The Regulative Principle: History, Part 1

freedom_authority.jpgThe Regulative Principle is the doctrine that all that is not specifically authorized is forbidden. It’s antithesis is called the Normative Principle, which is that whatever is not specifically prohibited in Scripture is permitted. Both are wrong.


The Regulative Principle was first announced by John Calvin and represents his approach to purifying the church from various Catholic additions that had accreted over the 1,500 years of Christianity preceding Calvin’s work.

In Calvin’s teaching, it’s really the “Regulative Principle of Worship,” as he only applied it to the doctrine of worship. However, others came to apply it to church organization, such as James Henry Thornwell in 1841-2, part of the Old School Presbyterian Church. Even the Puritans and other strict, old-school Calvinists saw the dangers of expanding the rule to include all of Christianity.

Thomas and Alexander Campbell

In the Restoration Movement, many trace the Regulative Principle back to Thomas Campbell’s dictum, “We speak where the Bible speaks; we’re silent where the Bible is silent.” As soon as Campbell announced the principle, the argument was made that infant baptism should be rejected, as the Bible nowhere says anything about it. However, it was several years before Campbell came to insist on believer baptism, and that was due to much more consideration than the rote application of this slogan to the scriptures.

The question is whether by “silent” Campbell meant “say nothing” or “speak a prohibition.” “Silent where the Bible is silent” can actually more naturally be understood as an insistence on the Normative Principle — say nothing.

The reality is a bit more complex. The teachings of the church can be thought of in three layers — soterology, other doctrine, and praxis. Let me use better words: the Bible’s teachings on salvation, all other Biblical teaching, and practices not dictated by the Bible — what we like to call matters of expedience. The Campbells weren’t very careful in distinguishing the three — and this has led to unspeakable grief within the Restoration Movement churches.

Although I say the Campbells weren’t sufficiently careful, they are clear enough to anyone who bothers to read their writings with the question in mind. Let’s consider what they said about salvation first. Alexander Campbell wrote,

Faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, and obedience to him as our Lawgiver and King, the ONLY TEST of Christian character, and the ONLY BOND of Christian union, communion, and co-operation, irrespective of all creeds, opinions, commandments, and traditions of men.

Preface to the second edition of the Christian System (1839) (emphasis in the original).

Now, Campbell’s point was not that creeds are bad because creeds are in error—

Our opposition to creeds arose from a conviction, that whether the opinions in them were true or false, they were hostile to the union, peace, harmony, purity, and joy of Christians; and adverse to the conversion of the world to Jesus Christ.

Ibid. Some have said we have no creed but the Bible, meaning by this that we have no creed except our interpretation of the Bible — as though there were some profound difference between a written creed and an unwritten creed. Obviously, there is none. Rather, Campbell taught that we should replace creeds with faith in Jesus, not faith in our understanding of divorce and remarriage or our understanding of the role of women in the church.

Thomas Campbell, Alexander’s father, taught the same thing in his “Declaration and Address,” generally considered the founding document of the Restoration Movement and frequently quoted by even the most conservative writers.

Thomas Campbell wrote,

8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge: but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice; and of the way of salvation thro’ Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in, and obedience to him, in all things according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his church.

The Campbells came to their understanding of baptism some years later. Hence, except for baptism, Proposition 8 of the “Declaration and Address” is simply the plan of salvation as we’ve traditionally taught it. To be saved you must be aware of your lost condition, confess faith in Jesus, and consent to be obedient to him—hear, believe, repent, and confess.

9. That all that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.

However, Proposition 9 is dramatically different from our traditional teaching. Here, Campbell urges that everyone who meets the standards stated in Proposition 8 should be considered a fellow Christian and “subjects of the same grace” and “joint heirs of the same inheritance.”

In other words, Campbell contends that the standard by which we first become saved is the same standard by which we stay saved. “Hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized” defines not only who is first saved but who goes to heaven, provided, of course, they remain true to their faith and repentance.

This is also precisely what the Bible teaches. I explain this in Do We Teach Another Gospel? and in The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.

