In 1832 an English doctor named John Thomas took a ship going to New York because his father wanted to settle in America. The ship ran aground in a violent storm and Dr. Thomas thought that he was going to die. He realised that he knew very little about the future and vowed that if he reached land he would not rest until he had found the truth about life after death. He did reach New York and spent the next fifteen years studying the Bible very carefully and examining the teachings of many Christian groups. When he was sure that he understood the things written in the Old and New Testaments concerning Jesus Christ and the coming Kingdom of God on earth, he arranged to be baptized, by full immersion (going under water completely). He preached in America and Britain, and produced religious magazines and books.
Among those who believed the same Bible teachings and joined John Thomas in his work was a man called Robert Roberts. He helped to organise the growing number of fellow-believers into local groups or ‘ecclesias’. ‘Ecclesia’ is the Greek word for ‘church’ in the Bible. It means ‘an assembly (gathering) of people who have been called’. Christadelphians prefer to use ‘ecclesia’ instead of ‘church’ because people now think of a church as a building rather than a special group of people.
The name ‘Christadelphian’ was first used in 1864 when the believers in America asked their Government to be excused from joining the army at the time of the American Civil War. A name was needed to identify the believers as a community separate from other churches, and John Thomas chose ‘Christadelphian’. These 19th Century Christadelphians preached in many parts of the world, so that by the end of the century there were groups of believers in many countries.