Proposition 12: Formula for Unity

December 29, 2005

In the twelfth proposition, Thomas Campbell wrote:

That all that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members, but such as having that due measure of scriptural self-knowledge described above, do profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures; nor, 2dly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their tempers and conduct. 3dly, that her ministers, duly and scripturally qualified, inculcate none other things than those very articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God. Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.

Here Cambell enumerates four requirements by which the church may reach “the highest state of perfection and purity” on earth:

1) Use the correct standard for accepting members. Cambell said that to be accepted, one must understand his lost state, profess faith in Jesus, and commit to obey him in all things according to the scriptures. Nothing more could properly be required. As previously noted, the Cambell’s did not understand the role of baptism in forgiveness at the time of this writing. But baptism would clearly fit into the stated requirement to obey Jesus in all things according to the scriptures.

2) Hold members to that standard in an ongoing way. They must “manifest the reality of their profession by their tempers and conduct.” It is not likely that Cambell meant by this that members must live perfect lives. Rather, he seems to have meant that members must demonstrate a sincere determination to be consistent with the commitment they had made.

3) Nothing should be taught to members, and required of them, beyond what is explicitly stated in scriptures. As he indicated in propositions 6 and 7, the inferences, deductions, and human reasoning drawn from scriptures should not be made terms of communion.

4) The practice of the church must conform to the “example of the primitive church exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions or inventions of men.

Of these stated requirements, the fourth has proven to be especially problematic. If taken in the original context of the Declaration and Address, it sounds like a reasonable proposal, as a way to avoid controversy and division. Cambell does not seem to be taking the position that all who do otherwise are in scriptural error. Instead he apparently was pointing out a potential source of disunity, and appealing to all to avoid such things. However, subsequent history is littered with examples of individuals and congregations being virtually anathematized for introducing practices for which there is no New Testament example. While seeking to avoid one cause of disunity, Cambell introduced another.

The New Testament is a complete guide for the practice and observances of the church. That is what Cambpell stated in Proposition 4. However, some accomodation needs to be included here to prevent the kind of divisiveness that has permeated the Restoration Movement over the past 195 years. Christians who practice things not found in the New Testament, and not explicitly prohibited in the New Testament, should not on that basis be excluded from communion or fellowship. As long as those Christians exhibit a commitment to obey the Lord according to their current understanding, the church should gently instruct and allow God to work to complete that understanding.

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


  1. Alan:Happy New Year!I’ve been thinking of you and your study of the 13 propositions alot lately.I am currently doing some reading on Alexander and Thomas Campbell and their beliefs. While my readings are no way scholarly, I am definatly taking a closer look at the propositions, and what spurred the Campbell’s on in the question for unity and restoration in the first place.I keep coming back to the idea of human creeds causing divisiveness among Christians. I also keep coming back to Campbells assertion that we must accept all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and are obedient to him, to paraphrase. This is leading me to the thought that while we in churches of Christ have renounced all written man-made creeds, we have embraced un-written creeds instead and have engaged in the exact conduct that the Campbell’s were attempting to end.Furthermore, I have to juxtapose my thoughts on creeds with “The Christian Affirmation” that was put forth in 2005 by many of our brothers in the academic realm. I have many thoughts running through my mind on this subject, and I am having a hard time keeping them all clear at the same time. I hope that the Lord will clarify his will to me, and that our discussions on these topics in the next year are profitable to all of us.-Clarke

  2. Happy New Year, Clarke!I hope 2006 will be a great time to go back to our roots, to understand why we are where we are today, and to choose the best way forward from this point.Our predecessors 200 years ago chose to embark on the Restoration Movement because they perceived the dissonance between Jesus’ call for unity and the reality of their day. If we are as perceptive as they were, we’ll recognize an even greater dissonance today, and we will be similarly moved to act.I have a theory about the underlying cause of creeds. There seems to be a basic instinct in people to articulate the things that distinguish “us” from “them”. We want to feel good about who we are, and we go to great lengths to prove to ourselves and others that we are what we should be. When some of “us” decide to move in a new direction, it is threatening both to those people and to the others who choose not to accompany them. Each groups feels obligated to justify their choice. We seem to abhor diversity of opinion and direction. To me this seems to be rooted in personal insecurity. If unity is to prevail, we will have to overcome that insecurity. We’ll have to enable people to feel genuinely accepted and ‘ok’ despite differences. Differences need to be tolerated…I really need a stronger word than ‘tolerated’… There should be no stigma attached to a belief, as long as we don’t have an explicit command in scripture to exclude those who hold that belief. That’s my theory, anyway. I pray that God will clarify and enlighten me about his will in this, and will enable me to be part of the solution.I look forward to our conversations in the new year!Alan

  3. […] Thomas Campbell’s twelfth proposition, he laid out what he believed to be the way “to the highest state of perfection and purity of […]

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