Christian Unity
John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)


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Saturday, January 07, 2006
  Thirteen Propositions: Conclusion
After writing the thirteen propositions of the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell wrote these concluding comments:
To prepare the way for a permanent scriptural unity amongst christians, by calling up to their consideration fundamental truths, directing their attention to first principles, clearing the way before them by removing the stumbling blocks--the rubbish of ages which has been thrown upon it, and fencing it on each side, that in advancing towards the desired object, they may not miss the way through mistake, or inadvertency, by turning aside to the right hand or to the left--is, at least, the sincere intention of the above propositions. It remains with our brethren, now to say, how far they go towards answering this intention. Do they exhibit truths demonstrably evident in the light of scripture and right reason; so that to deny any part of them the contrary assertion would be manifestly absurd and inadmissible? Considered as a preliminary for the above purpose, are they adequate; so that if acted upon, they would infallibly lead to the desired issue--If evidently defective in either of these respects, let them be corrected and amended, till they become sufficiently evident, adequate, and exceptionable. In the mean time let them be examined with rigor, with all the rigor that justice, candour,and charity will admit.
Here Campbell summarizes the intent behind the thirteen propositions, and appeals to all Christians to examine the propositions rigorously to determine whether they adequately meet that intent. Ideally he hoped the propositions would so clearly and completely state biblical truths that their merit would be unassailable. Failing that, he hoped they would at least be adequate so that, if followed, they would be sufficient to bring about the desired practical goal of "permanent scriptural unity amongst Christians." But he did not presume them to be necessarily adequate. He called for examination "with all the rigor that justice, candor, and charity will admit."

Today we are in a far better position to examine these propositions, with the benefit of nearly 200 years of subsequent history. Even a cursory examination reveals that these thirteen propositions have not brought about the end sought by Campbell, a permanent scriptural unity among Christians. Whether that failure can be attributed to deficiencies in the propositions themselves, or instead attributed to the failure of Christians to implement the propositions, is a matter for discussion. In the past thirteen articles I have suggested that both kinds of failures occurred.

Now is a time for rededication to a noble task.

On another occasion about 140 years ago, a great leader called upon people to rededicate themselves to a noble task. Abraham Lincoln spoke the following words in the Gettysburg Address:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Let us likewise be highly resolved that the efforts toward unity by Thomas Campbell, the Christian Association of Washington (Pa.), and many others of their day, shall not have been in vain. Let us highly resolve that the Churches of Christ will have a new birth of unity in our day-- and that the commitment of all believers in Jesus Christ to be one, as Christ is one with the Father, shall not perish from the earth. May God help us in this resolve. Amen.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Thursday, January 05, 2006
  Proposition 13: Human Expedients
In the thirteenth and final proposition, Campbell wrote:
Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose, should be adopted, under the title of human expedients, without any pretence to a more sacred origin--so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the church.
Here Campbell seeks to avoid divisions in the church that might be caused by the introduction of human expedients. He proposes two defenses against such division:

(1) Only permit the introduction of those things that are "indispensably necessary" / "absolutely necessary"; and
(2) Make it explicitly clear that such expedients carry no divine authority.

Since that was written, many people have diligently sought to enforce part (1), even by division when other means failed to keep out an innovation. That is sadly ironic, given the stated purpose of the proposition ("no contention nor division in the church"). Sunday school classes, individual communion cups, missionary societies, pianos and organs have all been introduced as human expedients, as matters of convenience or useful tools and techniques. And they have all been bitterly opposed as not indispensible nor absolutely necessary.

I wonder whether part (1) is a New Testament teaching, or merely the product of fallible human wisdom. I suspect it is the latter.

