Does God forgive and forget? Should we?

Our thoughts on Sunday were on faith and forgiveness. One of the interesting topics that came up was whether God ‘forgives and forgets’. It’s easy to assume that the answer is yes because this is such a common adage, and therefore, we should do the same. But on closer inspection, whilst it is clear we are asked to forgive, I don’t think we are asked to forget.

There are a couple of passages that, on the face of it, suggest that God forgets our sins:

‘I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.’ (Isa43:25)

‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.’ (Psa103:11-12)

However, if God really is omniscient, surely he can’t actually forget the details of what has happened? Surely it makes more sense to take these passages to mean that God chooses to disregard our sins, rather than forget them altogether?

Where does this leave us? Rather than consciously trying to forget somebody’s sin against us (don’t think about elephants, whatever you do), I believe that we are to disregard them. This is not an easy task. In fact, it is probably easier to make a conscious effort to forget somebody’s sin against you, rather than coming to terms with it, forgiving them and moving on (particularly when this is the 490th time)!

By Jon

Image credit: Iyanla Vanzant.

What do other churches believe?

I think it’s fair to say there’s quite a bit of mutual misinformation about what other churches believe. When I read online about what Christadelphians believe, I often find that my own beliefs are quite some distance from what Christadelphians apparently believe (e.g. “salvation by works”). I suspect strongly that other Christians have exactly the same issue. Part of this problem is that there will be a large range of views within each denomination on a particular issue. Take any issue, and you will probably find Christians in a different denomination who feel the same about the issue as you, whereas Christians within your denomination differ completely.

So how and where do we draw the line between Christian denominations? Should there be any distinction at all? It is probably useful to think about what is distinct about Christadelphians:
  • An attempt to recreate the principles of simple first century Christianity, without traditional embellishments (although, even in 150 years, we have adopted some of our own traditions!).
  •  Doctrinal differences (e.g. nature of Jesus (‘son of God’ vs. ‘God the son’), metaphorical heaven and hell, no supernatural devil, literal 2nd coming of Jesus and bodily resurrection, Kingdom of God on earth, mortality of the soul).
  •  No central administration or paid clergy.

There is biblical evidence that there should be some degree of exclusivity about who we choose to share Christian fellowship with. There are passages to support segregation of some kind based on beliefs (Acts4:12, Rom16:17, Gal1:6-12, Eph4:4-5, 1Tim6:3-4, 2Tim4:2-5, 2Jn9-11) and conduct (Matt18:15-17, 1Cor5:11, 2Thes4:6-14, Titus3:10-11, 1Jn1:6-8). It is not clear how this advice, given in a time before the established Christian denominations that we see today were formed, should be applied in this day and age. Also, in many of these passages, it is not clear to me whether the writer is advocating short-term suspension of fellowship to make a point (as seems to be the case in some passages, notably 1Cor5:1-5) or drawing hard denominational lines between different Christian groups.

I think the rules have changed in the last 100 years or so. Go back 100 years and pretty much everybody in the UK had an active faith and went to church regularly (or, at least, went to church regularly). Nowadays, very few people have an active faith and attend church regularly. So, in a sense, the theological ‘enemy’ has changed from those in other Christian denominations to those without any belief in God or Jesus.

This blog raises more questions than answers because, whilst I think some sort of denominational lines between Christian groups are supported by the Bible and useful, I don’t know where they should be drawn, or how they should affect our Christian practice. Finally, and most importantly, it is not for us to judge who will be saved – who we choose to share Christian fellowship with is not a judgement on anybody’s chances of salvation. Salvation is, and forever will be, to do with individual faith and relationship with God.

By Jon

Israel: God's purpose illustrated

During our service today, we considered how Israel are God's chosen people. Most Christians would agree that the nation of Israel were once very much God's chosen people - with associated rights and benefits. But since Jesus came on the scene, the extent to which Israel remain God's chosen people is much-debated.

