A Lover’s Quarrel: Renouncing Sectarianism

Leroy Garrett’s second wish for the Churches of Christ is —

Let us resolutely and absolutely renounce our more recent sectarian heritage

It’s not unusual for us to have four or five different kinds of Churces of Christ in the same community, none of which have any fellowship with the others. We often “solve” problems by dividing. We have divided over both opinions and methods, which is contrary to the principles that gave us birth as a people.

Garrett reminds us that the Restoration Movement began as a unity movement. The original plan certainly wasn’t to create three new denominations, with one divided into dozen of sub-denominations that consider the others damned.

Our true heritage is founded, and well stated, in Thomas Campbell’s seminal “Declaration and Address”

Instead of her catholic constitutional unity and purity, what does the church present us with, at this day, but a catalogue of sects and sectarian systems; each binding its respective party by the most sacred and solemn engagements, to continue as it is to the end of the world; at least this is confessedly the case with many of them. What a sorry substitute these, for christian unity and love.

Campbell describes what he wishes to end — bickering factions of Christians. And here we are today, 200 years later, being exactly what Campbell worked to eliminate. To quote Pogo, “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.”

The goal, of course, was to unite the denominations, not to create even more! The means of so doing was to eliminate unscriptural distinctions and unite solely on faith in Jesus —

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.

It’s enough, Campbell wrote, if someone professes faith in Jesus and commits to obedience to him as Lord. Therefore —

That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God — therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.

Campbell concludes that inferences may not be tests of fellowship. We may not consider an inference “binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection.” The reason is simple enough. An inference is a human work. Our salvation cannot depend on such things. Even though an inference, properly inferred, is a truth from God, we cannot judge one another based on how well they do logic —

unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.

You know, it’s astonishing when we have preachers who work through elaborate syllogisms, showing great learning and education, to reach some inference or other — and then declare as damned those not blessed with their same level of learning.

It’s all the more astonishing when we discover how often these men, despite their intelligence and schooling, are wrong.

You see, all that’s really required for unity is a little humility.

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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16 Responses to A Lover’s Quarrel: Renouncing Sectarianism

  1. Nick Gill says:

    You know we always play the "Could Paul preach at my church?" game… (even though we should probably play the "WOULD Paul preach at my church?" because nobody could STOP him from preaching)

    Could Thomas Campbell preach where YOU worship? I don't know if he could preach in Frankfort.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Most of the present leaders in the traditional conservative part of our fellowhsip would deny any heritage or legacy of legaIism or sectarianism. I recently made the comment to my uncle who was a professor at Harding that the churches of Christ would not exist without the Campells. He asked me why I believed that. I asked them how they would have come about without them. He had no answer.
    Then I told him that most mainline conservative churches of Christ would condemn him just like they do everyone else who disagrees with them. I showed him some of Campbell’s writings and realized what I said was true.

  3. Matthew says:

    Jay, do you think some of these problems could be solved if our young men were trained to do more expository preaching. I realize there are always going to be points where opinions and subjective thinking enters into the pulpit, but it would seem that some of the preaching arrogance might be softened with a greater commitment to an expositional style which takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon (c.f. taking MY point and imposing it on the text).

  4. Jay Guin says:


    Honestly, no. I heard lots of expositional sermons coming up, but they were built on a false hermeneutic and so reached false conclusions.

    Different people come to better understandings by different paths. My own was based on my search for the truth of the Holy Spirit and my investigation into what really are salvation issues — quite similar to Todd Deaver's.

    Others read the Gospels and learn that Jesus just isn't the sort of person who damns over technicalities.

    Others meet non-Church of Christ Christians and find that some are more in love with God than we are — forcing them to face their sectarianism.

    Sadly, I've known many who had to cope with divorce, homosexual lifestyles, alcoholism, and the like in their own family and so found themselves forced to accept grace because they couldn't bear the consequences of legalism.

    There are many paths to grace, but I find that very few of us get there solely through exegesis (although I did, but I'm not typical).

  5. jdb says:

    Interesting posts. I grew up in the church and one of the big points of debate during that time was the teachings of K.K. We didn't much like him when he was ultra-conservative and I think we liked him even less when the pendulum swung the other direction.

