Let none imagine that the subjoined propositions are at all intended as an overture toward a new creed or standard for the Church, or as in any way designed to be made a term of communion; nothing can be further from our intention.Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address (Mission Messenger. 1972, p. 44)
Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is one of the major documents of the American Reformation Movement. Well ahead of its time, Campbell advocated Christian unity in a world filled with religious division and controversy. In his introduction to the Mission Messenger 1972 reprint, Frederick D. Kershner claimed that the book “belongs to the future but today, more than ever before, it is a book which no follower of Christ can afford to neglect or ignore” (p.14). Well, now, almost fifty years later, we are in the future, so let’s take a brief look at some of Campbell’s thirteen propositions for Christian Unity and see if Kershner’s prediction was correct. The Kindle version of the Declaration and Address is available for $0.99 through an independent publisher if you would like to read more. It is also available online for free on various sites.
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.p. 44
By “Church of Christ,” Campbell meant the universal body of Christ, not the buildings which have Church of Christ on their sign. He admits in here that varying doctrines and preferred styles of worship naturally lead us to seek fellowship among those with whom we agree, but abstaining from any contact or fellowship with varying groups was seen as an egregious error. Instead, all Christians should “speak the same thing,” that is, that “I am of Christ!” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
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 Church’s confession.p. 46
What so many call “necessary inferences” might not be so necessary after all. That which was not expressly stated by Scripture, Campbell believed, was ultimately a matter of opinion even if the individual was technically correct. Far too much division has taken place, and continues to take place, over things the Bible does not clearly condemn or affirm.
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.p. 46
Unity based upon conformity may be appealing to those with plenty of time to study and reason, but it recreates a clergy/ laity system which we have claimed to cast off. Alexander Campbell, Thomas’s son, began The Christian Baptist with a quotation from Matthew 23:8-10: “…Assume not the title of Rabbi; for ye have only One Teacher…” Yet, in a system which near absolute mental ascent to a list of allegedly necessary doctrines is the basis of unity, man becomes subservient to the leaders, teachers, and thinkers of the sect, not God.
This is one reason why I elect not to bind my view of Bible prophecy upon anyone. Though I view it as truth and enjoy talking about it, I understand that it was by the grace of God that I was given months of time to dedicate to study, reason, and conversation about this topic, so to bind it upon other believers, regardless of how well studied, is to set my interpretation on the same level as the Word of God, and I dare not persume such a position.