One the one side of the debate are those who claim Israel remain God's chosen people, and retain certain privileges. This is based on passages like Isa43:10, Rom11:26 and relatively recent evidence of the vastly improbable re-establishment of the state of Israel after WW2, and the survival of the country since then against all odds [I should add I have not actually seen this video so can't vouch for its quality!]. On the other side of the debate are those who claim that the privileged status of Israel before Jesus arrived has been transferred wholly to Christians, aka 'spiritual Israel' (e.g. Rom2:28-29).

I think it is useful to reflect on why Israel were chosen by God in the first place (Deut7:7-8):

'It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.'

I take from this that God did not choose Israel for any reason other than he chose them. (It does say because of God's promises to the patriarchs, but God caused Israel to spring up from the patriarchs, so this gets rather circular.) In a sense, this was an arbitrary choice. God could have chosen Wales or New Jersey to illustrate his purpose (ok, I get the geographical issues with those two - but you get my point). With this in mind, I think it's entirely possible that Israel remain firmly God's chosen people to illustrate his purpose but salvation comes through Jesus alone. Since when was being an Israelite ever a free ticket to salvation? It always has been and forever will be about individuals who live a life of faith in God.

By Jon

Noah's Ark revisited

Noah's Ark is one of the few Bible stories that remains firmly in the public consciousness. This evening's Bible Class revisited the story from a number of different angles: chronologically, practically, dimensionally, and scientifically!


First, we explored the genealogies leading up to the flood, and then the chronology of the flood itself (see the image below, plotted from various genealogies in Genesis). A number of interesting points arise. Firstly, Noah was born early enough to be contemporary with Enosh, Adam's grandson, and lived long enough to be contemporary with Abram. Secondly, Noah and Abram share something unique among these forefathers: they both waited an extraordinary long time for their first child. Since Noah and Abram were contemporary, perhaps Noah had some wisdom to impart to Abram whilst he waited for his first child? Thirdly, there was a stark reduction in lifespan for those born after the flood. Could this be due to changes in the conditions on the earth that were less conducive to long life than the antediluvian world?

Genealogy from Adam to Abram. First dotted line = the birth of Noah; Second dotted line = the death of Noah; Blue line = the Flood.
Then, we explored the chronology of the flood itself. Although I've read the story a million times, I'm not sure that I would have been able to tell you that Noah and his family were inside the Ark for 7 days before the rain started (Gen7:1-4) or that they were in the Ark for more than a year in total (despite the rains falling for only 40 days!).


Although we don't actually know precisely how big the Ark was because we can't be sure of the dimension of the 'cubit' that it is measured in, the Ark was pretty enormous (worth noting though that the Ark is dwarfed by the current monsters of the sea - cruise ships - there's a really clear comparison on this site, under the 'How big was the Ark section'). We were treated to a Minecraft simulation of how it would have felt to build the Ark, and what it may have been like to co-habit with a world of animals in a floating zoo!

We are given the dimensions of the Ark, but not the exact plans. It is striking how artistic impressions of the Ark down the ages usually deviate wildly from even the basic dimensions of the Ark (imagine that 'bulbus' vessel with the giraffe's neck stick out - completely wrong). But Johan Huibers takes a different view: he has build a life-size model of what the Ark may very well have looked like (see below).
Johan Huibers Ark (source: Wikipedia).


How would you prepare if you were Noah? Noah probably had quite some time to prepare for his maiden voyage (perhaps 120 years, depending on your interpretation of Gen6:3), so he would have time to stockpile food and plan the best way to feed and water his family and animals. It would have made sense for him to include plenty of seed-containing food so that he had a seed-stock for when he disembarked. There would be no shortage of manure on board, so it's possible that Noah cultivated seedlings on board to be planted when they left the Ark.

One of the common questions asked is why have the remains of the Ark never been discovered? The answer is probably simple: wood would have been in short supply in the post-flood world, so the Ark would have been used as building material for Noah and his family.


