Revisiting the Declaration and Address

October 23, 2005

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

One comment

  1. Alan, Here is a link to a document that your readers might find helpful: The Paraphrase of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address by Knofel Staton.Probably no religious group produced as much literature as the early leaders of the restoration movement. That may be one reason it was the fastest growing religious group in America in the latter 19th century. It is not really possible to understand nor to appreciate the unique contribution of the restoration movement of which the Christian Church/Church of Christ is a part without reading the formative literature. But the literature is written in ancient form and wording that discourages many readers. Knofel Staton hassuggested that the literature needs paraphrasing for our day.The Paraphrase of Thomas’s Campbell’s Declaration and Address (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1976) is used by permission from the author, Dr. Knofel Staton. The author grants permission to reproduce this paraphrase in any quantity for the advancement of Christian unity. Dr. Staton may be contacted at Hope International University, 2500 E. Nutwood Ave., Fullerton, CA 92831.I hope that you find this post helpful!In His service,Richard Atkin

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