Daniel Sommer was a student of Benjamin Franklin. Sommer lived a long and influential life, carrying on his mentor’s work–so much so that Sommer can properly be said to have been the father of two major divisions within the Restoration Movement. He initiated the division over missionary societies and the instrument in 1899, and he is the father of the division over institutionalism that took place in the 1950’s.
His most famous work is the Sand Creek “Address and Declaration,” intentionally copying Thomas Campbell’s title and reversing the terms, in unintentional irony, as Sommer used Thomas Campbell’s words to teach the opposite of what Campbell taught.
By 1899 the missionary society had become very controversial, with some leaders considering the society heretical and others insisting that it was a practical necessity for small churches to work together to spread the gospel. The controversy had been fought for 50 years or so by this time. But other issues had also become divisive.
Some of the things of which we hereby complain, and against which we protest, are the unlawful methods resorted to in order to raise or get money for religious purposes, viz: that of the church holding festivals of various kinds, in the house of the Lord, or elsewhere, demanding that each participant shall pay a certain sum as an admittance fee; the use of instrumental music in the worship; the select choir, to the virtual, if not the real, abandonment of congregational singing. Likewise the man-made society for missionary work, and the one-man, imported-preacher pastor to feed and watch over the flock.
(It’s noteworthy, that the first publication of this document made no mention of the instrument.) Because of these disagreements, Sommer withdrew fellowship from those churches that taught what he considered to be error on these issues.
It is, therefore, with the view, if possible, of counteracting the usages and practices that have crept into the churches that this effort on the part of the congregations hereafter named is made. And now, in closing up this address and declaration, we state that we are impelled from a sense of duty to say that all such as are guilty of teaching or allowing and practicing the many innovations and corruptions to which we have referred, after having had sufficient time for meditation and reflection, if they will not turn away from such abominations, that we can not and will not regard them as brethren.
At this point, the Restoration Movement managed to go full circle, becoming the very thing it was founded to escape. Thomas Campbell’s idea is to fellowship as brothers those who disagree on matters of inference. Of course, every one of the points of disagreement over which Sommer divided were matters of inference.
Alexander Campbell teaches that we should regard as Christians all who profess faith in Jesus and submit to baptism. These issues have nothing to do with either.
Stone teaches that we should consider as brothers all who evidence the indwelling Spirit by a regenerate life. Sommer gives no thought to such things.
Ironically, in a recent issue, the Gospel Advocate extolled the “Address and Declaration,” urging its readers to return to its principles. The Advocate had instrumental music in mind, but evidently failed to realize that Sommer had spent more words criticizing the practice of hiring a located preacher. Ironic that some of these articles were authored by hired, located preachers, who were condemned by the very document they praised!
And this very well establishes the great danger of this kind of thinking. Once we start adding to the doctrinal errors that damn, there’s no good place to stop. We condemn those who use the instrument one day, and the next we condemn those who seek and save the lost through a society. Soon, we damn over hiring a preacher or charging for a bake sale or whatever. The list of damnable sins just gets longer and longer with each issue of the brotherhood periodicals. Pretty soon, we damn ourselves!
There comes a point, which many have already reached, where all doctrinal error is considered damnable. And so we never stop dividing. And this is the story of the 20th Century Churches of Christ.