As an actual real-life scientist (but by no means a geologist) the science behind Noah's Ark is a subject close to my heart. There are three common approaches to interpreting Noah's Ark in christian circles: a literal global flood, a somewhat less impressive local flood, or as a metaphor for salvation detached from actual events. Others have written interesting defenses for each of these interpretations: literal, local or metaphorical.

Some of the key questions in deciding how to interpret Noah's Ark are:
  • How could Noah build the ark? How did the Egyptians build the pyramids?
  • How did Noah collect all the animals? God overrode the animals in-build homing instinct?
  • How did Noah fit enough species on the boat? Well, you wouldn't need every sort of every species, for example, a pair of prototype canines would cover the whole dog family. And taking juveniles would have helped with the space issue.
  • How could the Ark survive the flood? It's likely that it wouldn't have been plain sailing - but the dimensions of the Ark do at least make sense for surviving a storm (more here).
  • Where did all the water come from? We are told the 'waters above' and the 'fountains of the deep'. I used to be quite taken with the idea of a canopy of water vapour surrounding the earth, but it seems likely that this would make the surface of the earth intolerably hot. It seems that there was wholesale revision of whatever water cycle was in operation prior to the Flood to enable the floodwaters to rise.  
  • Where did all the water go? Perhaps simply absorbed into an altered geography and water level in the post-flood world? 
  • How did kangaroos get to Australia? It is striking that the continents resemble an enormous jigsaw. It seems likely that at some point they were connected in a Pangaea-like arrangement. If Pangaea was still intact after the flood and broke up at a later date (perhaps in the days of Peleg, when the 'earth was divided', Gen10:25), then the kangaroos would have traveled East with the Oceania continent. An alternative explanation is the existence of intercontinental land bridges in the post-flood world that have since been swallowed by the oceans. As far fetched as the land bridges idea sounds, there is evidence that they may have existed in the past. 
  • How did all races spring up from one family? This is perhaps the most difficult challenge to the chronology of the world according to the Bible (not just to the story of Noah's Ark). It seems there is just not enough time to see the degree of human and animal genetic diversity that is with us now. The easiest explanation for this one is that the inhabited earth is considerably older than Biblical timelines would have us believe. But, of course, with God all things are possible. 
Others have done a much better job of answering these questions (for example, this site). But it's important for all christians to at least recognise that the details of the flood as recorded in Genesis conflict pretty squarely with the current understanding of the geo-physiology of our planet. Now, that's not to say that it didn't happen in the way described - but important to recognise I think.

To conclude on a lighter note, a clever list of learning from Noah's Ark (the original source of which I could not trace - apologies):

1. Don't miss the boat.
2. Remember that we are all in the same boat.
3. Plan ahead! It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
4. Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
5. Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
6. Build your future on high ground.
7. For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
8. Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
9.  When you're stressed, float a while.
11. No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.
10. Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.

By Jon

Faith online

We had a thought-provoking talk today about 'Faith Online'. The way that the world learns has changed, and now often involves bite-sized chunks of readily accessible information. There are some excellent online resources out there that illustrate how Bible learning can be done in novel and engaging ways using online formats. The Bible Project is a great example - and was new to me so thought I'd share.

We viewed The Bible Project's take on Genesis 1-11, which made me want to look up more episodes:

There are pros and cons of expressing faith online. It offers the potential for further reach than conventional media, and opens up new possibilities in terms of presentation of information. However, there are some potential pitfalls too. Whilst constructive and challenging discussion is to be encouraged, especially with those who don't share the same beliefs, there is a risk of being drawn into unhelpful discussion. This risk is especially acute online where there can be a tendency to 'hide behind' an online persona, saying things that you wouldn't dream of saying face to face. (Which recalls an interesting Radio 4 series by David Mitchell on how the internet is changing the way we interact with one another.)

But on balance, the pros far outweigh the cons for me. Which is one of the reasons I am writing this blog!

By Jon

A Community Christmas

Our church at Newbury hosted a 'Community Christmas' lunch on Christmas day. The idea behind this thoughtful charity is that no older person should be alone on Christmas day (unless they want to be). We were delighted to host 35 visitors and volunteers for a traditional turkey-with-all-the-trimmings (plus vegetarian option) lunch! I think it's fair to say that a good time was had by all - and nobody left hungry. And it was quite an experience to host the TV cameras of Good Morning Britain who covered the event - it's not often that our little church gets a slot on national TV!

