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.