"They received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many believed."--Acts 17:11
The Berean Christadelphians
Page 3: From the Formation of the Bereans to the Restatement (1923 - 1960)
After the formation of the Berean Fellowship in 1923, the constant push to corrupt our foundation principles left the Berean body. We really haven't been troubled in any significant way by ones corrupting divine principals. What few problems have come up in those areas, have all been resolved by the local ecclesia involved. Usually, those who wish to corrupt the foundation principles leave us for Central long before the proper fellowship procedures (described in Matt. 18) run their course.
However, an equally dangerous tendency took its place regarding walk and conduct issues. Certain men decided they needed to push their particular views, especially relating to divorce and remarriage, on to the brotherhood as a whole, and demanded agreement upon points of view which differed from those of our pioneer brethren.
From the foundation of the Christadelphian movement, ecclesias were free to order themselves on walk and conduct matters without interference from others. There was no clergy to which to appeal, and no central office that would make decisions. Providing the divine principles were acknowledged and believed, how ecclesias resolved their difficult and sad cases were left to the individual ecclesia. A wide variety of views pertaining to divorce and remarriage were accepted, and it was thought best to allow every ecclesia to handle its own difficulties the best it could.
Other Christadelphians, notably John Thomas, also believed that Paul also permitted divorce and remarriage if an unbelieving spouse departed from the marriage.
In the 1920's, a move away from the clear teachings of Matt. 5:37 and 19:9 occurred in the Christadelphian movement generally, and the Berean Fellowship was not immune. It was not easy to do this among the Berean Brotherhood. We do not regard the writings of bre. Thomas and Roberts as inspired, but we do regard them as wonderful Bible students with excellent judgment and understanding. To challenge their understanding on a matter of fellowship would have been very difficult. Recognizing this, some men began arguing that by "divorce," all the pioneer brethren meant was "separation," and not what they began to call "legal divorce". These argued that Matt. 5:37 and 19:9 permitted couples to separate for fornication, but not to "legally divorce" or remarry.
According to John Thomas, Paul allowed divorce "for the sake of peace to the Christian party." Paul said, "if the unbelieving depart, let him depart." But the nations at that time would not recognize divorce for the reason of religious differences. To presume yourself divorced and marry again based only on Paul's permission, and apart from a legal divorce would make one legally a polygamist, and a criminal at the bar of Gentile justice.
But by using the term as G. V. Growcott used the term, it would never be possible to revise the writings of the pioneers brethren. Therefore, new definitions were brought to the fore. "Scriptural divorce" was said to mean separation, while "legal divorce" was said to be obtaining any divorce through Gentile law, which would allow for remarriage.
To defend this new view (new to the 1920's) that divorce is not the subject of Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19:9, merely separation; there needed to be some way to avoid the force of the exception clause given in those verses. A reason had to be developed to justify saying that "put away" and "divorce" do not really mean "divorce." To do that the following argument was introduced.
They reasoned that Jesus would not have stated the divine Edenic Law of marriage, only to have "contradicted" it three verses later in allowing a putting away of a spouse for fornication. Therefore, they reasoned, if you merely separated from an adulterous spouse, you would not be "putting asunder" the marriage bond.
It was pointed out to these men that an exception is not a contradiction. The exception proves the rule, not contradicts it. Further, it was pointed out that we have no authority to determine that Jesus could not make an exception to the Edenic Law. It is clearly written that he did. We only have the authority to accept what is plainly written, as the pioneer brethren did.
As to the issue itself, why couldn't there be an exception to the Edenic Law in the law of Christ? Certainly God, through Moses, made many exceptions to the Edenic Law when giving the Law of Moses. Finally, it was pointed out that Jesus made other exceptions to what he spoke. He spoke concerning his generation: "...there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas". No one argues that "the sign of the prophet Jonas" contradicts his statement that "no sign shall be given to it."
But to those in the 1920's who had become obsessed with the divorce/remarriage issue, this fell on deaf ears. New and different ways to interpret Matt. 19:9 were brought forward: all of them unknown to the pioneer brethren.
