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John Thomas (Christadelphian)

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Christadelphians
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John Thomas‎
John Thomas.png
John Thomas‎ (Christadelphian)
Born April 12, 1805(1805-04-12)
Hoxton Square, Hackney, London.
Died March 5, 1871 (aged 65)

Dr. John Thomas (April 12, 1805 - March 5, 1871) was the founder of the Christadelphian movement, a Restorationist religion with doctrines similar in part to some 16th century Antitrinitarian Rationalist Socinians and the 16th century Swiss-German pacifist Anabaptists.

Early life

John Thomas M.D., born in Hoxton Square, Hackney, London, on April 12, 1805,[1] was the son of a Dissenting minister, also named John Thomas. His family is reputed to be descended from French Huguenot refugees. His family moved frequently, as his father took up various pastorships including a congregation in London, a brief but eventful stay in northern Scotland, back to London, and then up to Chorley, Lancashire. John Thomas was a very disciplined student having taught himself Hebrew as a teenager. At the age of 16, in Chorley, he began studying medicine. His family moved back to London, but John Thomas stayed in Chorley. After two years, he returned to London to continue his studies at the Guy's and St. Thomas's hospitals for a further three years. He trained as a surgeon and had a keen interest in chemistry and biology, publishing several learned medical articles for The Lance, one of which argued in favour of the importance of the use of corpses for the study of medicine (it was illegal in England to dissect them at this time).

Emigration to the United States

Like many people of that era, in 1832 his father made the decision to seek fresh opportunities and emigrate to America. So it was that Dr John Thomas, having few ties, decided to go with his family, agreeing to go on ahead and prepare for the family. He took the opportunity to further his career and accepted an appointment as ship's surgeon on the Marquis of Wellesley which was bound from St Katharine Docks, London to New York.

The ship embarked on May 1, 1832 and immediately sailed into stormy weather that lasted the whole voyage. During one ferocious storm the ship lost the top of the main-mast and heavy seas stove in the bulwarks, washing everything moveable off the deck. The ship eventually ran into shallow water and ran aground off the coast of Nova Scotia. The ship was raised up by the waves on twelve successive occasions, each time the keel striking the sea bed with such force that both crew and passengers were convinced the ship would break up.

Fearing that his life was about to end Thomas, determined to die with a prayer on his lips, prayed for mercy. He was very conscious of a void in his knowledge about what was to happen to him should he die. Thus he made a vow to dedicate his life, should he be spared, to religious study and to seeking out the truth about the matter of life and death.

Aided by a change in wind direction, the captain's efforts to turn the ship back out to sea were successful and after one final bone-jarring grounding, the ship floated free. Thomas never forgot his vow and spent the rest of his life devoted to Bible study, determined to understand the true message of the scriptures.

Association with Alexander Campbell

The Marquis of Wellesley docked in New York and Thomas travelled on to Cincinnati, Ohio where he became convinced by the Restoration Movement of the need for baptism and joined them in October 1832. He later came to know a prominent leader in the movement, Alexander Campbell who encouraged him to become an evangelist, spending his time travelling around the eastern States of America preaching, until eventually settling down as a preacher in Philadelphia. It was here on 1 January 1834 that he married Ellen Hunt who became his lifelong companion and constant support throughout the trials of faith that persisted throughout his life.

Dr Thomas also wrote for and was editor of the Apostolic Advocate which first appeared in May 1834. His studies during this period of his life generated the foundation for many of the beliefs he came to espouse as a Christadelphian and he began to believe that the basis of knowledge before baptism was greater than the Restoration Movement believed and also that widely held orthodox Christian beliefs were blatantly wrong. Whilst his freedom to believe his unique beliefs were accepted many objected to them being preached as necessary for salvation and this led to a series of debates particularly between Alexander Campbell and Dr Thomas. Because he eventually rebaptised himself and rejected his former beliefs and associations he was formally disfellowshipped in 1837. However, some people associated with him and accepted his views.