But this endeavour raised an interesting question for me. How far should we go in helping the needy? Believe it or not, some Christians and non-Christians alike argue that helping the needy is futile. Much of this hinges on a misunderstanding of a passage in John12:1-8. Here, Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume and Judas challenges this extravagance. Jesus’ somewhat esoteric response is to say ‘“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”’ (John12:7-8). On the face of it, this passage does seem to suggest that helping the needy is ultimately futile. But a little bit of Old Testament background helps. It seems likely that Jesus has Deuteronomy 15 in his mind in making this response:

‘If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.’ (Deut15:7-11).

So, yes, there will always be poverty - more poverty than we can possibly hope to solve. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be ‘openhanded’ toward our fellow neighbour. If you are still in any doubt as to how far we should go in helping others, do you think the Samarian was selective or conditional when helping the beaten and robbed traveller? Or the ‘sheep’ in Jesus’ parable realised they were helping Jesus himself when feeding and watering strangers?

By Jon.
We currently number some 50 members in our fellowship, and we are ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds, and engaged in a wide range of employment, including public service.

Our congregation is made up of men, women and children of all ages, who live in and around Newbury and wider afield, including Andover, Basingstoke, Bicester and Marlborough. We even have one member who lives at Mons in Belgium (and is an enthusiastic member of the local cricket team there!).

Many of our members are involved in wider activity within the Christadelphian fellowship, including preaching, leading worship, and also in the mission field overseas with strong links with Estonia, India, Colombia and other places.

Christadelphians in Newbury began with our brother Philip Edward Davies. Philip was born in 1853 and, in course of time, became Secretary to a large Baptist congregation in Newbury. He then joined the Strict Baptists before becoming a Christadelphian at the age of 39. He was baptised on June 4th 1892. The Christadelphian Magazine of July 1892 recorded the event and added 'his obedience established a witness for the truth in a fresh town and we hope that results may follow the efforts he put forward.' His efforts started the following day, a Sunday, when an open air meeting was held.

Brother J. Dyer and brother J. Nutley were baptised the following year. So it was on November 30th 1893 that five brethren resolved to form a Christadelphian ecclesia (our congregation). Philip Davies was elected as 'Recording Brother' (secretary) and it was agreed to purchase an organ for £6.14s.6d.

Finding a suitable place to worship was a problem and after much searching, the Ebeneezer Chapel in Wharf Road was found and a tenancy was agreed starting from Sunday August 1894 at a rent of 2s.6d a week.

In 1894 a small Sunday School was established.

Since then, the ecclesia has moved venues several times:-
  • 1902-1919 Masonic Hall on Northbrook St.
  • 1919-1935 Oddfellows Hal in Craven Road.
  • 1939-1945 During the war the hall was occupied by the military and the private sitting room of the Caretaker, Mr. Beckley, was used.
  • 1948-1956 We met in Wharf St. Hall
In 1974 a hall on the current site in Lower Way, Thatcham was purchased. The building served us well for many years and many services, baptisms, and Sunday school activities were held there. Having lasted far longer than predicted the hall became no longer maintainable. We have now been blessed with the resources to rebuild on the existing site.

The current building was opened on 9th July 2006 after meeting for 9 months in the Kennet Heath Community Centre, near Thatcham railway station.

Over the years, Christadelphians have continued to witness to the people of Newbury about their faith, holding public talks, running extensive preaching efforts (campaigns) the first of which was in 1957. In 1967 there was a stand at the Newbury Show when over 3,000 people passed through the 'Destiny of Man' exhibition.

Our congregation numbers some 50 members, of a wide variety of backgrounds and engaged in an equally variety of work. Many of our members are active on a broader basis within the UK Christadelphian fellowship, in leading worship, and in the mission field abroad.