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Campbell’s Cannibals

  • Unity

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:15

The Restoration Movement has been a blessing to a great number of people. I, for example, would not be the person I am today if it were not for these principles instilled within me from a young age. I owe a lot to the work of my Granddaddy, Jimmy Kennedy and to his teachers and predecessors such as Gus Nichols, David Lipscomb, Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and countless other men and women who have desired to “speak where the Bible speaks” throughout the years.

Unfortunately, this history is riddled with countless debate books. While they were among my favorite reading material earlier in my ministry, these debates tell the story of disfellowship, “marking” other ministers, and divisions that still exist today. I also have a collection of books and articles addressing certain “departures from the faith” of particular congregations and individuals.

One book is written by a man who begs another congregation to reconsider adopting instruments for one of their services. He states that any argument that congregation could make has been “soundly defeated” years ago. It’s interesting that there are numerous articles condemning this same individual for an “innovation” he has allegedly championed. And there are even more articles addressing the exegetical blunders committed by the group that wrote those articles.

While there aren’t as many debates these days, there are hundreds of Facebook groups, pages, and other social media platforms in which Christians tear other Christians to shreds. I used to be an active participant in a few of these groups before making the conscious decision to remove myself from these unprofitable discussions.

Yesterday, one of my co-ministers, Thom Scott, delivered an excellent sermon discussing this very problem. Working off of some research done by my friend Kevin Pendergrass in his book Blinded By the Bible, Thom named some of the divisions within the Churches of Christ and how these divisions come from placing more emphasis on so-called “issues” than on Jesus.

You can listen to that sermon here:

As he was walking through some of the unnecessary divisions among Churches of Christ, such as those over skits, instruments, and praise teams, a verse kept coming to mind.

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:15

I read a post on Facebook the other day which spoke of a community that has a population of 27,000 and has 30 congregations with over 4,000 members between them. It doesn’t make much sense for there to be so many Churches of Christ within such a short distance of each other, even if they started out that way! What kind of message does that send?

I drive past two just to get to the office. But these three churches, including my own, do not have fellowship because of various differences. One church doesn’t believe that one should have a fellowship hall, and they believe that women should cover their head in worship. And the other two churches believe differently on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, among other things.

Why should these differences matter? Why must we “bite and devour” one other over these issues? Are these things really the same as rejecting or accepting the gospel?

The context of this passage is revealing. Paul wrote Galatians to address a serious problem among the churches: some were demanding that others adhere to their religious ritual. He wrote earlier, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

When we make meticulous adherence to certain outward expressions of religious observance a test of fellowship, we are doing the same thing the Galatians were doing: we are adding to the gospel of Jesus. In Galatians 5:13-15, Paul wrote,

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:13–15

We have freedom in Christ. Our freedom is found when our faith expresses itself in love. If we become “enslaved to one another” then these differences become opportunities for growth and discussion instead of reasons for endless and needless division.

When some tried to have Titus circumcised, Paul “did not submit to them even for a moment” (Galatians 2:5). The truth of the gospel, as he calls it, is found in freedom, not in bondage.

Jesus taught that teachers of truth could be distinguished from false teachers by their fruit, not by their clever use of scripture or by using human reasoning to reach certain “necessary” inferences (Matthew 7:15-20).

Paul develops this theme in a few passages after our original text:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Galatians 5:22–23

Does donating to orphanages produce the fruit of love and kindness? Do instruments produce the fruit of joy? Can a woman reading scripture or leading a prayer demonstrate self-control, peace, and faithfulness?

If so, then there are no laws against such things. Why, then, must we divide over such preferences?

Instead of being Campbell’s Cannibals by biting and devouring one other while we should be teaching the good news of Jesus, we could be Campbell’s Candles by demonstrating a daring love for truth which transcends these sectarian differences. Or better yet, while we can still claim our heritage in the Stone-Campbell movement, we could move beyond these denominational distinctions and party names by embracing our fellow Christians of other denominations in fellowship, worship, and joint action.

This is my prayer. I hope it is yours as well. This is how Jesus said the world would come to know him.

I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

John 17:20–21

1 thought on “Campbell’s Cannibals”

  1. Appreciate this so much. I’m sure many of us are tired of the eating of our own. Good words and I appreciate hearing them

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