At this time the Millerite or Adventist movement was growing and in 1843 Dr Thomas was introduced to William Miller, the leader of the Millerites. He admired their willingness to question orthodox beliefs and agreed with their belief in the second coming of Christ and the founding of a millennial age upon his return. Dr Thomas continued his studies of the Bible and in 1846 travelled to New York where he gave a series of lectures covering thirty doctrinal subjects that later formed part of his book Elpis Israel (The Hope of Israel).

The Christadelphians

Based upon his new found understanding of the Bible, Thomas was rebaptised (a second and final time) in 1847 and the groups of congregations and individuals who shared his beliefs continued to grow. In 1848 the movement became international when he travelled to England in order to preach what he now saw as the true gospel message. Upon his return to America Dr Thomas moved from Richmond, Virginia to New York City and began to preach there. He made a point of speaking to the Jewish community because Dr Thomas had come to believe that Christianity did not replace the Law of Moses, but rather fulfilled it. He believed that Christians must, though faith and baptism, become the ‘seed’ (or, 'descendent') of Abraham.

It was at this time that Dr Thomas and those who shared similar beliefs became known as the Royal Association of Believers. This group of believers used the term "ecclesia", a Greek word meaning "called out assembly", to describe them. However, the movement did not have an ‘official’ name until 1864, when a name was chosen during the American Civil War (see below). Instead of having a system of clergy, all the brethren took equal responsibility on a rota to take on the role of presiding and speaking during their meetings.

When in 1861 the American Civil War broke out, Dr Thomas travelled to the South and became concerned that the war had placed believers upon opposing sides. The movement as a whole considered that the war required them to make a stand for what they believed in as conscientious objectors. However, in order to be exempted from military service, it was required that believers had to belong to a recognised religious group that did not agree with participation in war. Thus in 1864, Dr. Thomas coined the name Christadelphian to identify members of the movement. The term Christadelphian comes from Greek and means ‘Brethren in Christ’. It was during the war that Dr Thomas worked on the three volumes of Eureka, which discusses the meaning of the Book of Revelation.

On May 5, 1868 Dr Thomas returned to England where he travelled extensively giving lecturers about the Gospel message and meeting with Christadelphians in England. During this period of his life he found extensive support and help from Robert Roberts who had been converted during a previous visit to England by Dr Thomas. Following his return to America he made one final tour of the Christadelphian congregations prior to his death on 5 March 1871 in Jersey City. He was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Legacy

Thomas did not proclaim to be either a prophet, or a type of messiah, but claimed through independence of study to have found out that mainstream Christian doctrines were false and that he could prove that position.[2][3][4] Modern Christadelphians generally believe he was right and adhere to the positions he established as defined within the Christadelphian statements of faith; Christadelphians feel, too, that Thomas' example of an inquiring attitude is also an important legacy.[5]

The results of Thomas' labours were committed to several books, one of which, Elpis Israel, sets out many of the fundamental scriptural principles believed by Christadelphians to this day.

Some of his predictions about the future did not come to pass as was noted in the Foreword to the 2000 edition of Elpis Israel [6], a point that Thomas himself (and Christadelphian apologists)[7][8] accepted could happen.[9][8]

However, Thomas' expositions on a future state of Israel and the role Great Britain would play in its statehood[10] have seemed to prove accurate. This is seen by many Christadelphians as evidence that Thomas had a correct understanding of Bible prophecy. In c. 1850 Thomas wrote the following, based on his understanding of what the Bible said about the return of the Jews to the land of Palestine:

There is, then, a partial and primary restoration of Jews before the manifestation, which is to serve as the nucleus, or basis, of future operations in the restoration of the rest of the tribes after he has appeared in the kingdom. The pre-adventual colonization of Palestine will be on purely political principles; and the Jewish colonists will return in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus, and of the truth as it is in him. They will emigrate thither as agriculturists and traders, in the hope of ultimately establishing their commonwealth, but more immediately of getting rich in silver and gold by commerce with India, and in cattle and goods by their industry at home under the efficient protection of the British power. 

[...]