And so, we see here the Campbell’s soterology — doctrine of salvation. It has nothing to do with being silent or authority or pianos. It’s what we’ve always taught, except that the rules don’t change after our baptism. There doesn’t come some magic day when getting divorce and remarriage wrong damns — because you can perfectly well have faith and be penitent and be honestly mistaken on the question — can’t you?

But, of course, the Campbells had a lot to say on other subjects, especially their desire to unite the churches based on a common form of worship and church organization. They argued that if we’d all follow the First Century pattern, we’d have no trouble being united both in God’s eyes and in actual practice.

The problem arose when many of their disciple took this “Restoration Plea” and turned it into a salvation doctrine, relying on (you guessed it) the Regulative Principle. How could their students have so badly misunderstood?

[Next up — how the Baptists messed up Campbell’s teaching for us.]


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 The Regulative Principle: History, Part 1

  1. josh keele says:

    I'm glad that I can honestly say I have never believed the Baptist fable that the church of Christ is the product of the Restoration Movement of Alexander Campbell. I beleive the church of Christ to have pre-existed it and to have come down through history intact from the time that Jesus established it to the present day and I identify the very hated Anabaptists of pre-Reformation time with the church. The Restoration Movement, however, I will credit with bringing about liberal churches of Christ which are commonly called 'digressive.' The quote you give from Alexander Campbell's Christian System is consistent with this point, for he says (as you quoted) "Faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, and obedience to him as our Lawgiver and King, the ONLY TEST of Christian character, and the ONLY BOND of Christian union", spinelessly dropping the doctrine of our Saviour's Divinity which was not in vogue at the time and thus making it a non-essential. Thomas Campbell also you quote as saying "Our opposition to creeds arose from a conviction, that whether the opinions in them were true or false, they were hostile to the union, peace, harmony, purity, and joy of Christians; and adverse to the conversion of the world to Jesus Christ." Again, would not the basic goal be to allow Unitarians into their fellowship, even as the Baptists of the day accused them? The accusation was sound I think. I oppose creeds not simply because they are creeds, but because they are doctrinally in error. If a creed is not doctrinally in error, such as the so-called Apostles' Creed, I have no reason to oppose it. No church of Christ with which I have been acquainted would assent to these machination of Alexander and his father. To clarify, they would oppose written creeds simply because they are written creeds, but they will not oppose the fact that there are certain things we must beleive beyond simple faith in Jesus as Messiah, such as His Godhood and the proper purpose of baptism. In short, faith in Jesus as Messiah and obedience to Him is not the only bond of Christians nor the only test of fellowship, for we must also believe in his Godhood and we must also correctly beleive in his teachings before we can obey them. There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism. If we have the one Lord part understood, but have different faiths, there is no real bond, there is no real unity. Frankly, Campbell was simply wrong because he was a liberal. Nevertheless, I note that Campbell includes both faith and obedience as the only test, and you are arguing against obedience as a test, so you don't even agree with Campbell as much as you think you do.

  2. Jay Guin says:


    The next post in the series will appear on March 5. You'll find it interesting.

    I don't know where you get the notion that Alexander Campbell was "spinelessly dropping the doctrine of our Saviour’s Divinity which was not in vogue at the time and thus making it a non-essential." Do you not understand the meaning of "Messiah"? It's the Hebrew equivalent of "Christ." It's precisely what Peter confessed,

    (Mat 16:16) Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

    Neither Thomas nor Alexander Campbell was a Unitarian. Where on earth are you getting this stuff?

    The Campbells opposed creeds because, at that time, they were used as tests of fellowship. If you didn't agree with a congregation's creed, you couldn't be a member and couldn't take communion. Their goal was get rid of creeds as tests of fellowship, broadening fellowship to include all of genuine faith in Jesus.

    I in fact do not agree with the Campbells on everything. But I find myself much closer to them than to many in the Churches of Christ, because I find them much closer to the scriptures.

    "Obedience" is used by different people in different ways. Thomas Campbell, for example, did not intend to deny grace by insisting that Christians be obedient. They are not inconsistent concepts!

    The Bible certainly commands obedience —

    (2 John 1:6) And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you
    have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.


