Proposition 7: Human Reasoning

November 16, 2005

Thomas Campbell’s seventh proposition states:

That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.

Cambell’s point is that a person can come to Jesus, have his sins forgiven, and be adopted into God’s family without being fully instructed in all the complexities of doctrine that mature Christians may have mastered. Whatever level of knowledge and understanding is required in order to be accepted by God, that is all that may be required to be accepted as a member of God’s church, with all the privileges that are associated with membership. That minimum necessary knowledge involves nothing that is not explicitly stated in scripture and easily understood. No human reasoning is required to prove these basic points.

Today many hundreds of groups exist which call themselves Christian, and each has its own particular set of beliefs and doctrines. Even within the restoration movement churches tracing their roots back to Thomas Campbell, there are numerous factions with different doctrinal understandings which separate the groups. Are these really matters of salvation? What doctrines must be correctly understood in order to be saved?

Quite clearly, a belief and understanding of Jesus was fundamental:

1Co 15:1-8 Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.

In addition to those facts, the book of Hebrews identifies the “elementary teachings”:

Heb 6:1-2 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

Time after time in the book of Acts, we see the early Christians teaching these subjects to people before they were baptized. This teaching did not require lengthy and detailed study. The longest conversion in the book of Acts was that of the apostle Paul, which took three days, but after only one short conversation with Ananias he was baptized. No great depth of study occurred in any of the conversions that have been recorded through the Holy Spirit as examples for us. In the case of the Philippian jailer, a basic understanding of the facts on these subjects appears to have been conveyed in less than an hour (Acts 16:33)

No doctrinal understandings may be used as lines of fellowship on topics other than what we see required of the first century converts. And even on these topics, no subtleties of human reasoning may be included in what is required to be understood. The understanding required for conversion is sufficient for subsequent fellowship and communion.

Even one who has been a Christian for a long time, who should have advanced to a more complete understanding, cannot be rejected because he has not continued to learn:

Heb 5:12 For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.

Not only had these Hebrew Christians not advanced in learning as they should, they needed to be taught again about the basics. Even so, they were still regarded as Christians by the inspired writer.

Only the elementary teachings, plainly stated in scripture, should be made terms of fellowship. How many barriers could be removed between believers, if only we could accept all who believe and practice those basic teachings!

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


  1. Alan:I enjoy your analysis.Question, how much does the ICOC recognize its heritage in the Restoration Movement and mainline churches of Christ today? -Clarke

  2. Hey Clarke,Like the mainline churches of Christ, it is hard to characterize the ICOC (or former ICOC) churches as a whole. Congregations differ, as do individuals within congregations. Some of us who were around 20 to 30 years ago feel a very strong connection to those roots. Some of these folks have family in the mainline churches, sometimes as ministers or elders in those churches. A few have degrees from schools like Abilene, Harding, Freed Hardeman, or David Lipscomb. Personally my wife and I remember our years serving in the mainline church bus ministry in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. We have dear friends in several mainline churches of Christ, and still visit those congregations occasionally when travelling. Those converted since the late 1980’s have less awareness of those roots, and generally have no personal experience with those things. However, the past couple of years have prompted some to learn more about our roots. Most of these congregations do not have a lot of folks converted in the early days, but I am fortunate to be in one that has many folks from that era.

  3. Although my congregation is small (about 100) and young (9 years), we are fortunate as well to have folks with ‘mainline’ roots. Two of our 4 deacons came from the mainline COC.I was converted in 1988 and until recent years wasn’t aware of the full extent of our Restoration Movement heritage. I knew the basics of how the ICOC had separated from the COC, but that’s it.In the recent upheaval in our fellowship, many who have decided that the ICOC was no longer the place for them ended up in local COC congregations. Perhaps that will be inroads to further communication.

  4. Hello:Not to diverge too much from the subject at hand, but I was reading that some of your churches have deacons, but not elders? Is this a church maturity process involved?-Clarke

  5. > I was reading that > some of your churches> have deacons, but not> elders?That is true.The oldest of these churches basically started as campus ministries in the mid 1970’s. To a large extent, the growth in these churches reflected the existing age demographics, so that today there are relatively few members over 50 years old…and in many congregations, few over 40. So there are not a lot of people with grown, baptized children. Therefore many congregations have no men fully qualified to be elders.Prior to 2003 I am not aware of any of these churches that had deacons, and very few had elders. Since 2003 those who could appoint elders have done so, and those who could appoint deacons have done so.

  6. Alan has lived through more of this than me, so he can correct me if I’m wrong. My congregation is one with Deacons and no Elders, and until 2003 we had no Deacons.In part of the ICOC was born out of a reaction to elderships that tried to keep the campus ministry movement in a bottle. These campus ministers felt mistreated and disrespected by some elderships along the way. This lead to them founding their own churches (simplistic explanation).I think that this experience lead to a resistance to elderships that might then try to reign in the evangelists. It may have at least slowed the appointment of elders or the consideration of how we would appoint them.That’s probably an overly simple and cynical analysis.

  7. Alan and Doug:Interesting. So it sounds like there were no elders or deacons before 2003? Is that when Kip was deposed? Doug, I read on your page that your minister somewhat turned on the deacons after forming a team…. do you think this is in part because of what you described about elders reigning in ministers?-Clarke

  8. Clarke,A few congregations had elders (but not deacons) before 2003 (Boston and LA come to mind). But those elders really did not serve as overseers, but merely as shepherds. The “lead evangelist” was over them and he really held the role of overseer. At least one evangelist admitted in 2003 that he had not appointed elders because he preferred the independence to make decisions by himself. I think that was pretty typical.In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, as Doug correctly points out, there was friction between the mainline church of Christ elders and the campus ministers in their congregations. As a result of that friction, in about 1982 the trend began to start new churches rather than trying to operate campus ministries within existing churches. That experience undoubtedly made the evangelists of these churches reluctant to introduce elderships.Kip was actually taken out of leadership a couple of years before 2003. There was considerable friction between him and some other upper leadership, but the immediate reason for his being taken out was that his family was not doing well. Kip had used that standard to take others out of leadership, and so the other leaders held him to the same standard. In late 2002 there was a leadership conference at which a lot of dysfunctional practices were confronted, and some congregations began to institute reforms. Then in 2003 one of the leaders, Henry Kriete, released a letter that powerfully articulated those dysfunctional practices. His letter struck a chord with many who had struggled with those issues for years but felt they had no voice. It sparked a grass roots movement which pretty much forced all the congregations to begin some radical reforms. That is what prompted the congregations that could to appoint elders.

  9. Clarke – I’m not sure I’d say he ‘turned on us’, although I guess it kinds felt that way and I likely portrayed it in a somewhat similar light.As far as it linking back to a resistance to elderships and their control over ministers, that’s a tough one. Directly? No, I don’t think so. Indirectly? Yes, in that the only training he’s had is from the ICOC and that likely had a pro-minister slant to it as the ICOC has traditionally been a strong minister group. There are other things that went into it, but the strong leader mindset is at the heart of it.I should say (and have on my blog) that we are in a much better place now as far as the leadership dynamic goes.

  10. […] in his sixth proposition of the Declaration and Address, and against binding inferences in his seventh proposition. His son Alexander taught likewise. Responding to Sand Creek, J. C. McQuiddy of the Gospel Advocate […]

  11. […] Campbell addressed this issue in his sixth, seventh, and eighth […]

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