Looking Back: The Address

May 16, 2009

Having established the Association, the document turns immediately to the Address, in which a more complete explanation of their motives and goals is presented.

Campbell’s address opens with a lament of the evils of division, and the imperative to work for remedy. He particularly reminds readers of the responsibility of Christian leaders to work for unity. And he points out the increased responsibility of those who enjoy the freedom of religion available in America. Nowhere in the world is there a greater opportunity to remedy the division of believers. To whom much is given, much will be required.

He reasons that our divisions are not over “great doctrines of faith and holiness”, but over the opinions and inventions of men. He appeals to us to give those things up “that our breaches might thus be healed.”

Then he announces his invitation to all believers:

“To this we call, we invite, our brethren, of all denominations”

He reminds the reader of the goal, and urges believers to take action:

“Are we not all praying for that happy event, when there shall be but one fold, as there is but one chief shepherd. What! shall we pray for a thing, and not strive to obtain it!!”

In summary, he writes:

“Oh! that ministers and people would but consider, that there are no divisions in the grave; nor in that world which lies beyond it: there our divisions must come to an end! we must all unite there!– Would to God, we could find in our hearts to put an end to our short-lived divisions here; that so we might leave a blessing behind us; even a happy and united church. What gratification, what utility, in the meantime, can our divisions afford either to ministers or people? Should they be perpetuated, ’till the day of judgment, would they convert one sinner from the error of his ways, or save a soul from death? Have they any tendency to hide the multitude of sins that are so dishonorable to God, and hurtful to his people? Do they not rather irritate and produce them? How innumerable and highly aggravated are the sins they have produced, and are at this day, producing, both amongst professors and profane.”

Then he introduces the centerpiece of the document, the famous set of thirteen propositions for unity. On these propositions he hoped to initiate a new unity among all believers.

“As the first fruits of our efforts for this blessed purpose we respectfully present to their consideration the following propositions…”

Campbell anticipated the potential for the intention of these propositions to be misconstrued. So he wrote:

“Let none imagine that the subjoined propositions are at all intended as an overture towards a new creed, or standard, for the church; or, as in any wise designed to be made a term of communion;–nothing can be farther from our intention.”

I have previously commented on the thirteen propositions which followed, so I refer readers to those articles. Following the thirteen propositions, as the address continues, Campbell made it perfectly clear that he was not trying to dictate terms to all believers. Instead he was trying to start a dialogue that would lead to unity.

“From the nature and construction of these propositions, it will evidently appear, that they are laid in a designed subserviency to the declared end of our association… It remains with our brethren, now to say, how far they go towards answering this intention…. If evidently defective in either of these respects, let them be corrected and amended, till they become sufficiently evident, adequate, and unexceptionable. In the mean time let them be examined with rigor…”

It is a shame that his proposals have been misappropriated by others to divide rather than to unite. Maybe by re-examining them we can correct our course and accomplish the godly purposes for which they were originally written.

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