Thomas from a plain reading of Scripture, as one of the fundamental principles of the Christian faith, formed an essential part of his opposition to the teachings of the Campbellites. For them, as for Hopkins today and for Christendom generally, repentance was (and is) thought of merely as the 'sorrow for sin' engendered experientially by the direct unmediated activity of the Holy Spirit, as the basis for conversion.
In one sense, of course, Hopkins is absolutely right to highlight John Thomas's rejection of the standard evangelical view of repentance, since the Biblical teaching is such a cornerstone of the truth, standing as it does in complete contrast to the long-held error that conversion to Christ is dependent upon the direct inworking of the Holy Spirit 26, rather than by the powerful influence of the inspired Word of God intelligently believed and obeyed. Not for John Thomas--any more than for us--the "waves and waves of liquid love" described by Charles Finney as he testified to his personal experience of justification by faith through what he claimed as a "mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit" (p. 12). Not for us the feeling of a "heart strangely warmed" by the 'touch' of the Spirit of God claimed by John Wesley as his "assurance" that his sins had been taken away (p. 22). There is, according to Hopkins -- who claims to have been the subject of a similar conversion experience after years of "intense mental torment, stress, deep depression and disillusionment" -- "no argument to those who have received...(this) sign of the New Covenant" 27 (p. 82). John Thomas's Biblical view is thus summarily dismissed as a "delusion".
Readers of this prologue will, of course, wish to decide for themselves where the 'delusion' really lies. But the reviewer is greatly saddened, not only that Hopkins should choose to trust the 'witness' of untestable inner feelings rather than the evidence of Scripture, but also that his troubled mind should find its comfort in the realms of apostate popular theology rather than in the deeply privileged acceptance of the apostolic gospel.
Evangelical viewpoints abounding
Sadly, too, Hopkins offers his readers a diet of the glib and all-too-familiar evangelical responses to many of the basic doctrines of Christadelphianism. He is critical, for example, of what he calls John Thomas's "practice of exclusiveness" (p. 25) -- as if the acceptance of Divine teachings did not mark out men and women as different from others in the sight of God. The identification of the Hope of Israel as the age-old gospel is dismissed, first, as "a private interpretation" (p. 30) and, later, as "a paranoid opinion" (p. 38). The Divine requirement that believers should continue to hold on to the true teaching of the Word as a condition of ultimate acceptability is said to produce "fear, anxiety and worry" (p. 35). Belief in the doctrine of judgement still to come, even for those in Christ, is seen as a sign of "insecurity...related to...unreleased guilt (and) no experiential forgiveness" (p. 50), notwithstanding the Apostle Paul's expression of concern about even his own possible ultimate rejection.
All of which -- and so very much more in the same vein -- establishes one thing only: that Hopkins himself clearly failed to appreciate, or to experience, the huge spiritual rewards that come from a lively understanding of the fundamentals of Biblical truth. Having turned his back on the faith of the apostles, he has cut himself off from a true appreciation of the Divine plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, and he is much to be pitied for it. Faithful Christadelphians will inevitably be surprised and disappointed by much that Hopkins has now written in unbelief. Yet of all the feelings engendered by this heaping up of calumny on his former faith and on men of integrity long dead, it is the sense of pity which predominates -- that one who was once enlightened and washed should have returned, like the proverbial sow, to its "wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:22).
Part 2 - Detailed Analysis
"THE hope of Israel" a fundamental part of the gospel
Since the subtitle of Hopkins' book attacks this New Testament phrase which also happens to be the English equivalent of John Thomas's first major book, Elpis Israel29, it is only appropriate that a detailed analysis focus on this major point.
If we are to rightly represent Elpis Israel and its author, it is essential to grasp the historical context of this book and why it was written. If we do not understand the prevailing theology of 1848, we may be led to the invalid conclusion that the work was unbalanced as far as its focus on the Kingdom is concerned.
Is Hopkins right when he dismisses the identification of "THE hope of Israel" as the age-old gospel 31, firstly, as "a private interpretation" 32 (p. 30) and, later, as "a paranoid opinion" (p. 38)?