    One point that I don't think most folks in the churches of Christ don't consider is this: I think we have been much closer aligned to the Sand Creek manifesto than we have been to the Stone-Campbell line of thinking. Just MHO. 🙂

  6. Jay Guin says:


    The split in the Churches of Christ can be fairly characterized as between the Declaration and Address (Thomas Campbell) and the Address and Declaration (Daniel Sommer).

    One incredible irony is that the Gospel Advocate reacted to the movement toward unity with the Christian Churches by urging a return to the Sand Creek Address and Declaration — which David Lipscomb had rejected in the pages of the Gospel Advocate!

    Indeed, the Address and Declaration can fairly be characterized as the birthplace of the non-institutional movement, which the Gospel Advocate fought against long and hard under B. C. Goodpasture. It's astonishing that the Advocate is so intent on condemning the progressives that they've found a home with Sommer with the early Carl Ketcherside.

    For those not familiar with this part of our history, Sommer founded what later became known as the "anti" or non-institutional movement that split many churches in the 1950s. The founding document is the Sand Creek Address and Declaration. Ketcherside was his star pupil — a brilliant writer and debater. (I think he may have been the best writer the Churches of Christ have produced.) But Ketcherside, even while pushing the non-institutional agenda, also argued against making such things tests of fellowship, arguing for grace. This made him unpopular with both the non-institutional and the institutional elements in the Churches!

    Eventually, he and Leroy Garrett helped start what is now generally called the progressive movement, not by intending to start a movement but by making the critical arguments on which the movement is built.

    His writings are now on Cecil Hooks' website and well worth reading.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    When I first started teaching Bible class 30 years ago, I wanted to study the Restoration Movement. I was fortunate that our church library had a pretty comprehensive collection on the subject. Many summarized and praised the Declaration and Address, but none included a copy.

    It was many years later than someone finally wrote a book that had the text of the document (this is long before the internet). When I read it, I was astonished! Thomas Campbell had been saying what I'd been thinking 200 years earlier.

    The institutional memory of his work had been thoroughly erased — so much so that Daniel Sommer and H. Leo Boles could cite him as support for their sectarian teachings, and no one knew Campbell was being grossly misrepresented.

  8. Joe Baggett says:


    I know I started asking questions about our roots at young age. No one put any history book in my hand like Leroy Garrett's or Richard Hughes they just told me that we went back all the way to Pentecost and that is all I needed to know. Now I feel like those people were dishonest with me. I have been in churches where they brought LG and RH in to do a seminar on our roots. It is amazing to see all the old folks who have never heard the real story themselves. Then the light comes on and they can no longer think what they have for so many years.

  9. jdb says:

    Jay and Joe,

    This is a very interesting subject to me. I remember those days of the church's civil war very well. We drove past one congregation that had adopted the Katcherside philosophy in order to drive 10 miles further to another congregation. I still remember the day, when as a child I asked my mother, "Why don't we go to that church of Christ?" She said, "Because they're anti, dear." And I guess that was all I was supposed to know. (BTW, I ended up preaching for that congregation a few times while in school.)

    I did not know that the G.A. had prodded their readers to go back to the A & D. I did know that the G.A. strongly condemned it when it first came out. I was unaware of how strongly this document affected us. However, even in that we only wanted to apply part of it. We generally accepted full time preachers (which is where the majority of division came from in my part of the country) but rejected choirs and festivals.

    Anyway, again, I think this is a valuable discussion.

    P.S. In case someone wants to read the document for themselves, it can be found at: http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/dsommer/dec_

  10. Gary Cummings says:

    Jay and all,
    I think Leroy hit a lot of nails in the sectarian coffin right on the head. One thing which would help (I almost said us!) is to recognize that the religious group which calls itself "churches of Christ" in whatever morphic form really started in 1898 +/- with Daniel Sommer, and became codified by 1906 when the COC was recognized as a separate religious body from the DOC. Campbell and Stone and other DOC leaders laid some of the formative doctrine and practices of the Rest, Movement in the 1800's. Then Sommer and his spiritual descendants hi-jacked much of the good teaching the 19th century Rest. Movement, and perverted it to become the 20th century sect called the churches of Christ. The references to Campbell and Stone and other 19th leaders vanished, and control of this movement was laid in the hands of the editor-bishops and the Bible Colleges. Most of the mainstream of all branches of the COC that the COC started around 32 AD, and goes all the way back to the New Testament Church of Acts and the Epistles. Most deny any affiliation to Campbell and the other early great leaders of the DOC. The more enlightened and better trained in the COC recognize the debt to Campbell and Stone and the 19th century DOC movement.