Taken in context with Proposition 7, it is clear that Campbell did not intend the introduction of expedients to become a matter over which people might withdraw fellowship. Proposition 7 was his appeal for tolerance in the spirit of Rom 14:1 and 14:10. Proposition 13 carries an appeal for sensitivity in the spirit of Romans 14:13-15. Taken together, the two propositions lay a sound and biblical foundation for handling differences. But history clearly shows that that the voice of the thirteenth proposition drowned out that of the seventh. Today's urgent need is for Christians to learn to tolerate differences of opinion.
Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Rom 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Rom 14:13-15 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Thursday, December 29, 2005
  Proposition 12: Formula for Unity
In the twelfth proposition, Thomas Campbell wrote:
That all that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members, but such as having that due measure of scriptural self-knowledge described above, do profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures; nor, 2dly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their tempers and conduct. 3dly, that her ministers, duly and scripturally qualified, inculcate none other things than those very articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God. Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.
Here Cambell enumerates four requirements by which the church may reach "the highest state of perfection and purity" on earth:

1) Use the correct standard for accepting members. Cambell said that to be accepted, one must understand his lost state, profess faith in Jesus, and commit to obey him in all things according to the scriptures. Nothing more could properly be required. As previously noted, the Cambell's did not understand the role of baptism in forgiveness at the time of this writing. But baptism would clearly fit into the stated requirement to obey Jesus in all things according to the scriptures.

2) Hold members to that standard in an ongoing way. They must "manifest the reality of their profession by their tempers and conduct." It is not likely that Cambell meant by this that members must live perfect lives. Rather, he seems to have meant that members must demonstrate a sincere determination to be consistent with the commitment they had made.

3) Nothing should be taught to members, and required of them, beyond what is explicitly stated in scriptures. As he indicated in propositions 6 and 7, the inferences, deductions, and human reasoning drawn from scriptures should not be made terms of communion.

4) The practice of the church must conform to the "example of the primitive church exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions or inventions of men."

Of these stated requirements, the fourth has proven to be especially problematic. If taken in the original context of the Declaration and Address, it sounds like a reasonable proposal, as a way to avoid controversy and division. Cambell does not seem to be taking the position that all who do otherwise are in scriptural error. Instead he apparently was pointing out a potential source of disunity, and appealing to all to avoid such things. However, subsequent history is littered with examples of individuals and congregations being virtually anathematized for introducing practices for which there is no New Testament example. While seeking to avoid one cause of disunity, Cambell introduced another.

The New Testament is a complete guide for the practice and observances of the church. That is what Cambpell stated in Proposition 4. However, some accomodation needs to be included here to prevent the kind of divisiveness that has permeated the Restoration Movement over the past 195 years. Christians who practice things not found in the New Testament, and not explicitly prohibited in the New Testament, should not on that basis be excluded from communion or fellowship. As long as those Christians exhibit a commitment to obey the Lord according to their current understanding, the church should gently instruct and allow God to work to complete that understanding.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Monday, December 19, 2005
  Proposition 11: Causes of Divisions
In proposition 11, Thomas Campbell wrote:
That, (in some instances,) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God; and, (in others,) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions, and human inventions, a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith, or worship, of the church; are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes, of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the church of God.
He attributes all the "corruptions and divisions" in the history of the church to one of two causes:

1) neglecting the expressly revealed will of God; or

2) introducing human opinions and inventions into the church, and making them a condition of fellowship.

I cannot speak about the cause for every corruption and division that has occurred in the past 2000 years. But I would venture to add a third cause of divisions:

3) disagreement about whether a particular belief is the "expressly revealed will of God" or merely a human opinion or invention.

If believers in the past had taken a quite literal and narrow view of what is the "expressly revealed will of God," and if they were tolerant of differences of opinion on matters that do not fall under that narrow definition of what has been revealed, then perhaps many fewer divisions would have occurred over the past 2000 years, and especially over the past 500 years.

Romans 14 makes it clear that there are some disputable matters, where tolerance is required. Other passages instruct us about areas where there is no room for dissent in the fellowship (1 Cor 5:9-11; 2 John 7-11 for example). Some passages give us a few examples of disputable matters, and others give us a few examples of matters where no dissent is to be tolerated. The difficulty has been in applying the principles from these examples to determine what other matters fall into the "disputable" or "indisputable" categories.

Historically many groups have tended to minimize the range of disputable matters. Instead they made almost every belief a condition of fellowship. That obviously has been ineffective in reducing disputes. Instead it has led to (often mutual) exclusion of those with differing beliefs. Perhaps instead we should be minimizing the range of indisputable matters. If the scriptures do not explicitly tell us that no dissent is to be tolerated on a certain matter, perhaps we should tolerate disssent on that matter. That seems to be the spirit of Romans 14-15.

God said, "Let there be light!", and there was light. I pray that he will also say, "Let there be peace among believers!" Let us learn to accept our brother without passing judgment on disputable matters.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Friday, December 09, 2005
  Proposition 10: Evils of Division
First let me apologize for the pause in my blogging. It is a busy time of year. But on to the topic!

In Thomas Campbell's tenth proposition he states:
That division among christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is anti-christian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he wcre divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is anti-scriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is anti-natural, as it excites christians to contemn, to hate and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion, and of every evil work.
I imagine it would be difficult to find a professing Christian who would argue with this proposition. Campbell mentions several evils resulting from division between believers:

1) It represents Christ's body as divided against itself and inflicting wounds upon itself. The picture is unimaginable, as if the all-powerful, righteous, and loving Son of God were like a person with a mental illness, compulsively defacing his own body. How can that picture bring glory to God?

2) It is a direct violation of God's commands. Eph 1:1-4 and Romans 14, 15 come to mind. As the apostle John wrote, whoever says he loves God but does not keep his commands is a liar. (1 John 2:3).

3) It causes those who are divinely obligated to love one another, instead to have contempt for one another.

Rather than continue to enumerate the many other evils that result from division, Cambell summarizes that division produces confusion and all kinds of evil. These unsavory consequenses are all too familiar, and all too unpleasant to discuss in gory detail.

Reflecting on those thoughts, one naturally comes to the conviction that division is dysfunctional in Christ's body. Something must be done to eliminate the divide and bring believers back to the loving unity for which Christ prayed. We must make every effort. Surely God will bless sincere efforts of believers to bring about unity.
Matt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Let us all seek that blessing. Amen!

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Monday, November 28, 2005
  Proposition 9: Unity of the Believers
In Proposition 9, Thomas Campbell states:
That all that are enabled, thro' grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.
He states two prerequisites to unity, followed by eight aspects of our position which demand our mutual acceptance:

Prerequisites (discussed in comments on Proposition 8):
1) Make a confession of belief in Jesus and submission to him as Lord
2) Demonstrate a life that is consistent with that confession

Our resulting mutual position in Christ:
1) Precious saints of God
2) Brothers and sisters, children of the same family and father
3) Temples of the same Spirit
4) Members of the same Body
5) Subjects of the same grace
6) Objects of the same divine love
7) Bought with the same price
8) Joint heirs of the same inheritance

These eight aspects of our position in Christ are fully supported in the scriptures.

Clearly God wants his children to be united in love. How foolish, how arrogant, how reckless it would be to reject someone for whom Christ died, whom God has adopted as his son, and granted the same position that he gave to us! If God placed a person into his body, what right has any other child of God to withhold the full warm embrace of Christian love? How distressing it must be to God to see his children bicker and fight! With the judgment we use, we will be judged. Let us judge with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving whatever grievances we may have toward one another...that is, unless someone thinks he does not need mercy himself!

One obstacle to this mutual acceptance is the exclusive retoric that is often heard from pulpits. Sometimes a leader seems to think he need to paint a picture showing that nobody else is saved, or at least that nobody else is as saved, as those in his flock. Superficially, that message does have the appearance of strengthening the position of his particular congregation, as a deterrent to members leaving as well as an incentive for outsiders to join. But that mindset is dangerously arrogant, creating a barrier to learning from other congregations. And it prevents the kind of mutual acceptance among believers that God commands and desires.

I believe the solution starts with dialog between individuals from groups that are currently not united.
I want to be part of the solution to this problem. Let the dialog proceed!

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Sunday, November 20, 2005
  Proposition 8: Required Knowledge and Profession
In his eighth proposition, Thomas Campbell wrote:
That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge: but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice; and of the way of salvation thro' Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in, and obedience to him, in all things according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his church.
Cambell outlines two areas a person must understand for admission to the church:

1) That he is lost "by nature and practice"

2) The "way of salvation thro' Jesus Christ

Then he states that this understanding must be followed by a dual confession:

1) Of faith in Jesus

2) Of obedience to him in all things according to his word

According to Cambell, a person who understands two things, and confesses two things, is eligible for admission to the church. Though the Cambell's did not understand the role of baptism in the process until a few years later, it seems that this would fit well into the understanding of "the way of salvation", and would be the logical next step after confessing Jesus as Lord (obedience to him in all things), thus gaining admission to the church. At least that seems to be how the Restoration Movement evolved on this topic.

It also seems clear from this proposition and the preceding two, that only the most basic and plainly stated truths about the "way of salvation" are required to be understood at this stage. No understanding of inferential truths nor human reasoning would be required. If Cambell was right, then it seems that only the words of scripture themselves, as spoken to people prior to their conversions, can be required. Those are all found in the book of Acts. The deeper truths about these matters found in the epistles were taught, not before conversion, but after. Those who first received those epistles had already been converted and admitted to the church, prior to having those deeper truths taught to them.

The clear implication is that someone who understands those very basic things, but lacks correct understanding on the subsequent teachings on the "way of salvation" or other topics, must be considered a Christian and a member of God's church. It would be inappropriate to exclude someone who had understood Acts 2:36-39 but lacked understanding of Romans 6. How much less appropriate would it be for the church to exclude someone because of their understanding on topics such as the proper way to take communion, or the proper way to sing, or the proper leadership organization of the church, or the nature of the millenium, or the myriad of other complex issues that divide believers today.

In contrast to the vision of Thomas Cambell, many groups who call themselves Christian seek to distinguish themselves from the others by emphasizing their different doctrines, often as a requirement for admission into the church. This perpetuates the lack of unity that we see among professing believers in Jesus today. As a first step toward restoring the unity for which Jesus prayed, can we begin to accept as brothers all those who believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized in the name of Jesus according to the plain and literal teaching given to the first converts in Acts 2--despite our differences on other subjects?

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005
  Proposition 7: Human Reasoning
Thomas Campbell's seventh proposition states:
That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.
Cambell's point is that a person can come to Jesus, have his sins forgiven, and be adopted into God's family without being fully instructed in all the complexities of doctrine that mature Christians may have mastered. Whatever level of knowledge and understanding is required in order to be accepted by God, that is all that may be required to be accepted as a member of God's church, with all the privileges that are associated with membership. That minimum necessary knowledge involves nothing that is not explicitly stated in scripture and easily understood. No human reasoning is required to prove these basic points.

Today many hundreds of groups exist which call themselves Christian, and each has its own particular set of beliefs and doctrines. Even within the restoration movement churches tracing their roots back to Thomas Campbell, there are numerous factions with different doctrinal understandings which separate the groups. Are these really matters of salvation? What doctrines must be correctly understood in order to be saved?

Quite clearly, a belief and understanding of Jesus was fundamental:
1Co 15:1-8 Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.
In addition to those facts, the book of Hebrews identifies the "elementary teachings":
Heb 6:1-2 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Time after time in the book of Acts, we see the early Christians teaching these subjects to people before they were baptized. This teaching did not require lengthy and detailed study. The longest conversion in the book of Acts was that of the apostle Paul, which took three days, but after only one short conversation with Ananias he was baptized. No great depth of study occurred in any of the conversions that have been recorded through the Holy Spirit as examples for us. In the case of the Philippian jailer, a basic understanding of the facts on these subjects appears to have been conveyed in less than an hour (Acts 16:33)

No doctrinal understandings may be used as lines of fellowship on topics other than what we see required of the first century converts. And even on these topics, no subtleties of human reasoning may be included in what is required to be understood. The understanding required for conversion is sufficient for subsequent fellowship and communion.

