The one fact is, that Jesus the Nazarene is the Messiah. The evidence upon which it is to be believed is the testimony of twelve men, confirmed by prophecy, miracles, and spiritual gifts. The one institution is baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Every such person is a christian [sic] in the fullest sense of the word, the moment he has believed this one fact, upon the above evidence, and has submitted to the above mentioned institution; and whether he believes the five points condemned or the five points approved by the synod of Dort, is not so much as to be asked of him; whether he holds any of the views of the Calvinists or Arminians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers, is never once to be asked of such a person, in order to admission into the christian community, called the church.
Alexander Campbell, “The Foundation of Hope and of Christian Union,” Christian Baptist (April 5, 1824). Notice that the “synod of Dort” was the meeting of church leaders that adopted the five points of Calvinism popularly known as TULIP.
The Saviour expressly declared to Peter, that upon this fact that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, he would build his church; and Paul has expressly declared, that “other foundation can no man lay (for ecclesiastical union) than that Jesus is the Christ.” The point is proved that we have assumed, and this proved, every thing is established requisite to the union of all christians upon a proper basis. Every sectarian scheme falls before it, and on this principle alone can the whole church of Christ be built. We are aware of many objections to this grand scheme, revealed by God, to establish righteousness, peace, and harmony among men; but we know of none that weighs a grain of sand against it. We shall meet them all (Deo volente) in due time and place.
Alexander Campbell, “The Foundation of Hope and of Christian Union,” Christian Baptist No. 5, April, 1824. “Deo volente” means “Lord willing.”
DEAR BROTHER–FOR such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion which you express on some topics, on which we might never agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of christian union, I will esteem and love you, as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hopes in his salvation. And as to the evidence of this belief and hope, I know of none more decisive than an unfeigned obedience, and willingness to submit to the authority of the Great King.
Alexander Campbell, “A Reply to the Above.” This is Campbell’s response to German Baptist Jake Hostetter, whose association of Dunkard churches united with Campbell’s churches in 1828], Christian Baptist, March 6, 1826; Hostetter had asked Campbell about foot-washing, the holy kiss and frequency of communion, expressing different views than Campbell.
This plan of making our own nest, and fluttering over our own brood; of building our own tent, and of confining all goodness and grace to our noble selves and the “elect few” who are like us, is the quintessence of sublimated pharisaism. … To lock ourselves up in the bandbox of our own little circle; to associate with a few units, tens, or hundreds, as the pure church, as the elect, is real Protestant monkery, it is evangelical nunnery.
Alexander Campbell, “To an independent Baptist,” Christian Baptist (May 1, 1826).
That all men err, and, consequently, you and I, is, as you say, a self-evident position, and it is one reason why I never dare impose my inferences or my reasonings and conclusions upon others as terms of christian communion. Whatever is matter of fact, plain and incontrovertible testimony, is that, and that alone, in which we cannot err–and that only should be made a term of communion. Our safety is in an unerring rule. By that let us walk; and if in any thing we should be otherwise minded, God will teach us, by our own experience, what we fail to learn from precept.
Alexander Campbell, “Reply to Brother Clack,” Millennial Harbinger (April 1, 1830).
II. It consists of two departments;–the things that God has done for us, and the things that we must do for ourselves. The whole proposition of necessity in this case, must come from the offended party. Man could propose nothing, do nothing to propitiate his Creator, after he had rebelled against him. Heaven, therefore, overtures; and man accepts, surrenders, and returns to God. The Messiah is a gift, sacrifice is a gift, justification is a gift, the Holy Spirit is a gift, eternal life is a gift, and even the means of our personal sanctification is a gift from God. Truly, we are saved by grace. Heaven, we say, does certain things for us, and also proposes to us what we should do to inherit eternal life. It is all of God: for he has sent his Son; he has sent his Spirit; and all that they have done, or shall do, is of free favor; and the proposition concerning our justification and sanctification is equally divine and gracious as the mission of his Son. We are only asked to accept a sacrifice which God has provided for our sins, and then the pardon of them, and to open the doors of our hearts, that the Spirit of God may come in, and make its abode in us. God has provided all these blessings for us, and only requires us to accept of them freely, without any price or idea of merit on our part. But he asks us to receive them cordially, and to give up our hearts to him.
Alexander Campbell, The Christian System, 2nd ed. , Chapter IX, “Religion for Man not Man for Religion.”
