CENI: The Laws Behind the Curtain

great_ozWhat’s really going on? Why do our leaders feel so comfortable — so insistent — that their interpretations are right, when it’s obvious that the scriptural support for many of their positions is very, very thin?

Well, it all goes back to a conversation I had with a friend back when I was in law school — over 30 years ago. We both had a fascination with Church of Christ doctrine and CENI. We were trying to figure out the rule — the real rule — that tells us which commands, examples, and inferences are truly binding. We passed theory after theory back and forth, and none fit the conclusions that the Churches had drawn.

Finally, I said, “What about this? A command, example, or inference is binding today if (a) the practice is mentioned in the Bible (not necessarily as binding) and (b) it’s shown by the Patristics (uninspired writings of early Christians) to have been the practice of the early church.” We kicked it around, and of all the theories we’d tried, this one fit Church of Christ doctrine the best.

And then my friend — who had an annoying habit of asking these kinds of questions — asked, “Is this in any sense biblical?” He caught me short. I mean, I’d always been the defender of Church of Christ orthodoxy among my friends. Many wanted to criticize our way of looking at things, but I was quite the traditionalist. I’d just graduated from Lipscomb, where I’d studied “Apostolic Church” under Batsell Barrett Baxter and debate logic under Marlin Connelly. I had almost refused to attend my current church because it had a cross — an icon! — above the baptistry. I was still quite the Pharisee.

But I was also well schooled in the Restoration Plea (well, I thought so at the time). And I knew that we were supposed to be silent where the Bible is silent. And I’d attended plenty of classes on the sins of the denominations, where we’d damned entire denominations for building doctrines — such as infant baptism — on the Patristics. And we were particularly stout in our condemnation of the Catholics and Orthodox for daring to claim that the Patristics had actual authority to proclaim apostolic traditions not found in the scriptures.

And this was shortly after many Churches of Christ split over Pentecostalism, and preachers were loudly proclaiming that there is no revelation from God other than that found in the scriptures themselves. Period.

And so, I answered my friend’s question as honestly as I knew how: “No, it’s not remotely biblical.”

He said, “That’s right. If it’s not in the Bible itself, we can’t bind it. It might be a good practice, but if we trust God, we trust his word, and if we trust his word, then we consider is sufficient. If the Bible only mentions it incidentally, then it can’t be binding.”

Again, I was taken aback. His logic seemed irrefutable, and yet I thought surely our teachings could be defended from some source other than the Patristics. But I was wrong. And so, slowly, reluctantly, I concluded that we are only pretending to be teaching based on CENI, when we are in fact basing our teaching on uninspired writings — and hypocritically so, because we quickly damn others when we catch them doing the same thing.

It’s easy enough to see from our history how we came to think this way.

To show that we should take the Lord’s Supper weekly, Alexander Campbell argued,

A cloud of witnesses to the plainness and evidence of the New Testament on the subject of the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, might be adduced. But this we think unnecessary; and as we would avoid prolixity and tediousness, we shall only add a few extracts from the third volume of the Christian Baptist, 2d edt. p. 254, in proof of the assertion–all antiquity is on the side of the disciples meeting every first day to break the loaf.

[“]All antiquity concurs in evincing that, for the three first centuries, all the churches broke bread once a week. Pliny, in his Epistles, Book x. Justin Martyr, in his Second Apology for the Christians, and Tertullian, De Ora. page 135, testify that it was the universal practice in all the weekly assemblies of the brethren, after they had prayed and sung praises–‘Then bread and wine being brought to the chief brother, he taketh it and offereth praise and thanksgiving to the Father, in the name of the Son and Holy Spirit. After prayer and thanksgiving, the whole assembly saith, Amen! When thanksgiving is ended by the chief guide, and the consent of the whole people, the deacons (as we call them) give to every one present part of the bread and wine, over which thanks are given.’

The weekly communion was prepared in the Greek church till the seventh century; and, by one of their canons, ‘such as neglected three weeks together, were excommunicated.’

The Christian System (2d edition 1832), pp. 337-338 (emphasis in the original).

