Proposition 13: Human Expedients

January 5, 2006

In the thirteenth and final proposition, Campbell wrote:

Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose, should be adopted, under the title of human expedients, without any pretence to a more sacred origin–so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the church.

Here Campbell seeks to avoid divisions in the church that might be caused by the introduction of human expedients. He proposes two defenses against such division:

(1) Only permit the introduction of those things that are “indispensably necessary” / “absolutely necessary”; and
(2) Make it explicitly clear that such expedients carry no divine authority.

Since that was written, many people have diligently sought to enforce part (1), even by division when other means failed to keep out an innovation. That is sadly ironic, given the stated purpose of the proposition (“no contention nor division in the church”). Sunday school classes, individual communion cups, missionary societies, pianos and organs have all been introduced as human expedients, as matters of convenience or useful tools and techniques. And they have all been bitterly opposed as not indispensible nor absolutely necessary.

I wonder whether part (1) is a New Testament teaching, or merely the product of fallible human wisdom. I suspect it is the latter.

Taken in context with Proposition 7, it is clear that Campbell did not intend the introduction of expedients to become a matter over which people might withdraw fellowship. Proposition 7 was his appeal for tolerance in the spirit of Rom 14:1 and 14:10. Proposition 13 carries an appeal for sensitivity in the spirit of Romans 14:13-15. Taken together, the two propositions lay a sound and biblical foundation for handling differences. But history clearly shows that that the voice of the thirteenth proposition drowned out that of the seventh. Today’s urgent need is for Christians to learn to tolerate differences of opinion.

Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Rom 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Rom 14:13-15 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.

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

One comment

  1. […] out of this difficulty: the principle of expedients. Thomas Campbell introduced this concept in his thirteenth proposition. There he said: Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: