Proposition 1: One Church

October 27, 2005

The centerpiece of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is the thirteen propositions for unity. We will begin our discussion of these propositions with Proposition 1:

That 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.

There is one body (Eph 4:4) which is the church (Col 1:18). People are added to it when they believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized for forgiveness of those sins (Acts 2:38-40) and are adopted by God (Eph 1:5) as his sons. This church is not an organization made by men. No man has the authority to decide who is in this church and who is not. All who are adopted by God are added by God to his church.

It is this church that the Lord prayed to be one in John 17, that Paul admonished to have no divisions (1 Cor 1:10) and to make every effort toward unity (Eph 4:3). This church has no earthly headquarters. It has no international ruling body. It has no creed except the Word of God.

Today the members of this “one church” are divided into numerous manmade organizations with manmade creeds and manmade ruling bodies that maintain the manmade walls between the manmade organizations. Can this be what Jesus intended when he prayed for them to be one, as he is one with the Father?

Christians who contemplate this sad picture today are moved to do something to make it right. They are immediately faced with the difficulty of the present situation. Campbell professes that the church consists of all those in every place

(1) that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures, and

(2) that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct

In (1), did Campbell mean that we must perfectly obey every scripture? Note that’s not what he said. Instead, he lists two things they must profess. That is, they must profess faith in Christ, and they must profess obedience to the scriptures.

In (2), Campbell says they must live consistently with the professions in (1). So, did he mean here that we must perfectly obey every scripture? I don’t think so. I think he meant we must live as those who intend to obey every scripture.

Regardless of what Campbell meant, it is clear from history that those who followed after him defined the boundaries of the church in increasingly narrow terms since he wrote those words. To reverse that trend and to move toward increased unity, we must learn to accept in unreserved fellowship people who (in our opinion) are absolutely wrong about some things. The only alternative, bringing everyone to complete agreement on every biblical subject, seems unattainable without miraculous intervention by God. We may have to wait for the second coming of Christ to see that happen. Meanwhile, we need to broaden our minds and extend grace. After all, we may need some grace in this area also.

I don’t know how far we should go in accepting people with “wrong” (in our opinion) beliefs. There clearly must be limits on that. Perhaps we should start with the easier subjects first. By bringing down the first few walls, we may build momentum that will inspire others to help as we tackle more difficult topics.

The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell

The Christian Standard has begun a three part series discussing the three descriptive terms “essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally” used to describe the oneness of the church. I eagerly anticipate the second and third in the series.


  1. Alan:Great subject and good comementary.The question of where to draw the line is one of the most important questions you could ask. The answer is difficult to determine.My first thought would be to start at baptism, but I’m not sure where the end should be…-Clarke

  2. Hey Clarke, I’m thinking that the line has to be drawn at conversion. We’ll be getting to another of the propositions soon that basically says that. In other words, if a person has met the requirements for conversion, I should wholeheartedly embrace him regardless of disagreements on other matters. Of course that wouldn’t include situations like 1 Cor 5:11. Alan

  3. Is not “drawing a line” the very first step toward division?

  4. anonymous said:> Is not “drawing a line” the very first > step toward division?Jesus drew a line when he said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”So perhaps the better question is, what lines has Jesus drawn for us?

  5. Was your answer a yes or no?

  6. anonymous said:> Was your answer a yes or no?I guess the question is too ambiguous to give a yes or no answer. Maybe if you elaborated a bit more about where you are coming from, I could give a more meaningful answer.

  7. What is ambiguous about: “Is not ‘drawing a line’ the very first step toward division”?Thanks.

  8. anonymous said:> What is ambiguous about: “Is not ‘drawing > a line’ the very first step toward > division”?It is ambiguous because I don’t know what kind of line you are talking about, and what kind of division you are talking about.Jesus drew lines. It was not divisive in the sinful sense when he did so. That is an example where the answer to your question is “no”. OTOH there have certainly been scenarios where people have drawn lines that divided Christians and that was wrong. I’ve laid out in great detail how I feel about unity and division on this blog, and I see that you’ve read quite a bit of it. If you care to elaborate about how you see these things I’d be glad to carry on a conversation about it. That’s why I created the blog in the first place.

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