When Campbell described the weekly contribution, he clinched his argument, again, from the Patristics —

I shall close these remarks with an extract from one of the best fragments of antiquity yet extant, which was first published when Christians were under the persecutions of Pagan Rome It is from an apology of one of the first bishops, which being addressed to a Roman emperor, shows the order of the Christian church before it was greatly corrupted. It is equally interesting as respects the weekly breaking of bread and the weekly contribution. Justin Martyr’s Second Apology, page 96–“On Sunday all Christians in the city or country meet together, because this is the day of our Lord’s resurrection, and then we read the writings of the prophets and apostles. This being done, the president makes an oration to the assembly, to exhort them to imitate, and do the things they heard. Then we all join in prayer, and after that we celebrate the Supper. Then they that are able and willing give what they think fit; and what is thus collected is laid up in the hands of the president, who distributes it to orphans and widows, and other Christians as their wants require.”

The Christian Baptist, No. 6 (January 2, 1826), p 209.

Campbell made it clear that he didn’t consider the pattern of worship that he taught a salvation issue, as noted recently by John Mark Hicks.

The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?

This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370,

If we take the attitude of Campbell — that we’ll learn what we can from the Patristics and allow them to illuminate the scriptures — as wise counsel but not as establishing the boundaries of the Kingdom, well and good. But many in today’s Churches of Christ build “necessary inferences” and “binding examples” out of uninspired sources and bind them as the very words of God.

You see, shortly after Campbell’s death, the instrumental music controversy began to come to a head, and the writers quickly reached into the Patristics to “prove” the sinfulness of the instrument. And now over 100 years later, most authors clinch their a cappella arguments based on the Patristics — but now they so incorporate the uninspired Patristics into scripture that they feel comfortable damning over the issue.

In A Plea to Reconsider, p. 77, Dave Miller damns the Richland Hills congregation for having an instrumental service, based on this evidence —

James McKinnon conducted a sweeping analysis of the religious writings of the early centuries of Christianity in his Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University and concluded that instruments were not used in the early church, but were a late innovation (1965). Recognized as a scholar in early church history and the patristic writers with a specialty in Gregory of Nyssa, Everett Ferguson contends that “[t]he testimony of early church history is clear and strong that early Christians employed vocal music but did not employ instrumental music in their assemblies” (1987, p. 79, emp. added). After a thorough review of the early Christian literature (i.e., the first three centuries after the close of the first), including the usage of psallo and psalmos in early church literature, Ferguson’s conclusion is forceful and definitive:

The case is now complete; the witnesses have been called and questioned. Their testimony is unmistakable: early Christians sang unaccompanied by instrumental music in their assemblies…. The evidence of church history confirms the reading of the New Testament that is found among the noninstrumental churches of Christ. The historical argument is quite strong against early Christian use of instrumental music in church (1987, pp. 97-98, emp. added).

(emphasis added). Implicit in the argument is the insufficiency of God’s word. Why do we need more witnesses than God? Why do we need to add post-New Testament history to the word of God? The historical argument is a fascinating study, but it’s not an argument about the Bible. Indeed, if we want to continue with Ferguson’s courtroom metaphor, the evidence is inadmissible. Indeed, Miller argues the case against himself —

But being “silent where the Bible is silent” does not mean doing whatever the Bible is silent on; it means to refrain from acting in areas where the Bible is silent—where God is silent, we must remain silent.

(p. 27). We agree on the highlighted statement. We have no business making laws from sources other than the scriptures — much less dividing over such “evidence.”

Here’s what happened. Alexander Campbell wrote a series of essays regarding the “Ancient Order” establishing an early version of our order of worship and form of church government. This became standard lesson material in the Restoration Movement preaching schools. Campbell did not mean for his teachings to define the boundaries of the church, and so he had no problem using Patristic evidence to establish the practices he found proper. Besides, there wasn’t that much controversy among his churches over the day on which to assemble, whether to contribute to support the church, or whether to sing at church. The instrumental music question didn’t come up until decades later.

