Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 24, 1956

Christian Unity: How Promoted, How Destroyed (II.)

David Lipscomb

The introduction of this rule, that what is not forbidden, is permissible yin religion, will be found to be the root of the division among the disciples, who started out to restore union among Christians, by bringing all to the word as the only rule of faith and practice among Christians. As example, of the influence and use of this principle, we make the following quotations from a prominent paper among the disciples:

What a contrast to the simple but comprehensive condition of Christian fellowship enunciated by Alexander Campbell and his coadjutors and taught in the New Testament, is the Plymouthian and Sand Creek efforts, based on the same false and foolish philosophy, to forge men together in the bonds of identical opinions, mostly if not entirely about matters of no vital importance! If the fathers of this reformation emphasized one thing more than another it was the importance of the distinction between faith and opinion. They pointed out to their contemporaries that faith united men to God and to one another, but that opinions, when substituted for faith, severed them from both, and became the occasion of endless strife and bitterness. The New Testament teaches that faith in Christ and its manifestation in obedience to his commandments are the terms of Christian fellowship, and that nothing else is to be insisted on as necessary to salvation or to the enjoyment of Christian privileges. Additions to these simple conditions of church membership and Christian fellowship, by insisting on the speculations of creed-makers and the crochets of egotistic dogmatists, and that everybody shall think and act as they do in regard to all the secondary questions of church politics, have ever been the sources of sectarian strife and division in the church of God.

It seems almost like the irony of fate that men should arise claiming to be the loyal successors of these reformers, who are planting themselves squarely on the Plymouthian ground of opinionism and externalism, in absolute reversal of the most fundamental distinction of these reformers; and in defiance of "the book" with which they profess to be supremely "satisfied" are fomenting strife and counseling division over questions of opinion — yes opinion — nothing but opinions — not one of which stands vitally related to Christian faith — opinions about expedients and methods and things incidental and circumstantial and wholly external to the kingdom of God — fads and fancies and preferences about suppers and organs and pastors and missionary societies — things which under the head of ways and means have practical value, but in comparison with the fundamental principles of the kingdom of heaven scarcely rise to the dignity of decent importance — about such matters as these, or opinions concerning them, it is proposed to disrupt the churches and to build up a new denomination on the old creed of opinionism! We are not yet prepared to go back to the sectarian flesh-pots from which we have been delivered, and every attempt to Plymouthize this movement by making opinions tests of fellowship will prove a disastrous failure.

It is said in the above extract, that the fathers of this reformation emphasized the distinction between faith and opinion, that faith united men to God and to one another, while opinions, when substituted for faith, "severed them from both, and became the source of endless discussion and strife." It is well to have clear but simple definitions of these two terms. Faith is a firm conviction resting upon clear and satisfactory testimony. Opinion is an impression resting upon human judgment, without clear and satisfactory testimony. In religion, faith is a conviction based upon a clear revelation of the Divine will. And we must "walk by faith." That is, we are led by faith in God to do what the word of God clearly requires us to do. Whatever is clearly revealed in the word of God, is a matter of faith. What is not clearly required therein is a matter of opinion. "Whatever is not of faith is sin" means when we do anything as service to God not clearly required in his word, we sin. To bring things based on opinion into the service of God, is to substitute opinion for faith, and thus, as stated above, separate man from God and his fellowmen, yet the above was written to excuse, if not to justify, those who bring matters of opinion into the service of God, and to condemn those who oppose their introduction. The writer insists on the right of any one to introduce into the worship and work of the church, things that do not rest on faith, things which have no basis in faith, things unknown to, and unrecognized by the word of God. He rightly describes them as "fads and fancies and preferences about suppers and organs and pastors and missionary societies." A fad, in current use — is a whim of fashion that has a temporary fashionable run. He puts these fads of fashion and fancies and preferences for suppers, organs, etc., on the same footing with pastors and missionary societies. He says these all rest upon the "opinion, nothing but opinions, of men — not one of which stands vitally related to the Christian faith, opinions about expedients and methods and things incidental and circumstantial, and wholly external to the kingdom of God." Now the writer thus classifies these practices — and condemns bitterly division and strife in opposing them. The introduction of these "fads and fancies and preferences," based upon mere opinion and nothing but opinion, and that have not a shadow of basis in faith, nor the shadow of authority in the word of God, is not condemned by this writer. He only condemns opposition to them.

Those who wish to introduce into the church or service of God any "fad, or fancy, or preference," based upon opinion and nothing but opinion, are to be allowed to do so. They are to be permitted to act on their opinion, to introduce whatever their fancies or preferences desire, and to make their opinions the rule and authority for practices in the church of God — and all who differ in opinion must submit and be silent. Granting for the present, that the opposition to these things is based only on opinions, then we have two sets of opinions in the church. One class is to be tolerated. Some are permitted to introduce whatever "fads, fancies and preferences" of opinion those who hold them may desire. Others have opinions that these "fads, fancies and preferences" are all wrong. These must hold their opinions in restraint, they must not act on their opinions, they must submit to the opinions of those who would introduce their "fads, fancies and preferences." These "fads, and fancies and preferences" of one class become the rule of the church — the opinions of others must be over-ridden and suppressed. And the tyranny of opinion which is so deprecated has full sway. Members in a church, with two different rules of action, cannot work together in harmony. Hence the Holy Spirit admonishes all to walk by the same rule.

"Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 15:5,6.)

"Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." (Phil. 2:2,3.)

"Finally, brethren farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you." (II Cor. 13:11.)

"Finally, be ye of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous." (I Pet. 3:8.)

If one man's opinion is ground for action in church affairs, another man's is likewise, and every man's is. As we differ in opinion, then we must adopt diverse and different rules of action. And different rules of action in a church will bring conflict in action. It will necessarily produce strife and confusion and lead to division. It cannot possibly be avoided. To represent that Alexander Campbell advocated that men make their opinions, mere "fads, and fancies" of opinion, ground of any service is to mistake his whole teaching. A favorite expression of his, was, "opinions must be held as private property." They are not to be brought into the public, not even proclaimed publicly — much less to be introduced into the church and their approval or toleration forced upon others. As example of this, Aylette Rains had the opinion that all would finally be made happy. This was an opinion of his, without evidence, to be held as private property, not to be taught, but the things clearly taught in the Bible, seen and read of all men, were matters of faith. These were to be taught. Rains was received into the fellowship of the church; he held his opinions as private property — did not teach them, taught what is clearly taught in the Bible, and in doing this he said his mind grew away from these opinions and he lost sight of them.

The plea of Alexander Campbell was that the opinions of men were not to be brought into the church of God and were not to be made the basis of action. If a man held the opinion that men might so change under some circumstances, the ordinance of baptism, as that effusion would be acceptable to God, for baptism, let him neither practice nor teach the opinion, but practice and teach just what the Bible teaches, and in this teaching and practice of the Bible he is to be fellowshipped. A man might have the opinion that Calvinism is true, or Arminianism. He could hold either, or both, if it were possible, as private property, but he could not teach or enforce either on the church, or on any of its members or bring either into his teaching or into the church — to affect the faith, and action, or the peace and harmony of the church of God. These things were too fully and clearly elaborated to admit of intelligent controversy.