The logical conclusion to Hopkins' tirade is that Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles must have been mistaken when he said in his defence, "for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain"(Acts 28:20). The context tells us what gospel this "sect" -- to which Paul belonged -- "that every where...is spoken against", actually taught:
Robert Roberts' exposition 33 on this subject agrees with the words of Paul and with what John Thomas said on it in Elpis Israel. In a lecture, entitled "The Second Coming of Christ the Only Christian Hope", he states the following:
Is, therefore, Hopkins' gospel the full gospel or only half of it? Obviously the latter 37 since Hopkins offers his private interpretation that the true gospel is merely "if you believe with your heart and confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, you will be 38 saved" (Rom. 10:9) 39. But he forgets the fundamental principle of correct Biblical interpretation -- context, both
So in one swift blow of the spiritual sword we have destroyed Hopkins' subtitle. Not only have we established Christadelphian belief in the Hope of Israel as Biblical, but also we have unmasked Branson Hopkins as a man who now has "no hope" because he is a stranger to the covenants of promise.
As a preamble to our later comments, we make six points:
Nor is the idea of "sorrow for sin" a meaning that is actually contained in the verb metanoeo ("repent"), which is a different thing from being "pricked in their heart" (Acts 2:37). If being pricked in the heart and feeling sorry for sin was repentance, then Peter's next statement (v. 38) in which he urges them to repent (metanoeo) would have been redundant! Why tell them to repent if they had already done so? This is most significant for it demonstrates that a highly emotional state of grief, contrition and sorrow was not repentance.
A person can feel sorry for sin without having that particular change of mind that acknowledges the Truth of the Gospel. Without "the faith" [i.e. that is the religious beliefs of first century Christians]45, it is impossible to please Him, no matter how sorry we may have been for wicked works. John says: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son" (1 John 5:10). Where does this quote place those who believe in a trinity?
Summary: If John Thomas had no remorse for past misdeeds, including preaching a false gospel, he would never have written and published his Confession and Abjuration, nor would he have got baptized again. Also John Thomas was obviously aware he had neglected God on the ship and was very penitent for that fact.
Christadelphians do preach and experience sorrow for
sin. It is the focus of our weekly remembrance at the breaking of
bread, and in each of our daily prayers. We talk about confession of
sins and try
to turn from them and go in the opposite direction.
The theological word "soul" and Finney's testimony
As early as page 11 of Christadelphianism we get a good feel for Hopkins' new theology -- which is just a poor rehash of old apostate Christianity in its various shades of ignorant darkness. After acting the part of judge against John Thomas, a man of faith who spent a large portion of his life sifting the wheat from the theological chaff by carefully reading his Bible, Hopkins claims that personal testimonies from obscure men like Finney prove that if a person is to have "peace in his soul" "it was necessary to pray in faith, which meant to receive the Word and its promises into the soul and pray until God released the promises from the supernatural world..." Such testimony as "I bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart...I cried out, I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me...Lord, I cannot bear any more" 46 is offered as a superior substitute to the inspired words of God's written revelation which knows nothing of such unscriptural outpourings! The Bible says that "God is not the author of confusion", but if Finney's description is not "confusion" then nothing is.
Evangelical theology teaches that an immortal soul receives cleansing and knowledge directly from God. The Bible reveals nothing about an immortal soul 47, nor of any such process. So Finney's testimony and Hopkins' paper and ink are worthless deceptions.
Rather than the theology from a Christendom that is Astray because it has drunk deeply of the wine of Platonism, let us accept what the Bible has to say about the source of wisdom, doctrine and instruction in righteousness:
Hopkins may think he has eternal peace but this delusion will be shattered when the judge of the living and the dead appears to grant eternal life to those who have obeyed the gospel found in the Bible, rather than "another gospel". For therein we find that any who believe a gospel other than what the apostles and Jesus taught are "accursed".
Hopkins writes often in Christadelphianism of "experiential forgiveness"48. For example he cites Finney's "liquid love...wave of electricity" (referred to under the previous heading) and then writes:
Second, where in Finney's testimony is there any reference to baptism as revealed in first century practice and command? We cannot just pick a phrase which suits our theology and ignore the context or other scriptures which clearly have a bearing on what is required of us. Let us review these. Paul goes on in the same discourse to say,
The command of Jesus:
We may ask, "What did Finney know of the kingdom of God?" It is safe to say, "Nothing". Therefore, he did not have faith in the foundation of the gospel. So his testimonials are useless as far as salvation is concerned. He had an "experience", but it had nothing to do with the gospel or salvation.
Thirdly, Finney claims he was in a state in which he "did not sin". We have proved above that without baptism his sins were not washed away. A few verses on in the same discourse Paul warns his readers, the saints in Rome, (who had obviously been baptized) not to sin.