But while Campbell was a genius and among the best educated men of his generation, he was a man of the early 19th Century, and so he only thought in terms of those church practices that were common in his experience. Therefore, he gave little thought to the Love Feast, even though we know the early church practiced it from Jude 12 and 1 Corinthians 11, and we know from 1 Corinthians 11 that the Lord’s Supper was combined with a meal — which is hardly surprising given that the Lord’s Supper was instituted as part of a Passover meal.

Neither does he address the fact that the Jerusalem church met daily — because he knows from the Patristics the Gentile churches met only weekly. And he doesn’t concern himself with the Holy Kiss because it wasn’t the American frontier practice, and there was no controversy over it.

And so he doesn’t really build his case for the 5 acts of worship from the Patristics — which evidence the continued practice of the Holy Kiss and Love Feast. Nor does he truly build his case on scripture — which says much more about the Love Feast and Holy Kiss than about weekly contributions or weekly Lord Supper celebrations or even weekly preaching. Rather, he takes what was already customary and orthodox in the early 19th Century, and he reforms the practices by making communion weekly and eliminating the mourner’s bench.

In short, we have inherited a “pattern of worship” built on 19th Century American frontier practice, “restored” to Biblical practice by reference to Second Century and later writings. Where a practice wasn’t common on the frontier, it was ignored. We practice the Patristics as seen through 19th Century frontier glasses.

If we seriously wanted to replicate First Century worship based on the Patristics, we’d —

* Meet in houses (many scriptures, confirmed by archaeologists)
* Meet on Sundays once for worship in the morning before dawn (see Pliny the Younger)
* Celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a separate assembly as part of a common meal called the Love Feast (Jude 12; 1 Cor 11; Pliny the Younger; Didache; Ignatius; many others)
* Greet one another with a Holy Kiss (many scriptures; Tertullian)

And, I should add, each of these practices is far better evidenced in the scriptures than much of what we persist in dividing over.

Many of our editors and other thought leaders feel assured that, in affirming this tradition, they are right because they know the Patristics confirm that early worship included a cappella singing, Sunday assemblies, instruction from the scriptures, prayer, communion, and a contribution. And so they figure that God surely meant for us to find this specific order of worship in the scriptures, even though it’s not really there.

The man behind the curtain is tradition, largely the order of worship as it had evolved in the early 19th Century, reformed only slightly by reference to the Patristics.

So here’s the real rule: A command, example, or inference is binding today if (a) the practice is mentioned in the Bible (not necessarily as binding); (b) it’s shown by the Patristics (uninspired writings of early Christians) to have been the practice of the early church; and (c) it was practiced by churches in the 19th Century American frontier (although perhaps imperfectly).

And so how do we respond? Do we revise our “5 acts of worship” by adding the Holy Kiss and a Love Feast, creating 7 acts of worship? Do we try to emulate the Jerusalem style of worship, meeting daily and having all things in common? The Corinthian approach, with prophecy and tongues? Or do we take a step back and take a different approach altogether?

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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37 Responses to CENI: The Laws Behind the Curtain

  1. Vicki Allen says:

    Great article, Jay. I've nothing of value to add – just wanted to tell you I agree with you on this – very illuminating!


  2. Tim Archer says:

    Excellent piece, Jay. I hadn't thought about this aspect of our hermeneutic.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Royce says:

    Whatever method you emply to reach an unbiblical conclusion is faulty. The problem as I see it is more centered on the flawed men rather than a bad method.

    If every coC preacher/elder really believed that becoming a child of God or staying in that relationship does not depend on good works there would not be such a focus on what we "do" as Christians. We can never forget that many of these incorrect conclusions that have been reached over the years are "salvation issues" to many.

    Romans 4 and many, many other passages stand in stark condridiction to what most coC folks teach.


  4. Trey Morgan says:

    Well said. Throughly enjoyed this post.

  5. Rich says:

    Using Patristrics is a valid way to improve our confidence in our Biblical interpretation but admittedly not a separate proof text.

  6. Bob says:


    Another great posting.

    Why can't every congregation worship from the heart, each in a slightly or greatly different mode, following the bible as best they know how without the fear of disapproval from others.

    I like "Robert's Rule of Order" for certain meeting in business, but I don't want that kind of system for worship. We are not all on the same level so it's hard to make us into cookie cutter types of people and a stamped out order of assembly.

