Christian Unity: An Opinion As Private Property (XI.)
The idea advanced by Mr. Campbell, that a man may have an opinion and may hold it as private property, is scriptural. There are certain things, certain courses of life, that are not defined by God. That is, the way is not marked out by him and man is left to follow his own judgment. But there are cases in which one man's course of action does not necessarily affect that of others nor God's appointments. Teaching on this subject is given in the 14th chapter of the letter to the Romans. Things indifferent are treated of here. Meats offered to idols are indifferent to him who can eat without conscience toward the idol. But they must not be eaten if the weak consciences of others are led by this eating into idolatry. Others have an opinion that we may eat only herbs — others that we may eat meat. Some think it well to observe certain days for the worship of God, other than the appointed Lord's day. God permits this. God demands we shall worship according to his directions, at his appointed times, but he permits us to worship him as often as we think proper. But one must not impose this optional service or his faith in these matters on others, and none of these things must affect the consciences or life of others.
"Hast thou faith, have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in the things which he alloweth, and he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith. And whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
This means in things not commanded by God, a man may even have faith, but he is to keep it to himself before God.
He is not to teach it or hold or practice it in such a way as to impose it on others, or to so act on this faith about things, as to interfere with the consciences of others, or to lead others to do what they do not believe God has required. He that does a thing doubting if it is ordained by God, is condemned in doing it, for "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Faith is the leading principle in all acceptable service to God. All service that lacks faith is sin. Faith cannot enter into service resting on the opinion or judgment of men. Hence all service, the command of men, is sin. Whoever induces one to do what his con science doubts is of God, leads him into sin.
"Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." "When you so sin against the brethren and wound their weak consciences (by leading them to do what they do not believe to be commanded) ye sin against Christ."
Hence he says, Happy is the man who in doing the things that his faith approves, does not condemn himself in imposing it on others, so leading them to do what their faith does not approve.
"Hast thou faith, have it to thyself before God." "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended or is made weak."
Not only must opinions be held as private property, but faith in matters permitted, 'but not required, by God, must be held to himself with God. It must not be imposed on others or be so held as to disturb the peace and quiet of the church, much rather must opinions, that are not matters of faith, be held to one's self. No point is more clearly taught in the Bible, than that opinions cannot be made the basis of action or of service in the church.
It is so far from true, that the reformation started by the Campbells proposed to tolerate all actions based on the opinions of men, that exactly the opposite was the leading feature and purpose, to-wit: All practices based on opinions must be excluded from the service of God. The opinions themselves must be held as private property. They must not be taught, must not be acted on. The original "Declaration and Address" inaugurating the movement, said,
"We form ourselves into a religious association for the sole purpose of promoting simple evangelical Christianity, free from all mixture of human opinions and inventions of men."
So far from tolerating them and the practices based on them, their purpose and aim was to banish all the opinions and inventions of men from the teaching and service of the church, and A. Campbell thirty-five years afterward urged that:
"All the contentions and divisions of all the sects and parties in Christendom, are as certainly and indisputably the effects of opinionism in religion as the love of money is the root of all evil."
He emphasized and italicized this sentence. "It is not the right of any citizen of Christ's kingdom to propagate any opinion whatsoever, either in public assembly or private."
"Moreover according to the decisions of that volume (the Bible) he that propagates an opinion and seeks to attach persons to it, or to himself on account of it, is a factionist in embryo, or in infancy or in manhood."
Oh no, the reformation as started and carried out by the Campbells and their compeers, for fifty years, looked to the casting out of every opinion and invention and device of man, and the restoring of the teachings of the Bible, free from all opinions, holding only the services plainly taught therein, so ordained by God, excluding everything based on human authority or opinion as a basis of union. They proposed to permit only matters of faith and not of opinion. There can be no mistake about this. But the reformation and teachings of the Campbells are nothing, unless they are the plain teachings of the word of God.