Proposition 4: The New Testament

November 6, 2005

In his fourth Proposition of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, he states that the church must be based on the New Testament:

That although the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the church; and therefore in that respect cannot be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members; as the Old Testament was for the worship discipline and government of the Old Testament church, and the particular duties of its members.

A central tenet of the Restoration Movement has been that the New Testament has replaced the Old as the standard to be followed by God’s people. Thus the movement’s cry has been to restore New Testament Christianity. Christians live under the new covenant (Heb 8:6-9:28; 2 Cor 3:2-10). The words “testament” and “covenant” in English refer to the same concept in the original languages. So the conclusion is generally drawn that what passed away (Heb 8:13) was the Old Testament. But perhaps that is too broad of a conclusion to draw based on the scriptures.

When we speak of the Old Testament, we are generally referring to 39 books in the Bible from Genesis to Malachi. When we refer to the New Testament we are generally referring to the 27 books from Matthew to Revelation. However in 2 Cor 3:2-10 it is quite clear that he is speaking of something else. He draws the following contrasts between the old and new covenants:

  • The old is of the letter, the new of the spirit.
  • The old kills, the new gives life.
  • The old was written on tablets of stone, the new on human hearts.
  • The old had fading glory; the new, increasing glory.

Here he is talking about the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments (written on tablets of stone). Clearly the ten commandments belong to the old covenant and not to the new. Hebrews 9:1 makes it clear that the regulations for worship and the sanctuary belong to the old covenant. Thus it is not only the ten commandments that passed away, but also temple worship with its Levitical priesthood (Heb 7) and the animal sacrifices (Heb 10). Further, Romans 3 and Gal 3 teach that we are no longer under the supervision of the law. So nothing in the Law of Moses remains as the basis for our justification before God.

However, what would be the basis for saying more? Have the books of history, the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the prophets passed out of relevance? How about all the teachings that preceded the Mosaic Law?

I believe it is only at great cost that we can ignore the study and application of principles from the Old Testament. Paul reminded Timothy (1 Tim 3:15) that he had known the scriptures from infancy, which were able to make him wise for salvation through Jesus. What scriptures did he mean? Timothy could only have known the Old Testament scriptures from infancy. It is these that are able to make us wise for salvation. It is these that are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that a man may be fully equipped for every good work. That is not to the exclusion of the same kinds of usefulness to be found in the New Testament. But Paul was referring to the Old Testament scriptures in this context.

I believe Thomas Campbell understood this. His fourth proposition speaks of the New Testament as a perfect “constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church” and “for the particular duties of its members.” That is true. We should obtain our directions for the worship and practice of the church from the New Testament. But I don’t think he meant for us to take the New Testament in isolation and ignore the Old. I wonder, in the years since Thomas Campbell wrote these words, whether sufficient attention was paid to the principles from the Old Testament which continue to be able to make us wise for salvation.

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

One comment

  1. […] Thomas Campbell’s third and fourth propositions, he called all believers in Christ to come together on the standard of the New […]

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