A Proposal For Unity Part 3: The Bible

August 9, 2007

Nothing is required in order to be a Christian that is not explicitly made a condition of salvation in the scriptures.

In Thomas Campbell’s third and fourth propositions, he called all believers in Christ to come together on the standard of the New Testament scriptures. According to Campbell, nothing can be required of a Christian that is not “expressly enjoined upon” the New Testament church in the scriptures, “either in express terms, or by approved precedent.” The fourth proposition in particular limits the application to the New Testament scriptures only.

Certainly, given the absence of modern day revelations directly from God, we must go back to the inspired writings of the past in order to get divinely authoritative instructions. No human wisdom can replace or add to what God has revealed to man. We must go to the scriptures for answers. When the answer is not provided in scripture, we must find a way to be content with not knowing the answer.

One aspect of the third proposition is troublesome. Nearly two hundred years of painful experience should have taught us to be wary of binding approved precedents. Literally, all an approved precedent tells us is that a certain thing done in the past was approved at the time. It does not tell us whether or not alternative practices might also have been approved in the past, or might be approved in the present. One might decide, as an exercise of human wisdom, to limit one’s own practice to those things that are known to have been approved in the first century church. That seems like a safe and conservative approach. But there is no New Testament teaching that requires that approach. We have no clear biblical authority to bind that approach on anyone else.

The New Testament gives many examples of Christians who varied widely in the completeness and accuracy of their understanding. There were Christians who thought Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved. There were Christians who thought eating meat was sin. There were others who felt obligated to observe special days. There were divisions over preachers. There was competition over spiritual gifts. Some who ought to have been teachers were not even sound in their understanding of the first principles. While all of these were given correction and were urged to move on to maturity, they were still regarded as brothers. In like manner, we must accept as brothers all who have been adopted as sons of God, despite their deficient understanding, even if they have been in the Lord long enough that they should know better.

Salvation is conditional. But we are not at liberty to define the conditions. Where God has drawn a clear and specific line, we can and must speak with corresponding confidence and clarity. Where the line in scripture is less clear or less specifically defined, we must be honest enough to admit that degree of uncertainty. It is not our prerogative to clarify what God has not clearly revealed.

Salvation is one of the most basic principles in the scriptures. God wants everyone to be saved, and has placed salvation within the grasp of even the most simple-minded person. The conditions of salvation are accessible, simple, and clearly defined in scripture. Everyone who meets those basic conditions is a child of God and a member of the church.

So, the third proposal:

Proposal #3: Nothing is required for membership in the Christian church which is not explicitly made a condition of salvation in the scriptures.


  1. Hi Alan,So..(as I hear my hubby’s voice in my head) where does the big hitter between ICOC and mainline RM of ‘being a disciple’ fall into this discussion? I believe, originally, RM members (at least from mainline CoC) were accepted into the ICOC w/o much question. However, later on, Kip ‘revealed’ the previously untaught ‘disciple=christian=saved’tenet. Now, that has disappeared from most ICOC churches; however, the basis of that – that you must be a disciple, (as we define it)remains. The unspoken rule was no one was ‘a disciple’ before they were in the ICOC because it was not implicitly taught in the mainline CoC. The mainline taught, ‘hear, believe, repent, confess, baptize’. But they didn’t teach specifically on becoming a disciple. I think this is the biggest obstacle to our being reunited to our RM brothers/sisters.ttk

  2. Hi ttk,We have to wade through some semantic differences to resolve that issue. It still is necessary to repent of sins, to make Jesus Lord, and to follow Jesus the rest of your life. So in that respect, it is necessary to be a disciple. But the ICOC use of the “disciple” term implies more than that. The Acts 2 example does preach Jesus as Lord, and requires repentance from sin. But some of the ICOC notions of discipleship were not present. There was no trial period before baptism to prove repentance. There was no two-week challenge, no requirement to share your faith before baptism, no six week series of studies, no exercise to list all your sins, no assignment to a discipler, etc.In the ICOC-related congregations I know best, those “extra” requirements are not viewed as they once were. Many churches still practice some of those things, but more from the belief that it is a better way to present the gospel in today’s environment, rather than as a prerequisite for salvation. I know of cases where people from the mainline and from independent Christian churches have been accepted as members in former ICOC congregations (including mine) without anything more than a verification of their conversion and core beliefs.I think we need more public discussion of that among the ICOC congregations. The idea needs to be endorsed by leaders in many places. Over time that will turn the tide in the congregations. It won’t take all that long, if key people will muster the courage to go on record.

  3. I agree with you that this will not change until leaders, especially some of the ‘big names’ not only embrace but extol these things.But my fear is that (in their mind) for leaders to agree to this is to fully admit that they were wrong for 20 years – that they put undue burdens upon people; that they kept people from being baptized that should have been, etc. And what do you do with the results? If a RM member is as much a Christian as an ICOC member… well next thing you know folks will want to go to their churches, date their women, oh…..the humanity!I think that they will find saying nothing much easier to administer than fully reaching out a hand of fellowship. And, perhaps sincerely, feel that all of this keeps them from being out spreading the gospel.Hopefully, you’ll prove me wrong. ttk

  4. Hi ttk,I think those leaders will have to be the ones to prove you wrong, or right. As for me, I have a daughter (raised in the ICOC children’s, teen and campus ministry) who is now a member of a mainline church (with my enthusiastic blessing). And another daughter who is a member of an ICOC congregation, but who attends Sunday evening services at a mainline coC, and has recently had dinner with one of their elders. When I travel, I’m as likely to attend a mainline coC as an ICOC congregation, when both are available in the same town. I attend ElderLink, a program out of ACU and held at a large mainline church in Atlanta. Yet I’m an elder in an ICOC (or former… semantics!) congregation.Jesus said the world would know we are Christians by our love for one another. He prayed that we would be united, so that the world would believe in Him. Those who zealously want to win the world for Christ should start with loving ALL of their brothers and sisters, and being united with ALL of the congregations in the body of Christ. It’s the Lord’s formula for successful evangelism–not mine.

  5. I heartily agree! ttk

  6. I have a question….members of the CofC refer to each other as Christians (or brother/sister)members of the ICOC refer to each other as Discipleswhat do members of the Christian Churches refer to themselves as?ttk

  7. hi ttk,I think they probably use both terms, but a brief survey of one of their main websites suggests that the default term may be “Christian”:http://www.christianstandard.com

  8. Alan,I love the series brother.Very interesting.I love everything you have been writting. I just wish we the church could do this. Be one. Be united. I know God more than anything in the world.

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