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Friday, June 02, 2006

The Legacy of Sand Creek

The bigger fleas upon the dog,
Have smaller fleas that bite 'em;
And these, in turn, have lesser fleas,
And so on, ad infinitum!
The timeline of the Restoration Movement is divided at the year 1889, into two distinct eras: Before Sand Creek (BSC) and After Sand Creek (ASC).

BSC, there was one movement, consisting of people who believed in Jesus, repented of their sins, made Jesus their Lord, and were baptized into Jesus. The goal of the movement was to unite all believers in Jesus with no creed but the Bible.

ASC, the movement fragmented into dozens of factions, each with its own peculiar recipe of doctrines distinguishing each group from its alienated siblings. There were instrumental and non instrumental factions. There were those who supported missionary societies and those who opposed them. There were those who had Sunday School, and those who opposed the practice. Some partook of communion using wine, but others used grape juice. Some took the bread by pinching a piece from one whole shared loaf; others broke the loaf and passed pieces to the congregation. Some believed Matthew 19:9 provided an exception in the divorce teaching, but others saw no exception. Some had kitchens in their church buildings; others abhorred kitchens as a practice of the devil. Some supported orphan homes; others considered it apostasy to delegate such work to an institution outside the local congregation.

On Sunday, the one-cup, wine only, bread-pinchers, non-Sunday school faction would meet in one place, and the one-cup, grape juice only, break pinchers, non-Sunday school faction in a second. The members of the one-cup, grape juice only, bread-pinchers, non-Sunday school, no divorce exception church of Christ would not have anything to do with the one-cup, grape juice only, bread-pinchers, non-Sunday school, divorce exception church of Christ. And so on, as the poet said, ad infinitum.

Thomas Campbell would not recognize this movement as it exists today, if it can still be called a movement. Will Jesus recognize it when he returns? May God have mercy on us all.

What caused the great departure of the Restoration Movement from the original intent to unify believers? In a nutshell, it was the policy of purifying the doctrine of the church through division. That was the policy implemented by the Address and Declaration. And it was the policy that has driven every division in the churches of Christ since 1889.

All of these divisions are about inferences in scripture. Thomas Campbell argued against including inferences and deductions in the confessions of the church in his sixth proposition of the Declaration and Address, and against binding inferences in his seventh proposition. His son Alexander taught likewise. Responding to Sand Creek, J. C. McQuiddy of the Gospel Advocate argued against the writing of a creed and the subsequent division as a remedy to the controversies. David Lipscomb argued similarly. In his later life, Daniel Sommer regretted his role in the division and sought to bring the parties back together--not abandoning his convictions on the technical points, but calling for toleration. In the middle of the 20th century, Carl Ketcherside devoted the rest of his life to that same effort.

All these men were advocating the same thing at those different points in time. None denied that there were errors being taught and practiced. Still they all advocated for toleration. But notice a very significant thing here. Thomas and Alexander Campbell were the very definition of the "orthodox" view of the Restoration Movement of their day. McQuiddy and Lipscomb likewise were considered among the soundest teachers of their day. But when Sommer and Ketcherside advocated the exact same thing, they were seen as troublemakers, or heretics, or worse--at least within the churches of Christ. The fact is that the churches of Christ abandoned the sound and noble goals of the early Restoration Movement leaders. They abandoned the central principles on which the movement was originally founded. More importantly, they abandoned the Lord's plea for unity. Instead they adopted a policy of purity through division.

That policy is a direct rebellion against scripture. Those who practice the party spirit disqualify themselves from heaven (Gal 5:19-21). Paul told Timothy how to deal with opposing beliefs without division:
2 Tim 2:25-26 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, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Can we fellowship someone whose beliefs about such technicalities differ from ours? If not, we too are trying to purify the doctrine of the church by sustaining division. That kind of thinking is deeply embedded in our collective DNA. And it prevents the unity for which Jesus prayed.

The Address and Declaration (1889) was indeed a reversal of the Declaration and Address, written 80 years earlier. It stands as a monument to the pride and intolerance of man. Its legacy has been one of bickering and division.

This is the last in a series of articles on Sand Creek. At this point I want to call attention to the earlier article which prompted this series, Sola Scriptura. That article stimulated the thoughts that led to the Sand Creek series. And it is an appropriate place to return. Let's return to Sola Scriptura. In doing so, let's abandon our creeds, written and unwritten. The scriptures are sufficient. Let's be tolerant of one another as we learn from the scriptures together, each at his own pace. And let's pray that God will take down the walls we and our forefathers have built in our folly.