  7. Excellent! If we really could take the attitude of Campbell so many things would be different!

  8. Todd says:

    But again we trip ourselves up. The Patristics might indeed support some of our doctrines but they also testify to many practices, doctrines and atitudes with which we are in deep disagreement – the mode of baptism for example. One of the earliest patristic documents – the Didache teaches that baptism is to be immersion in "living water." If not in living water is not available then "other water" can suffice. If neither is available pour 3 times over the head in the holy names. It also enjoins fasting for a couple of days before baptism which knocks our idea of immediacy on the head. Perhaps it also challenges our insistance as to exactly when God considers a believer who is going to be baptized eventually to be in a saved relationship with Him.

    What we need to see is the inherent flexibility built into the Patristic framework. The same fathers who deny the appropriateness of IM also refuse to condemn it because it squares with OT practice. Somehow they missed the whole "OT being forgotten so the NT could stand alone" doctrine our movement has become plaugued by.

  9. Brad Palmore says:

    I was just having a related discussion a couple nights ago. Where is the command, example, or necessary inference for using CENI? Even our motto of "speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent" is self defeating since it is essentially speaking where the Bible is silent.

    One of my co-ministers recently said, "Really… we've made a lot of this up ourselves. Can we at least make it work in our favor instead of against us." I loved it!

  10. David says:

    A very good post. Thank you Jay.

    Re IM, I have not by any stretch read all the Patristic comments about it, but none of those I have read used a Biblical reason for condemning it. They all just didn't like it, or didn't want to be like the pagans or the Jews.

    The same is also true of Sunday assembly, i.e. I have yet to see a Biblical rationale used by a Patristic writer, but only that it was the day of Resurrection.

    In both cases I may well have missed the writer and his work that does put forth a Biblical arguement, but the ones I have seen quoted by our ancestors (CoC) are notable for lack of BCV use by a Patristic (of course they would only have been able to use the B of BCV). 🙂

  11. Jay Guin says:

    See how nice the comments are when women participate! 😀

  12. Jay Guin says:

    I wonder if the Patristics ever argue from the Regulative Principle (if it's not authorized, it's sin). I've never seen the quote if they did. Rather, they argue the music is animalistic or Jewish.

  13. Alan says:

    Jay, is it my imagination, or do I hear some conservative knees knocking? You've exposed some scary stuff here.

    There clearly is a strong dose of the early church fathers in today's conservative church of Christ doctrine. And I think you've discovered another factor, the practice of American frontier churches. But I think there is still a piece missing.

    There were frontier churches that sprinkled for baptism. And there are patristics who speak of pouring. Yet adult believer baptism by immersion is a definitive doctrine of churches of Christ — not by pouring and not by sprinkling.

    Two doctrines, a cappella(TM) singing and baptism by immersion(TM) have become the very identity of these churches. These are the distinctive features that distinguish a coC from virtually all other churches. (Yes, autonomy and elderships etc could be added to the list, and others…). In my experience, the distinguising characteristics are absolutely non-negotiable, trumping any hermeneutic.

    Why is that? I think it is because so many people in these churches — especially leaders — want the churches of Christ to be the only ones going to heaven. They like it that way. They've become accustomed to it. They've invested heavily in that world view. For some ministers, they may even believe that their continued employment demands that world view. They sold out for that world view, and they will ride that horse until it falls over and dies.

    Maybe I'm too cynical. But that's how I see it.

  14. Alan says:

    One more thought… It seems that what started out as a pragmatic guideline for unity (only doing what we see the first century church doing, in the scriptures) later became mandatory doctrine. Somewhere along the line people stopped making a distinction between the presumed "good ideas" of the restoration movement and the requirements of God.

  15. Royce says:

    Corinth was a first century church as was those spoken of in Revelation. It might be better to follow only the inspired Word rather than to emulate historic churches.


  16. Earle West says:

    This article is so self-contradictory, I hate to spill some of my precious digital ink. You seem very bitter. Your conversation with your friend 30 years ago and your particular and confusing spin on CENI seem so pointless to me, and you certainly sound fustrated.

