Archive for the ‘Looking Back at the Declaration and Address’ Category


Looking Back: Propositions or Laws?

May 20, 2009

Thomas Campbell anticipated that the intention of the thirteen propositions might be misconstrued. So in introducing them 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.”

This clarification applied to all of the thirteen propositions, but in particular to this portion of proposition 11:

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.

Thomas Campbell did not intend for that principle to become “a new creed, or standard, for the church” nor “a term of communion.” For several decades the Reformation Movement followed Campbell’s intent by not drawing lines of fellowship over these types of disagreements. But sometime around the middle of the 1800’s that changed dramatically. And by 1889, battle lines were drawn, and a new, less noble document was written. In the Sand Creek Address and Declaration, Daniel Sommer wrote:

And now, in closing up this address and declaration, we state that we are impelled from a sense of duty to say, that all such as are guilty of teaching, or allowing and practicing the many innovations to which we have referred, that after being admonished and having had sufficient time for reflection, if they do not turn away from such abominations, that we can not and will not regard them as brethren.

Clearly Sommer’s Sand Creek Address and Declaration was a reversal of Campbell’s Declaration and Address. And the result of that reversal has been more than a century of increasing division in the church.

I think Thomas Campbell had this one right.


Looking Back: Three Great Evils

May 16, 2009
Following the propositions, the Address continues for more than thirty pages, explaining the motives of the Association and anticipating objections. Amidst all that, Campbell lists three great evils that had fallen upon the church, which the Association would attempt to correct:

The three evils were:

First, to determine expressly, in the name of the Lord, when the Lord has not expressly determined, appears to us a very great evil.

A subtle twisting of this reverses its intent. Campbell was certainly not advocating the Regulative Principle, the prohibitive nature of silence! And as the following assures us, he was not advocating lines of fellowship over honest disagreements:

A second evil is, not only judging our brother to be absolutely wrong, because he differs from our opinions; but, more especially, our judging him to be a transgressor of the law in so doing: and of course treating him as such, by censuring, or otherwise exposing him to contempt; or, at least, preferring ourselves before him in our own judgment; saying, as it were, stand by, I am holier than thou.

Thirdly, he absolutely was not advocating putting people out of the church for their differing views on various matters:

A third and still more dreadful evil is, when we not only, in this kind of way, judge and set at nought our brother; but, moreover, proceed as a church, acting and judging in the name of Christ; not only to determine that our brother is wrong, because he differs from our determinations: but also in connexion with this, proceed so far as to determine the merits of the cause by rejecting him, or casting him out of the church, as unworthy of a place in her communion;–and thus, as far as in our power, cutting him off from the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps the movement would have fared better if these principles had not been buried in the last 30 pages of the lengthy address!


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.


Looking Back: The Association

May 16, 2009

The Declaration and Address of Thomas Campbell not only made a proposal for how Christian unity might be achieved. It also set up an organization to promote and implement that proposal.

Following the introduction which explained the reasons for their actions, the document contains nine resolutions agreed upon by the signers. These resolutions defined the methods by which they agreed to promote and spread their vision of unity based on the scriptures alone.

  • Resolution (I) established the Christian Association of Washington, “for the sole purpose of promoting simple evangelical christianity, free from all mixture of human opinions and inventions of men.”
  • Resolution (II) set up the funding necessary to support their efforts, including funds to provide Bibles to the poor.
  • Resolution (III) bound all the members to work to create similar organizations of like-minded Christians wherever they may be found.
  • Resolution (IV) clarifies that the new organization is not considered a church, but an affiliation of “voluntary advocates” for their shared convictions.
  • Resolution (V) defines the type of ministers they would support — namely, those who support and practice the core principles defined in the document, “without attempting to inculcate anything…for which there cannot be expressly produced a thus saith the Lord either in express terms, or by approved precedent.”
  • Resolution (VI) set up a committee of twenty-one persons to oversee and carry out the business of the Association.
  • Resolution (VI) set up the periodic meetings of the Association.
  • Resolution (VIII) specified that every meeting would be opened with a sermon, the reading of the “constitution and address”, and a collection of funds for the Association.
  • Resolution (IX) committed the Association to provide financial support to ministers whose work complies with the principles of the Association.

What I find most interesting about the Association is their commitment to work and to provide funds for establishing like-minded organizations and supporting ministers who practiced according to the convictions of the Association. They not only talked about unity; they did something about it.


Looking Back: Thomas Campbell

May 13, 2009

Thomas Campbell was born in Northern Ireland in 1763, and was raised in the Church of England. He studied at the University of Glasgow and at the Divinity School at Whitburn. Upon graduation he began preaching in the Presbyterian Church, known in that day as the”Church of the Secession” since it was formed in reaction against the state-sponsored Church of England. Health difficulties prompted him to seek a change of climate, and he moved to America in 1807, where he began preaching for the Presbyterian church in Washington, Pa.