Even one who has been a Christian for a long time, who should have advanced to a more complete understanding, cannot be rejected because he has not continued to learn:
Heb 5:12 For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.
Not only had these Hebrew Christians not advanced in learning as they should, they needed to be taught again about the basics. Even so, they were still regarded as Christians by the inspired writer.

Only the elementary teachings, plainly stated in scripture, should be made terms of fellowship. How many barriers could be removed between believers, if only we could accept all who believe and practice those basic teachings!

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Sunday, November 13, 2005
  Proposition 6: Inferences and Deductions
Thomas Cambell's sixth proposition states:
That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God--therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs's confession.
What a profound point! If all believers could understand this principle, in all its depth, could we not be united? Could we accept someone as a believer, who has not yet understood everything we have understood? Could we wait patiently while God works in them?

Paul demonstrated this kind of patience with others, and exhorted the believers to do likewise. The entire books of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians are excellent examples of Paul demonstrating this attitude. Note that Paul addresses a church with serious errors as believers in 1 Corinthians 10:1, 11:33, 12:1, 15:1, 16:15. Those he called accursed were those who do not "love the Lord" (1 Cor 16:22).

Also, consider what Paul says in Phil 3:15-16:
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Even the inspired apostle Paul allowed for people to disagree with him. (How arrogant of us, as uninspired believers, to demand that everyone agree with us!) Paul was willing to wait for a person to be taught by God over time, to become persuaded of the correct view. He didn't consider them to be in sin, or excluded, or “in the doghouse”. And he didn't constantly badger them about the question. It was OK, even though he knew they were wrong! It seems that Paul really believed that God would handle the situation, so Paul did not have to make it happen himself.

In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Paul writes:
And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
Even someone who “opposes” the man of God should receive gentle instruction, and should be given time to let God teach him. The opponent may need to repent, and may need to learn the truth, but he is not to be treated as an outsider or as an enemy. Rather, the opponent was like a prisoner of war, taken captive by the devil.

In Romans 14:3-4 Paul writes:
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
And in verse 13:
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
Again, Paul exhorts us to accept the one who disagrees with us. He even makes the point that the Lord will make him stand (Rom 14:4). We should leave room for God to teach a person, or to accept him as he is.

Thank God for his mercy and patience, that he has not yet destroyed us for harshly judging our brothers and sisters.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005
  Proposition 5: Where the Bible is Silent
Thomas Campbell's fifth proposition states:
That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can any thing more be required of christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances, as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church; or be made a term of communion amongst christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.

This proposition addresses how Campbell felt we should handle the silence of the scriptures.

1) If the scriptures are silent about precisely how to perform some command or ordinance, no mortal has the authority to legislate the missing specifics and bind them upon anyone.

2) No mortal has authority to create new commands or ordinances which are not specified in scripture.

3) Nothing outside the New Testament may be introduced into the faith or worship of the church

4) Nothing outside the New Testament may be made a term of communion among Christians

Items 1), 2), and 4) are fairly non-controversial at face value. Item 3) hints at a class of practices that have divided thousands of congregations. Examples of items that have been introduced into worship which are nowhere mentioned in the New Testament include pianos, organs, and the like; individual communion cups; incense; statues and images; creeds; and probably many other things. The results upon Christian unity have been catastrophic.

There are a couple of ways one could view this. One might consider that these situations prove the wisdom of Campbell's proposition. If the non-biblical items had not been introduced, the churches might still be together. Or, one might point to these situations as proof that the proposition was fatally flawed. By saying we may not introduce anything new into worship, perhaps we paint those who do so as heretics--in effect, setting up a man-made rule which is destined to lead to division. But introducing such a rule actually would be in conflict with item 4) since it makes the "introduce nothing new" rule a term of communion among Christians.