But to what part of the world shall we look for a power whose interests will make it willing, as it is able, to plant the ensign of civilization upon the mountains of Israel? The reader will, doubtless, anticipate my reply from what has gone before. I know not whether the men, who at present contrive the foreign policy of Britain, entertain the idea of assuming the sovereignty of the Holy Land, and of promoting its colonization by the Jews; their present intentions, however, are of no importance one way or the other, because they will be compelled, by events soon to happen, to do what, under existing circumstances, heaven and earth combined could not move them to attempt. The present decisions of "statesmen are destitute of stability. ... The finger of God has indicated a course to be pursued by Britain which cannot be evaded, and which her counsellors will not only be willing, but eager, to adopt when the crisis comes upon them.

—John Thomas, Elpis Israel, ch. 17, The Resurrection of Israel - The Second Exodus - the Millennium - "The End"

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the British Mandate of 1922 established Britain as the political force in charge of Palestine. After British rule the secular State of Israel was established in 1948.

Bibliography

Books

  • Anastasis
  • The Apostacy Unveiled (1872)
  • The Book Unsealed: A Lecture on the Prophetic Periods of Daniel and John (1869)
  • Catechesis
  • Destiny of the British Empire as revealed in the Scriptures (1871)
  • Elpis Israel (1848)
  • Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse (In 5 Volumes)
  • Exposition of Daniel (1868)
  • Faith In the Last Days (posthumous anthology of writings from 1845-61)
  • The Last Days of Judah's Commonwealth
  • Mystery of the Covenant of the Holy Land Explained (1854)
  • Odology
  • Phanerosis (1869)
  • The Revealed Mystery

Magazines

  • The Apostolic Advocate (Editor) (1834-39)
  • The Herald of the Future Age (Editor) (1843-49)
  • Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (Editor) (1851-61)

See also

References

It is important to understand within the references quoted that there is no official hierarchy within the Christadelphian body and therefore any individual quote by a Christadelphian writer about what they believe serves little value other than being a statement of personal opinion.

  1. Biographical Notes from Thomas' Elpis Israel
  2. Booker, George. "The Modern Brethren". Who are the Christadelphians?. http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/agora/ca_bel/ca_bel02.html. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  3. Hyndman, Rob. "The Christadelphians (Brothers and Sisters in Christ): Introducing a Bible-based Community". http://www.christadelphia.org/pamphlet/p_christadelphians.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  4. Pearce, Fred. "Who are the Christadelphians?". http://www.thechristadelphian.com/pamphlets/standardseries/whoarecdels.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  5. "Our history". http://www.widomaker.com/~cpatax/xadelfia/who01.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  6. "Elpis Israel: Foreword to the 15th Edition". Elpis Israel. 2000. http://www.thechristadelphian.com/books/readonline/elpisisrael/foreword.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  7. Crawford, Aleck. "A Christadelphian Answer to John Hutchinson". http://users.chariot.net.au/~aleck/Critique_of_JH_g14.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Robert, Roberts (1873). Dr Thomas: His Life and Works. Birmingham: The Christadelphian. p. ch. 59. http://www.angelfire.com/bc2/Bereans/Cornerstones/Pioneers/Life/toc.html. 
  9. Thomas, John (1920). The Book Unsealed: A Lecture On The Prophetic Periods of Daniel and John. Birmingham: The Christadelphian. Chart 3. http://www.antipas.org/books/book_unsealed/bus_toc.html. 
  10. Thomas, John (1848). Elpis Israel. Part 3, Chapter 6. http://www.thechristadelphian.com/books/readonline/elpisisrael/part3chapter6.html. 
  • Peter Hemingray, John Thomas, His Friends and His Faith (2003: ISBN 81-7887-012-6)
  • Charles H. Lippy, The Christadelphians in North America (Lewiston/Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989).
  • Robert Roberts, Dr Thomas: His Life and Work (Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1873). Available online.
  • Bryan R. Wilson, Sects and Society: A Sociological Study of the Elim Tabernacle, Christian Science and Christadelphians (London: Heinemann, 1961; Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961).

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