Archive for the ‘Revisiting the Declaration and Address’ Category

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Proposition 7: Human Reasoning

November 16, 2005

Thomas Campbell’s seventh proposition states:

That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.

Cambell’s point is that a person can come to Jesus, have his sins forgiven, and be adopted into God’s family without being fully instructed in all the complexities of doctrine that mature Christians may have mastered. Whatever level of knowledge and understanding is required in order to be accepted by God, that is all that may be required to be accepted as a member of God’s church, with all the privileges that are associated with membership. That minimum necessary knowledge involves nothing that is not explicitly stated in scripture and easily understood. No human reasoning is required to prove these basic points.

Today many hundreds of groups exist which call themselves Christian, and each has its own particular set of beliefs and doctrines. Even within the restoration movement churches tracing their roots back to Thomas Campbell, there are numerous factions with different doctrinal understandings which separate the groups. Are these really matters of salvation? What doctrines must be correctly understood in order to be saved?

Quite clearly, a belief and understanding of Jesus was fundamental:

1Co 15:1-8 Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.

In addition to those facts, the book of Hebrews identifies the “elementary teachings”:

Heb 6:1-2 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

Time after time in the book of Acts, we see the early Christians teaching these subjects to people before they were baptized. This teaching did not require lengthy and detailed study. The longest conversion in the book of Acts was that of the apostle Paul, which took three days, but after only one short conversation with Ananias he was baptized. No great depth of study occurred in any of the conversions that have been recorded through the Holy Spirit as examples for us. In the case of the Philippian jailer, a basic understanding of the facts on these subjects appears to have been conveyed in less than an hour (Acts 16:33)

No doctrinal understandings may be used as lines of fellowship on topics other than what we see required of the first century converts. And even on these topics, no subtleties of human reasoning may be included in what is required to be understood. The understanding required for conversion is sufficient for subsequent fellowship and communion.

Even one who has been a Christian for a long time, who should have advanced to a more complete understanding, cannot be rejected because he has not continued to learn:

Heb 5:12 For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.

Not only had these Hebrew Christians not advanced in learning as they should, they needed to be taught again about the basics. Even so, they were still regarded as Christians by the inspired writer.

Only the elementary teachings, plainly stated in scripture, should be made terms of fellowship. How many barriers could be removed between believers, if only we could accept all who believe and practice those basic teachings!

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

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Proposition 6: Inferences and Deductions

November 13, 2005

Thomas Cambell’s sixth proposition states:

That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God–therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.

What a profound point! If all believers could understand this principle, in all its depth, could we not be united? Could we accept someone as a believer, who has not yet understood everything we have understood? Could we wait patiently while God works in them?

Paul demonstrated this kind of patience with others, and exhorted the believers to do likewise. The entire books of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians are excellent examples of Paul demonstrating this attitude. Note that Paul addresses a church with serious errors as believers in 1 Corinthians 10:1, 11:33, 12:1, 15:1, 16:15. Those he called accursed were those who do not “love the Lord” (1 Cor 16:22).

Also, consider what Paul says in Phil 3:15-16:

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Even the inspired apostle Paul allowed for people to disagree with him. (How arrogant of us, as uninspired believers, to demand that everyone agree with us!) Paul was willing to wait for a person to be taught by God over time, to become persuaded of the correct view. He didn’t consider them to be in sin, or excluded, or “in the doghouse”. And he didn’t constantly badger them about the question. It was OK, even though he knew they were wrong! It seems that Paul really believed that God would handle the situation, so Paul did not have to make it happen himself.

In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Paul writes:

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,

Even someone who “opposes” the man of God should receive gentle instruction, and should be given time to let God teach him. The opponent may need to repent, and may need to learn the truth, but he is not to be treated as an outsider or as an enemy. Rather, the opponent was like a prisoner of war, taken captive by the devil.

In Romans 14:3-4 Paul writes:

The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

And in verse 13:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

Again, Paul exhorts us to accept the one who disagrees with us. He even makes the point that the Lord will make him stand (Rom 14:4). We should leave room for God to teach a person, or to accept him as he is.

Thank God for his mercy and patience, that he has not yet destroyed us for harshly judging our brothers and sisters.

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

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Proposition 5: Where the Bible is Silent

November 9, 2005

Thomas Campbell’s fifth proposition states:

That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can any thing more be required of christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances, as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church; or be made a term of communion amongst christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.

This proposition addresses how Campbell felt we should handle the silence of the scriptures.

1) If the scriptures are silent about precisely how to perform some command or ordinance, no mortal has the authority to legislate the missing specifics and bind them upon anyone.

2) No mortal has authority to create new commands or ordinances which are not specified in scripture.

3) Nothing outside the New Testament may be introduced into the faith or worship of the church

4) Nothing outside the New Testament may be made a term of communion among Christians

Items 1), 2), and 4) are fairly non-controversial at face value. Item 3) hints at a class of practices that have divided thousands of congregations. Examples of items that have been introduced into worship which are nowhere mentioned in the New Testament include pianos, organs, and the like; individual communion cups; incense; statues and images; creeds; and probably many other things. The results upon Christian unity have been catastrophic.

