Archive for the ‘Revisiting the Declaration and Address’ Category

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Thirteen Propositions: Conclusion

January 7, 2006

After writing the thirteen propositions of the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell wrote these concluding comments:

To prepare the way for a permanent scriptural unity amongst christians, by calling up to their consideration fundamental truths, directing their attention to first principles, clearing the way before them by removing the stumbling blocks–the rubbish of ages which has been thrown upon it, and fencing it on each side, that in advancing towards the desired object, they may not miss the way through mistake, or inadvertency, by turning aside to the right hand or to the left–is, at least, the sincere intention of the above propositions. It remains with our brethren, now to say, how far they go towards answering this intention. Do they exhibit truths demonstrably evident in the light of scripture and right reason; so that to deny any part of them the contrary assertion would be manifestly absurd and inadmissible? Considered as a preliminary for the above purpose, are they adequate; so that if acted upon, they would infallibly lead to the desired issue–If evidently defective in either of these respects, let them be corrected and amended, till they become sufficiently evident, adequate, and exceptionable. In the mean time let them be examined with rigor, with all the rigor that justice, candour,and charity will admit.

Here Campbell summarizes the intent behind the thirteen propositions, and appeals to all Christians to examine the propositions rigorously to determine whether they adequately meet that intent. Ideally he hoped the propositions would so clearly and completely state biblical truths that their merit would be unassailable. Failing that, he hoped they would at least be adequate so that, if followed, they would be sufficient to bring about the desired practical goal of “permanent scriptural unity amongst Christians.” But he did not presume them to be necessarily adequate. He called for examination “with all the rigor that justice, candor, and charity will admit.

Today we are in a far better position to examine these propositions, with the benefit of nearly 200 years of subsequent history. Even a cursory examination reveals that these thirteen propositions have not brought about the end sought by Campbell, a permanent scriptural unity among Christians. Whether that failure can be attributed to deficiencies in the propositions themselves, or instead attributed to the failure of Christians to implement the propositions, is a matter for discussion. In the past thirteen articles I have suggested that both kinds of failures occurred.

Now is a time for rededication to a noble task.

On another occasion about 140 years ago, a great leader called upon people to rededicate themselves to a noble task. Abraham Lincoln spoke the following words in the Gettysburg Address:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Let us likewise be highly resolved that the efforts toward unity by Thomas Campbell, the Christian Association of Washington (Pa.), and many others of their day, shall not have been in vain. Let us highly resolve that the Churches of Christ will have a new birth of unity in our day– and that the commitment of all believers in Jesus Christ to be one, as Christ is one with the Father, shall not perish from the earth. May God help us in this resolve. Amen.

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

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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

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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

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Proposition 11: Causes of Divisions

December 19, 2005

In proposition 11, Thomas Campbell wrote:

That, (in some instances,) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God; and, (in others,) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions, and human inventions, a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith, or worship, of the church; are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes, of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the church of God.

He attributes all the “corruptions and divisions” in the history of the church to one of two causes:

1) neglecting the expressly revealed will of God; or

2) introducing human opinions and inventions into the church, and making them a condition of fellowship.

I cannot speak about the cause for every corruption and division that has occurred in the past 2000 years. But I would venture to add a third cause of divisions:

3) disagreement about whether a particular belief is the “expressly revealed will of God” or merely a human opinion or invention.

If believers in the past had taken a quite literal and narrow view of what is the “expressly revealed will of God,” and if they were tolerant of differences of opinion on matters that do not fall under that narrow definition of what has been revealed, then perhaps many fewer divisions would have occurred over the past 2000 years, and especially over the past 500 years.

Romans 14 makes it clear that there are some disputable matters, where tolerance is required. Other passages instruct us about areas where there is no room for dissent in the fellowship (1 Cor 5:9-11; 2 John 7-11 for example). Some passages give us a few examples of disputable matters, and others give us a few examples of matters where no dissent is to be tolerated. The difficulty has been in applying the principles from these examples to determine what other matters fall into the “disputable” or “indisputable” categories.

Historically many groups have tended to minimize the range of disputable matters. Instead they made almost every belief a condition of fellowship. That obviously has been ineffective in reducing disputes. Instead it has led to (often mutual) exclusion of those with differing beliefs. Perhaps instead we should be minimizing the range of indisputable matters. If the scriptures do not explicitly tell us that no dissent is to be tolerated on a certain matter, perhaps we should tolerate disssent on that matter. That seems to be the spirit of Romans 14-15.

God said, “Let there be light!”, and there was light. I pray that he will also say, “Let there be peace among believers!” Let us learn to accept our brother without passing judgment on disputable matters.

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

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Proposition 10: Evils of Division

December 9, 2005

First let me apologize for the pause in my blogging. It is a busy time of year. But on to the topic!

In Thomas Campbell’s tenth proposition he states:

That division among christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is anti-christian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he wcre divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is anti-scriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is anti-natural, as it excites christians to contemn, to hate and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion, and of every evil work.

