A Theological History of Restoration Movement Thought, Part 6 (Sommer)

SommerDaniel 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.

Sommer wrote,

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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0 Responses to A Theological History of Restoration Movement Thought, Part 6 (Sommer)

  1. Pingback: A Plea to Reconsider: Abusing Restoration Movement History « One In Jesus.info

  2. Gary Cummings says:

    Yes, I do believe that Daniel Sommer was the main hijacker of the Disciples Movement, and that what followed flowed from Sand Creek. Before him much of the Disciples/Church of Christ was pacifist (see Mike Casey), after Sommer the COC lost its pacifism and embraced a virulent pagan Americanism and persecuted pacifists out of their fellowship. ( I know I was one of them in the 60’s).
    Got to run for now,

    Thanks, Gary

  3. aBasnar says:

    I do agree that Daniel Sommer went too far in his reaction to the "Innovators", BUT a reaction follows an action! And I can feel with Daniel Sommer very well, because sometimes you just don't find the appropriate words and can't deal with the emotions that are caused by this radically different approach to the faith.

    As I read the texts of the "Address and Declaration" and what preceded it, I could not help but feel with these brothers, although I think it is not our job to "damn" somebody, but the SPLIT was already there, caused b the "innovators". So the reaction was beyond measure, BUT I do agree with what they wrote and with their appeal to them:

    They have in some instances even gone so far as to exclude men and women who would persist in opposing their matters of opinion. As a result they are responsible for all the evils that now afflict us as a people in consequence of the introduction among us of things unauthorized by the New Testament. We therefore lay down before and against our modern school brethren who have acted the part of innovators among us on the following charges.

    They are responsible for every restless, sleepless night and unhappy day that has been spent by the humble disciples of Christ by reason of innovations being thrust upon the church.
    We likewise charge upon and against our modern school of innovating brethren that they are responsible for all tears that have been shed by loyal Christians on account of human devices being urged upon them.
    We also charge that our innovating brethren are responsible for all the angry and unchristian words and actions that have been occasioned by their innovations for the last twenty-five years.
    We further charge upon them and against them that they are accountable for all the strifes and alienations and deviations which have resulted from their endeavors to modernize and secularize the worship and work of the church.
    We likewise charge against them that they are responsible for every individual disciple who has become discouraged and has gone back to the world, and for every opportunity to save souls which the church has lost by reason of the confusions which have been thrust upon the church by human devices.
    We also charge that they are accountable before earth and heaven for the entire expenditure of time and strength and money which has been made in this entire controversy from the beginning to the present time and until the end may come.
    We finally charge upon and against our innovating brethren that they are responsible for all the bickerings and feuds, griefs and lamentations, heart-burnings and heart-breakings which has resulted from the introduction among us of human devices which are not mentioned in the word of God–not authorized by our King–but which they have borrowed from the denominations of Protestantism and from the world.

    I was surprized to find these words there. because this is quite similar to how I understand the whole controversy. Please take a pause and rethink your approach to scripture!


  4. Jay Guin says:

    Alexander,I would be careful of any argument along the lines of: “My feelings are hurt. Therefore, you are a sinner.” After all, many took offense at Jesus (Mark 6:3; John 6:61)Often both sides take offense. The correct question therefore is who is true to the scriptures and the heart and character of God.

  5. aBasnar says:

    You are right, but sometimes we are in such despair because of what we see is going wrong that we just sit down and weep: "Why, oh why are they doing this?"

    Of course that's not enough to settle the matter, but I see this as a snapshot from towards the end of a long controversy, where BOTH parties felt they are misunderstood and misrepresented, where brotherly communication failed.

    I posted this reply, because it is easy to be on one side of the controversy and describe the situation from your own perspective – this usually ends up in bad history. And whily I disagree with the tone and approach of Sommer's texts (just to mention), I do feel with him – and concerning the specific matter at hand, I side with him.

    The split hat its oringing in changes proposed by people who headed a different direction. The reaction resulted in an overreaction (as usual) and distorted the ideals of the restoration movement in another way. So in the end both sides ended up being wrong in some areas. But still, it was the "progressives" who started it – and feel with Sommer and the rest.


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