Archive for the ‘Revisiting the Declaration and Address’ Category

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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
.

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.

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Revisiting the Declaration and Address

October 23, 2005

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

With these words of introduction, Thomas Campbell began writing the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, Pa – surely one of the most noble efforts towards Christian unity in the past 200 years. This document was a call to all Christians to drop their sectarian differences and to accept one another based on the fundamental truths upon which they all agreed. At one point he pleads:

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!

These words aptly describe the modern Christian world as well as that of Thomas Campbell’s day. What a sad testimony, that today the ministries descended from the Christian Association of Washington are a multitude of splinter groups, each with its own sectarian issues that separate it from its siblings. How contrary this is to the original intent! Clearly the original ambition of the Christian Association was to bring together all who had made Jesus their Lord. However, after only a couple of generations, these ministries had lost the focus on bringing believers together, and instead started building sectarian walls which continue to divide believers to this very day.

The ambition to unify Christians is no less timely today than it was in 1809. In fact, today many people are prayerfully seeking to remove the artificial barriers that hinder fellowship between disciples of Jesus. The Scriptures must ultimately be our guide in this work. However I believe we can gain valuable perspective by considering the principles that guided the Christian Association. With the advantage of subsequent history, perhaps we can glean what was right, discern what went wrong, and thereby gain a vision for moving forward toward unity.

The centerpiece of the Declaration and Address was a set of thirteen propositions beginning on page 16. I propose that we take these propositions one at a time, examining each in light of the scriptures and of the intervening history.Let us proceed with both our Bibles and our hearts open, and let us see where God leads us in this conversation.

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