Fourthly, the Holy Spirit was never given to cleanse anyone, nor to make it possible for them not to sin. This Biblical fact is extensively documented in the books mentioned in endnote 9.
"Life after Life"?
On pages 20 and 21 of Christadelphianism Hopkins returns to his faith in "disembodied human spirits, in a conscious state, imperishable and indestructible". It is an attempt to discredit clear Bible facts, taught by both Thomas and Roberts, so as to bolster Hopkins' theories that are based upon Plato and other pagan philosophers.
But any hard evidence has been relegated to two appendices, perhaps because it is realized that these arguments are so easy to answer. The first, How to use and understand the Bible, uses a worn out argument which claims that Christadelphians cannot understand the Bible because they do not have the Spirit 49. It is also an attempt to discredit the inspired words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, thereby attempting to eliminate the clear evidence of Ecclesiastes 9:10, that death is the ending of life and not the commencement of another state.
Hopkins' second appendix 50 claims to be "typical biblical narratives which contain references of a dimension beyond the natural realm."
Let's look at the first one and see how Hopkins' theory holds up. Matthew 14:26 in the Greek does not have the word pneuma (spirit) but phantasma (apparition). Anyone familiar with oriental people knows how superstitious they often are. This does not prove that there are departed human spirits. It only proves that some believe in these fables. See Digression 12 Ghosts and reincarnation in Bible Basics.
Let's look at the second one, Job 4:13-17. Eliphaz claims to have had an experience with the spirit world. That this was a dream and not a reality is evident from
2) the fundamental error of his arguments,
3) verses 15 & 16 do not compare with the clarity of God-given visions as in Gen. 15 for example.
On the final strong point of evidence (p. 88 of Christadelphianism) Hopkins forgets to say where the quote is from. It is Acts 23:8, 9. Perhaps it is ironical that the final quote in Hopkins' book is about what the Jewish religious leaders of Paul's day believed, especially when this is supposed to be prime evidence as to what was "believed by the holy men of God"! That these two groups were mutually exclusive was stated repeatedly by Christ in his teaching. We only need to point out that on this occasion these leaders were attempting to put Paul to death because he taught the truth about the resurrected Jesus! Hopkins and the religious leaders of today would like to "destroy the Christadelphians" for the same reason.
Because the Pharisees confessed to believe that a "a spirit or an angel" (note the singular) had spoken to Paul does not prove Hopkins' claim as to what this "spirit" was. Far from it. The "spirit" whom the Pharisees conceded may have spoken to the Apostle was really the resurrected Jesus (the cause of the Sanhedrin's dilemma), though they were not prepared to admit it.
When readers examine the so-called evidence and compare it with the clear and extensive Bible doctrine that the dead are dead and have no hope apart from a resurrection, they will see how pathetic Hopkins' evidence really is.
Hopkins' soft but main evidence is three paragraphs of word-spinning and meandering jargon from an obscure theological treatise. It contains a few words taken from the description of the creation of Adam. The rest is unadulterated fabrication.
That is all there is to Hopkins' proof. Not very convincing, is it?
"Repositioning the Judgement" (p. 52)
This subject is directly related to the previous three. Since Hopkins believes in the 'immortal soul', that we are justified by faith alone, and that there is "life after life" (just a different way of saying 'immortal soul') then the reader must grasp what we have said about these if he is to try to understand where Hopkins is coming from on this page.
When John Thomas wrote Elpis Israel in 1849 he made allusions to the resurrection which implied immortal emergence. When he revised it for the fourth edition in 1866 he had by then come to a fuller understanding on the subject of resurrection and corrected this.
It is to this that Hopkins refers in the above title. In a half-page of quantum leaps in logic and a mere two Bible quotations cited without any explanation, Hopkins again forgets that Scripture must be taken as a whole. You cannot just choose the verses which seem to suit your theory, unless you wish to belong to that group that "are unlearned and unstable" and "wrest...the scriptures unto their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:16).
Hopkins says, "...Dr. Thomas needed to build a specific order of resurrection to interlock into his nihilistic doctrines". Then he quotes Finney and Wesley and one verse out of John 5.
The implication which Hopkins wishes his readers to swallow is that both Jesus and Paul disagree with John Thomas on the order of the judgement. Now that is a pretty serious charge if it were correct. Remember, however, that Hopkins has not defined what these verses mean nor what he believes. But we shall now see that it is Hopkins who needs a specific order to agree with his apostate Christianity which swallowed--hook, line and sinker--the doctrines of Egyptian mythology and Platonism many centuries ago. He needs a theory which says 'once saved always saved' and 'those who have had an experience with the Holy Spirit have the assurance of eternal life forever' and 'are not judged after their bodies come out of the grave'.