    (Rom 1:5 KJV) By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

    There verses on obedience parallel Gal 5:6, which is no coincidence.

    The fact that Christians must be obedient hardly means that if they make a mistake they are damned.

  3. josh keele says:

    I did not say they were Unitrarians.

    "The fact that Christians must be obedient hardly means that if they make a mistake they are damned." We agree on that. Only willfull persistence in disobedience damns as per Hebrews 10:26+ and 1 John 1:7-9. Where we don't agree is with the notion that if a congregation is not obeying the Lord on some important point, like communion, that we don't have a right to withdraw fellowship. Romans 16:17 certainly says we ought to do so. I know you would like to limit the scope of "the doctrine which ye have learned" to the preceding chapters of Romans, but it doesn't work like that. Withdrawing fellowship is also not necessarily a proclamation that the person or persons are going to hell, but is a quarantine. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, so you quarantine the part that's already leavened in a effort to stop the corruption of the whole, even if the corruption is not necessarily per se as it were indubitably the worst form of corruption around.

    I note that many congregations that I would consider digressive already on some point like communion beleive in some form of Preterism, which is merely the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Alexander rehashed in modern terms, which two individuals Paul "delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." I see no reason why faithful churches cannot deliver a church that believes in the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. You, and apparently the Campbells if they were still alive, might say "but they beleive in Jesus as Messiah." Would you have said this to Paul when he disfellowshipped Hymenaeus and Alexander?

    I can hear someone pleading with Paul, saying "Paul, yeah Hymenaeus and Alexander, not to mention Philetus, are preaching that the second coming of Jesus already took place in the past, and an obvious implication of this is that the resurrection is past already, and yeah the faith of some is being overthrown by this false teaching–but Paul, the only bond of Christian union is the belief in Jesus as Messiah! What difference does their view of when second coming happened or will happen make? It's a non-essential Paul! We can't deny them fellowship for a small issue like this!" But Paul doesn't view their false teaching on the matter of the second coming to be a non-essential. He teaches against it in 2 Thessalonians, and he also disfellowshipped them.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    Explain to me why this isn't a contradiction:

    Only willfull persistence in disobedience damns as per Hebrews 10:26+ and 1 John 1:7-9. Where we don’t agree is with the notion that if a congregation is not obeying the Lord on some important point, like communion, that we don’t have a right to withdraw fellowship.

    Consider a church that has only one elder — such as Thomas Campbell's congregation. Assume that they aren't being willfully disobedient. It seems that we are agreed that they are not damned. This is very good.

    But you then say that this church, which is saved, should not be in fellowship — if they violate "some important point." Why would we withdraw from them? What's the purpose of such a withdrawal?

    You cite Rom 16:17, but it only condemns those who divide, not those who disagree but are willing to remain in fellowship —

    (Rom 16:17) I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

    Clearly, he wasn't referring to Christians who, like those under consideration in Rom 14, disagreed on points of doctrine but were willing to remain in fellowship. Right?

    Regarding Hymaneaus and Alexander:

    (1 Tim 1:18-19) Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.

    They rejected "faith and a good conscience." Well, loss of faith damns. Loss of penitence damns. They appear to have done both! That's hardly the same as simply being mistaken on some point of doctrine.

    Paul also says,

    (2 Tim 2:17-18) Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

    "Truth" in Paul generally refers to the gospel — the truth about Jesus. I don't take Paul as making a comprehensive statement of their heresy. Whatever it was, it destroyed faith, which you and I agree is damnable.

    Campbell, because of his Lockean insistence on "facts," tended in his rhetoric to limit "faith" to the Messiahship of Jesus. And there are certainly verses that support that view. However, I think you and I would agree that faith includes, as Thomas Campbell said, an understanding of our lost state and the fact that Jesus saves. 1 Cor 15 would support this view, among other passages.

    I don't see any contradiction with the Campbells, just as I see no contradiction in the fact that the scriptures don't always include all elements of faith in their discussions. The scriptures tend to show us different perspectives on faith and the gospel, depending on the question being wrestled with.

