Removal to New York
Formation of an Organised Meeting
In the Herald for November, 1852, Dr. Thomas announced that, owing to circumstances beyond his control, but in which he saw an expression of the providence of God, he found it expedient to transfer his home from Richmond in Virginia, and to settle in New York. For some time he had felt that Richmond was merely “a place of publication, a post office, and a sort of caravanserai abode.” Its population was comparatively small, about 30,000, only half being white men, whereas the population of New York was then about half a million. In the circumstances the removal would give grater facilities to carry on the work in which he was engaged. Actually he settled down at Mott Haven, a suburban village some eight miles from the New York City Hall.
One result of the removal was that a hall, the Chelsea Hall in West 18th Street, was opened where regular Sunday services could be carried on. The morning meeting was for the reading of the Scriptures and the interpretation thereof, and for Breaking of Bread and prayers. In the afternoon the time was devoted to the exhibition of the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ. At first the evening meeting was devoted to the free investigation of important Scriptural questions. The morning and afternoon meetings lasted for two hours, and the evening one for an hour and a half.
The arrangements for the evening meeting did not work satisfactorily. Men with crotchets took advantage of the occasion to proclaim their pet ideas. It was therefore arranged that at that meeting Dr. Thomas should use the time for the exposition of the Scriptures of Moses and the Prophets, after which, questions on the subject of the exposition might be asked—if there was time! The change was found to work well, and the attendance increased.
It was soon found necessary to adopt some form of organization for the meeting. On this matter Dr. Thomas wrote, “Even a bad organization with good materials is better than a good one with self-willed, heady, factious, and self-glorifying people.” He then sketched the principles on which he considered such an organization should be established. The principles adopted to guide the small congregation in New York were printed in the Herald.
The document in which they were recorded bore the heading,
ROYAL ASSOCIATION OF BELIEVERS
in New York
The first article gave the name of the Association. The second clause defined the Association as a collection of individuals who believed the things covenanted to Abraham and David concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ, and had been immersed into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The third article recorded the objects of the association, and the meetings that were to be held. Article 4 defined who were to be considered as members of the Association; they were to be immersed believers of the gospel preached to Abraham, Isaac, and the Gentiles, who were disposed to illustrate the “wisdom from above” in word and deed.
The fifth clause defined who were to have the privilege of Christian worship without membership of the Association. It being “the Lord’s table,” and not the table of the association, all those who were of good report with in the city or without it, and who believed the gospel of the Kingdom and had been immersed, were invited to worship with the members. They were, however, to have no part in the direction of affairs, nor to speak without previous invitation. Clause 6 “disallowed membership to any immersed believers who could not prove that they walked as became the Kingdom of God and of Christ.” The seventh provided that immersed believers of the gospel were to be admitted to membership by the unanimous consent of the Association. Any objection to such membership had to be privately stated in the presence of the applicant, who had to make his application to a Presiding Brother. Immersion of a believer by a member appointed to administer the ceremony constituted the one baptised a member of the Association.
Clause eight defined the Executive of the Association “for the maintenance of decency and order in the meetings” and other purposes. They were to arrange for the administration of “The Supper and Baptism, see to the admission of applicants for membership, and to remove misunderstandings or difficulties that might arise to hinder the objects of thee Association.” They were to see to the financial affairs of the body and “whatever else needs to be attended to in behalf of the society.” In a later portion of this clause provision was made for “three, four, or more,” as fixed by the unanimous estimation of the brethren, to be selected because of their scriptural intelligence, good qualities and report. They were not to be regarded as “Officers,” but as brethren specially interested in promoting the objects and welfare of the Association. The selected brethren thus chosen were to be regarded, not as bishops and deacons, but as probationers who may, or may not, become officials. This was based upon the advice given to Timothy in relation to deacons—“Let these also first be proved, then let them use the office of a deacon.” These brethren were to preside at the meetings in rotation, regulating the service for the Breaking of Bread, and giving the “right hand of fellowship” to those admitted to membership of the congregation. They were to see that everything was done decently and in order.
Clause 9 dealt with exposition of the Word to the edification of others. This was to be done with much thought and few words! It was expected that those who undertook this duty would call attention to some portion of Scripture, show its interpretation, and bring it home to others in words of kindness for their edification and comfort. One sentence of this clause reads “To open a masked battery upon brethren is not exhortation, and, being neither courteous nor Christian, will not be allowed.”
The next clause had to do with difficulties between members of the Association. Brethren were not to burden themselves with misunderstandings, but were to settle them down before sundown by themselves. If that proved to be impossible they were to invite a brother to assist them to oneness of mind. If that proved ineffectual one of the select “brethren” was to be called in. If everything else failed to secure harmony the matter was to be reported to the Church. The clause finished by saying “we agree to withdraw the privilege of our society from the party who shall be manifestly in the wrong.”
Clause 11 set out the order of meeting for worship. It was 1, Prayer by the Presiding Brother; 2, Singing; 3, Scripture Reading (for this purpose the Scriptures were divided into four sections, a. —Genesis to Job; b. —Psalms to Malachi; c. —Matthew to Acts, and d. —Romans to Revelation); 4, Singing; 5, Contributions and Reception of Members, if any; 6, Breaking of bread, etc.; 7, Exposition of the Word to edification; 8, Singing; 9, Prayer.
The members of the Association appended their names to these rules, and those admitted later were called upon to sign them.
Several of the sections of the Constitution were much longer than shown above, for some were introduced by reasons for them taken from the Scriptures; others were illustrated from the same. They have been produced at some length, partly from their interest in themselves, and partly from their interest in the light of modern experience. Although the words “Christadelphian” and “Ecclesia” do not occur, the “Constitution of the Royal Association of Believers” in New York may be regarded as the first constitution of a Christadelphian Ecclesia. Much has happened since the establishment of this Association in New York in 1852, yet its fundamentals are much the same as those set out in Christadelphian constitutions of today.
The new meeting prospered. It commenced with eight members, and in 1855 it had increased to over fifty. Dr. Thomas attributed the increase to the fact that among those who attended the meetings there was more checking the references to Scriptural testimony than occurred in any other assembly in New York.
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