Often Mark 7:1-13 is used as a proof text for the "introduce nothing new" rule. However, if the new things being introduced are not "rules" (ie not mandated, but introduced as discretionary) does Mark 7 apply? Is there any other passage that would support "introduce nothing new" in a discretionary matter? Does the New Testament truly teach that we may not introduce anything new into the worship service? I wonder.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Sunday, November 06, 2005
  Proposition 4: The New Testament
In his fourth Proposition of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address, he states that the church must be based on the New Testament:
That although the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the church; and therefore in that respect cannot be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members; as the Old Testament was for the worship discipline and government of the Old Testament church, and the particular duties of its members.
A central tenet of the Restoration Movement has been that the New Testament has replaced the Old as the standard to be followed by God's people. Thus the movement's cry has been to restore New Testament Christianity. Christians live under the new covenant (Heb 8:6-9:28; 2 Cor 3:2-10). The words "testament" and "covenant" in English refer to the same concept in the original languages. So the conclusion is generally drawn that what passed away (Heb 8:13) was the Old Testament. But perhaps that is too broad of a conclusion to draw based on the scriptures.

When we speak of the Old Testament, we are generally referring to 39 books in the Bible from Genesis to Malachi. When we refer to the New Testament we are generally referring to the 27 books from Matthew to Revelation. However in 2 Cor 3:2-10 it is quite clear that he is speaking of something else. He draws the following contrasts between the old and new covenants:
Here he is talking about the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments (written on tablets of stone). Clearly the ten commandments belong to the old covenant and not to the new. Hebrews 9:1 makes it clear that the regulations for worship and the sanctuary belong to the old covenant. Thus it is not only the ten commandments that passed away, but also temple worship with its Levitical priesthood (Heb 7) and the animal sacrifices (Heb 10). Further, Romans 3 and Gal 3 teach that we are no longer under the supervision of the law. So nothing in the Law of Moses remains as the basis for our justification before God.

However, what would be the basis for saying more? Have the books of history, the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the prophets passed out of relevance? How about all the teachings that preceded the Mosaic Law?

I believe it is only at great cost that we can ignore the study and application of principles from the Old Testament. Paul reminded Timothy (1 Tim 3:15) that he had known the scriptures from infancy, which were able to make him wise for salvation through Jesus. What scriptures did he mean? Timothy could only have known the Old Testament scriptures from infancy. It is these that are able to make us wise for salvation. It is these that are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that a man may be fully equipped for every good work. That is not to the exclusion of the same kinds of usefulness to be found in the New Testament. But Paul was referring to the Old Testament scriptures in this context.

I believe Thomas Campbell understood this. His fourth proposition speaks of the New Testament as a perfect "constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church" and "for the particular duties of its members." That is true. We should obtain our directions for the worship and practice of the church from the New Testament. But I don't think he meant for us to take the New Testament in isolation and ignore the Old. I wonder, in the years since Thomas Campbell wrote these words, whether sufficient attention was paid to the principles from the Old Testament which continue to be able to make us wise for salvation.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Friday, November 04, 2005
  Proposition 3: The Bible Only
In the first two Propositions of the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell said that there is one church and that there must be no divisions in it. In the third Proposition he states that the sole standard for the church must be the Bible only:
That in order to this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion; but what is expressly taught, and enjoined upon them, in the word of God. Nor ought any thing be admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles upon the New Testament church; either in express terms, or by approven precedent.
The basic point of this proposition is well supported in scripture. We should bind what the scriptures bind, and that only. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Mark 7:6-7) for creating their own laws and binding them as though they were laws from God. We must not create any additional “hoops” to be jumped through in order to be accepted as a true Christian (“terms of communion”), whether at conversion or thereafter.

Likewise, we cannot bind any of our additions or changes to the structure or organization (“constitution and managements”) of the church. While we may indeed have discretion on certain matters, we cannot require others to exercise their discretion in the same manner as we do.