But what about the judgement parables concerning the ten virgins and use of the talents, and the judgement scene in Matthew 25 where both the faithful and the unfaithful appear together? Add to that conclusive evidence two additional scriptures, and Hopkins' theory is deposited in the waste paper basket by those who wish to have the Truth.
"For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad". (2 Cor. 5:10).
Our examination of the Biblical evidence shows us that:
The publisher on page 2 of Christadelphianism gives the reader his guarantee of accurate Information (sic). He also guarantees that quotations from Christadelphian books will be "in context". But before Hopkins has finished the first paragraph of chapter 1 he has made an ad hominem attack on John Thomas by saying he was rapidly stricken down by a "rather suspicious illness". Hopkins does not support this emotional slur by any source! He cannot wait to discredit John Thomas.
We do not know of any hard evidence at all to suggest anything other than natural causes for his death. Our reading of the accounts -- particularly that of his daughter (who was the only recorded eyewitness as far as we know) -- is that septicaemia as a result of untreated peritonitis seems the obvious cause of death. Such a condition was a killer before the advent of modern drugs and routine surgery. All else is unfounded speculation.
Furthermore Hopkins admits in paragraph 1 on page 74 of Christadelphianism that it "was medically diagnosed as peritonitis". This of course contradicts what he said on page 6.
"Dr. Thomas and his nihilistic teachings" (p. 6)
It seems that Hopkins, by his unsubstantiated and undefined use of this emotive word in the second paragraph of chapter 1, is trying to smear the names of Thomas and Roberts before his readers can form their own unbiased opinion. We say it is an emotive word because the popular definition of nihilism is
None of this applies to either Thomas or Roberts, but the inference Hopkins seems to be wishing his readers to conclude is that it does. There are a couple of less well known and less denigrating meanings of the word nihilistic but since Hopkins does not define his terms his readers cannot know if he refers to these or not.
Innuendo about Thomas's wife Ellen
Hopkins is a little more careful here than elsewhere, yet his comments under the title "The Thomas Family" offers many examples of undocumented innuendo, several of which we will comment upon. It's the old story, if you cannot destroy your opponent's argument, attack the man (ad hominem strategy)
That Ellen's long time illness was physical is vindicated by an original source, which records that Ellen was "suffering under phthisis (tuberculosis)" 55 from about the time of the birth of her daughter, Eusebia Jane. So it is difficult if not impossible to escape the conclusion that Ellen had this physical illness from about 1836 to her death in 1881. I'm told that this evidence is available in most major American libraries, so why the unsubstantiated innuendo?
a) that Ellen Thomas was baptized into the faith that John Thomas taught andWe now present the evidence for both facts in the paragraphs which follow.
b) since she was a chronic invalid she would have little energy to join his labours or to go public in support of what he believed.
"We understand that Mrs. Dr. Thomas was recently re-baptized for the remission of sins. Mrs. T. had previously been baptised on a profession of her faith, as we understand by Mr. Burnett, the reformer. Recently her mind had become disquieted as to the validity of her baptism--being confined to her room and yet anxious to have the ordinance re-administered, a bath tub was procured, carried into her room, filled with warm water, and Mrs. T. immersed for the remission of her sins by Mr. Joseph Woodson, one of the members of the Sycamore church." Religious Herald, 1 April 1836" 57This Herald is not a Christadelphian document. What it shows the reader is that she was re-baptized despite her physical illness and the prevailing opposition to the practice at the time. It shows her action to be of her own volition, rather than being forced upon her by her husband, since John Thomas did not realize until 11 years later that his own baptism was invalid. So it shows independence of thought, but not opposition.
Whereas certain reports have been circulated in relation to my being left destitute, and abandoned by my husband, Dr. John Thomas; I conceive it to be my duty, in justice to him, to the public, and the cause he advocates, to state that they are utterly false, and without foundation, and could have emanated only from a malicious and fiend-like spirit. He left our home in May 1848, with our only child, about 10 years of age, with the expectation of returning in the course of 7 or 8 months; but as his reasons for delay have been fully explained by himself, I deem it quite useless for me to say any thing more than this; (if their lives are spared) there rests not the shadow of a doubt on my mind of their return, when the work is accomplished which he has to do; and in order to make his mind easy on this point, I wrote to him not to come until then.
