California Letter: Sharing Some Quotes

June 2011

Re: Sharing some quotes

Dear brethren,

I love to read, and although I am a very slow reader I read voraciously, usually keeping three or four books next to my recliner. Also, I like to discuss and share what I read. Three days a week my oldest daughter, son, and a friend of his have lunch with me and my wife. I use these lunches as opportunities to share some of my reading experiences. Somewhat in jest my son will say, “Here he goes again.” My wife tells them, “That’s the price you have to pay for being provided lunch.” Ha!

Anyway, again this month I want to share with you some quotes from my reading and make some comments relative to them. I can hear many of you saying upon receiving this letter, “Here he goes again.”

Reformation

Robert Richardson, one of the co-editors of the “Millennial Harbinger” in 1848, wrote a series of articles entitled “Reformation.” Generally the early restorers referred to their movement as a reformation rather than a restoration. One of the major problems they confronted which stemmed from the days of the apostles and intensified over the centuries was the right of private judgment relative to “matters of faith.” Creeds were developed equating “matters of faith” to “the faith” of the gospel. Unless believers assented to these creeds as conditions of salvation they were excluded. In an earlier article from the one which I quote below bro. Richardson blamed divisions upon taking away the right of private judgment.

… it is not difficult to perceive that these divisions have originated from unlawful restrictions of the right of conscience, and from an intolerant bigotry, which sought under false pretences, to wrest from the people the privileges of which we speak.

By the way those “false pretences” to which he referred were the assertions that such actions were necessary “to maintain purity of doctrine and discipline.” (Found in “Reformation – No V,” pp 32-37).

In No. VI he wrote the following relative to equating “matters of faith” to “the faith” which he called an “error” and “a violation of the just liberty of private judgment.”

No just distinction whatever would seem to have been drawn by the religious world between fact and theory; faith and opinion; doctrine and speculation; law and expediency. And they would appear to have been, until recently, ignorant of the truth, that men never will agree except in generals. Each party has been constantly seeking to induce an exact conformity to the minute peculiarities of its own creed and no one has been willing to regard these as secondary to the great truths of Christianity. But it is a vain attempt, as experience has fully shown, to endeavor to effect a perfect agreement among men in matters of opinion, or even in those minutiae of Christian doctrine with which reason has often as much to do as faith. – There may be unity in regard to the simple gospel facts; to the grand fundamental truth of Christianity; to the divinely appointed means of salvation; to the one great object of worship; to the one source of spiritual light and truth; to the one cementing principle of mutual love which pervades and animates the body of Christ. But how preposterous it is to expect uniformity of opinion in a world like this, where the minds of men are as diverse as the leaves of the forest – a world in which no two states can have the same political government; no two families the same regulations; no two individuals the same tastes and habits!

And how undesirable such a uniformity if it could be even effected! How evident it is, that the infinite diversity of nature every where around us, is the very source of beauty and delight! It is by the opposition of things which have yet some common points of agreement; by these charming contrasts constantly held in subjection to one pervading principle, that variety is reconciled with order, and diversity with unity. There could, indeed, be no beauty in nature without these endless diversities; and nature, in this respect, is but a type of human society, whether political or religious. Both have proceeded from God, and both possess the same characteristics. As well might we desire to have but a single note in music, as one opinion in religion. As well might we desire to see the whole earth, and the heavens, clothed in drab, as to have every one conform to the sentiments of any single party in Christendom,. Where would be, then, the free comparison of sentiment, and the delightful interchange of thought? Where the charm of new discovery, and the progressive enlargement of the mind? Where the doubt, that, betraying the weakness of human judgment, represses intellectual pride; and where the mutual forbearance which strengthens mutual love? He who has ordained that no two human faces shall be perfectly alike, and that their features shall yet agree in general character, has also instituted that diversity of mind which admits, in the same manner of an essential unity. These differences must in both cases be permitted; for we might as well try to make all faces alike, as all minds alike . . . (pp. 74-75)

We have not learned from history. We have refused to follow the principles of God’s written word relative to “matters of faith.” Instead of manifesting the beauty of how these principles work when dealing with diversity we have shown the world the ugliness of the party spirit, preferring to divide rather than be forbearing in love.

Declaration Of Rights

In the 1844 “Millennial Harbinger” Alexander Campbell published a “Declaration Of Rights” by the Church of Christ at Jeffersonville, Indiana, which was having problems with brethren being contentious and causing strife relative to “matters of faith.” Prior to their listing the congregation said, “We regard
the adoption of these resolutions as a triumph of liberty, over the sectarian spirit of these times, which has recently shown itself in some of the churches of what is called ‘The Reformation’.” They are very interesting. Notice particularly number 7.

  1. Resolved, That it is the right of every member of this church, to read the Scriptures, and decide what they mean for himself.
  1. Resolved, That while a member of this church maintains a good character for piety, the liberty of giving his views of the meaning of any part of the Scriptures, when he can do so without a breach of order, shall not be taken from him.
  1. Resolved, That this church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets; and not upon the authority, views, or interpretations of any man, living or dead; that we utterly deny the doctrine of human infallibility; and regard the writings of men, however learned, as unworthy of being made a bone of contention. We consider every congregation of Christians as responsible to God alone, for its’ doctrine and practice; and, therefore, we will not allow other congregations to
    interfere with our affairs or our rights.
  1. Resolved, That we consider every thing mentioned in the Bible, is a proper topic of investigation, –  the hue and cry about untaught questions to the contrary notwithstanding.
  1. Resolved, That it is the right and duty of the Bishop of the church, and all other preachers who may be invited to labor with us to teach the Scriptures as they understand them. And that it is equally the privilege of any member to dissent from the views advanced and to express at a proper time that dissent in an orderly and respectful way.
  1. Resolved, That this chapel shall be open to preachers of good moral character of any religious society, when not occupied by us; or when their appointments do not conflict with our regular hours of worship. The church, in the meantime, reserving to herself the right to
    reject or reply to the doctrine advanced.
  1. Resolved, That the practice of publishing men as factionists, who are in good standing with the churches where they have their membership, in the papers devoted to what is called the current reformation, and calling on the churches to exclude them from their fellowship, is a practice essentially Popish, and a most unwarrantable assumption of power, and, therefore, ought to be discountenanced.
  1. Resolved, That the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible is our creed, confession of faith, and law-book. And as far as God gives us time and ability, we intend to study it, in all its facts, institutions, precepts, and promises. That we intend, if we can, to learn the whole truth, and for that purpose we encourage free discussion, and patient investigation. These rights we consider indispensable to growth in grace and knowledge, and to restrict or abolish them in the slightest degree, is, to all intents and purposes to bring us under subjection to the spirit and principles of Popery.
  1. Resolved, That to impose upon this church the views, inferences, or interpretations of any man, council, or congregation, as the standard of its faith is the same thing as to make a human creed and to substitute it for the Bible. Such conduct is highly sectarian and schismatical.
  1. Resolved, That the forgoing preamble and resolutions be recorded upon the register of the Church, and five hundred copies printed for  gratuitous distribution (pp. 21-22).

There are a few points in these resolutions I would question, but in the main they exhibit a Christian spirit to which the descendants of these early reformers would do well to give heed. Let’s learn from our history.

J. James Albert

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