Thomas and Alexander Campbell
Alexander Campbell is thought of by many, as being one of the men, most responsible for founding the churches of Christ in the United States. Of course the bible tells us that the church was “founded” when Jesus Christ ascended back to heaven and was given the kingdom, in about 33 AD.
This was predicted by the prophet Daniel, in Dan 7:13-14; “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming. And He came up to the Ancient of Days, and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, and Glory, and a kingdom. That all the peoples, nations, and languages might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will never pass away. And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
And this prophecy was fulfilled 40 days after Christ’s crucifixion, and 37 days after His resurrection, as His apostles stood and watched Him ascend from the earth. Acts 1:9 tells us; “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up, while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
And so God Himself “founded ” the church, giving that kingdom to Christ. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as the head over all things to church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Eph 1:22 & 23.
And then of course all believers, who were willing to repent of their sins, and openly confess their faith by being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, were added to that body of Christ. And of course we read about that happening on the day of Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2, and verses 37 through 41.
So then what Alexander Campbell did, along with others such as his father Thomas Campbell, and Barton Stone, and Walter Scott, and others, was to attempt to go back to the teachings of Jesus, and the bible, and to “restore” Christianity as it was originally taught in the bible, first by Jesus, and then by His apostles, in the first century AD. Actually it was the Holy Spirit who continued Christ’s teachings, by miraculously “inspiring” the apostles as to what to say and teach.
In everything that we do in religion, we always have to “go back” to the teachings of the bible. At least if we’re going to please GOD and not ourselves, we need to go back to the bible for our instruction.
There’s a spirit in this world, that is always trying to convince us, that we can come up with “a better way” than the way that God has laid out. And so people have always had the tendency to “leave” the teachings of the bible, and adopt their own “better way”. In other words, people have always had the tendency to “want their own way”, and that’s what the “spirit of this world” is. It’s basically pride in ourselves, and it’s disobedience to God.
The Spirit of Evil is Nothing New
Eph 2, verse 2, talks about that spirit, which is.. “,,according to the AGE of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the SPIRIT that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
In the NASB, the phrase.. “according to the age of this world”, is translated.. “according to the course of this world”. That’s what the word “age” means. It means the “course”, or the “way” of this world. It’s interesting that the meaning of the word “age” in this verse is.. “from the most ancient time, right on down until now”. So in other words, it has ALWAYS been that way. The spirit of pride and disobedience has always been, “the way of this world”. It’s certainly nothing new.
That’s probably one of the reasons that we’re told in Ecclesiastes 1:9; “That which has been, is that which will be. And that which has been done, is that which WILL be done.”
But that spirit that we’re talking about, and that way of thinking, makes our religion vain, and it has ALWAYS made man’s religion vain. Jesus tells us in Mat 15:9; “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine, the commandments of men.” If our worship is vain, then our religion is vain! Teaching man’s prideful ways, instead of simply obeying God’s “right” ways, makes our whole life vain!
Your Life is Your Religion
Did you know that your religion is your way of life? Your religion isn’t only your worship, it’s the way you live, it’s your life. “Pure religion, and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is this; “To visit orphans and widows in the affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) Your “religion” is actually your whole life. It’s what you do every day. I’m not saying that everything you do is worship, but everything you do IS a part of your religion. That’s what the bible says. God’s religion, (“pure religion, and undefiled before God”), is to do for others, and to keep ourselves from sinning. That, is a “full time” job!
Now, going back to Alexander Campbell, and all the others; They had themselves, left the teachings of the bible, but they were desiring to go back to the bible. When Europeans first came to America, they brought with them, their divisions and denominations, which are completely contrary to the bible. But some men also brought with them, the desire to abandon what was contrary to the bible, and to restore, what God had originally ordained, through Jesus Christ.
In the words of Earl West, the author of a series of books titled “The Search For the Ancient Order”, the Campbells, Alexander and his father Thomas, were; “Step by step.. thinking their way along, trusting in the revealed word for guidance”.
Earl West wrote this about Thomas Campbell; “Campbell saw the evils of division, and it became evident to him, that the trouble lay with human creeds”. And Alexander Campbell said; “..the Holy Scriptures, Divinely inspired, were ALL sufficient, and ALONE sufficient, for all the purposes contemplated by their Author (who is God), in giving them”.
Thomas Campbell was the first to coin the phrase, “Where the bible speaks, we speak; where the bible is silent, we are silent”. That statement was made at a meeting of persons who were still deeply involved in denominational views and practices. Earl West writes, that when Campbell first said this, “..there was a solemn hush that fell across the assembly, that showed the intensity of the emotions of the hour”.
He says that Campbell sat down, and the first one to break the silence was a man named Andrew Munro, who said; “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an END of infant baptism!” And Campbell responded by saying; “Of course, if infant baptism be not found in the scriptures, we can have nothing to do with it”.