In that place and time, Presbyterians were sharply divided over various doctrinal disputes, so much so that certain groups of Presbyterians would have no fellowship with each other. Campbell disapproved of the division, and attempted to bring various groups together to share communion. For doing so, he was brought to trial by the presbytery, where he was censured for his actions. As a result, Campbell withdrew from the Presbyterian synod, and began preaching for Christian believers from varying denominational backgrounds. Together with these believers, Campbell formed the Christian Association of Washington. One of their first activities was to develop a statement of purpose and direction for the group. Thus was born the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington. Campbell’s university education being a rare commodity in the New World, he naturally took the role of primary author.

From the very introduction, it is plain that the Association wanted a change from the sectarian spirit that prevailed in the surrounding religious world. A hundred words into the document, Campbell had already laid out the need for autonomy and for the authority of scripture alone. Then he asserted the right and responsibility of each individual to learn and follow the scriptures, free from the judgment of other men, and free from the rule of human opinions. He lamented the “bitter jarrings and janglings of a party spirit” and pleaded instead for a way of peace, guided by the scriptures alone. He wrote:

Our desire, therefore, for ourselves and our brethren would be, that rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men, as of any authority, or as having any place in the church of God, we might forever cease from farther contentions about such things; returning to, and holding fast by, the original standard…

Thus Campbell arrived at the central thesis of the Restoration Movement. Their original motivation was to “cease from farther contentions about such things.” Campbell and his friends were tired of the quarrelling. They longed to be at peace in the church. They hoped to accomplish this by returning to scripture, and by regarding the opinions and inventions of men as having no authority. The goal was not to win theological arguments. It was not to purify the church through division. Instead it was an appeal for peace.

Two hundred years later, churches of Christ are known for something quite different from that. We have an uncanny resemblance to the very Presbyterians Campbell left, those whose sectarian spirit he found so offensive, those with their separate factions who refused one another fellowship, and those with their “bitter jarrings and janglings of a party spirit.”

The noble experiment was never completed, and its goals were not reached. But that doesn’t make the experiment any less noble. And it doesn’t make those goals any less worthy. On the contrary, we need to make every effort to maintain unity in the church, in the bond of peace. We should try again, and again, and again, until either we get it right or the Lord returns.


Looking Back

May 10, 2009

This summer will we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Declaration and Address by Thomas Campbell, the document which marked the beginning of the Restoration Movement. In commemoration I will be posting a few articles commenting on the document and the subsequent history of the resulting movement. It seems appropriate to begin that series by quoting from the introduction of the document, where the causes and motivation for the actions to be taken were announced.


AT a meeting held at Buffaloe, August 17, 1809, consisting of persons of different religious denominations; most of them in an unsettled state as to a fixed gospel ministry; it was unanimously agreed upon, the considerations, and for the purposes herein after declared, to form themselves into a religious association, titled as above–which they accordingly did, and appointed twenty-one of their number to meet and confer together; and, with the assistance of Mr. Thomas Campbell, minister of the gospel, to determine upon the proper means to carry into effect the important ends of their association: the result of which conference was the following declaration and address, agreed upon and ordered to be printed at the expence and for the benefit of the society. September 7, 1809

FROM the series of events which have taken place in the churches for many years past, especially in this western country, as well as from what we know in general of the present state of things in the christian world; we are persuaded that it is high time for us not only to think, but also to act for ourselves; to see with our own eyes, and to take all our measures directly and immediately from the Divine Standard; to this alone we feel ourselves divinely bound to be conformed; as by this alone we must be judged. We are also persuaded that as no man can be judged for his brother, so no man can judge for his brother: but that every man must be allowed to judge for himself, as every man must bear his own judgment;–must give account of himself to God–We are also of opinion that as the divine word is equally binding upon all so all lie under an equal obligation to be bound by it, and it alone; and not by any human interpretation of it: and that therefore no man has a right to judge his brother, except in so far as he manifestly violates the express letter of the law. That every such judgment is an express violation of the law of Christ, a daring usurpation of his throne, and a gross intrusion upon the rights and liberties of his subjects. We are therefore of opinion that we should beware of such things; that we should keep at the utmost distance from every thing of this nature; and, that, knowing the judgment of God against them that commit such things; we should neither do the same ourselves, nor have pleasure in them that do them. Moreover, being well aware, from sad experience, of the heinous nature, and pernicious tendency of religious controversy among christians; tired and sick of the bitter jarrings and janglings of a party spirit, we would desire to be at rest; and, were it possible, we would also desire to adopt and recommend such measures, as would give rest to our brethren throughout all the churches;–as would restore unity, peace, and purity, to the whole church of God. This desirable rest, however, we utterly despair either to find for ourselves, or to be able to recommend to our brethren, by continuing amidst the diversity and rancour of party contentions, the veering uncertainty and clashings of human opinions: nor, indeed, can we reasonably expect to find it any where, but in Christ and his simple word; which is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Our desire, therefore, for ourselves and our brethren would be, that rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men, as of any authority, or as having any place in the church of God, we might forever cease from farther contentions about such things; returning to, and holding fast by, the original standard; taking the divine word alone for our rule: The Holy Spirit for our teacher and guide, to lead us into all truth; and Christ alone as exhibited in the word for our salvation–that, by so doing, we may be at peace among ourselves, follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

In the next few articles I will highlight some of the key points in the document and comment on how their intentions have worked out to this point.