    Rom 16:17 does not authorize disfellowshipping just because we disagree on some important point of doctrine. I mean, the celebration of religious holidays was important enough to damn in Galatians, and yet a matter of indifference in Rom 14. The difference is that the Gal treated holidays as a test of fellowship (bad) and the Romans were willing to treat those who disagree as brothers (good). Under your view, we should take the Galatian approach to disagreement. It seems like a very bad idea to me.

    Now, who decides what's "some important point of doctrine"? What Biblical standard do we apply if not faith in Jesus, penitence, and looking to Jesus to save? Is it a matter of what's hot in the Church of Christ press? What's being debated at the colleges?

    If you study our history, you'll find that issues that were considered important a few decades ago aren't today, and vice versa. "Important" is necessarily subjective — unless we tie it to the tests of salvation.

    I tie the various passages on disfellowship to the elements of our salvation in the Amazing Grace lesson series. I find no support for the notion that we get to decide what's important. God does. And I think a careful study reveals that God considers those things that threaten our salvation or our unity important enough to disfellowship.

    Ironically, that means that if we disfellowship wrongly — if we divide when we shouldn't — we are ourselves guilty of a Rom 16:17 sin, which should be a very sobering thought.

  5. josh keele says:

    When Paul says that Hymaneaus and Alexander "rejected faith and a good conscience" he clearly doesn't mean that either Hymaneaus and Alexander came out and publicly said "I have no faith. I reject faith! And by the way, I also reject a good conscience!" That's ludicrous. I'm sure both of these guys protested up and down that they loved the Lord very much, perhaps moreso than Paul, and that they have the best interest of everyone's souls in mind with their preaching. But Paul did not need them to incriminate themselves by a confession of guilt, but rather Paul himself judged that they had rejected faith and a good conscience by their persistence in a false doctrine that he taught them was false and warned them against preaching and that they would not let go of. What if a congregation stopped observing the Lord's Supper at all and would not hear any sound instruction in this matter? Isn't it a comparable situation? They would be shown by their actions no matter what they said by their words to have rejected faith and a good conscience in such a situation.

    "You cite Rom 16:17, but it only condemns those who divide, not those who disagree but are willing to remain in fellowship –"

    If a church maintains that Jesus is the Messiah, your only test of fellowship, and yet were to worship Mary as co-mediatrix and pray to her, what would be done? By your rules, we must remain in fellowship with them so long as they desire to stay in fellowship. Only if they choose to physically leave can we withdraw fellowship by the dictates of Jay Guin. And in the meantime, a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and people in other congregations start to worship Mary and slide into Catholicism? That's a ridiculous example, you might say, but sometimes it takes ridiculously to meet ridiculousness. In other words, I don't beleive that "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned" refers merely to some physical division, but a division in doctrine. Physical unity is not true unity. Doctrinal unity is true unity. The Roman Catholic church and the Lutheran church can have a sort of physical unity due to their concord agreements of recent, but it is false unity since their doctrines are so different. So also, if a congregation of the church of Christ were to go astray and begin to worship Mary, we could maintain a physical unity by continuing to fellowship them, but no real substance would exist to that unity–it would be a lie. The fact is, by such false doctrine they have already cut themselves off from the church of Christ, and that disfellowshipping them, in reality, would merely be a formal acknowledgment of their choice to leave. But they didn't choose to leave, you would say, for they send letter of petition asserting that they want to maintain fellowship. Perhaps they did not desire to leave phyiscally, but they desired to leave doctrinally, and now they are gone, and disfellowship is but a formal recognition of their choice to reject the Lord.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Now, let me make clear that "faith" is indeed broader than "Jesus is the Messiah." I've also said, repeatedly, that faith includes yielding to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9) and belief in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. Elsewhere, I've focused on the importance of the convert accepting Jesus as Christ, Lord, and Savior. Manifestly, one cannot accept Jesus as Savior without being aware of of the need for savior, right? I would add the 7 ones of Eph 4, as these are given to us as the basis of Christian unity.

    The simple recital of faith in Jesus presumes faith in God as he presents himself in scripture. When we ask our converts to give the "good confession" we don't ask them whether there is only one God etc. It's assumed because the doctrines are inextricably entwined. And so, yes, false teaching on Mary may well deny the faith.

