The following passages were written following a Confession and Abjuration that John Thomas made. This was a renunciation of his former beliefs and since he believed false beliefs made his first baptism worthless, he asked for help by an associate to be rebaptised. He then went to Britain to advocate for his new beliefs within the community which had baptised him initially. He did not make them aware of his confession, abjuration and rebaptism and was accused when they realised this had occurred in America of using deception to use their churches as a base for preaching. They saw in his actions a renunciation of themselves. This was especially deceptive to them because when he had first arrived in London they had heard rumours that he had renouned his former beliefs and baptism. Seeking to be fair and not rely on rumour they had talked to him to seek to clarify his position and these facts had not been revealed to them by him.
The quote below was taken from the Herald of the Kingdom of the Age to Come, Volume 1, 1851 (page 81) and was written by John Thomas as part of an article explaining his recollection of subsequent meetings that happened once the leaders of the Restoration Movement became aware of the actions of John Thomas in America and their subsequent disfellowship of him.
It represents the positions he raised in his initial preaching campaigns advocating liberty of thought and open fellowship and he raises the issue of the question of divine authority and rejects the concept of being “lord over men’s consciences,”
“We believe that God has admitted into this fellowship through faith, in the gospel of the Kingdom in the name of Jesus. Having obeyed this gospel by immersion into the name of the Holy Ones, and continuing to walk in the truth, we have ‘fellowship with the father and his son Jesus Christ’ and the apostles of the Lord. If others do this, then ‘we have fellowship one with another’ not else. We do not regard the breaking of bread at the same table as a test of fellowship, but the walking in the light as God is in the light. We leave others, such as Messr. Campbell, Wallis, and King, to cast men out of fellowship, for our own part we pass not sentence, whatever we may think the party may deserve, ‘until the Lord come’ We show what the truth is, where it condemns and justifies, and leave the application to particular cases to individuals themselves. We are not Lord’s over men’s consciences; when these become sufficiently enlightened they will not rest until they do the truth, and then all will work well. That we do not ‘refuse’ those who are immersed on Campbellite and Baptist principles, is manifest from the fact that the churches we visit are principally composed of such. We desire to enlighten and save them, not to anathematize them and proscribe them, while at the same time we testify that no immersion is worth a stiver which is not predicated on faith in the things of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus.”
A position with some similarities can be found in The Christadelphian magazine, January 1870 (page 16), one year prior to the death of John Thomas. In this article, John Thomas suggests that promoting correct exegesis of scripture is sufficient to keep out error because such folk will leave of their own accord which seems to have been the case in 1 John 2 v19 which he quotes.
“It is not my province to issue bulls of excommunication, but simply to shew what the truth teaches and commands. I have to do with principles, not men. If anyone say that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh common to us all, the apostle John saith that that spirit or teacher is not of God; is the deceiver and the anti-Christ, and abides not in the doctrine of Christ; and is therefore not to be received into the house, neither to be bidden God-speed.—(1 John 4:3, 2; 2 Ep. 7, 9, 10.) I have nothing to add to or take from this. It is the sanctifying truth of the things concerning the “name of Jesus Christ.” All whom the apostles fellowshipped, believed it; and all in the apostolic ecclesias who believed it not—and there were such—had not fellowship with the apostles, but opposed their teachings; and when they found they could not have their own way, John says “They went out from us, but they—the anti-Christ—were not of us; for if they had been of us (of our fellowship), they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”—(1 John 2:19.) The apostles did not cast them out, but they went out of their own accord, not being able to endure sound doctrine.—(2 Tim. 4:3.)
Then preach the word, &c., and exhort with all long-suffering and teaching. This is the purifying agency. Ignore brother this and brother that in said teaching; for personalities do not help the argument. Declare what you as a body believe to be the apostles’ doctrines. Invite fellowship upon that basis alone. If upon that declaration, any take the bread and wine, not being offered by you, they do so upon their own responsibility, not on yours. If they help themselves to the elements, they endorse your declaration of doctrine, and eat condemnation to themselves. For myself, I am not in fellowship with the dogma that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh, or that he died as a substitute to appease the fury and wrath of God. The love of God is manifest in all that He has done for man. “When all wish to do what is right,” the right surely is within their grasp. I trust you will be able to see it from what is now before you. And may the truth preside over all your deliberations, for Christ Jesus is the truth, and dwells with those with whom the truth is. Where this is I desire to be.
If I believe the truth as it is in the Jesus Paul preached, and fellowship the doctrine of an immaculate Jesus Paul did not preach, in celebrating the death of the latter with those who repudiate the maculate body set forth by God for a propitiation, is affirming one thing and practising another. Those who hold Paul’s doctrine, ought not to worship with a body that does not. This is holding with the hare and running with the hounds—a position of extraordinary difficulty. Does not such an one love the hounds better than the hare? When the hounds come upon the hare, where will he be? No; if I agree with you in doctrine, I will forsake the assembling of myself with a body that opposes your doctrine, although it might require me to separate from the nearest and dearest. No good is effected by compromising the principles of the truth; and to deny that Jesus came in sinful flesh, is to destroy the sacrifice of Christ.”
This is an advance on the first quote and in contrast with his initial position against creeds at that time he is now promoting a position which of course eventually was fully defined in Christadelphian creeds. That was to declare as a body what they believed and “invite fellowship on that basis.” In essence many of the things he initially condemned he subsequently began to embrace. He also suggests now that people who were members who participated in breaking bread whilst holding variance of belief to the stated position and drinking wine were “eating condemnation to themselves.” His former position could now be described in his own words as “holding with the hare and running with the hounds.”
The difficulty of altering position was of course people joined based upon a fellow agreement with his first positions which were based upon independence of thought and were non creedal. His subsequent developments of belief and adherence to them by a majority led by Robert Roberts later set the community up for disagreement and division. It also raised the questions of what the authoritative basis of change was as can be seen in two articles on this site, High Church Christadelphians and Doctor Thomas on Free Enquiry and Other Matters. The question was on whose interpretation of scripture does church authority rest, which of course was the initial kind of question that John Thomas had raised.
The adoption of more enhanced creedal positions eventually led to the main position today where disfellowhipping is standard practice in most places for anyone who questions established Christadelphian positions and where voicing questions can lead down that route.