    Why not drop the pretense and simply say that the COC started with Sommer in 1898 and became a denomination in 1906. This is closer to the truth which comes forth from an objective study of the Restoration Movement (DOC).
    I have been studying the history of the DOC/COC, since I left in 1971. Studying Restoration History at Brite Divinity School helped me immensely to see the hijacking of that significant movement by much lesser and sectarian men.
    I did all of this to analyze what I what got suckered into in 1965, and why I left it in 1971. Jay has done a service at this site to get to the truth of the matter. I appreciate all of the comments here.

  11. Gary Cummings says:

    A question for Jay and others. If Lipscomb condemned the Sommerite movement and the A&D in the Gospel Advocate. why in the world did he cave to Sommer and go with that sectarian movement. I do believe Lipscomb was a great man of God. He was a pacifist and abolitionist, and I do not believe Sommer was either. Sommer had, in my reading, some type of a strong personality which had a lot of elements of "bullying about it. Lipscomb, on the other hand, was a kind thoughtful man. If Lipscomb would have stayed with his original views and refused to be sucked into the sectarianism, we might have had a different COC today. These are just my opinions and my questions-why did Lipscomb ally with such a pharisee as Sommer? Any answers?

  12. Jay Guin says:


    You skipped a critical step: Franklin, Lard, and others began to teach that there's no grace for obedience to positive commands, intending to insist on baptism. But "postiive commands" also includes a cappella singing (assuming it to be a command, which is pure assumption, of course) and other worship and organizational issues. This doctrinal error led directly to Sommer's separation.

  13. Gary Cummings says:

    Yes, I know there were antecedents to Sommer. He just took them and ran with them to form his sect. They all are links in a chain: Stone/Campbell+++Lard/Franklin+++Sommer/Lipscomb.
    My contention is that the Stone-Campbell movement was hi-jacked by Daniel Sommer and David Lipscomb. There was a 19th century Rest.Movement and then there was the 20th century Rest. Movement. The latter hi-jacked the first and proceeded to mythologize its origins by stating they were founded in 32 AD in Jerusalem on Pentecost. The latter Rest.Movement became A-historical.
    Also, as your probably know, there were several "restoration movements" which started in the 19th century: Disciples of Christ, Church of God Restoration Movement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Day Saints. The Church of God Restoration or Church of God Reformation movement is quite significant and parallels the Disciples/COC. They were started by David Warner in the latter 1800's, and there call was for "Unity and Holiness" as their means of restoration. The Disciples RM was basically "Restoration and Unity". As Leroy has pointed out the insistance of "restoration" over unity doomed it from the start, as people in that movement had different ideas of what needed to be restored (as we all know too well!). Unfortunately the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and the Church of God (Nondenominational) have splintered into over 45 groups, all claiming to be right.! I think Richard Hughes did some work on comparing the two churches COC and COG.
    Anyway, why in the world would a great man like Lipscomb fall for a biased pharisee like Daniel Sommer? That is a mystery to me. Any answers or ideas?

  14. Jay Guin says:


    Lipscomb held inconsistent positions. He bought the positive command error, but he also knew the importance of unity. He couldn't argue all that strongly for unity because his doctrine declared those practicing error damned. But his heart was to preserve unity. Meanwhile, many prominent leaders demanded separation and he had no theological basis for disagreeing. He disagreed with Sommer's Address and Declaration because it was adopted by a body of churches — rather like a society. They had no authority to adopt the document!

    Also, many congregations split over the instrument and then fought over ownership of the building. Some courts held that the church that was most true to the denomination's teachings got the building. And so both sides called in experts — editors — to persuade the jury that their side was the one true Restoration Movement. The hurt feelings and financial losses visited on fellow Christians created a lot of anger.

    I think the splits and suits were as strong a motivator as anything. In fact, among our more conservative brothers, the memories of those fights remain so fresh that I actually read articles in 2006 objecting to re-unification with the instrumental churches because of their sinful splitting of churches … 100 years ago — as though those churches had the same members as in 1889. (Very strange.)

  15. Gary Cummings says:

    That was helpful in your analysis of Lipscomb. Basically he traded unity, abolitionism/anti-racism, pacifism for a load of religious crap. While being rather progressive about war and race, his lack of theological training helped him fall for the Sommerite sect with all of its flaws, as it appears. Sad,

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