The child was not 'dragged away against her inclination, nor without my consent' as was slanderously reported; but on the contrary, I viewed it as the best opportunity that could possible be afforded for her improvement in every way.
It is painful to my feelings to be separated from them for so long, but the good that will have been affected; far outweighs the evil.
Before leaving, he inquired how much money I should need. I told him, he not only gave me the sum I asked, but made arrangements for my getting more if necessary.
I would further state that I had the privilege of living to myself, as I had a servant, or boarding in Bro. Malone's family.
Ellen Thomas" 58
When she died this was written of her:
Is Hopkins self-deluded?
On the back cover of Hopkins' booklet Christadelphianism it is claimed that "he became a leading speaker and apologist for [the Christadelphians] in much of Britain". The reader must be made aware of the fact that the Christadelphian community is sufficiently small that "a leading speaker" in "much of Britain" would have been known to almost all members, and certainly to their peers.
Paul Cresswell, a Christadelphian who is two years older than Hopkins, was very active in youth activities and speaking in Birmingham, England at the same time that Hopkins says he was "a leading speaker". Despite the fact that Paul Cresswell had even spoken at the Shirley Christadelphian meeting in Birmingham where Hopkins was once a member, he has informed me that he had never heard of Hopkins.
That Hopkins' claim is unsubstantiated is further made evident from the following private correspondence (31/3/2000) from the current editor of The Christadelphian Magazine who is a member of the Shirley meeting (although his membership in this ecclesia post-dates Branson's membership).
"If Branson's claim was true, it would be possible for him to point to notices in The Christadelphian announcing that he was speaking at various different events. I doubt it is possible to find any at all! Equally, if he was well known in the UK, I would be better acquainted with him than I am. The fact that [Paul Cresswell], and now me, have both denied being aware of his existence as a leading speaker must convey the message that his claim is false".
Our purpose has not been to present an exhaustive examination and rebuttal of Hopkins' Christadelphianism. As we said at the outset, most of his comments have been exhaustively answered from the Bible by others in days long gone. The endnotes will enable readers to do further reading to allow them to verify this claim and we would encourage them to do so. At all of our public addresses we offer free aids to Bible study but always ask the audience to compare them with the Bible.
We have, therefore, focused on Hopkins' main arguments and found his charges to be singularly lacking in fact.
We freely admit that none of us are perfect. Only Jesus Christ was perfect. As a body and as individuals Christadelphians do make mistakes and do sin. Paul's letters were all written to point out problems in ecclesias or in individuals. In some ways we are similar to at least some of those people whose lives are exposed in the Bible. We as a body could, for example, be more caring to those in need. We long for the time when this mortal shall put on immortality so that we shall be freed from the tendency to sin.
"Many are called but few are chosen".
PS: Many have asked us to rebutt Hopkins' two other books: From Christadelphianism to Christ and The Rise of the Cults. However we are confident that this expose has destroyed Hopkins' credibility both as a historian and as an expositor. We have destroyed his foundation and anything in the same vein he may wish to erect upon it is just more of the same.
2 Eph. 2:12. Has Hopkins "no hope"? Is he a "alien from the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger from the covenants of promise"? Has he repudiated the covenants of promise made to Abraham and David? It certainly would appear so from his book (endnote 3). If so, then he has "no hope" and "is without God" and "without Christ" as Paul declares in this verse. return
3 Branson Hopkins, Unmasking Christadelphianism: the Hopelessness of 'The Hope' (Jubilee Publishers, P.O. Box 36-044, Wellington 6330, New Zealand, 1996). 92 pages. Paperback. NZ $12.50. Referred to in this web site as Christadelphianism to prevent redundancy. return
4 This error in logic is attacking the person rather than his argument, basically because their own position cannot be defended, or they cannot prove their point. return
5 Details of these books are available by emailing the author of this Web page. return
6 Logos Publications, 632 Burbridge Road, West Beach, South Australia 5024. return
7 Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures, The Christadelphians, 19111 Kinzie St., Northridge, Calif. 91324.
return8 The belief that man continues living in the form of another person or animal being possessed by his spirit, was one of the earliest ways in which man tried to convince himself that death was not as final as it appeared.