    You say you know what CoCs believe, but you have no data to share. On several points you just have your facts wrong. Indeed, the only way I'd know that you were well schooled in all of this is by your repeated telling us that you were. Whats the point of that?

    Really, I cannot understand why anyone would hold themselves out to be some kind of leader or change-agent for some group (any group) and then proceed to complain about the leadership and the lack of change-agency.

  17. Bondservant says:

    Earle, your comment has bitter, frustrated, and pointless written all over it. And you gave nothing to back up what you said.

  18. Earle West says:

    OK, fine, heres the first example I see…
    Why do our leaders feel so comfortable — so insistent — that their interpretations are right, when it’s obvious that the scriptural support for many of their positions is very, very thin?

    Now there are at least two assertions here. The first is an assertion that …our leaders feel so comfortable…so insistent…" Huh? Ours? Yours? You? And what percentage feel this way? I don't see it that way….in fact I'd guess less than half feel so comfortable, so insistent, really. Do you know any? I really don't connect with that at all. Sorry.

    But for argument sake, lets assume someone has the daa, but then there's the next assertion…."obviously very very thin" Ok really, if its so obviously thin, well then its not really necessary to say so is it? But then the text proceeds to show that its not so obvous by all the lengthy looping through CENI history.

  19. Vicki Allen says:

    To Earle:
    It would be good if you could take Jay's article and "tear it apart", showing us exactly where he has got it wrong. You could either do this by taking Jay's article and adding comments (in a different color) where you believe Jay has got it wrong, or you could simply write a critique of Jay's article. This would then give us (the readers) a balanced view of both sides of the discussion.

    Yours in anticipation,

  20. Rich says:

    This seems like a direct command to follow example (pattern).

    13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:13 (English Standard Version)

  21. Rich says:

    Let's not draw too strong of conclusion here. For example, if I were teaching teens about sex before marriage I would strongly appeal to human issues like STD's and pregnancy.

  22. Rich says:

    The purpose of using the patristics is to increase our confidence in understanding the scriptures. It's my understanding that we can place general dates on when:

    local leadership went from plural to singular.
    Baptism went from immersion to including pouring/sprinkling.
    Baptism went from adults to including babies.
    musical accompaniment moved from the heart to the physical

    I agree that these are not proof texts. They are only circumstantial. However, I have very low confidence in other interpretations.

  23. Rich says:

    A lot of people have fun making fun of the phrase "New Testament Church". That phrase never meant that we were to follow the human mistakes at Corinth or any other place. It means we are to follow the instructions and blessed examples given to the NT churches in the inspired Word.

    (or did I miss the point of your comment?)

  24. I must agree with Vicki, Earle. If you wish to assert that Jay's facts are wrong, it would be helpful to our understanding to know which facts you are referring to, and present controverting facts of greater authority and credibility.

    The bulk of Jay's post documents the reason he believes that the scriptural support for positions long held in churches of Christ (his example was communion) are based on tradition – Patristic writings of men – and he has written many other posts about his sense of the biblical support for these positions being thin.

    This post is part of a series; I doubt that he intends to discuss again every point he has already discussed in each succeeding post. He is building a case, attorney that he is, and you have stepped in at the middle of the summation.

  25. Jay Guin says:


    You've put your finger on something extremely important to understanding our group psyche. The doctrines that are most important to us — most non-negotiable — are those that distinguish us from other denominations. You see, a cappella music, weekly communion, etc. have become our identity: we are the church that sings this way, takes communion this way, etc.

    The scriptures never, ever define the boundaries of the church by distinctive "marks" such as these. Rather, the marks of the church found in the Bible are love, unity, faith in Jesus, and God's Holy Spirit. And because these marks are actually found in scripture, insisting on them as our true distinctives is far more "conservative" than what we've traditionally been taught.

  26. Jay Guin says:


    Again, I totally agree. Campbell's Ancient Order was not supposed to define the boundaries of the Kingdom. It was later generations who misinterpreted him and his father — using the Campbells' teachings to do precisely what the they opposed.

