Michael Faraday was a great scientist, perhaps one of the greatest to have lived. Albert Einstein, western culture’s epitome of the great scientist, is said to have kept a picture of Faraday on his study wall.
Faraday was also a devout Christian – belonging to a small Christian sect known as the Sandemanians.
Not unlike the Christadelphians, the Sandemanians were a non-conformist sect who sought to get back to what they took to be a simple understanding of bible teaching. Like the CDs they had no paid ministry, and capable male members undertook the officiating and teaching duties. Faraday himself served as an elder.
They apparently took literally the biblical injunction to greet each other with “a holy kiss”, and also followed Jesus’s pretty much universally ignored commandment that his followers should “wash one another’s feet”.
They originated in about 1760 in Scotland and spread though England and the USA in the early 19th century. They gradually died out, first in America and then in the UK, with the last London meeting house closing in 1984.
(For those of you who are aware of Christadelphian history you may be interested to know that according the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander Campbell was influenced by the Sandemanians, and you will remember who was influenced by Campbell!)
Why did the Sandemanians die out?
They were very strict and puritanical, and would not tolerate differences of opinions. If anyone disagreed with the opinions of the rest then they either had to recant and accept the opinion of everyone else or be disfellowshipped. Even Faraday himself was suspended for some obscure religious disagreement.
They were very exclusive – refusing to join in prayer with other Christians outside the sect and shunning anyone who have been disfellowshiped.
After the initial growth they didn’t make many converts, relying on growth from within the families in the sect (Faraday himself was born into the faith).
Perhaps these are just some of the reasons why they didn’t thrive?
Can we draw anything from the 250 year bell-curve cycle of existence of the Sandemanians that might be relevant to the Christadelphians?
There certainly are similarities in belief and practice, although perhaps the Sandemanians were even stricter and more cut off from the real world than the Christadelphians.
Could the Christadelphians follow a similar 250 cycle? It all started 160 or so years ago and is certainly in decline, so perhaps it could be said to be on the downward slope of the same bell curve, which has only 90 or so years left before it reaches the zero line.
In the relatively prosperous western democracies there are not many converts. Young people who have been born into the community are better informed about the alternatives and the reasons not to believe, and many are just not joining up. Many older members, especially those who read widely, and take an interest in what is being discussed in other religious communities and in the scientific world, are losing faith that the community has “the truth”. Many “lukewarm” members stay in, because family commitments and the pain of change make it too difficult to escape. Some of the bravest and best leave.
What is left is an ageing community, with the majority just going along with it because that is what they have done since they were born, being led by a few fervent believers, who try to bully the rest to “strengthen the things that remain”, in the vain hope that their god actually cares more about the 0.00001% of the world that they represent than he does about the other 99.99999% - (those figure are real, not just rhetorical!)
But without the drive and enthusiasm of a new movement, and with many of their customs and practices anachronistically stuck in the 19th century, and with Christianity itself being in decline there is not much hope of the movement being re-invigorated,
Will anything save the Christadelphians from becoming, like the Sandemanians, a mere footnote in the history of the decline of Christianity?