We do not suppose all unimmersed persons to be absolute aliens from the family of God–nor are they absolutely excluded from any participation with us in prayer or in the Lord’s supper.
Alexander Campbell, “The Christian Magazine,” Millennial Harbinger (March, 1845). To the idea that Campbell repudiated his views in the Lunenburg Letter, this is eight years after he wrote the response to the Lunenburg Letter.
I said at the beginning, I say at the close, of my notice of the Evangelical Alliance, that I thank God and take courage at every effort, however imperfect it may be, to open the eyes of the community to the impotency and wickedness of schism, and to impress upon the conscientious and benevolent portion of the Christian profession the excellency, the beauty and the necessity of co-operation in the cause of Christ as prerequisite to the diffusion of Christianity throughout the nations of the earth.
The Reformation for which we plead grew out of a conviction of the enormous evils of schism and partyism, and the first article ever printed by any of the co-operants in the present effort was upon the subject of the necessity, practicability and excellency of Christian union and communion, in order to the purification and extension of the Christian profession. The abjuration of human creeds as roots of bitterness and apples of discord, as the permanent causes of all sectarianism, was set forth as a preliminary step to the purification of the Church and the conversion of the world. The restoration of a pure speech, or the giving of Bible names to Bible ideas, followed in its train, and from these standing-points we have been led step by step to our present position, each one of the prime movers adding to the common stock something of importance, until matters have issued in one of the most extensive moral and ecclesiastical movements and revolutions of the present age.
Alexander Campbell, from Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume II, Chapter XVII.
Quotations compiled by the Magnolia Church of Christ in Florence, Alabama.
Now, pay particular attention to Campbell’s praise of the Evangelical Alliance, a cross-denominational communion of churches that, among other things, coordinates cross-denominational evangelistic events.
You see, one of the founding principles of the Restoration Movement (which Campbell referred to as a continuance of the Reformation!) is cooperation across denominational lines to do mission work. Indeed, Walter Scott — inventor of the famed “Five-Finger Exercise” approach to preaching the plan of salvation — was sent by the Mahoning Baptist Association, which included but Baptist and Restoration Movement congregations!
So here’s how I see it. I have very strong opinions on countless doctrinal questions. You know most of them. But the vast majority of believers agree on a core set of principles that are entirely sufficient to bring a convert to salvation and, ultimately, to heaven. We may dispute over instrumental music or the frequency of communion or apostolic succession or congregational autonomy, but none of these is consequential in terms of saving the lost. And every denomination teaches a changed life, Christian virtues, benevolence, and evangelism. They all do.
Some emphasize some elements more than others, and some don’t actually do these very well (anyone feeling self-conscious?), but all teach these. They really do — rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.
Now, there are nuts and kooks in all societies. And there are fringe denominations that are very unorthodox — some so unorthodox as to deny the faith through which God saves. But here’s the thing. The more we cooperate, the more we share pulpits, the more we teach and learn from each other, the less heresy there will be. You see, the thing that makes heresy so devilishly easy is the ease with which we quit the mainstream church and form our own congregation where we can teach our nutty theories unimpeded.
But imagine a world where it’s just ordinary and accepted for a town to have a single church — spread among many buildings and homes, with diverse leadership cooperating and coordinating all their work with a passion that only comes from the Spirit. In such a world, forming your own heretical church would be hard. In today’s world, it’s normal.
You see, the Western world is all about the individual and individual rights. It seems natural for people to leave a start a new congregation when they didn’t like something in last week’s sermon. But that kind of thinking is utterly opposed to the gospel. Rather, the gospel urges us to become one in Jesus, because Jesus is one and he has one body. Therefore, to leave the communion of the one body should be unthinkable, embarrassing, humiliating.
But the establishment of a hierarchical leadership that imposes doctrines from “above” is just as wrong. No, the biblical model we see is many churches working together, sharing, studying, cooperating, and working together by the Spirit, not some man-made organizational structure — not because the Spirit creates a weaker, freer bond, but because it’s a stronger, sturdier, more powerful bond.
And if we were to give up our isolation (which we call “autonomy”) and our desire for control (through centralized, bureaucratic denominational hierarchies) and just cooperate, the way friends and family cooperate, we’d have far less heresy because we’d be talking and sharing and because leaving the communion of the saints would be unbearable .