  27. Rich says:


    Please help me understand. You are saying that Campbell never believed that adult baptism was required for forgiveness of sins and thus also not required to enter heaven?

    It's been several years since I have researched Campbell's life and teachings. But my memory is that he did indeed draw the line above as his studies and beliefs progressed.

    Just looking for information here.


  28. Alan says:

    Rich asked:

    Please help me understand. You are saying that Campbell never believed that adult baptism was required for forgiveness of sins and thus also not required to enter heaven?

    I'm referring to what Thomas Campbell wrote in the Declaration and Address. Introducing the thirteen propositions for unity, he said:

    Let none imagine that the subjoined propositions are at all intended as an overture towards a new creed, or standard, for the church; or, as in any wise designed to be made a term of communion;–nothing can be farther from our intention.

    That applied to all thirteen propositions, in particular to this statement in proposition eleven:

    Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.

    Thomas Campbell clearly did not intend for that to become"a new creed, or standard, for the church" nor "a term of communion." For several decades that was the understanding that guided the Restoration Movement. But an obvious change occurred somewhere around the middle of the 1800's.

  29. Royce says:

    ALEXANDER CAMPBELL wrote: “But who is a Christian? I answer, every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will. . . . I cannot make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [cannot] in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy without their own knowledge and consent, as aliens from Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven. Should I find a Pedobaptist [one baptized as an infant] more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians.” (Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 411-412.)

    Again, ALEXANDER CAMPBELL wrote: “The case is this: When I see a person who would die for Christ: whose brotherly kindness, sympathy, and active benevolence knows no bounds but his circumstances: whose seat in the Christian assembly is never empty; whose inward piety and devotion are attested by punctual obedience to every known duty; whose family is educated in the fear of the Lord; whose constant companion is the Bible; I say, when I see such a one ranked amongst heathen men and publicans, because he never happened to inquire, but always took it for granted that he had been scripturally baptized, and that [ranking] too, by one greatly destitute of all these public and private virtues, whose chief or exclusive recommendation is that he has been immersed, and that he holds a scriptural theory of the gospel, I feel no disposition to flatter such a one, but rather to disabuse him of his error. And while I would not lead the most excellent professor in any sect to disparage the least of all the commandments of Jesus, I would say to my immersed brother as Paul said to his Jewish brother who gloried in a system which he did not adorn: ‘Sir, will not his uncircumcision, or unbaptism, be counted to him for baptism? and will he not condemn you, who, though having the literal and true baptism, yet dost transgress or neglect the statues of your King?’” (Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 565.)

    BARTON W. STONE wrote: “My opinion is that immersion is the only baptism. But shall I therefore make my opinion a term of Christian fellowship? If in this case I thus act, where shall I cease from making my opinions terms of fellowship? I confess I see no end. . . . Let us still acknowledge all to be brethren, who believe in the Lord Jesus, and humbly and honestly obey him, as far as they know his will, and their duty.” (Christian Messenger, 1831, p. 19, 21.)

    WALTER SCOTT wrote: “Christians who have not been baptized for the remission of their sins! Strange! Whoever read of such Christians in God’s Word? But the times are peculiar, and as faith does purify the life of a man, and as the man of pure life and pure heart is accepted of God and may receive the Spirit, therefore we must allow, that there are now a days Christians in heart and life who have not been baptized for the remission of their sins. What evidences, then, have they for themselves and others, that they are possessed of the Spirit? None but the moral graces which have already been quoted, viz: love, joy etc.; they don’t need to depend upon an opinion; they feel within themselves and show to those without them by their fruits, that they have been made partakers of the Spirit of Christ.” (The Evangelist, No. 2, Vol. 2, Feb 4, 1833, p. 49.)

    Well, there you go.

  30. Jay Guin says:


    For many years, there's been considerable disinformation spread about Alexander and Thomas Campbell in an effort to make them fit the 20th Century doctrinal mold. I've been told in the last month that Alexander Campbell retreated from his position stated in the Lunenburg letter later. He never did. Nor did he retreat from the Richmond correspondence where he insisted that Baptists not be rebaptized.

