Alexander Campbell on the basis on unity

February 2011

Dear brethren,

Many years ago I bought the complete set of Alexander Campbell’s second periodical named the “Millennial Harbinger.” At that time I started to read the forty-one volumes, but only “worked” my way through the first ten volumes and stopped. Well I’m back at it and reading number eleven, 1841. I want to share with you some quotes from this volume which are indicative of Alexander Campbell’s views on unity or disunity that bear upon or typify the characteristics of our divisions today and attempts to unite believers.

1.) Imperfections Of Modern Apostolic Churches

This was the title of an article wherein bro. Campbell published the beginning and ending of a pamphlet written by Robert Hall in 1818 and submitted by a bro. Parmly of New York in the February issue. Here is what he called “The Conclusion”.

Alas! Alas! The contentious which prevail are not for the faith; the avowed causes of separation are not on account of the faith; the alienation among the churches is not on account of the want of faith. Look back, I pray you, as to the causes of division, and such will not be found to have arisen for, or on account of, or for not holding the faith once delivered to the saints.

At the head of these contentions, divisions, and dissensions, I place 1st. The subject of baptism. 2nd. Eating the supper with or without ordained elders. 3d. Exhortation. 4th. The kiss of charity. 5th. Separation unless agreed as to all views and acts of religious worship. 6th. The manner of regarding the first day of the week. 7th. The order of a church. 8th Fasting. 9th. Wearing of gold. 10th. Eating of blood. 11th. Love feasts. 12th. The Elder’s office, ordination. If I were at liberty to hazard an opinion as to the primary cause of the state of the churches, I would say that not making the faith of the gospel the sole bond of union among disciples, and the not contending for, or regarding the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, not only in the converting and building up, but its upholding of the churches, and I would add that until the purity of faith exemplified in the walk and conversation of believers comes to be the standard of discipleship, the Head of the church will not ‘walk among the candlesticks’, and the churches will be left to their own wisdom; in which, alas! Too many have gloried, and they will continue what they are, destitute of the mark whereby all men should know them as disciples of Christ – “Love one to another.”

Change some items in his list and this “conclusion” is very applicable to our situation in the Churches of Christ today. This brother pinpoints a very significant error or misunderstanding prevalent among brethren, that of confusing the faith of the gospel with “matters of faith”/ “disputable issues”/opinions, derived through reasoning in the interpretation of the scriptures. They make their opinions relative to sundry matter of the new covenant scriptures written to those who have embraced “the faith” such as their brother listed the basis of fellowship and unity.  This is creedism, preaching another gospel, sectarianism, and results in divisions and the sustaining of them. That Alexander Campbell essentially agreed with this concept is confirmed in the two quotes from him I’ve included in this “Letter”.

I like the attitude exhibited by brother Hall in his closing remarks to the pamphlet: “Entering your prayers, I remain your unworthy brother in hope of eternal life through the atonement.” Were that our attitude rather than insisting that we are only worthy to be in fellowship and thus saved eternally if we conform to certain opinions that identify our party.

2.) Apostolic Churches

This is the title of an article by Alexander Campbell in the March, 1841, “Millenial Harbinger”. It had to do with divisions in some churches in Scotland which were experiencing the same problems he had confronted and was confronting in America. One of the main problems was the misunderstanding addressed above – the confusing of “the faith” and “matters of faith” or knowledge of opinions. Of those churches he says the following:

. . .They were founded more upon opinion than faith – more upon knowledge than righteousness – more upon religious selfishness than Christian philanthropy; and therefore wanted the Christian cement, which is love for ‘Christ’s own sake’; not for his doctrine, not for the circumstances which surrounded him on earth, or in heaven; but for his personal excellencies – for his divine humanity – his condescending grace and benignity – his zeal for the divine glory, the majesty of God, the dignity of his throne, and the honor of his government.

For what are the Churches of Christ known? What has made us distinct? Our righteousness? Our Christian philanthropy? Love for “Christ’s own sake”? No! For our opinions and disputes about them. Our thrust through the years has been: “Which Church of Christ is right?”

In both the “Old World” and in America A.C. said he saw “a species of that old-fashioned pharisaic spirit, which tithed mint, anise, and dill, and did not always, now uniformity, pay an adequate regard to righteousness, fidelity, mercy, and the weightier matters of the law.” He said, “I saw this in ‘the system’ of their operations. . .” Sounds like our sectarianism.

He closed this article by saying that “’their bond of union is’ is not the apostolic.” He said: “It is unity of opinion or certain portions of knowledge, rather than a clear and simple belief in the testimony of God, and a relying trust or confidence in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed – in the full sense of his divine person, office, and character, as set forth by the Holy Twelve. It is agreement in essential doctrines, rather than confidence in the Messiah and submission to his will and authority in every single point.”

Basing unity upon “opinion, or certain portions of knowledge” he called an “iron bad of Procrustes” system. How many have been subjected to such a system in our day.

3.) Modern Proselytism – No. I.

This is the title of an article he wrote in the June, 1841, “Millennial Harbinger”. In it he wrote:

. . .We, indeed, repudiate the partizan zeal and proselyting spirit of contending revivalists, agonizing in their respective efforts to build up their rival parties upon the ruins of each other. We still more deeply deplore the false and deceitful bonds of union and new centres of attraction around which the affections and fraternal sympathies of their respective proselytes are made to revolve.  ‘Christ crucified’ is not the bond of union.  Their own little digests of opinions, their own ingenious devices, abstractions, and forms of worship and government, are substituted for – or, what is practically the same thing – appended to, the Book of the New Covenant on which Christ’s kingdom is founded. The proper objects of faith, and hope and love are lost sight of, and in their stead are found various opinions, speculations, theories, ordinances, modes, ceremonies, and forms, which never reach the heart nor reform the lives of men.

Are his words not “spot on” for the very situation which confronts us today? Fortunately I see inroads being made in the party proselyting and sectarianism of the Churches of Christ. The eyes of more and more believers are being opened to the working of the party spirit. Much to the consternation of those who have vested interests in partyism the internet has played a significant role in changing the attitudes and thoughts of many. It is more difficult to keep information and knowledge from your followers that challenges and questions the “propaganda” of party leaders.

In Him

J. James Albert

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