“Prospectus of a Religious Reformation”
I stumbled across an 1829 tract by Thomas Campbell called “Prospectus of a Religious Reformation” buried in The Memoirs of Thomas Campbell. It was evidently published only as a tract until The Memoirs of Thomas Campbell was published in 1861, well after his death.
Now, for those unfamiliar with the history of the Restoration Movement (also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement), Thomas Campbell was the founder of the Campbell wing and author of the “Declaration and Address” in 1809, which continues to be cited in the Restoration churches, including the Churches of Christ.
Thomas Campbell’s health was poor, and he left most of the writing to his son, Alexander — and so we have vast amounts of Alexander’s writings preserved for us, but not nearly as much written by Thomas. Nonetheless, the founding principles of the Movement are found in Thomas Campbell’s work.
Now, the Campbells did not come to adopt baptism of believers by immersion until after the 1809 writing of the “Declaration and Address.” Therefore, we’re not surprised that the “Declaration and Address” says nothing on the subject. However, this tract was written in 1829 and the Campbells were baptized by immersion in 1812.
Alexander’s introduction, penned in 1861, not long before Alexander Campbell’s death, says, “THE following prospectus of a religious reformation was published many years since. It is as needful to thousands now as it was when first published.”
Thomas Campbell writes,
ANALYSIS OF THE GREAT SALVATION.
FIRST. Of its concurring Causes.–1. The prime moving or designing cause: The love of God. 2. The procuring cause: The blood of Christ. 3. The efficient cause: The Holy Spirit. 4. The instrumental cause: The Gospel and law of Christ, or, the word of truth.
SECOND. Of the Principle and Means of Enjoyment.–1st. Of the principle: The sole principle of enjoyment is belief or faith. 2d. Of the means: 1. The prime instituted means of enjoyment is baptism. 2. Prayer. 3. Church-fellowship in the social ordinances. 4. The Lord’s day. 5. The Lord’s Supper. 6. The prayers. 7. The praises. 8. The teaching of the word. 9. The contribution for charitable purposes. 10. Religious conversation. 11. Studious perusal and meditation of the holy Scriptures. 12. All manner of good works: called works of faith and labors of love, etc., all of which are but means of enjoyment, not of procurement. “For eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
He says that the “principle of enjoyment” of “the great salvation” is “belief and faith.” However, the “means” of enjoyment includes 12 items, beginning with: “The prime instituted means of enjoyment is baptism.” But listed with baptism are prayer, fellowship in the social sense, Sunday, the Lord’s Supper … and “All manner of good works: called works of faith.” He then labels all 12 as “means of enjoyment, not of procurement.”
Now, you might argue that “all of which are but means of enjoyment” refers only to number 12 (“good works”) until you realize that he captioned the paragraph “Of the Principle and Means of Enjoyment” and labeled the entire list of 12 as “Of the means:”! Plainly, he intends to treat baptism as means of enjoying salvation and not the “principle” of enjoyment, which is only faith.
Thus, he denies that baptism procures salvation. Only faith does that.
In 1847, Thomas Campbell published a short article “Baptism” in Alexander Campbell’s periodical, Millennial Harbinger. It begins —
[Baptism] goes to assure the real believer of the gospel, that he shall be saved: Mark xvi. 16. Indeed, baptism and the Lord’s supper are the only ordinances of the gospel, that go to assure the believing subject of the enjoyment of eternal life: compare Luke xxii. 19, 20, with John x. 14, 15, 16, 27, 28, 29. Indeed, the typical meaning of baptism, as explained by the Apostle, Rom. vi. 3-11, goes to assure the genuine believer, that he was included with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection; consequently MUST be saved; seeing that he is one of those for whom Christ died: see again the above quotations from Luke and John.
Notice that Thomas Campbell states that baptism serves to “assure” the believer of his salvation. He then adds,
But you may possibly infer from these remarks, that I make immersion essential to salvation. By no means; for mistakes in such cases are pardonable: see Num. xv. 27-31.
He then makes quite clear that errors in baptism are not damnable. Thus, faith is entirely sufficient to save, but baptism is necessary to fully enjoy the salvation. After all, no one will enjoy his salvation if he’s not been assured of it.
As I’m sure the readers will be good to point out, Thomas Campbell is not the Bible and certainly not authoritative on such questions. However, I enjoy church history, in large part because it helps us understand who we are and how that happened. And to me, this is truly astonishing — and all the more so given how much attention has been given to Alexander Campbell’s Lunenburg Letter correspondence, which has been intensely argued by many. But I’ve never seen these documents brought up in the many discussions on the history of baptismal doctrine in the Restoration Movement. It seems that our collective, institutional memory has repressed this teaching.
Here’s the fact of the matter: Thomas Campbell would be damned by a majority of the Churches of Christ today. Nearly all of our print publications would declare him apostate. And many of these same people routinely publish articles declaring how very true they are to the Restoration Movement’s founding principles and to the work of Thomas Campbell. Even men as divisive as Daniel Sommer and H. Leo Boles cite Thomas Campbell as supporting their factionalist views (he did not!).
You know, sometimes I wonder whether the Churches of Christ are even part of the Restoration Movement.