In opposition to the new idea of the 1920's, there arose a class of men who knew this new idea was wrong. They knew that Jesus had permitted divorce and remarriage, and they began to argue in defense of what Jesus had spoken. But, like so many on this issue, they too became obsessed with the matter, and soon were drawn into a false position in relation to it.
So our established position was that we could not bring charges against another at the court of the world, nor could we submit a matter to them for their decision.
Nevertheless, some men, in their zeal to maintain the clear permission Christ granted in Matt. 5:37 and Matt 19:9 against the new ideas restricting divorce to only mean separation, ignored the Apostle Paul's restriction. They said that Jesus would not have granted us the permission to divorce for adultery on one hand, and then have the Apostle Paul take it away with his commands concerning not going to law, on the other.
I don't believe that this argument can appeal to anyone not already obsessed with the overall Divorce/Remarriage issue. Paul didn't take away the ability to divorce for adultery. The Roman Catholic Church did, when she made marriage a "Holy Sacrament" and forbade divorce. Ultimately, she succeeded in having her laws incorporated into the national laws of the nations, and the brethren suffered the consequences of this, no less than they have suffered in other, more severe ways during the two thousand years history of the Catholic Church.
A little reflection on the matter proves this. When the brethren lived under Catholic domination, divorce was unthinkable because it was illegal according to the laws of the land. Such is still the case in modern Catholic states such as Ireland. Would those men who counsel breaking the divine law in going to law against another (bring charges of adultery into court) to exercise Christ's permission, counsel committing polygamy to exercise Christ's permission if brethren lived during the Catholic dominated ages? Certainly not! Again to the point, in the very early 1800's it was not possible to obtain a divorce in England, unless you were a member of the Church of England. Would these brethren also counsel joining the Church of England to take advantage of Christ's permission? Why then would anyone justify making charges and submitting to the judgment of worldly judges to take advantage of Christ's permission, now? It doesn't make sense now, and it didn't then.
Those men who maintained that a brother or sister could be correct in bringing charges and submitting to the judgment of a Gentile court found it necessary to separate and formed a group called "Family Journal."
With the most ardent, if misled, defenders of Jesus' precepts pertaining to marriage and divorce out of the way, this set the stage for those who had been agitating that there is no exception to the Edenic law to begin to force that position. In the very late 20s, an ecclesia in California experienced a situation where a brother whose wife had committed adultery and left him, remarried, and applied for membership. The ecclesia ultimately voted not to receive him back into fellowship. Some members of that ecclesia voted that they should, and other ecclesias had voiced concerns that the ecclesia had made a poor decision, but as from our foundation we allowed ecclesias to govern themselves on this matter, the ecclesias were satisfied not to intervene in another ecclesia's affairs.
But the criticism ruffled those pushing the new concept that the exception clause does not allow for "legal divorce." Following the events of the late ‘20s, those brethren who insisted there could be no "legal divorce," and no remarriage after divorce, began to insist that their belief be accepted by all in the Berean fellowship. In the early 1940s, they constructed a four-point statement to which they demanded all agree. This stated there could be no remarriage after divorce while the spouse was still alive, regardless of the circumstances. This statement was a contradiction to Matt. 5:37, 19:9, and to the writings of the pioneer Christadelphians. It was rejected by the Bereans, and there was a division. The new body was called the "Dawn Fellowship."
Throughout the 1940s there was a very strong "back to Central movement" as discussed previously, culminating in the division of 1952.
Following this, the Berean Fellowship attempted to be ready to receive those who were leaving Central due to their dissatisfaction with the unions of the Suffolk Street/Advocates (in 1956), and the Shield group (in 1957). To guard against the errors of the Central group, the Berean body formed a Berean Restatement, which stated the way all Berean Ecclesias understood the "Christadelphian Statement of Faith" relevant to areas of disagreement between themselves and the Central body that these men were now leaving.
Fairly soon into the process, however, it appeared that those coming out of Central desired to go their own way. They formed the Old Paths group. This left the Bereans predominantly in the USA and Canada, while the Old Paths occupied a similar position in Britain and Australia. If there were differences between the Old Paths and the Bereans at that time, it would have been in the arena of divorce and remarriage. Both groups have suffered division on this issue since that time, and the exact differences are difficult to say.