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return9 Aleck Crawford, The Spirit: A General exposition on New Testament Usage, (Logos Publications, 632 Burbridge Road, West Beach, South Australia 5024), second edition, second printing, 316 pages. 1990. See also Spirit in the New Testament, by Edward Whittaker and Reg Carr, (The Testimony, Norwich), 185 pages. 1985.
return to corporeal10 By his own admission Hopkins says in essence, on page 4, of Christadelphianism that all previous attempts to prove Christadelphians wrong have been ineffective because the authors have used the wrong approach. return
11 Cf. Acts 20:30 return
12 Quoted in, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, third edition (The Christadelphian, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham B28 8SZ), 1980, pages 124-131. In the edition of 1911 it is on pages 204-213. return
13 For example Thomas in 1849 suggested in Elpis Israel the non-fundamental idea that the angels came from a pre-Adamic creation on earth. By 1869 he declared he no longer held that idea. "To what orb or planet of the universe they are indigenous, is not revealed..." Phanerosis, Logos Edition, page 66. return
14 The prologue was written largely by Reg Carr for The Testimony Magazine at the request of the present author, 1999. return
15 For a Biblical exposition on this subject see The Devil, an Expose, The Evil One, Wrested Scriptures (see endnote 7), Christendom Astray, The Christadelphians : What they believe and preach. return
16 See comments on The theological word "soul" . return
17 See "Repositioning
the Judgement" . return
18 The term 'cult' is properly, though not exclusively, associated with groups regarded as distinctly dangerous because of the implications of their beliefs and the methods used to attract and control their members. The following from The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia version 7.0.2 helps put things into correct perspective.
"Acceptance of the group's ideology and rules is first a requirement for maintain-ing friendships and eventually becomes necessary to avoid psychological or physical punishment. Punishment can include public humiliation, rejection by peers, hard labor, excessive workloads, or even physical abuse.'Cult', therefore, generally is a more sinister term than 'sect', with overtones of persuading individuals against their will. It must not be confused with simply holding different beliefs. Hopkins' definitely wishes his readers to accept his use of the term as a sinister one. return
Having joined and accepted the idea that membership will solve their problems, members experience intense social pressures to conform to whatever the leadership of the group demands. Members may be required to demonstrate their commitment by rejecting family and outside friends, giving up outside jobs, or donating financial assets to the group.
Controversial cults tend to share specific attributes. First, the techniques used to gain commitment from and control over members are psychologically coercive. They can result in substantial, but temporary, belief change. These techniques can be compared to brainwashing.
Second, controversial cults are often alleged to systematically exploit members financially or sexually. For example, the Children of God developed a policy-- 'flirty fishing'--under which members provided sexual services in order to attract potential recruits to the group. David Koresh convinced his followers that it was permissible for him to have sexual relations with female children as young as ten."
19 For example, Encarta
has the following to say "Christadelphians... religious sect
of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, founded in 1848 by a
British physician, John Thomas."
The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Version 7.0 ISBN 07172-3982-9 (1995) has this: "A small Christian sect founded in the United States c.1845, the Christadelphians were originally called Thomasites after their founder, John Thomas (1805-71). Rejecting all doctrinal development, they claim to return to biblical belief and practice. They do not believe in the trinity, but awaited the second coming of Christ and his establishment of a theocracy centered in Jerusalem; only those who believe in the gospel will become immortal. There is no central organization of clergy."
