Baptism: Thomas Campbell on Baptism

“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,


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.

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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9 Responses to Baptism: Thomas Campbell on Baptism

  1. Randall says:

    Your quote of Thomas Campbell from the Millennial Harbinger in 1847 included the following:

    "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:"

    It seems clear enough here that Thomas is affirming both the "L" and the "P" from TULIP. As I am sure you know, the "L" is generally considered the most controversial point and usually the first to be dropped by those who might describe themselves as four point Calvinists. Seems Thomas was still as five pointer in 1847.

  2. Grizz says:


    It is the overmuch emphasis upon the men of the movement that I find most embarassing about the RM. If the RM rises or falls mainly upon the doctrines of uninspired disciples, perhaps we never should have been part of it to begin with? At the risk of being called a bibliolater, I'll stick with the inspired writers.

    To paraphrase Paul,
    Did Thomas Campbell die for you? Why leave the One who did for
    the one who did not?

    Why indeed.


  3. Jay Guin says:


    I'm not denying that Thomas Campbell held to some elements of Calvinism. I'm sure he did. He just didn't buy into the entirety of Calvin's TULIP, and the quotation from Alexander linked below seems to say so. /2010/12/instrumental-music

  4. Randall says:

    I suppose Thomas could speak for Thomas better than anyone else could; and his own writings make his position clear enough. He made himself easily understood in the quotation you cited from 1847. I beleive that was just seven years before his death.

    Additionally, Leroy Garrett is as much a scholar of the S-C movement as anyone and he has maintained that Thomas wrote he was a Calvinist and held it as his private property – and that he would be a Calvinist until his death – and IMO presumably thereafter. The only reason to hold it as private property was that it was controversial and the part of Calvinism that is now and was then controversial is TULIP. This is true to the point that when people use the term "Calvinism" they are referring to TULIP 90 plus plus percent of the time – both then and now.

    Why not simply face the obvious – The S-C movement was a big tent and Arminians, Calvinists, semi-Pelagians, Pelagians and even a few universalists found there way in. Thomas Campbell was a Calvinist when he wrote the Declaration and Address and started the Campbell side of the movement and he remained there his entire life. This is generally acknowledged by all the scholars of the movement that I am familiar with. There is nothing to be gained by revisionist history.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    I agree that the S-C Movement was originally a big tent movement and contained many people who'd be rejected today.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    I should expand a bit on that thought. My contention that Thomas Campbell was not a TULIP Calvinist is not intended to suggest that the early Restoration Movement did not welcome Calvinists. It most certainly did — and it should continue to do so.

    And I agree that Thomas Campbell agreed with many tenets of Calvinism — so much so that he did indeed refer to himself as a Calvinist.

    But that doesn't necessarily mean that he'd bought into the entire Calvinist body of doctrine. I'm not aware of any serious research having been done in this area, and it's an interesting area of history to me, as Alexander Campbell was very far removed from Calvinism (likely a Semi-Pelagian) and yet the two men were leaders in the Restoration Movement for decades and continue to be revered as such.

    I'm no expert in Calvinism, but one area where I believe both Campbells especially disagreed with the orthodox Calvinism of the day was the necessity for a "conversion experience" in which the convert felt the presence of the Spirit and assurance of election. Both would insist that faith is itself sufficient evidence of election, so that conversion could be the rational response to the preached word of God.

    However, the typical teaching of Calvinists in the American frontier was built on the Puritan understanding —

    "For full membership, the Puritan church insisted not only that its congregants lead godly lives and exhibit a clear understanding of the main tenets of their Christian faith, but they also must demonstrate that they had experienced true evidence of the workings of God’s grace in their souls. Only those who gave a convincing account of such a conversion could be admitted to full church membership." This approach to conversion was typical of the Calvinistic churches on the American frontier where the Campbells preached. It remains a common tenet of many Calvinistic denominations today. After all, if salvation is by God's election and not human choice, there must be some indication that the person is saved other than his decision. Indeed, some Calvinists sneer at "decisionalism."

    But today there are Calvinists who would consider faith by itself sufficient evidence of election, including John Piper. The fact that you decide to believe is thus considered evidence of election.

    So I suppose it's possible that Thomas Campbell, in teaching a rational conversion response, was being a Piper-esque Calvinist — although he was not like the Calvinists who surrounded him.

    It wouldn't hurt my feelings to be shown that he agreed with all 5 points of TULIP. Indeed, if that's true, that would make it all the more remarkable that Alexander was publishing Thomas's views long after the Movement had hit its stride and become nationally prominent.

    Nonetheless, given how far removed Alexander was from Calvinism's teaching, as was Walter Scott and most of the rest of the Movement, it's hard to see how Thomas could have been an orthodox Calvinist and yet worked so hard to build a Semi-Pelagian Movement.

    Maybe someone has sorted that out from his writings. If not, that would be a genuinely interesting study for someone to do.

  7. Randall says:

    Regarding your comments about a conversion experience as it was taught by many Calvinists of Thomas Campbell's day:
    I think you have pointed out the distinction between irresistible grace (the "I" in TULIP) as it is understood today and the way it was presented on the American frontier. And I think this is why people speak of Calvinism as it was commonly understood on the American frontier as being something that many in the restoration movement (RM) or Stone – Campbell (SC) movement reacted against. Your description of the requirement for an identifiable conversion experience is rather accurate. In fact, I think one of the purposes of the "mourner's bench" was a place to sit and wait for this presumed experience to occur. However, it was not a requirement in the early decades of the Protestant Reformation. Additionally, I don't know of any Calvinists today that see a dramatic conversion experience as being a necessary proof of irresistible grace. – but maybe the hyper Calvinists do.

