Voices from Our Past: “A Plea to All Christians”

Thomas CampbellThis week I’ve decided to give voice to articles from the Restoration Movement’s (Church of Christ, Independent Christian Church, Disciples of Christ) past. It is always vital to know history, for so often it is repeated, too often blindly. Perhaps as we look to the present and pray for the future, God may enlighten us with a bit of wisdom from these men who’ve already been where we now stand, at the fork in the roads of unity and division.

A. L. Haddon published the following in a publication entitled “Union in Truth”, comments on the DECLARATION AND ADDRESS by Thomas Campbell (pictured above left). There is much to chew on here:

A PLEA TO ALL CHRISTIANS

Foundation Principles.
Campbell makes four important basic assertions by way of introduction:

  1. Each person should think and act for himself in religious matters, guided by the Word of God.
  2. Every Christian question should be settled by appeal to the Scriptures. The Divine Word, not human interpretations of it, is binding equally upon all.
  3. Division and party spirit destroy the Church and hinder its mission. To restore the unity, peace and purity of the Church is the greatest need of the age.
  4. The desired unity can be found nowhere but in Christ and His simple Word. “Our desires for ourselves and our brethren would be that, rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men as of any authority, we might forever cease from further contentions about such things . . . taking the Divine Word alone for our rule, the Holy Spirit for our teacher and guide, and Christ alone for our salvation.”

Unhappy Divisions.
It is urged that disunity is an offence against the love which is the foundation principle of the Christian religion. Schism makes unreal the Fatherhood of God. It breaks congregations into pieces, fosters a wrong spirit, and deprives Christians of ministry and ordinances if they happen to live at a distance from others of their own denomination. All who love the Lord Jesus should determine to conform to the model and adopt the practice of the primitive Church as described in the New Testament. This is the only way to regain the lost Christian unity, purity and prosperity.

Unity in Essentials.
Encouragement is found in the fact that it is only in non-essentials that Christians are divided. With regard to the essential things in Christ there is unity. ( . . . “It is, to us, a pleasing consideration that all the Churches of Christ which mutually acknowledge each other as such, are not only one in the great doctrine of faith and holiness, but are also materially agreed as to the positive ordinances of the Gospel institution; so that our differences at most, are about the things in which the kingdom of God does not consist, that is, in matters of private opinion or human invention.”)

Denominational rivalries must give way before the “desire to unite in bonds of entire Christian unity, Christ alone being the Head, the centre, His word the rule, and implicit belief of and manifest conformity to it in all things, the terms.”

Inspiring Active Fellowship.
“This effort toward a permanent Scriptural unity among the Churches upon the basis of universally acknowledged and self-evident truths must have the happiest tendency to enlighten and conciliate.” Such statements as these make it clear that Campbell’s thinking was neither narrowly Protestant nor Roman Catholic, but truly catholic. He urged the ministry of his day to lead in this movement toward a united Church and to seek opportunities for fraternal association, united prayer, and mutual understanding.

UNITY PROPOSALS

The “Declaration” next offers thirteen propositions which contain what has been called Campbell’s platform for unity. He himself considered that he was merely opening up the matter for discussion. Here, reworded and abbreviated are his proposals:

One Church.
1. “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.”

Without Schism.
2. The One Body manifests its life in numerous separate congregations. These ought all to acknowledge one another in the spirit of Christ and, avoiding schism, show a united front to the world.

Truth Unites.

3. Nothing should be considered binding upon Christians or be made a condition of church membership that is not “expressly taught and enjoined in the Word of God.” Nothing is essential to the life of the Church which has not the authority of Christ or His apostles in express terms or by approved precedent.

Dividing the Word.
4. Old and New Testaments together make the perfect revelation of the Divine Will and in this respect cannot be separated. But it is the New Testament that indicates the worship, discipline and government of the Christian Church and the duties of its members.

In Opinions, Liberty.
5. When the Scriptures give no clear guidance, no man should bind his views on others. “Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.”
6. Similarly, deductions from and interpretations of Scripture, while helpful as such, must not be made essential or become tests of loyalty.
7. Creeds are useful in summarising truth and excluding error, but should never be made terms of Christian communion.

Church Membership.
8. Complete knowledge of Christian truth is not required of those becoming Church members. What is needed is knowledge of our need, of the sufficiency of Christ, and a disposition to obey Him in all things as these become known to us through His Word.

Mutual Recognition.
9. All Christians should recognise one another as such and manifest love as brethren. All are equally “children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body . . . objects of the same Divine love. ‘Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.'”

Evils of Division.
10. Division among Christians is antichristian. “It destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ, as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself.” It is anti-scriptural, a direct violation of Christ’s command. It is anti-natural engendering hate and opposition amongst those who should love one another as Christ has loved them.

Causes of Division.
11. Division is, caused, in some instances, by partial neglect of the Will of God. In other cases it results from exalting human opinions into Christian essentials.

Achieving Unity.
12. All that is necessary to the perfection and purity of the Church is that it be composed only of those who have professed faith in Christ and obedience to Him in all things according to the Scriptures and who express this allegiance by their lives; that ministers, duly and Scripturally qualified, teach only the articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed in the Word of God and in all their ministrations keep close to the Divine commands, without any additions of human opinion.

Human Expedients.
13. Where the Scriptures do not state the method of obeying Divine commands there should be freedom in introducing and changing the human expedients necessary for such obedience.

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