Proposition 11: Causes of Divisions

December 19, 2005

In proposition 11, Thomas Campbell wrote:

That, (in some instances,) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God; and, (in others,) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions, and human inventions, a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith, or worship, of the church; are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes, of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the church of God.

He attributes all the “corruptions and divisions” in the history of the church to one of two causes:

1) neglecting the expressly revealed will of God; or

2) introducing human opinions and inventions into the church, and making them a condition of fellowship.

I cannot speak about the cause for every corruption and division that has occurred in the past 2000 years. But I would venture to add a third cause of divisions:

3) disagreement about whether a particular belief is the “expressly revealed will of God” or merely a human opinion or invention.

If believers in the past had taken a quite literal and narrow view of what is the “expressly revealed will of God,” and if they were tolerant of differences of opinion on matters that do not fall under that narrow definition of what has been revealed, then perhaps many fewer divisions would have occurred over the past 2000 years, and especially over the past 500 years.

Romans 14 makes it clear that there are some disputable matters, where tolerance is required. Other passages instruct us about areas where there is no room for dissent in the fellowship (1 Cor 5:9-11; 2 John 7-11 for example). Some passages give us a few examples of disputable matters, and others give us a few examples of matters where no dissent is to be tolerated. The difficulty has been in applying the principles from these examples to determine what other matters fall into the “disputable” or “indisputable” categories.

Historically many groups have tended to minimize the range of disputable matters. Instead they made almost every belief a condition of fellowship. That obviously has been ineffective in reducing disputes. Instead it has led to (often mutual) exclusion of those with differing beliefs. Perhaps instead we should be minimizing the range of indisputable matters. If the scriptures do not explicitly tell us that no dissent is to be tolerated on a certain matter, perhaps we should tolerate disssent on that matter. That seems to be the spirit of Romans 14-15.

God said, “Let there be light!”, and there was light. I pray that he will also say, “Let there be peace among believers!” Let us learn to accept our brother without passing judgment on disputable matters.

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


  1. Alan:I was just coming over to ask if you were still alive when I saw you posted anew.That, and I wanted to suggest that you write an article for restorationunity.com. I just wrote an article on a subject close to your post here, and I think that you would bring some good perspective coming from the ICOC. (That, and I think it Phil is ICOC, but I don’t know for certain.)-Clarke

  2. Hey Clarke,Yes I am alive but busy! Good suggestion. I just signed up over at restorationunity.com and am awaiting instructions about uploading… Alan

  3. Alan:Just read your article at Restoration Unity. Good job.-Clarke

  4. Alan and others:Check out this thread:http://www.teamarequipa.net/blog/greg/2005/11/neo-restoration.html

  5. Hey Clarke,Thanks for the heads-up. That looks like a very relevant discussion!

  6. Reason for division…….The wisdom and truth of Gods word teaches that the truth is “in” Jesus. But by mans own wisdom, the truth is extracted from Gods word by means and through methods that are “outside” of Christ and the teaching of scripture. Over and over again, the wisdom and truth of scripture teaches Jesus….as the Way of understanding. But mans own wisdom teaches “ways of understanding” the Bible….that it don’t teach.

  7. […] then, is the church characterized by division rather than unity? Campbell, in his eleventh proposition, pointed to two causes. First, he said that divisions are caused by people neglecting parts of the […]

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