In the Preface to the first edition of his five-volume exposition on the Apocalypse, Thomas says that he wrote it "to enable those unskilful in the word, and the history of the past and the present, to understand." John Thomas, Eureka, (The Christadelphian, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham B28 8SZ, UK), 1936, page 6. Does this sound like a hero-leader insisting that no other member could do their own study of this section of the Bible? return
20 The following quote proves the
"We do not arrogate to ourselves the Spiritual Fatherhood of the believers of the gospel of the kingdom; though this generation would thus far have been ignorant of it, but for our oral and literary labors of the past twenty-five years. We do not claim in word or effect to be their pope or father......." John Thomas, Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1860, page 203. return
21 e.g. "Let the example of the noble-minded Bereans be ours." John Thomas, Elpis Israel, Tenth edition, The Christadelphian, Birmingham, 1917, page 6. return
22 Not even Robert Roberts could be accused of venerating John Thomas. In fact, there was a 'frost' between the two men, as late as 1864 (John Thomas died in 1871). For nine months during that year, Robert Roberts looked "at the Bible again [to] see if Dr. Thomas was really right" (Robert Roberts, My Days and My Ways, The Christadelphian, Birmingham, p.113, ND). return
23 For a fuller treatment of this subject see the Christadelphian pamphlet The Danger of Cults - From Fervour to Fanaticism (The Christadelphian, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham B28 8SZ, UK). return
24 In the context of Hopkins' quotation of these words of John Thomas, he says, "Dr Thomas certainly didn't consider humility a quality..." (p. 19). However, on the very same page he quotes other words from the pen of Thomas -- "according to the humble ability bestowed upon me" -- which contradict his previous derogatory conclusion. Hopkins can't have it both ways. return
25 See comments on Acts 2:37. return
26For a refutation of this error see books mentioned in endnote 9. Also see John Thomas, Clerical Theology Unscriptural 1850. return
27 Christadelphians do not deny that these experiences may have occurred. But they deny that they have anything to do with the Holy Spirit or the Bible. For example many evangelicals claim to have received the Holy Spirit gift of speaking in tongues. However, the fact is that all major non-Christian religions claim to perform the same phenomena. So the obvious conclusion is that something is occurring but it has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. Likewise with these 'experiences'. For the documented evidence see the first source in endnote 9. return
28Christadelphianism, pages 53-55, where Hopkins takes John Thomas to task for his understanding of the devil, are among the most confused, and confusing, parts of the book. The reviewer is amazed that the poor quality of the writing and of the reasoning in this section escaped the publisher's blue pencil. The 'arguments' appear to be based on a belief in a personal devil. return
29 John Thomas, Elpis Israel Tenth edition, The Christadelphian, Birmingham, 1917. return
30 Publishers preface to the fourteenth edition of Elpis Israel, Birmingham 1958, page III. return
31 Which included the Kingdom of God on earth as well as the things concerning the name of Jesus Christ. return
32 It is not a private interpretation at all. What Greek text of Romans 8:24 does not include the definite article as the subject part of the sentence? Two Greek--English Bibles were consulted and one Greek Text. The Emphatic Diaglott has, "For we were saved by the HOPE" as the English translation of the Greek: "te gar elipidi esothemen". Page 10 of this book describes the declension of the definite article. A quick check of the Greek text will show the reader that it is in the singular number, feminine gender, dative case and should therefore be translated as "the HOPE" and not just "hope". Nestle's Interlinear Greek --English New Testament has the definite article in the Greek text, but the translator has chosen not to make use of it. But we can legitimately ask why he does so two verses later, but not in this? The answer is that he is not nearly as concerned about the definite article as Benjamin Wilson was in The Emphatic Diaglott and so has done a sloppy job at times. The Expositor'sGreek Testament, (Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1970, also has the definite article. The literal Greek has the definite article so should be translated as "we have been saved by THE HOPE", which is exactly what John Thomas said. return
33 Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray, Logos Publications, West Beach, 1984.
return to Immortality a gift34 This is an indisputable and indispensable condition of salvation. return
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35 The truth as it is in Jesus recognizes only one Hope. Another argument in proof of this is derivable from the use of the definite article the. It is not any hope, but the Hope of the Gospel. return
36The Emphatic Diaglott does so. return
37 Actually less than half because his gospel is that 'once saved you are always saved', which we have already proved as false in endnote 34 and shall continue to prove as false as we proceed. return
38 Note that it does not say "are" saved but "will be". return
39Christadelphianism, page 30, paragraph 2. return
40 This is supported by the following:
metamellomai 3338Young's Analytical Concordance defines metanoia "as a change of mind" metanoeo as "to have another mind".
metanoeo (verb) 3340 metanoia (noun) 3341
"The distinction often given between these is; 3338 refers to an emotional change, 3340 to an change of choice, 3338 has reference to particulars, 3340 to the entire life, 3338 signifies nothing but regret even amounting to remorse, 3340 that reversal of moral purpose known as repentance; does not seem to be sustained by usage. But that 3340 is the fuller and nobler term, expressive of moral action and issues, is indicated not only by its derivation, but by the greater frequency of its use and by the fact it is often used in the imperative" (Revised Thayer's Greek English Lexicon, Online Bible).
