`Idea of being brothers' is key

Christadelphians: The small denomination grew out of a movement to return to the practices of the New Testament.

January 16, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

There is no steeple on the building, a former carpet warehouse off U.S. 1 in Elkridge, where a group called the Baltimore Christadelphians worship. Inside, there is no stained glass, no crucifix, no pictures on the walls. There is no altar. There is no pastor.

Instead, the congregation of about three dozen clutches well-worn Bibles as they engage in their Sunday school study. And then, baptized members of the small Christian community commemorate Jesus' Last Supper with bread and wine - "the only things that were mentioned in the Bible," said Carol Link of Woodstock.

She and other members of the small Christian denomination believe that they follow the practices of early followers of Jesus as they examine the Bible for clues to his expected return.

"We base our teaching on the way the apostles taught through the first century," said Carol Link's husband, Bill Link, the fourth generation of his family to be baptized in this faith.

Origins of the sect date to the 19th century, said Charles H. Lippy, professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He studied the Christadelphians for more than 20 years, beginning with his major thesis at the Union Theological Institute in Queens, New York, in 1968.

John Thomas, an English doctor, founded the group in Richmond, Va., in the 1840s. It grew out of a movement to return to the belief styles and practices of the New Testament, Lippy said.

The name Christadelphian, which means "brothers in Christ" in Greek, was first used during the Civil War so that members, who are pacifists, could register as conscientious objectors.

Members refer to one another as brother and sister, Bill Link said. "The idea of being brothers is really important to us," he said.

They call their congregations ecclesiae, which is Greek for church, because most people associate the word "church" with buildings rather than people, members said.

There are Christadelphians throughout the world, particularly in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Lippy said. Their numbers remain small, however - Lippy estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 Christadelphians live in North America.

Each of the more than 70 North American ecclesiae listed in one Christadelphian directory operates independently, said White Hall resident Andy Bilello, the Elkridge group's recording secretary. Members traditionally elect men to an "arranging board" to handle business and other affairs of the ecclesia.

"We're very decentralized," said Ryan Mutter of Rockville, a doctoral candidate in public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He traces his Christadelphian roots back six generations on his mother's side and has written a novel for young adults that espouses the group's beliefs.

The group's independent philosophy extends to other parts of Christadelphian life as well. There are no clergy or ordained leaders, and no one is paid, Bilello said.

"We feel you don't need a special training to read the Bible," Bill Link said. Members study individually. He described a reading schedule that enables Christadelphians to read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in one year.

Bill Link referred to his 25-year-old Bible several times during a recent conversation to find passages to support his thoughts. Annotations in different colors of ink lined the margins of the book, carefully kept in a worn zippered cover. "This is an old friend," he said.

Members also study together in Sunday school and at study weekends and vacation Bible schools. One such weekend is planned for tomorrow and Sunday.

Biblical prophecy from the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures is a key part of the religion, Lippy said.

"From John Thomas' times to the present, there has been a conviction that current events are in there in code," Lippy said. Christadelphians also see the "continuity of Christianity with Judaism," he said.

The group has records of Christadelphians worshiping in Baltimore since the 1920s, Bilello said.

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