Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 10, 1969
NUMBER 48, PAGE 12-13

Christians In The Sects?

(Fourth In A Series On "Restoration Thoughts")

Edward Fudge

In the "Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery," Stone and his fellows commented concerning that body: "We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling."

Realizing the evil produced among professing Christians by sectarianism and party spirit, the signers of the "Last Will and Testament..." stated their desire to become denominationally anonymous, and they gave this reasoning: "From a principle of love to Christians of every name, the precious cause of Jesus, and dying sinners who are kept from the Lord by the existence of sects and parties in the church, they have cheerfully consented to retire from the din and fury of conflicting parties — sink out of the view of fleshly minds, and die the death."

As sectism withered, Christian unity would blossom; and in this Stone and the Campbells expected ultimately to see accomplished the evangelization if not the conversion of the world. The Springfield Presbytery leaders stated this disposition. "We heartily unite with our Christian brethren of every name," they wrote, "in thanksgiving to God for the display of his goodness in the glorious work he is carrying on in our Western country, which we hope will terminate in the universal spread of the gospel." Some records of the document add also the words, "and the unity of the church."

By their teaching and by their example, Stone and his associates sought to destroy the party spirit where ever it appeared. It would be interesting to know more about the individual mentioned in their "Will and Testament," of whom they wrote: "We will, that Ja_______, the author of two letters lately published in Lexington, be encouraged in his zeal to destroy partyism."

Thomas Campbell was no less against sects and parties within the professing Church. In defense of his own action in forming the Christian Association of Washington, Campbell wrote: "Should any affect to say that our coming forward...has a manifest make a new party, we treat it as a confident and groundless assertion, and must suppose they have not duly considered, or, at least, not well understood the subject."

Hatred of the party spirit had led Campbell from the sect within the larger sect within the Presbyterian Church to his independent position. He expressed his abhorrence of this work of the flesh in the "Declaration and Address." There he wrote:

Divisions among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, is antiscriptural, is antinatural, is productive of confusion and of every evil work.

According to Charles Alexander Young, it was Campbell's intention that Christians "retain their membership in their respective denominational churches," but that each be "received cordially into all the churches on an interdenominational mission." If this was his original intention, he was quickly forced by circumstances to alter his program. The environment was hostile and churchmen were not ready for such broad suggestions.

It is certain that Campbell did not intend for men to remain in the various churches if that meant retaining partisan viewpoints based on varying creeds and statements of faith. "How to love and receive our brother, as we believe and hope Christ has received both him and us, and yet refuse to hold communion with him, is, we confess, a mystery too deep for us," he said.

Campbell also expected positive acceptance and love to result in the end of sectarian and denominational allegiances. He believed that "when the Lord the healer descends upon his people, to give them a discovery of the nature and tendency of those artificial bonds wherewith they have suffered themselves to be bound in their dark and sleepy condition, they will no more be able to hold them in a state of sectarian bondage than the withes and cords with which the Philistines bound Samson were able to retain him their prisoner, or than the bonds of Antichrist were to hold in captivity the fathers of the Reformation."

Denominationalism An Evil

Alexander Campbell was even more aggressive in attacking denominationalism as such. In an address entitled "A Word to Friendly Aliens," he urged: "If you are The people of God,' as you profess, and as we would fain imagine, then you are commanded by a voice from heaven, 'Come out of her, my people, that you partake not of the sins of mystic Babylon, and that you receive not a portion of her plagues."'

Perhaps it is in order to note two things here. First, that Alexander Campbell "would fain imagine" that the denominations did contain "the people of God," and, second, that his appeal to them followed the doubtful exegesis of Revelation 18:4,5 held by most Protestants of his day. On these two bases, he issued such calls as quoted above.

Isaac Errett, the founder of the still-prominent Christian Standard, and the man who, more than any other, took over the work of Alexander Campbell at his death, satirized those he termed "abstract unionists" these words:

These regard unity as desirable, but union as impracticable. They advocate a moonshiny sentimentalism of catholicity of spirit which they are well assured cannot be realized in life. They propose that the sects remain undisturbed in their separate organizations and interests, and merely be put on their best behavior toward each other.

Errett did not deny that there were Christians among the sects, but he was plain in his exhortation for them to come out.

We do not recognize branches of the Church of Christ, but as unscriptural and anti-scriptural, and therefore to be abandoned for the one Church of God which the New Testament reveals. That God has a people among these sects, we believe; we call on them to come out from all party organizations, to renounce all party names and party tests, and seek only for Christian union and fellowship according to apostolic teaching.

The time has now fully come to urge the evils and mischiefs of the sect spirit and sect life, and to insist on the abandonment of sects and a return to the unity of spirit and union and co-operation that marked the churches of the New Testament.

The doctrine of Christian union as taught and practiced by us...proposes no compromise whatever with denominationalism, but insists that party names, party creeds, and party organizations, being in direct contravention of the teachings of Christ, must be forsaken. ("Our Position')

Errett did not feel that by coming out of sects, Christians would be running from one room of a burning house to another room in the same house; but he assured all that the yard was a safe place to be, even when the entire house fell. "We do not, therefore, propose the union of sects," said Errett, "but call on all the people of God in the various sects to come out from them and unite in the faith and practice of the New Testament."

Elijah Goodwin was born in 1807, the same year Thomas Campbell came to America, and later he became an outstanding Christian preacher. Goodwin once said in a sermon:

The word sect...seems to have come from the same root from which we have the word section, which means a part separated or cut off from the rest...The mystical body of Christ is "one body," this body there should be no schism...No man has any divine right to draw away a party from the original organism and form a sect of it.

Another influential disciple, F. G. Allen, spoke against sectism in these words:

While we believe that many identified with the denominations are Christians, they have taken on much that is neither Christianity nor any part of it; and this we labor to have them put away. These are the things that cause sectarian divisions, with all their evils.

John S. Sweeney preached against the wearing of human names. He said that "the Disciples have ever return to primitive Christianity, and do hold, that every Christian, whether identified with any of the denominations or not...ought to be simply a Christian and to wear only New Testament names, as we ourselves are aiming to do:"

Sweeney also recognized the presence of Christians among the sects of his day, and to these he was kind and gentle; but to the principle that held them there he was bitterly opposed. He made this clear when he said that the Disciples' "fundamental purpose is in its very nature hostile to all denominations, as such; not, of course, to Christians among the denominations, but to denominationalism itself."

As eloquently as any other, Sweeney summarized the feeling of the early restoration preachers regarding the sects (or denominations) and Christians' relation to them. As these early preachers did on most subjects, Sweeney very positively affirmed his position in this matter, letting positive truth cut as it would and expose darkness by illumination. He wrote: "The New Testament believed and obeyed makes Christians and not partisans, and when all professed followers of Jesus return to the faith and practice of that book, partyism and denominationalism will disappear."

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