There are a couple of ways one could view this. One might consider that these situations prove the wisdom of Campbell’s proposition. If the non-biblical items had not been introduced, the churches might still be together. Or, one might point to these situations as proof that the proposition was fatally flawed. By saying we may not introduce anything new into worship, perhaps we paint those who do so as heretics–in effect, setting up a man-made rule which is destined to lead to division. But introducing such a rule actually would be in conflict with item 4) since it makes the “introduce nothing new” rule a term of communion among Christians.

Often Mark 7:1-13 is used as a proof text for the “introduce nothing new” rule. However, if the new things being introduced are not “rules” (ie not mandated, but introduced as discretionary) does Mark 7 apply? Is there any other passage that would support “introduce nothing new” in a discretionary matter? Does the New Testament truly teach that we may not introduce anything new into the worship service? I wonder.

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

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Proposition 4: The New Testament

November 6, 2005

In his fourth Proposition of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, he states that the church must be based on the New Testament:

That although the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the church; and therefore in that respect cannot be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members; as the Old Testament was for the worship discipline and government of the Old Testament church, and the particular duties of its members.

A central tenet of the Restoration Movement has been that the New Testament has replaced the Old as the standard to be followed by God’s people. Thus the movement’s cry has been to restore New Testament Christianity. Christians live under the new covenant (Heb 8:6-9:28; 2 Cor 3:2-10). The words “testament” and “covenant” in English refer to the same concept in the original languages. So the conclusion is generally drawn that what passed away (Heb 8:13) was the Old Testament. But perhaps that is too broad of a conclusion to draw based on the scriptures.

When we speak of the Old Testament, we are generally referring to 39 books in the Bible from Genesis to Malachi. When we refer to the New Testament we are generally referring to the 27 books from Matthew to Revelation. However in 2 Cor 3:2-10 it is quite clear that he is speaking of something else. He draws the following contrasts between the old and new covenants:

  • The old is of the letter, the new of the spirit.
  • The old kills, the new gives life.
  • The old was written on tablets of stone, the new on human hearts.
  • The old had fading glory; the new, increasing glory.

Here he is talking about the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments (written on tablets of stone). Clearly the ten commandments belong to the old covenant and not to the new. Hebrews 9:1 makes it clear that the regulations for worship and the sanctuary belong to the old covenant. Thus it is not only the ten commandments that passed away, but also temple worship with its Levitical priesthood (Heb 7) and the animal sacrifices (Heb 10). Further, Romans 3 and Gal 3 teach that we are no longer under the supervision of the law. So nothing in the Law of Moses remains as the basis for our justification before God.

However, what would be the basis for saying more? Have the books of history, the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the prophets passed out of relevance? How about all the teachings that preceded the Mosaic Law?

I believe it is only at great cost that we can ignore the study and application of principles from the Old Testament. Paul reminded Timothy (1 Tim 3:15) that he had known the scriptures from infancy, which were able to make him wise for salvation through Jesus. What scriptures did he mean? Timothy could only have known the Old Testament scriptures from infancy. It is these that are able to make us wise for salvation. It is these that are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that a man may be fully equipped for every good work. That is not to the exclusion of the same kinds of usefulness to be found in the New Testament. But Paul was referring to the Old Testament scriptures in this context.

I believe Thomas Campbell understood this. His fourth proposition speaks of the New Testament as a perfect “constitution for the worship, discipline and government of the New Testament church” and “for the particular duties of its members.” That is true. We should obtain our directions for the worship and practice of the church from the New Testament. But I don’t think he meant for us to take the New Testament in isolation and ignore the Old. I wonder, in the years since Thomas Campbell wrote these words, whether sufficient attention was paid to the principles from the Old Testament which continue to be able to make us wise for salvation.

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

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Proposition 3: The Bible Only

November 4, 2005

In the first two Propositions of the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell said that there is one church and that there must be no divisions in it. In the third Proposition he states that the sole standard for the church must be the Bible only:

That in order to this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion; but what is expressly taught, and enjoined upon them, in the word of God. Nor ought any thing be admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles upon the New Testament church; either in express terms, or by approven precedent.

The basic point of this proposition is well supported in scripture. We should bind what the scriptures bind, and that only. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Mark 7:6-7) for creating their own laws and binding them as though they were laws from God. We must not create any additional “hoops” to be jumped through in order to be accepted as a true Christian (“terms of communion”), whether at conversion or thereafter.

Likewise, we cannot bind any of our additions or changes to the structure or organization (“constitution and managements”) of the church. While we may indeed have discretion on certain matters, we cannot require others to exercise their discretion in the same manner as we do.