I imagine it would be difficult to find a professing Christian who would argue with this proposition. Campbell mentions several evils resulting from division between believers:

1) It represents Christ’s body as divided against itself and inflicting wounds upon itself. The picture is unimaginable, as if the all-powerful, righteous, and loving Son of God were like a person with a mental illness, compulsively defacing his own body. How can that picture bring glory to God?

2) It is a direct violation of God’s commands. Eph 1:1-4 and Romans 14, 15 come to mind. As the apostle John wrote, whoever says he loves God but does not keep his commands is a liar. (1 John 2:3).

3) It causes those who are divinely obligated to love one another, instead to have contempt for one another.

Rather than continue to enumerate the many other evils that result from division, Cambell summarizes that division produces confusion and all kinds of evil. These unsavory consequenses are all too familiar, and all too unpleasant to discuss in gory detail.

Reflecting on those thoughts, one naturally comes to the conviction that division is dysfunctional in Christ’s body. Something must be done to eliminate the divide and bring believers back to the loving unity for which Christ prayed. We must make every effort. Surely God will bless sincere efforts of believers to bring about unity.

Matt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Let us all seek that blessing. Amen!

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

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Proposition 9: Unity of the Believers

November 28, 2005

In Proposition 9, Thomas Campbell states:

That all that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.

He states two prerequisites to unity, followed by eight aspects of our position which demand our mutual acceptance:

Prerequisites (discussed in comments on Proposition 8):
1) Make a confession of belief in Jesus and submission to him as Lord
2) Demonstrate a life that is consistent with that confession

Our resulting mutual position in Christ:
1) Precious saints of God
2) Brothers and sisters, children of the same family and father
3) Temples of the same Spirit
4) Members of the same Body
5) Subjects of the same grace
6) Objects of the same divine love
7) Bought with the same price
8) Joint heirs of the same inheritance

These eight aspects of our position in Christ are fully supported in the scriptures.

Clearly God wants his children to be united in love. How foolish, how arrogant, how reckless it would be to reject someone for whom Christ died, whom God has adopted as his son, and granted the same position that he gave to us! If God placed a person into his body, what right has any other child of God to withhold the full warm embrace of Christian love? How distressing it must be to God to see his children bicker and fight! With the judgment we use, we will be judged. Let us judge with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving whatever grievances we may have toward one another…that is, unless someone thinks he does not need mercy himself!

One obstacle to this mutual acceptance is the exclusive retoric that is often heard from pulpits. Sometimes a leader seems to think he need to paint a picture showing that nobody else is saved, or at least that nobody else is as saved, as those in his flock. Superficially, that message does have the appearance of strengthening the position of his particular congregation, as a deterrent to members leaving as well as an incentive for outsiders to join. But that mindset is dangerously arrogant, creating a barrier to learning from other congregations. And it prevents the kind of mutual acceptance among believers that God commands and desires.

I believe the solution starts with dialog between individuals from groups that are currently not united.
I want to be part of the solution to this problem. Let the dialog proceed!

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

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Proposition 8: Required Knowledge and Profession

November 20, 2005

In his eighth proposition, Thomas Campbell wrote:

That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge: but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice; and of the way of salvation thro’ Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in, and obedience to him, in all things according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his church.

Cambell outlines two areas a person must understand for admission to the church:

1) That he is lost “by nature and practice”

2) The “way of salvation thro’ Jesus Christ

Then he states that this understanding must be followed by a dual confession:

1) Of faith in Jesus

2) Of obedience to him in all things according to his word

According to Cambell, a person who understands two things, and confesses two things, is eligible for admission to the church. Though the Cambell’s did not understand the role of baptism in the process until a few years later, it seems that this would fit well into the understanding of “the way of salvation”, and would be the logical next step after confessing Jesus as Lord (obedience to him in all things), thus gaining admission to the church. At least that seems to be how the Restoration Movement evolved on this topic.

It also seems clear from this proposition and the preceding two, that only the most basic and plainly stated truths about the “way of salvation” are required to be understood at this stage. No understanding of inferential truths nor human reasoning would be required. If Cambell was right, then it seems that only the words of scripture themselves, as spoken to people prior to their conversions, can be required. Those are all found in the book of Acts. The deeper truths about these matters found in the epistles were taught, not before conversion, but after. Those who first received those epistles had already been converted and admitted to the church, prior to having those deeper truths taught to them.

The clear implication is that someone who understands those very basic things, but lacks correct understanding on the subsequent teachings on the “way of salvation” or other topics, must be considered a Christian and a member of God’s church. It would be inappropriate to exclude someone who had understood Acts 2:36-39 but lacked understanding of Romans 6. How much less appropriate would it be for the church to exclude someone because of their understanding on topics such as the proper way to take communion, or the proper way to sing, or the proper leadership organization of the church, or the nature of the millenium, or the myriad of other complex issues that divide believers today.

In contrast to the vision of Thomas Cambell, many groups who call themselves Christian seek to distinguish themselves from the others by emphasizing their different doctrines, often as a requirement for admission into the church. This perpetuates the lack of unity that we see among professing believers in Jesus today. As a first step toward restoring the unity for which Jesus prayed, can we begin to accept as brothers all those who believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized in the name of Jesus according to the plain and literal teaching given to the first converts in Acts 2–despite our differences on other subjects?

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