    I should point out that I am most familiar with main stream Calvinism of my lifetime (I'm 60) and the Calvinism of the reformation. The people on the American frontier, both everyday men and women and the clergy frequently had limited formal educations and it is easy enough to see a distinction between the Westminster Confession of faith and what passed for Calvinism in Ohio, or Tennessee or Kentucky during the early 1800s – or even New England for that matter. Thomas Campbell was a well educated man and was familiar with the Calvinism of the British Isles as well as the writings of Calvin (and his peers) such as the Institutes of the Christian Religion. I would be surprised if he did not reject the requirement for an identifiable and dramatic conversion experience.

    Today there are small groups of hyper Calvinists such as the Primitive Baptists (aka hard shell Baptists) that may still teach a requirement for an identifiable/dramatic conversion experience. I have one friend that was raised Primitive Baptist and hates all Calvinism to this day as a result of his association with that church. He explains his parents (who attended every time the doors were open) didn't make an effort to convert him nor did they show disappointment that he didn't indicate a desire to be baptized b/c they thought that was what the HS did – apart from them. Obviously the problem with hyper Calvinism is that they focus on the end and ignore the means – not unlike some Pelagians in their criticism of Calvinism. Many thinking people understand the end can not be foreordained apart from the means. Indeed God has told us to pray even though he already knows our needs and he has told us to go into the world and preach the good news, not wait for the HS to do it apart from our preaching or the study of the written Word.

    I also think the comments by Alexander that you referenced indicated Thomas' disagreement with the demand for an identifiable conversion experience while at same time affirming (at least by implication) particular atonement (aka limited atonement). Thomas also rejected the divisive and sectarian aspects of the Calvinism of his day – this was the whole point of the Declaration and Address and the unity movement he started. And while I believe he loved the Westminster Confession and viewed it as one of the best theological treatises ever penned by man (apart from Scripture) he hated that it was used as a test of fellowship. That is, he didn't have a problem with creeds per se, he just had a problem with them being used as a test of fellowship. After all, a creed is simply a statement of belief. The statement "No creed but Christ" is a creed in that it is a statement of belief and it could be divisive if used as a test of fellowship.

    So I will acknowledge Thomas had a quarrel with some Calvinists and some aspects of their teaching, including a poor understanding by some of Irresistible Grace. At the same time I will maintain he was a TULIP Calvinist all his life.

    PS: As to Alexander being a semi-Pelagian – I think he may have been a full blown Pelagian (not semi) when it came to his understanding of conversion. He wrote so many things in his life and enough of them seem to contradict what he said somewhere else that there are times I find it difficult to understand just exactly what he believed when. His opponents did quote him when arguing against him on more than a couple of occasions. I would also suggest that Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell were influenced by Bacon and Locke more than Thomas Campbell was, though he was familiar with them and admired them. It is also important to note that while we give Thomas the credit for founding the Campbell side of the RM or SC movement it was only a few years later – perhaps about the time of their immersion that Alexander took the reins as the leader of the movement and Thomas took a back seat to him.

  8. HistoryGuy says:

    I wonder whether the Churches of Christ are even part of the Restoration Movement. — Jay Guin

    I have to stand for what I believe. I believe you raise a valid question. I sincerely believe that “many” COC today, are as much a part of the RM “plea” as “many” Baptist, Methodist, etc are a part of the Reformation plea, and that is not very much. Every movement becomes codified. Things have gone array [within a Christian context] when we can no longer disagree and challenge each other about Scripture, without “condemning to hell or labeling as legalist” those with whom we disagree. I am simply trying to say that most people don’t know their own history, even Christianity.

    I have to agree fully with your sentiments that many from the early RM would not be fellowshipped by [most/many?] in the COC today.

    Most are unaware of the “re-immersion” debate between the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate in the late 1800s, where David Lipscomb was accused of “shaking in the Baptist,” since he did not require them to be re-immersed. To many more, it seems almost scandalous to learn of the facts regarding many of the “leaders” baptism circumstances, like Thomas.

    Take for example, (Dabney Phillips, Restoration Principles and Personalities, p27-29). Thomas Campbell was in disagreement with, but still fully Presbyterian, in Aug 1809 when he held the “first RM church” service in a home. In Sept 1809 he wrote the D&A, infant baptism was debatable, and believer’s immersion, sprinkling, pouring was not yet a debated topic. By June 1811 Thomas and Alexander had built their 1st church building. Believer’s immersion [no connection with forgiveness] had become an issue, and though Thomas had “never been immersed” he immersed 3 in July 1811. In the following weeks, Thomas immersed many more upon a profession of “faith in Jesus Christ.”

    By June 1812, Alexander and 6 other adults, including Thomas, were immersed upon a simple confession of faith that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The connection between immersion and forgiveness of sin would not be made until 1823, but even then it did not become a “requirement to be understood for salvation” until the re-immersion debate between the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate in the late 1800s. At the time of Thomas’ immersion, he had been a Presbyterian minister for 25 years. Thomas, what a man!

    The Scriptures are my authority. I keep a “veiled hope” [as JW McGarvey put it] for the unimmersed, but would still have encouraged [as I do today] all the unimmersed to do to be immsered, while gladly calling believers who had/have been immersed upon a “profession of faith in Christ” as my “assured” brother. As Jimmy Allen once said there are commands to be obeyed and promises to be received… forgiveness is a promise received when one obeys the command to be baptized.

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