    [More to follow]

  7. Jay Guin says:


    You wrote,

    "In other words, I don’t beleive that “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” refers merely to some physical division, but a division in doctrine. Physical unity is not true unity. Doctrinal unity is true unity."

    But you ignore the teachings of Rom 14 and Galatians. You also ignore the obvious problems of this position. For example —

    * WHICH doctrines must we agree on? You've said earlier, "important doctrines." That hardly answers the question.

    * WHICH verses tell us how to distinguish important doctrines from unimportant ones? Surely the Spirit has given us guidance on such a central point.

    And I notice that you like to give examples at the edges of orthodoxy — adoration of Mary, rejection of the Lord's Supper. But many in your camp want to divide and damn over having too many acts of worship, over plurality of elders, how many children an elder must have, etc. They divide over nearly any disagreement at all. And so,

    * HOW do we keep a desire to unite on "important doctrines" from becoming insistence on unity on ALL doctrine? That is, after all, exactly what's happening in the Churches of Christ today.

    You see, as tempting as it is to insist on some favored doctrines as essential to salvation, once you've subjectively picked the doctrines that are important to you, others pick the doctrines important to them. Pretty soon, we are divided into thousands of warring camps.

    (Gal 5:6b) The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

    (1 John 3:23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

    (1 John 4:21-5:1) And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well

  8. josh keele says:

    I'm not sure I understand you completely. Do you agree that disfellowship is in order when a congregation goes off into worshiping Mary, or are you saying that in this case too it is wrong because it will lead to a slippery slope of disfellowshipping on what you consider to be less important issues because they aren't in your words "at the edges of orthodoxy"?

    "You see, as tempting as it is to insist on some favored doctrines as essential to salvation, once you’ve subjectively picked the doctrines that are important to you, others pick the doctrines important to them. Pretty soon, we are divided into thousands of warring camps."

    But why would Christians disagree on a thousand different topics. There is no reason for disagreement on communion, for example. The Bible is plain that we are to do it first of all, so there is no room for disagreement there. If anyone falls into the thinking that they can discontinue it, simply point them to where Paul says we observe this until the Lord comes to show forth his death till that time. (1 Cor 11:26) And when they persist in not wanting to observe it, who have divided? It is they who reject the apostolic teaching. Or again, seeing that Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup, from that we can't get two cups. When Paul says the cup of blessing which we bless, we can't get two cups out of that. And when he says that we being many are one loaf, we can't get a plate full of individual wafers out of that. There is no legitimate reason for disagreement on any of this. All the disagreements then come from head-strong rebellious men who just want to cause problems. They don't come from a legitimate interpretation of Scripture or a misunderstanding through mistake–they come from willfull arrogancy and a haughty spirit. They come from mens' desire to destroy the Lord's work. That is, those who refuse to follow the apostolic teaching, who seeing that Jesus took a cup decide that they will have us take 200 cups, such men are condemned of their own selves, debase and malignant. If we divide into a thousand factions, 999 of them are the product of such men flatly contradicting the plainest teachings of Scripture. Where Genesis 1:1 says in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, they will assert that the big bang created the heavens and the earth. And why? Just to see how much trouble they can cause.

  9. Mark says:

    Am I misreading this, or are you saying that multiple cups and communion crackers are evidence of willful arrogance, a haughty spirit, and men's desire to destroy the Lord's work?

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Josh, Josh, Josh, Josh …

    Under your thinking all are damned except those who —

    * Take communion with only one cup
    * Take communion with but loaf
    * Are baptized with conscious awareness of their sins being remitted
    * Are baptized with conscious awareness of their receiving the Holy Spirit
    * Agree with you on every other point of doctrine that there is.

    Moreover, all who disagree with you do so from a willful arrogance and haughty spirit. And yet, among all believers, there are how many who agree with you on every point? A thousand? 100? One? Seriously, name 10 people who agree with you on every single point of doctrine. I doubt that you can.

    Among hundreds of millions of believers, you and a few others (at most) are the only ones who actually care enough to get it right. Everyone else is damned because they willfully disobey the scriptures!