    Some have argued that his support for the missionary society was the product of old age and sickness, but he campaigned vigorously for a national missionary society. The truly telling fact is that his church was part of an association of churches that sent Walter Scott out as the Restoration Movement's first missionary — while he was still quite young. It was during this mission campaign that Scott began preaching the 5-finger plan of salvation to great effect.

    The best resource is Leroy Garrett's The Stone-Campbell Movement, which is very well written and very well documented. Also excellent is James Deforest Murch's Christians Only, written from the Christian Church perspective. These are by far the two best and most honest treatments of our history.

  31. Rich says:

    Thanks for the information concerning Campbell and others. I was hoping to see quotes from later years. I know his thoughts progressed with time. I always want to know the facts, so you have given me something to pursue.

    I don't base my understanding of the Bible on what Campbell or others say. But they are good reference.

  32. Alan says:

    I appreciated Royce's quotes also. For me, it's not a matter of relying on these quotes for my beliefs. Rather, the quotes help to establish the historical truth about how significantly the doctrine of fellowship changed between, say, Thomas Campbell and Austin McGary… or Daniel Sommer. It really was a 180 degree reversal.

  33. Rich says:

    The good news: I did a lot of reading of Alexander Campbell’s works today. The bad news: I didn’t complete my honey-do list. I guess I’ll have to deal with that one later.

    It seems that A. Campbell received a lot of flack for writing that response that was quoted by Royce. He tried to retract (explain) what he said on several occasions shortly thereafter.

    He seems to use adult immersion for the forgiveness of sins as a line for fellowship: “baptism: for the sake of union among Christians, it may be easily shown to be the duty of all believers to be immersed”.

    Furthermore he states:
    “The case is this: When I see a person who would die for Christ; whose brotherly kindness, sympathy, and active benevolence know no bounds but his circumstances; … because he never happened to inquire, but always took it for granted that he had been scripturally baptized; … I feel no disposition to flatter such a one; but rather to disabuse him of his error.”

    He does seem to understand that God may apply his grace to the ignorant and thus Campbell left open other possibilities. But that should not give anyone a false confidence, “Now, in our judgment, there is not on earth a person who can have as full an assurance of justification or of remission of sins, as the person who has believed, confessed his faith, and been intelligently buried and raised with the Lord."

    With that said, Campbell made it clear that anyone not immersed for forgiveness of sins is in error.

    All quotes from The Millennial Harbinger, December 1837, pp 564-565 as reprinted by College Press.
    This is available on Google Books.

  34. Ken says:

    Like most of us, Alexander used the word christian to define anyone who lived by Christian principles: "we are a christian nation." Then as now the masses (no about 50%) believed that they were baptized FOR the remission of sins. Some preachers are reluctant to baptize people on their confession. Those Baptists would be defined with an uppercase C. After the original letters the Baptists publically GLOATED and AC had to deny that he approved of ther view. So, you have to quote BOTH the letters and ACs quick corrective.

    2. And in the second place, why should we so often have quoted and applied to apostate Christendom what the Spirit saith to saints in Babylon–"Come out of her, my people, that you partake not of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues"–had we imagined that the Lord had no people beyond the pale of our communion!

    3. But let him that yet doubts, read the following passages from the Christian Baptist, April, 1825:–

    "I have no idea of seeing, nor wish to see, the sects unite in one grand army.
    This would be dangerous to our liberties and laws. For this the Saviour did not pray.
    It is only the disciples DISPERSED among them that reason and benevolence would call out of them, "&c. &c. This looks very like our present opinion of Christians among the sects!!! 2d ed. Bethany, p. 85.

    4. Again, speaking of purity of speech in order to the union of Christians, we say,

    "None of you [Christians] have ever yet attempted to show how Christians can be united on your principles.
    You have often showed how they may be divided, and how each party may hold its own, but while you pray for the visible unity of the disciples, and advocate their visible disunity, we cannot understand you." March, 1827, vol. 4.


    Besides, immersion gives a constitutional right of citizenship in the universal kingdom of Jesus;
    whereas with our opponents, themselves being judges, their "baptism" gives the rights of citizenship
    only in some provinces of that kingdom.