41 It would appear obvious that Hopkins has forgotten the inspired words of Paul,
"Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteous-ness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the [nations] through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed... And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:6-8, 29).This proves that faith is still the basis of acceptability (cf. Heb. 11:6). return
42 Obviously Hopkins wishes his readers to swallow without investigation his insinuation that Thomas did not believe in the "cleansing blood of Jesus", but rather led them from it. However if the reader peruses Elpis Israel he will find that after translating Acts 2:38 as 'be renewed, and be ye every one of you baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins', he goes on in the very next paragraph to say 'The obedience of faith finds expression in the name of Jesus as "the mercy seat through faith in his blood"' (page 133). He also mentions it later: '...there is a remission of sins through the shedding of [Jesus'] blood' (page 194). return
43 What is the context of John Thomas's remarks quoted here and by Hopkins? It is not just any word translated repentance but that contained in the Greek of Luke 24:44-47 which is metanoia. return
44Elpis Israel page 316, paragraph 3. return
45 We only have to check number of occurrences of the New Testament phrase "the faith" to conclude that this is a fact. E.g. 2Cor. 13:5 "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? Acts 13:8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. return
46Christadelphianism, page 12. return
47 "We do not find anywhere in
the Bible those common phrases...'never-dying soul', 'immortal soul',
'immortality of the soul' so constantly on the lips of religious
teachers...Anyone can quickly satisfy himself on this point by
reference to a concordance..." (Christendom
from the Bible, Robert Roberts, lecture 2). 1984
See also endnote 62 return
48Christadelphianism, p. 50, 82 etc. return
49 This has already largely been answered in previous comments about the source of wisdom on page 16. But in the third sentence of this hard evidence we have this admission of evangelical theory -- "However, even when a person is born of the Spirit, God's word has given us certain injunctions to which we must be careful to take great heed, otherwise confusion and wrong interpretations will surely result" (See page 85 of Christadelphianism)! So how does anyone know Hopkins is right, since his source has just admitted that a "born again" person can be wrong even though he possesses the Spirit? Since the Spirit is not available to humans today (see endnote 9), he is doubly wrong: wrong on his claim to possession of the Spirit and wrong on his understanding of life after death.
Jesus told us that there are two ways. (1) The broad way to destruction and (2) the narrow way to life. "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13, 14). So Jesus is saying that the way to life will be found by only a few. When we look out at Christendom what do we see? Over 1 billion who claim that either their church possesses divine guidance through their pope, president or elders, or that the ability to interpret scripture comes directly by the Spirit to individuals "born again". These many all agree that they have the Spirit but none of the 250-odd groups who call themselves "Christian" agree on doctrine. Then there are a few (about 50,000) -- who not only claim not to have the Spirit but that the Bible says it is not available to mortals today -- who say that the Bible is the only source of knowledge concerning God extant today.
As far as Hopkins' misuse of 1 Cor. 2:14 this has been answered at length in the books mentioned in endnote 9. His mention of John 3:17 should be verse 7. Again see the clear Biblical answers in the aforementioned endnote. return
50 Christadelphianism, page 87. return
51 Harry Tennant, The Christadelphians What they believe and preach, (The Christadelphian, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham B28 8SZ, UK), 1986.
return to introduction
return to suggested reading
return to judgement to come52Encarta Encyclopedia, 1996. return
53Christadelphianism, page 76. return
54 Charles B Blore, Dr John THOMAS His family and the Background of his Times, (HATIKVAH, 163 Billing Road, Northampton, NN1 5RS, UK), 1982. return
55 John Thomas, The Apostolic Advocate, Edited by John Thomas M.D. not D.D. Vol. III, No. 1, Richmond, VA May 1836, p. 14. return
56Christadelphianism, page 76. return
57 Peter Hemingray, Christadelphian Tidings magazine, No. 2 1996, page 59. return
58Herald of the Future Age Vol. 4, page 285. return
59 Ambassador of the Coming Age Vol. 5, Birmingham, UK page 354, 1868. return
60The Christadelphian, volume 8, page 218. Here is another clear indicator that Ellen Thomas shared her husband's religious beliefs. return
61The Christadelphian Vol. 9, (March inside front cover), page 586 of CSSS reprint. return
62 Percy White, The Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul analytically examined and refuted by numerous extracts from clerical writings. Every "difficult" passage examined and answered, with many quotations from clerical writings in support, Christadelphian Scripture Study Service 85 Suffolk Road, Hawthorndene, South Australia 5051, 114 pages, ND.
63 James H. Broughton & Peter J. Southgate, The Trinity true or false?, The Dawn Book Supply, 66 Carlton Road, Nottingham, NG3 2AP, England 408 pages. 1995 ISBN 1 874508 01 01.
See also Percy E. White, The Trinity
Analytically Examined and Refuted, Christadelphian
Scripture Study Service 85 Suffolk Road, Hawthorndene, South