One point in Proposition 3 requires great care. The writer alludes to two types of authorized items: those given in “express terms”, and by “approved precedent”. He proposes that where a precedent is established in scripture through the example of the first century church, and when that example is shown to have been approved by the inspired apostles, then that could be sufficient grounds to bind the principle on others. According to the writer, those things could be “admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements”. How does one decide what is an approved precedent? Are we really obligated to follow every example in the scriptures down to the tiniest detail? Is precedent the law of the new covenant? This also has been a cause of many schisms in the Restoration Movement.

Perhaps the solution is to have three categories for applying our interpretations from scripture: things that must be bound on every believer; things which a local congregation or group of believers agrees to practice among themselves (but to accept other groups who practice differently); and things that are left up to the discretion of each individual believer. Most if not all “approved precedent” issues would fall into one of the last two categories.

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

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Proposition 2: No Divisions

October 31, 2005

In his second proposition, Thomas Campbell calls for an undivided church:

That although the church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another; yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them to the glory of God. And for this purpose, they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.

He begins by acknowledging that there must be separate congregations due to necessary practical considerations such as location and the practical size of assemblies. But there should not be “uncharitable divisions” among them. They should accept one another as Christians, and should believe and practice the same things. They should be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor 1:10).

It is inspiring to sit and imagine a world like that! But after enjoying that imagination for a while, we must return to contemplate the reality of the present world in which we live. What ought to be, and what actually exists, are so distressingly opposite! The supposed Christian landscape is covered with uncharitable divisions, with new examples arising with appalling regularity.

I feel compelled to do something to help bring about unity, but I confess that I feel frustrated and powerless to do what needs to be done. The trend must be reversed, but how? Two approaches come to mind. Either we try an incremental approach, where we address the divisions most directly related to our own churches, or we start over and try to build a united brotherhood from scratch.

I believe the latter approach is too extreme and presumptuous on several levels. Trying to start over from scratch passes judgment on the church that exists. And it presumes that we will be wise enough to bring believers together in a way that all who precede us have failed. Who are we to build such a brotherhood? What of those who believe we do not have the right, or who believe we are building it on the wrong teachings? Restoration movement history shows us the difficulty of gathering consensus on the essential issues that must be held in common. The very effort to unify has led to even more division and acrimony. The world does not need another splintering movement.

I believe the more humble, God-reliant, and constructive approach is to address the obstacles to unity that affect our closest relationships personally and as churches. We should reach out to those who have a historical connection or a doctrinal similarity and seek common ground. And we should pray that God will bring us to unity. Ultimately He is the only one who can solve this problem. I pray for wisdom to know what God would have me to do to promote unity.

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

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Proposition 1: One Church

October 27, 2005

The centerpiece of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is the thirteen propositions for unity. We will begin our discussion of these propositions with Proposition 1:

That the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else as none else can be truly and properly called christians.

There is one body (Eph 4:4) which is the church (Col 1:18). People are added to it when they believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized for forgiveness of those sins (Acts 2:38-40) and are adopted by God (Eph 1:5) as his sons. This church is not an organization made by men. No man has the authority to decide who is in this church and who is not. All who are adopted by God are added by God to his church.

It is this church that the Lord prayed to be one in John 17, that Paul admonished to have no divisions (1 Cor 1:10) and to make every effort toward unity (Eph 4:3). This church has no earthly headquarters. It has no international ruling body. It has no creed except the Word of God.

Today the members of this “one church” are divided into numerous manmade organizations with manmade creeds and manmade ruling bodies that maintain the manmade walls between the manmade organizations. Can this be what Jesus intended when he prayed for them to be one, as he is one with the Father?

Christians who contemplate this sad picture today are moved to do something to make it right. They are immediately faced with the difficulty of the present situation. Campbell professes that the church consists of all those in every place

(1) that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures, and

(2) that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct
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In (1), did Campbell mean that we must perfectly obey every scripture? Note that’s not what he said. Instead, he lists two things they must profess. That is, they must profess faith in Christ, and they must profess obedience to the scriptures.

In (2), Campbell says they must live consistently with the professions in (1). So, did he mean here that we must perfectly obey every scripture? I don’t think so. I think he meant we must live as those who intend to obey every scripture.

Regardless of what Campbell meant, it is clear from history that those who followed after him defined the boundaries of the church in increasingly narrow terms since he wrote those words. To reverse that trend and to move toward increased unity, we must learn to accept in unreserved fellowship people who (in our opinion) are absolutely wrong about some things. The only alternative, bringing everyone to complete agreement on every biblical subject, seems unattainable without miraculous intervention by God. We may have to wait for the second coming of Christ to see that happen. Meanwhile, we need to broaden our minds and extend grace. After all, we may need some grace in this area also.

I don’t know how far we should go in accepting people with “wrong” (in our opinion) beliefs. There clearly must be limits on that. Perhaps we should start with the easier subjects first. By bringing down the first few walls, we may build momentum that will inspire others to help as we tackle more difficult topics.

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

The Christian Standard has begun a three part series discussing the three descriptive terms “essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally” used to describe the oneness of the church. I eagerly anticipate the second and third in the series.