Proposition 3: The Bible Only

November 4, 2005

In the first two Propositions of the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell said that there is one church and that there must be no divisions in it. In the third Proposition he states that the sole standard for the church must be the Bible only:

That in order to this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion; but what is expressly taught, and enjoined upon them, in the word of God. Nor ought any thing be admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles upon the New Testament church; either in express terms, or by approven precedent.

The basic point of this proposition is well supported in scripture. We should bind what the scriptures bind, and that only. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Mark 7:6-7) for creating their own laws and binding them as though they were laws from God. We must not create any additional “hoops” to be jumped through in order to be accepted as a true Christian (“terms of communion”), whether at conversion or thereafter.

Likewise, we cannot bind any of our additions or changes to the structure or organization (“constitution and managements”) of the church. While we may indeed have discretion on certain matters, we cannot require others to exercise their discretion in the same manner as we do.

One point in Proposition 3 requires great care. The writer alludes to two types of authorized items: those given in “express terms”, and by “approved precedent”. He proposes that where a precedent is established in scripture through the example of the first century church, and when that example is shown to have been approved by the inspired apostles, then that could be sufficient grounds to bind the principle on others. According to the writer, those things could be “admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements”. How does one decide what is an approved precedent? Are we really obligated to follow every example in the scriptures down to the tiniest detail? Is precedent the law of the new covenant? This also has been a cause of many schisms in the Restoration Movement.

Perhaps the solution is to have three categories for applying our interpretations from scripture: things that must be bound on every believer; things which a local congregation or group of believers agrees to practice among themselves (but to accept other groups who practice differently); and things that are left up to the discretion of each individual believer. Most if not all “approved precedent” issues would fall into one of the last two categories.

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


  1. Alan:Again, a great post.You stated in prior comments that you believe that the line should be conversion. I can accept that, as long as our definition of conversion is the same, and I would hazard a guess that it is, but I may be wrong. I define conversion as beliving, repenting and being immersed. However, let me pose a question that I’m going to have a hard time wording.It is obvious to me that those that are converted and saved should be greeted in open arms on the individual level. I should treat a member of a different church who is saved as my brother, like how you and I treat each other. However, unity is more involved than just the individual level. Churches of Christ have a splintered fellowship. Mainline Churches only fellowship with mainline churches. Non-Institutional churches only fellowship with other “NI” churches. One cuppers with one-cuppers. Now, while I believe that we should all fellowship together, and even if we could all fellowship together, what about groups with larger differences. I’m not even talking Church of Christ to ICOC, or Church of Christ to the Independent churches. Lets say Church of Christ to Disiciples of Christ, or ICOC to Disciples.The Disciples commune and fellowship with churches that teach that immersion isn’t required. Their denominational structure is also somewhat of a hang-up for me, but not as much as the wide-spread ecumnism. So, do we advocate fellowship on a group to group level with disciples or other groups that don’t hold quite as much in common?-Clarke

  2. Hey Clarke,Yes, you and I seem to have the same definition of conversion. As for unity between congregations, the scriptures don’t give us a lot to go on. Perhaps Acts 15 gives us an example of different congregations having a meeting to come up with compromises that are acceptable to both. Note the kind of compromises they made. They called on the Gentiles to give up some valid freedoms to avoid conflict with Jewish Christians. But the compromise also called on the Jewish Christians to stop making an issue over circumcision. The compromise did not call on the Gentiles to completely cater to the Jewish Christians’ mistaken beliefs. Can you think of anything in scripture beyond that situation that might shed further light on unity at the congregational level?

  3. The “bible only” proposition has been the source for disunity as the various denominations have different interpretations of scripture. 2 Thessolonians 2:15 admonishes the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which ye have been taught, by word (vocal utterance) or epistle (letter or written tradition). If all Christians were to hold to these traditions then they would all be Catholic, since it was the original church.In 1 Corinthians 10:17, the scripture states that the “one bread” is the source of Christian unity. “For we being many are one body, because we are all partakers of the one bread.” In the verse preceeding this one, the scripture states that the “bread” that it is speaking of is Jesus body in holy communion. “The bread we speak of, is it not the communion of the body of Christ.” Again, it is the Catholics and Orthodox who profess that this holy communion (consecrated in the worship service of the Mass) is the true body of Jesus Christ as described in John Chapter 6. Other denominations do not.If you base unity on only embracing those Christians who have been “saved,” how can you be objective about who has been saved or not saved since this is a personal encounter with Christ that someone other than that person can not see or determine? Only Jesus knows the love that is inside an individual heart. In fact, many outside the Catholic Church consider that Cathoics are not even Christian because they assume that they are not saved. If you define being saved as having a personal relationship with Jesus and embracing Him as Lord and Savior, how can you say that Catholics or Orthodox Christians are not doing this, since you can’t know what love is in their hearts for Jesus? I am Catholic and I can assure you that the love I have for Jesus is overflowing and I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior – he is truly the ruler of my life.

  4. Hello “one bread”,Thanks for dropping by. My intent here is to look for common ground, with the hope that in many cases we’ll find enough common ground to mutually accept one another as brothers and sisters. I’m not expecting that we’ll reach that point in every case of course. I think the idea of holding to traditions can be misleading. Certainly the traditions passed on by the apostles were sound, and that is what Paul referredd to in 2 Thess 2:15. He knew that the tradition they had received was sound. But not all traditions passed along since that time have been. Even the Catholic church has reversed itself over the years on some of its traditions. If not, they would still be selling indulgences, for example–something that certainly wasn’t part of the tradition Paul passed along to the Thessalonians. Another example of a changed tradition is the mode of baptism. Scholars universally agree that the first century church baptized by immersion at the time of conversion. That is the tradition originally handed down, but it is not being followed today by many, including the Catholic church. I would suggest to you that Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians meant, in part, that they should hold fast to baptism by immersion. That was the tradition they had received.We need to discern which traditions are sound. I would say that the traditions need to be evaluated in light of scripture to see if they should be followed. What other standard can an honest seeker use to decide what is right?But again my goal here is to find common ground. It seems you and I have common ground based on loving Jesus and seeking a relationship with him as Lord and Savior and the ruler of our lives. That is a lot of common ground.Thanks again for dropping by for conversation.-Alan

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