One point in Proposition 3 requires great care. The writer alludes to two types of authorized items: those given in “express terms”, and by “approved precedent”. He proposes that where a precedent is established in scripture through the example of the first century church, and when that example is shown to have been approved by the inspired apostles, then that could be sufficient grounds to bind the principle on others. According to the writer, those things could be “admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements”. How does one decide what is an approved precedent? Are we really obligated to follow every example in the scriptures down to the tiniest detail? Is precedent the law of the new covenant? This also has been a cause of many schisms in the Restoration Movement.

Perhaps the solution is to have three categories for applying our interpretations from scripture: things that must be bound on every believer; things which a local congregation or group of believers agrees to practice among themselves (but to accept other groups who practice differently); and things that are left up to the discretion of each individual believer. Most if not all “approved precedent” issues would fall into one of the last two categories.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Monday, October 31, 2005
  Proposition 2: No Divisions
In his second proposition, Thomas Campbell calls for an undivided church:
That although the church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another; yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them to the glory of God. And for this purpose, they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.
He begins by acknowledging that there must be separate congregations due to necessary practical considerations such as location and the practical size of assemblies. But there should not be "uncharitable divisions" among them. They should accept one another as Christians, and should believe and practice the same things. They should be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor 1:10).

It is inspiring to sit and imagine a world like that! But after enjoying that imagination for a while, we must return to contemplate the reality of the present world in which we live. What ought to be, and what actually exists, are so distressingly opposite! The supposed Christian landscape is covered with uncharitable divisions, with new examples arising with appalling regularity.

I feel compelled to do something to help bring about unity, but I confess that I feel frustrated and powerless to do what needs to be done. The trend must be reversed, but how? Two approaches come to mind. Either we try an incremental approach, where we address the divisions most directly related to our own churches, or we start over and try to build a united brotherhood from scratch.

I believe the latter approach is too extreme and presumptuous on several levels. Trying to start over from scratch passes judgment on the church that exists. And it presumes that we will be wise enough to bring believers together in a way that all who precede us have failed. Who are we to build such a brotherhood? What of those who believe we do not have the right, or who believe we are building it on the wrong teachings? Restoration movement history shows us the difficulty of gathering consensus on the essential issues that must be held in common. The very effort to unify has led to even more division and acrimony. The world does not need another splintering movement.

I believe the more humble, God-reliant, and constructive approach is to address the obstacles to unity that affect our closest relationships personally and as churches. We should reach out to those who have a historical connection or a doctrinal similarity and seek common ground. And we should pray that God will bring us to unity. Ultimately He is the only one who can solve this problem. I pray for wisdom to know what God would have me to do to promote unity.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Thursday, October 27, 2005
  Proposition 1: One Church
The centerpiece of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address is the thirteen propositions for unity. We will begin our discussion of these propositions with Proposition 1:
That the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else as none else can be truly and properly called christians.
There is one body (Eph 4:4) which is the church (Col 1:18). People are added to it when they believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized for forgiveness of those sins (Acts 2:38-40) and are adopted by God (Eph 1:5) as his sons. This church is not an organization made by men. No man has the authority to decide who is in this church and who is not. All who are adopted by God are added by God to his church.

It is this church that the Lord prayed to be one in John 17, that Paul admonished to have no divisions (1 Cor 1:10) and to make every effort toward unity (Eph 4:3). This church has no earthly headquarters. It has no international ruling body. It has no creed except the Word of God.

Today the members of this "one church" are divided into numerous manmade organizations with manmade creeds and manmade ruling bodies that maintain the manmade walls between the manmade organizations. Can this be what Jesus intended when he prayed for them to be one, as he is one with the Father?

Christians who contemplate this sad picture today are moved to do something to make it right. They are immediately faced with the difficulty of the present situation. Campbell professes that the church consists of all those in every place

(1) that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him
in all things according to the scriptures, and

(2) that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct

In (1), did Campbell mean that we must perfectly obey every scripture? Note that's not what he said. Instead, he lists two things they must profess. That is, they must profess faith in Christ, and they must profess obedience to the scriptures.

In (2), Campbell says they must live consistently with the professions in (1). So, did he mean here that we must perfectly obey every scripture? I don't think so. I think he meant we must live as those who intend to obey every scripture.