That’s how it was, as men went “step by step” allowing the bible to guide them in their faith, and in their practice of Christianity. So then, one-by-one, beliefs and practices that had no foundation in the bible, had to be rejected, in favor of God’s much more simple pattern, described in the bible. And in this way, these men were intending, to “restore” new testament Christianity. And we’re still doing that today, or at least we should be doing that today, over 200 years later. I still don’t believe we’ve learned everything, nor do we understand everything, that God has said. And so we keep trying. What else can we do? As we keep studying the bible, and keep having the desire to know the truth, in ALL matters, we keep praying that God will open our minds, to the understanding of the truth, and of His will.
Leaving Divisions Behind
Let me read a paragraph from Earl West’s book; “At a meeting, at the headquarters of the Buffalo, (the Buffalo, refers to Buffalo Township, in Washington Co. Pennsylvania) held on August 17, 1809, this small band of men (that refers to Thomas Campbell and his associates) formed themselves into the Christian Association of Washington. This association was not recognized as a church, but was a society for the promotion of Christian unity. If the idea appears to be related more to denominationalism than apostolic Christianity, it can be explained on the grounds that these men had not as yet, fully come to a knowledge of the ancient order, but were “step by step” going in that direction”.
West said; “They were men stepping out of intense darkness into light, and the light blinded them for a spell. they were coming out of partyism, and stepping into the glorious light of revealed truth, and they staggered for a moment to get their bearings”.
I hope that we can identify with these men, and with their misunderstandings. We have been blessed with the benefits of their experiences and their learning, but I don’t think that we can say; “We understand it all”. We still misunderstand some things even today, but the most important part, is that we keep trying to “progress backwards”, back to the teachings of the bible. And if we find that we’ve been indoctrinated to believe something that is really NOT taught in the bible, just like those men had found that they had been “indoctrinated” by man, then the most important thing for us, is to be WILLING to change our thinking, and to go all the way back to God’s word exclusively.
Back To the Bible
Let’s consider another saying that came out of this effort to go back to bible teachings. Along with the saying by Thomas Campbell, that “Where the bible speaks, we speak. And where the bible is silent, we are silent”. There was this phrase that came about even before Campbell; “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, charity”. (or love) Campbell changed the words a little bit, and said; “In FAITH, unity; and in OPINION, liberty”. In other words; In all things that the bible has expressly given us commands about (that’s what’s meant by “faith”, or “essentials”), there should be absolute unity of belief, and unity of practice. But in regards to things that the bible has NOT specified (and that would refer to “non-essentials”, or “opinions”), or in other words, “where the bible is silent”, there should be absolute freedom of opinion and of practice, with love, and NO resulting divisions.
In other words, we continue to accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of what our opinion may be concerning things that God has not specified. None of us can attempt to bind upon another person, our opinion of how something should be done, when God has not specified how it should be done. Like how many songs should we sing during a worship service? Or where should we meet to have a bible study? God doesn’t specify. So it’s up to us to work those things out among ourselves. And when we have worked them out among ourselves, we can’t attempt to bind upon another group, what works best for us.
But again, where the bible has spoken specifically about something, there can be NO variance. We must be united in essentials. And essentials are the commands of God, and sometimes the examples given by God. That’s what “faith” is. Jude speaks of “the FAITH, which was delivered once, for all.” Jude, verse 3
The difference Between Commands and Opinions
When Jesus told His apostles to “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded you..” Mat 28:19, He didn’t tell them HOW they were to go. They could go on foot, or on horseback, or on a donkey, or in a chariot, or in a ship, or in whatever way they had available to them to go.
But when Jesus told them to make disciples of ALL nations, then they couldn’t have scripturally limited themselves to where they went. They were specifically commanded to go everywhere, to “all nations”.
And when Jesus told them to “make disciples by BAPTIZING them, and by TEACHING them, to observe ALL things that I have commanded you”, THAT was the specific way, they were to go about making those disciples. We cannot be a disciple of Christ, unless we have been baptized, and taught, to observe, all things that Jesus has commanded. Now we don’t have to be taught everything before being baptized. As a matter of fact that’s probably why Jesus puts baptism FIRST in that statement. If we had to learn everything, before being baptized, we’d all die in our sins. First you’ve got to get rid of your PAST sins, and then you’ve got to learn, how NOT to sin again. And the learning never ends. And if it DOES ever end, we’ll probably end up NOT remaining saved.
So then, put yourself in the shoes of those men of the 1800’s, who determined to “go back” to the bible, to govern their lives, both in faith and in practice.
In the next study, we’ll look at more of the views, and efforts, and words, of those men.
In the meantime, may God bless you richly in the study of His word.
Please be a part of the learning of God’s word, by asking questions, and leaving comments. Your input is always useful and appreciated.