Voices from Our Past: “Why am I not a Party Man?”

This 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.

Alexander CampbellThis particular entry I find interesting for this reason: the description of those whom Campbell criticizes so strongly for their partisan spirit bear striking resemblance, far too often, to us (Churches of Christ). We have often become that which we at one time sought to reform.

 

From Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume I.
Chapter XVII
Robert Richardson (1868)

As it was the distinguishing error of Romanism to presume to dictate the faith and regulate the ordinances of the Church, irrespective of the teaching of the Scriptures; so the chief mistake of Protestantism consisted in substituting for the silence of the Bible human opinions and speculative theories. The great principle urged by Thomas Campbell, which demanded implicit faith in express revelation alone and an acknowledged or explicit ignorance in regard to all untaught questions, brought, therefore, those who adopted it into direct antagonism with the entire religious world. Accordingly, with perhaps the exception of the churches established by the Haldanes and a few other small [352] independent bodies of reformers, who had, in various parts of Europe and America, been led to take the Bible alone as a guide, there was not any religious denomination whatever, known to them, with which the reformers could consistently have established a real and fraternal union. Whatever confidence they might have in the faith and piety of many of the individuals composing a party, they could have none in the party itself or in the system upon which it was maintained, and could not therefore, by uniting, give their sanction to those divisive principles which it was their chief purpose to subvert. On the other hand, it is obvious that no party desiring to continue such, and comprehending the sweeping character of the great fundamental principle adopted by Thomas Campbell, could, consistently with its own security, receive the reformers into religious fellowship.

“Am I asked,” said Alexander Campbell about this period (in an address after sermon at the house of Mr. Buchanan), in order to anticipate certain objections, “why I am not a party man? or why I do not join some party? I ask, in return, Which party would the Apostle Paul join if now on earth? Or, in other words, which party would receive him? I dare not be a party man for these reasons:

  1. Because Christ has forbidden me. He has commanded us to keep the ‘unity of the spirit;’ to be ‘of one mind and of one judgment;’ to ‘love each other with a pure heart fervently,’ and to ‘call no man master’ on earth.
  2. Because no party will receive into communion all whom God would receive into heaven. God loves his children more than our creeds, and man was not made for the Bible, but the Bible for man. But if I am [353] asked by a partisan, Could you not join us and let these things alone? I answer, no, because–
  3. The man that promotes the interests of a party stands next in guilt to the man that made it. The man that puts the second stone on a building is as instrumental in its erection as the man that laid the first. He that supports a party bids the party God speed; and he that bids them God speed is a partaker of their evil deeds.
  4. Because all parties oppose reformation. They all pray for it, but they will not work for it. None of them dare return to the original standard. I speak not against any denomination in particular, but against all. I speak not against any system of truth, but against all except the Bible. ‘Hold fast the form of sound words’ condemns them all. It is a doleful truth, that the very persons who ought to have advocated reformation, always opposed it. See the History of the Christian Church, and Matthew xxiii. When I consider what Paul and thousands of others suffered for a good conscience, I would do so too. I desire to fight for ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’ I like the bold Christian hero.”

Such, at this period, were the noble and decided utterances of Alexander Campbell in relation to partyism and to his own convictions of religious duty; and such were the feelings which he and those associated with him then entertained in reference to these sad defections from primitive precept and example. Such. too, were the views which they labored to impress upon the religious community as opportunity was afforded.

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