Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 22, 1949
NUMBER 20, PAGE 3,5b

When Unity Ceases — No. 2

J. Herman Campbell

By the time the Apostle John wrote his second epistle (we think about A. D. 85-90), some of the conditions had arrived in the New Testament church that were prophesied by Paul. The Gnostic teachers (called deceivers in II Jno. 7) claimed to be advanced thinkers, and they were anxious to relegate Christ to the past. In their teaching they flatly denied the incarnation. The standard that John gives for the faithful to follow is found in verse 9, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son." The action the faithful were to pursue when confronted with "the deceivers" is given in the following verse, "If anyone cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting; for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works." It must be observed that the churches often met in private homes (Rom. 16:5; Col 4:15), and if these traveling deceivers were allowed to spread their doctrines in these homes and then sent on with an endorsement as Apollos was from Ephesus to Corinth (Acts 18:27), there was no way of escaping responsibility for the harm wrought. The statement in II John 10 is more than a mere study in hospitality to strangers. John's statement is a basic principle of procedure in dealing with those who pervert the gospel.

On the closing pages of the New Testament, the church at Pergamum was being censored for "holding the teaching of Balaam" and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. (Rev. 2:14-15). The Church at Thyatira was charged with being seduced by the woman Jezebel (Rev. 2:20)

With the close of the New Testament, one observes that God's plan to preserve unity under the new covenant is predicated upon a strict adherence to the words of the apostles; and any deviation therefrom was sufficient cause for faithful brethren to withdraw from those who were corrupting the gospel. Where too great a departure had come, there was danger of the candlestick being removed from the church. Hear Paul on the matter, "And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed." (II Thess. 3:14) Christ commanded the church at Ephesus to return to its first love, else he would remove the candlestick. (Rev. 2:5)

The Restoration

At the beginning of the nineteenth century much change is noted among professed Christians from that observed in the first century. The machinery of the Roman Catholic Church was now being oiled by the Jesuit organization, and both Europe and America were feeling the counter-reformation "push". The zeal of the sixteenth century reformers was now well spent. The feeling in the hearts of many religious men was that a change must come. John Wesley (1703-91) and his brother, Charles, began a movement in England during the 18th century, but like so many movements of the past, theirs was a reformative movement rather than a restorative one. A revolutionary idea was set forth in January, 1799, by James Haldane in Edinburgh, Scotland. Haldane advocated the abandonment of all human innovations and a return to the apostolic model as a basis for unity. Thomas Campbell, accepting this idea, set forth the matter here in the United States in formal order in his Declaration and Address of 1809. A summary of the new movement was found in the statement, "...that the basis of unity could be found nowhere but in Christ and his simple word." The phrase, "Thus saith the Lord," took on almost a reverential meaning.

From 1809 to 1823 definite changes were noted: from controversy with sectarians to controversy within the new body. Changing conditions and customs of the time resulted in two groups with divergent ideas: those who held to the original idea that the New Testament reveals a fixed pattern for the church of all time; and then those who believed that the church should adapt itself to the changing conditions of the times. "With these two attitudes developing, one holding to a rigid interpretation of Thomas Campbell's slogan, and the other a liberal interpretation of its sentiments," conflicts were inevitable—conflicts which would in time destroy the unity that the Campbell's had so much desired.

Parallel Movements

While the Restoration Movement was at work, two other contemporary movements were being urged upon religious groups in America. Throughout the 18th century the religious movement in New England was toward liberalism. In 1875 the creed of old King Chapel in Boston was revised in such a manner as to deny the existence of a trinity. This date is usually taken to mark the beginning of Unitarianism, although there was no actual break until 1815.

One of the greatest of the Unitarian preachers, the man whose sermon on Unitarian Christianity in 1819 has many times been called the creed of that denomination, was William Ellery Channing (1780-1842).

The second contemporary movement was a force at work to revitalize the Congregational, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist churches in America. The former of the two last named movements became intellectual and philosophical in nature; the latter turned to a socialized program of work and worship. The socialized force exerted more influence on the Restoration movement than did the Unitarian movement.

A hurried survey of some of the leading preachers of the socialized gospel will give some understanding of what was happening between 1850 and 1900. Henry Ward Beecher was licensed in 1837 to preach in the Presbyterian Church. Because of his liberalism he was refused ordination by the Miami Presbytery. The aim of his preaching was to effect a moral change in the hearer, and thereby change social conditions. He believed all religious-minded people could unite on this plan. His approach led him to discuss public questions and advocate needed social reforms from the pulpit. He was against slavery and had a powerful lecture on freedom from race and sectarian prejudice. Practically all his sermon topics embraced the general theme of "the love of God and the joy and glory of the Christian life." With scarcely any sound doctrine in his preaching, he became an easy prey to the theory of evolution, which he embraced wholeheartedly in the last years of public life. Great numbers had felt the sway of Beecher's electrifying lectures, but he left them without any moorings when he fell away.

Thomas DeWitt Talmadge (1832-1902), another preacher of the social gospel, was ordained in the Dutch Reformed Church, 1865, but by 1869 he had taken up the ministry of the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York. In 1879 he was accused of being too liberal; however his popularity stood him in good stead, and he continued to be a powerful influence until near the close of the century. He, like Beecher, passed from this life without seeing his plan for uniting America succeed. He had failed to preach the one thing men can unite upon—the simple gospel plan.

The third and last of these social gospel preachers was by far the most influential in his plan to re-vitalize America. He was Dwight Lyman Moody. Early in life Moody was baptized in the Unitarian Church, but on May 3, 1856, he became a member of the Congregational Church in Boston. In 1856 he moved to Chicago, where he became interested in the Sunday School program then being carried into the slums of the great city. From this period on, Moody promoted great campaigns in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and London. His biographer states that Moody never "allowed personal quirks or sectarian differences to stand in the way of the gospel he preached and lived." One of his close friends was Henry Drummond, who gave the familiar sermon, The Greatest Thing in the World, to an audience assembled at one of Moody's famed institutes.

These three men show the general trends in the larger Protestant groups, and their movements toward unity. About the same time (whether there is any organic connection or not I cannot say) liberalism began to appear among the Disciples of Christ. No small disturbance to the unity of the disciples was felt. Where unity had been—at least on a working basis—division was now making havoc of the best congregations. In Cincinnati, Ohio, October 24-28, 1849, the American Christian Missionary Society was organized. Jacob Creath, Jr., and others opposed this organization, but Isaac Errett and his paper, Christian Standard, supported the Society. The lines for battle were drawn.

Augmenting the departure from the faith on Societies, was L. L. Pinkerton's introduction of the musical instrument into the church in Midway, Kentucky, 1859. Whereas the lines of battle had been only drawn on the Societies, by 1864 the battle was raging, and within two decades the division was almost complete, with the liberal element taking the name of Christian Church (or Disciples of Christ) and the conservative group becoming generally known as the Church of Christ. Unity had been sacrificed because of a departure from the Scriptures. Another gospel, a perverted gospel, was now being preached in many fine church buildings that had previously resounded each Lord's day with the "sound doctrine" of God's word.

(To be continued)