Regardless of what Campbell meant, it is clear from history that those who followed after him defined the boundaries of the church in increasingly narrow terms since he wrote those words. To reverse that trend and to move toward increased unity, we must learn to accept in unreserved fellowship people who (in our opinion) are absolutely wrong about some things. The only alternative, bringing everyone to complete agreement on every biblical subject, seems unattainable without miraculous intervention by God. We may have to wait for the second coming of Christ to see that happen. Meanwhile, we need to broaden our minds and extend grace. After all, we may need some grace in this area also.

I don't know how far we should go in accepting people with "wrong" (in our opinion) beliefs. There clearly must be limits on that. Perhaps we should start with the easier subjects first. By bringing down the first few walls, we may build momentum that will inspire others to help as we tackle more difficult topics.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

The Christian Standard has begun a three part series discussing the three descriptive terms "essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally" used to describe the oneness of the church. I eagerly anticipate the second and third in the series.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005
  Revisiting the Declaration and Address
At a meeting held at Buffaloe, August 17, 1809, consisting of persons of different religious denominations; most of them in an unsettled state as to a fixed gospel ministry; it was unanimously agreed upon, the considerations, and for the purposes herein after declared, to form themselves into a religious association, titled as above--which they accordingly did, and appointed twenty-one of their number to meet and confer together; and, with the assistance of Mr. Thomas Campbell, minister of the gospel, to determine upon the proper means to carry into effect the important ends of their association: the result of which conference was the following declaration and address, agreed upon and ordered to be printed at the expence and for the benefit of the society. September 7, 1809
With these words of introduction, Thomas Campbell began writing the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, Pa – surely one of the most noble efforts towards Christian unity in the past 200 years. This document was a call to all Christians to drop their sectarian differences and to accept one another based on the fundamental truths upon which they all agreed. At one point he pleads:
Oh! that ministers and people would but consider, that there are no divisions in the grave; nor in that world which lies beyond it: there our divisions must come to an end! we must all unite there!-- Would to God, we could find in our hearts to put an end to our short-lived divisions here; that so we might leave a blessing behind us; even a happy and united church. What gratification, what utility, in the meantime, can our divisions afford either to ministers or people? Should they be perpetuated, 'till the day of judgment, would they convert one sinner from the error of his ways, or save a soul from death? Have they any tendency to hide the multitude of sins that are so dishonorable to God, and hurtful to his people? Do they not rather irritate and produce them? How innumerable and highly aggravated are the sins they have produced, and are at this day, producing, both amongst professors and profane!
These words aptly describe the modern Christian world as well as that of Thomas Campbell's day. What a sad testimony, that today the ministries descended from the Christian Association of Washington are a multitude of splinter groups, each with its own sectarian issues that separate it from its siblings. How contrary this is to the original intent! Clearly the original ambition of the Christian Association was to bring together all who had made Jesus their Lord. However, after only a couple of generations, these ministries had lost the focus on bringing believers together, and instead started building sectarian walls which continue to divide believers to this very day.

The ambition to unify Christians is no less timely today than it was in 1809. In fact, today many people are prayerfully seeking to remove the artificial barriers that hinder fellowship between disciples of Jesus. The Scriptures must ultimately be our guide in this work. However I believe we can gain valuable perspective by considering the principles that guided the Christian Association. With the advantage of subsequent history, perhaps we can glean what was right, discern what went wrong, and thereby gain a vision for moving forward toward unity.

The centerpiece of the Declaration and Address was a set of thirteen propositions beginning on page 16. I propose that we take these propositions one at a time, examining each in light of the scriptures and of the intervening history.Let us proceed with both our Bibles and our hearts open, and let us see where God leads us in this conversation.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

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Name: Alan Rouse
Home: Georgia, United States
About Me: I've been a Christian since being baptized in 1976 at the Brooks Avenue Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC. I currently serve as an elder in the Atlanta Church of Christ in Gwinnett. You can email me at blogger[at]rouses[dot]net About my beliefs
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