    It's an incredible theory. I doubt that you can show show me three people who agree with you on every point. Heaven's going to be a very , very lonely place.

  11. josh keele says:

    Mark, it is plain that multiple cups and communion crackers are evidence of willful arrogance, a haughty spirit, and men’s desire to destroy the Lord’s work on the part of the originator in any given congregation and of the leadership who maintain these things, not on the part of the people in general. I explained this a while back in the framework of Luke 12. The servant who get drunk with the drunken is the minister who drinks in the doctrines of the world and implements them in the church, hence beating his fellow servants and taking the joy of the gospel from them. This is he who installs unscriptural practices and runs 300 members of his congregation off. This servant is cut asunder by the Lord. But the spineless jellyfish who know better and allow him to do it are merely beaten with many stripes, and the people with few stripes.

  12. Mark says:

    Any time you say, "it is plain," I hold on for another round of Scripture gymnastics, and you never disappoint. I think I'll pass this time instead of responding to the arrogant, uninformed judgments you make against me and the other leaders in my church.

  13. Nancy says:

    I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Josh's assertion regarding the Lord's Supper. I'm relieved to read that I was not the only Christian troubled by it.

    I will sleep better tonight. In fact, I sleep better knowing that the Son of God, my Savior, died on the cross for ALL my sins. That seems plain to me.

  14. josh keele says:

    Which assertion troubles you exactly?

  15. Jay Guin says:


    Does anyone agree with you on all points? You've still not answered the question.

  16. josh keele says:

    I don't recall saying anyone had to agree with me on all points. It's not me after all, but the Scriptures that must be agreed with, whether it be on all points or only some. But as far as points that I've mentioned so far, obviously you yourself know many people who agree with me on every single one of them. These are the people against whom you have set yourself in array.

  17. Jay Guin says:

    You're avoiding the question. If someone has to be right on every point of doctrine to be saved, and if you consider yourself saved, then you consider yourself right on every point of doctrine.

    And my question is simply whether you'll be the only now-living person in heaven or whether anyone else now alive agrees with you on every point of doctrine.

  18. youlackmadmen says:

    I just wanted to ask this question to make sure that I'm reading the same article that you wrote. Are you saying that Stone and the Campbells taught that the only the only "test" of fellowship was the plan of Salvation and that they meant to unite with all groups who agreed with it? And are you also saying that they taught that an understanding of other doctrines was in no way essential after baptism?

  19. Jay Guin says:

    youlackmadmen asked,

    Are you saying that Stone and the Campbells taught that the only the only “test” of fellowship was the plan of Salvation and that they meant to unite with all groups who agreed with it? And are you also saying that they taught that an understanding of other doctrines was in no way essential after baptism?

    Yes. Campbell was explicit that he did not consider Calvinism, for example, a barrier to full fellowship. Obviously, one must remain true to the faith and repentance that all Christians must have, but Campbell and Stone would never have drawn fellowship lines over instruments or the frequency of taking communion.

    On the other hand, both men were committed to Bible study and taught their students to be the same. They didn't mean that doctrine is unimportant. They certainly saw doctrine as very important indeed — they just didn't damn over issues other than faith in Jesus and repentance.

    And they argued vehemently against being factious — such as by drawing fellowship lines over other issues.

  20. Rich says:

    I assume an unintentional oversight here.

    Alexander Campbell believed baptism for the remission [forgiveness] of sins was required. He talks about those without it having a false assurance of salvation.

    ""But do not many of them enjoy the present salvation of God?" How far they may be happy in the peace of God, and the hope of heaven, I presume not to say. And we know so much of human nature as to say, that he that imagines himself pardoned, will feel happy as he that is really so. But one thing we do know, that none can rationally, and with certainty, enjoy the peace of God, and the hope of heaven, but they who intelligently, and in full faith are born of water, or immersed. For the remission of their sins. And as the testimony of God, and not conceit, imagination, nor our reasoning upon what passes in our minds, is the ground of our certainty, we see and feel, that we have an assurance which they cannot have. And we have this advantage over them, we once stood upon their ground, had their hopes, felt their assurance; but they have not stood upon our ground, nor felt our assurance. Moreover, the experience of the first converts shows the difference between their immersion, and the immersions, or sprinklings, of modern gospels."

    from Millennial Harbinger – Extra July 5, 1830.