    That is why a Church of Christ type would not be accepted if they believed Acts 2:38 as written. In my 79ish years one would be asked what they understood about their baptism to make sure that they are happy.

  35. Jay Guin says:

    An excellent series of quotations showing Campbell's attitude toward the improperly immersed before and after the Lunenburg correspondence may be found at http://www.magnoliacoc.org/index.php?option=com_c…. Here are a few —

    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," MH, 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.

    About this period [1847] the "Evangelical Alliance," designed to promote the union of Christians, attracted much of Mr. Campbell's attention, and was hailed by him with great satisfaction as an indication of the approach of a better era. As to the basis of union which it proposed, he expressed a substantial agreement, though objecting to some of the expressions employed as unscriptural. He pointed out the resemblance of the movement to that of the "Christian Association" in Washington in 1809, which, like the Evangelical Alliance, assumed not the character of a church, but of a society to promote union among Christians, and remarked, at the close of his article:

    ”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.”

    (A. Campbell's views on the Evangelical Alliance, from Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume II, Chapter XVII) Campbell could hardly work for "Christian" unity across denominational lines if he considered other denominations non-Christians. He could only refer to denominational differences as "schisms" because he saw the denominations as being of "common stock" (same family).

  36. Rich says:

    Aaahhh! more information to ponder. I do appreciate the research. I guess the question is, did Alexander continually change his views or was he just refining the way he communicated them?

  37. Ken says:

    Rather than to say that AC retreated from his Lunenberg Letters, it is
    better to say that he explained himself much better in the ATTACHED
    material which is often missed. We all agree that we had better have as
    a friend an unbaptized atheist who lived right and just THAN a baptized
    member of the church who taught false doctrine. AC would not consider a
    person saved as a uppercase Christian unless they had been baptized.
    It was because of the false making hay by the Baptists gloating that AC
    had changed his mind and "joined them" and others who failed to read
    with understanding that he followed up as he often did as a form of
    debate. It may be that AC used an alias to set up such a debate.
    Unfortunately, people cherry pick. Of the quotation:
    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,” MH, March, 1845)

    WE don't suppose so either: WE never ASK in my 79ish years around the
    country and some "world." WE don't try to make that judgment: Thomas
    was defacto disfellowshipped from the Presbyterians for offering
    communion to those NOT of his participar Presbyterian SECT which issued
    "tokens" to affirm one's worthiness.
    Of the statement: . I cannot make any one duty the
    standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the
    name of Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

    But, the REST OF THE STORY by A.C.
    Many a good man has been mistaken. Mistakes are to be regarded
    as culpable and as declarative of a corrupt heart only when they
    proceed from a wilful neglect of the means of knowing what is
    Ignorance is always a crime when it is voluntary; and innocent
    when it is involuntary.

    Now, unless I could prove that all who neglect the positive
    institutions of Christ
    and have substituted for them
    something else of human authority, do it knowingly, or, if not
    knowingly, are voluntarily ignorant of what is written, I could not, I
    dare not say that their mistakes are such as unchristianize
    all their professions.

    True, indeed, that it is always a misfortune to be ignorant of any
    thing in the Bible, and very generally it is criminal

    And while I would unhesitatingly say that I think that every
    man who despises any ordinance of Christ or who is willingly ignorant
    of it, cannot be a Christian; still I should sin against my own
    convictions, should I teach any one to think that if he mistook the
    meaning of any institution while in his soul he desired to know the
    whole will of God he must perish forever.


    But to conclude for the present–he that claims for himself a
    license to neglect the least of all the commandments of Jesus
    because it is possible for some to be saved who through
    insuperable ignorance or involuntary mistake, do neglect or transgress

    or he that wilfully neglects to ascertain the will of the Lord to the
    whole extent of his means and opportunities because some who are
    defective in that knowledge may be Christians,
    is not possessed of the spirit of Christ and cannot be
    registered among the Lord's people.

    So I reason; and I think in so reasoning I am sustained by all the
    Prophets and Apostles of both Testaments.

    If you MISUSE Campbell to encourage people NOT to be baptized then Campbell places you outside of the Pale.

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