  21. Anonymous says:

    "Millennial Harbinger" is nowhere in the Bible. What makes him someone I should listen to instead of the Bible?

  22. Randall says:

    Alexander Campbell said many things on most of the subjects he addressed. Rich and others would find it interesting to read his comments to the woman in Lunenburg, VA. There he says a paedobaptist would be his brother ahead of one immersed if the former were more "generally conformed" to Christian virtues. Later in his life opponents of some of the positions A. Campbell took quoted A. Campbell in their arguments against him.

    The latitude of belief allowed in the early decades would astound many of the more conservative brothers and sisters today. B. W. Stone himself was NOT orthodox on the person of Jesus nor in his understanding of the atonement.

  23. Rich says:

    Dear Anon.,

    In principle, I totally agree with you.

    Alexander Campbell was probably the most influential person in our history as a church. Many respect what he had to say.

    But you are correct. The Bible is our only authoritative source.

  24. Rich says:


    Alexander Campbell very strongly tried to correct the misunderstandings surrounding his letter to the woman in Lunenburg. Some will argue he did not recant, but he was very firm that he had been misunderstood.

  25. Randall says:

    We may simply have to agree to disagree on this one as my reading of the Harbinger seems to be different that yours. I believe it was Leroy Garrett that pointed out that that Campbell said what he really thought in the Lunenburg letter, but he had a unity movement on his hands that needed to be preserved. Thus he wavered a little in the follow ups to the original article so that when we read them you can place more emphasis on one thing he said and I could place more emphasis on another thing he said.

    BTW, the Lunenburg lady's letter was probably instigated by the guy that became the founder of the Christadelphians – though he may not have intended to found them. I think his name was John Thomas. He was associated with the SC Movement but developed his own beliefs, denying the trinity and insisting that one was not a Christian until immersed – thus the letter. He was even baptized twice, the second time denying beliefs he held the first time he was baptized. Oh, what some have done with baptism and it being the moment of salvation, and having to believe everything just right at that moment.

    The SC movement was tolerant of him for a long time in spite of his odd beliefs as there was a lot of tolerance of differing beliefs in the SC movement at that time. Eventually he went his own way.

  26. Rich says:


    I'm not a student of Alexander Campbell. I do find it interesting though that I have seen some say AC was more exclusion based than he sounded in his later years and you bring up that Leroy Garrett says he was more inclusion based than he sounds in 1830ish.

    Are you saying that Alexander Campbell intentionally published what he did not believe?

  27. Randall says:

    I am not saying that Campbell deliberately misled people. I am suggesting that that at times he may have written things in such as way as to accommodate as large a group as possible in order to maintain unity. In his younger years – when he was editor of the Christian Baptist – 1823 – 1830 (and even earlier) before the Millennial Harbinger he was at times extremely caustic in some of his writings. Like most of us I imagine he mellowed some with age and also with the greater responsibility of leading a much larger group of people.

    Please make no mistake that in the early years of the Stone Campbell movement a great deal of latitude was allowed in what people believed so long as they affirmed Jesus as Lord. That Stone and Campbell could untie in spite of differences on very significant theological issues still amazes me.

  28. Rich says:


    Thanks for the feedback.

    My very limited observations of the Restoration Movement sees a very diverse thought process on day 1 with a rather fast convergence of ideas/beliefs during the first 30 or so years. Divergence began in the late 1800's based on what was called 'innovations' and socio-economic differences.

    It sounds like you have studied the movement much more recently than I (I've forgotten a lot of details). That's good. This blog has re-energized my interest.

    Thanks again,

  29. margaret says:

    Rich, I just finished reading "The Stone-Campbell Movement" by Leroy Garrett. Takes a while to read it. But well worth the effort, I am A history buff and this book gives more detail than any I have read.

    Have A Blessed Day, Margaret

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