Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 7, 1956
NUMBER 6, PAGE 1,11b

Christian Unity: The Voice Of The Reformers (IV.)

David Lipscomb

The writer from which we quoted insists that to oppose the introduction of matters of mere opinion in the church, and to reject the fellowship of men who insist on introducing service based on their own opinions, is "an absolute reversal of the most fundamental distinction of the reformers." The teaching of Mr. Campbell and the fathers is but of small importance. He did a great work for humanity. But he was a man. Yet as his name and those of his associates are appealed to in support of the right to introduce matters of opinion into the church, to do them justice, and for the intrinsic strength of their positions and arguments, we present a few extracts from their writings. The trouble is what to select out of the super-abundance.

The "Declaration and Address," written and published by Elder Thos. Campbell is recognized as the beginning of the present effort to restore the apostolic order. The end proposed therein was:

"To restore unity, peace and purity to the whole church of God. This desirable rest, however, we utterly despair either to find ourselves, or to be able to recommend to our brethren, by continuing amid the diversity and rancor of party contentions, the veering uncertainty and clashings of human opinions, nor, indeed, can we reasonably expect to find it anywhere, but in Christ, and his simple word, the same yesterday, today and forever. Our desire, therefore, for our brethren and ourselves, would be that rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men as our authority, or as having any place in the church of God, we might forever cease from further contentions about such things, returning to and holding fast by the original standard, taking the Divine word alone for our rule; the Holy Spirit for our teacher and guide, to lead us into all truth — that, by so doing, we may be at peace among ourselves, follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."

Here the only pathway to peace, in their esteem, was for all "to reject all human opinions and inventions of man, as of any authority, or as having any place in the church of God."

Article first of the Declaration is: "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." The leading thought was to free the church from all practices based on human opinions and inventions of men. They were the occasions of strife and division.

Of the preachers to be supported, section 5 says: "This society shall, to the utmost of its power, countenance and support such ministers, and such only, us exhibit a manifest conformity to the original standard in conversion and doctrine, in zeal and diligence, — without attempting to inculcate anything of human authority, or private opinion, or inventions of men, as having any place in the constitution, faith or worship of the Christian church, or anything as a matter of Christian faith or duty, for which there cannot be expressly produced, a "Thus saith the Lord," either in express terms, or by approved precedents."

They refused to sustain or countenance a preacher that would inculcate that anything of human authority, or private opinions or inventions of men, had any place in the church of God. Only that was to be taught for which a "Thus saith the Lord" could be adduced.

In the address on the divisions of Christendom, they say: "Our differences at most are about things in which the kingdom of God does not consist, that is, about matters of private opinion and human invention. What a pity that the kingdom of God should be divided about such! Who then would not be the first among us to give up human invention in the worship of God, and to cease from imposing his private opinions upon his brethren, that our breaches might be thus healed?"

They thought these divisions could only be healed by all giving up their opinions and inventions, and ceasing to impose them on the church. The divisions and breaches that the advocates of opinions so deprecate, can be healed by each giving up his opinions, and the inventions of men, and by asking his brethren to submit to and accept nothing, but what is clearly required in the scriptures. Come to this principle and peace as a river flows out. But now union and peace are sought in the opposite direction, i.e., let every man bring his invention and opinion into the church.

They declare, "There is no thing we have hitherto received as a matter of faith or practice, taught and enjoined in the word of God, either by express terms or approved precedent, that we would not readily relinquish, that so we might return to the original constitutional unity of the Christian Church, and in this happy unity, enjoy full communion with all our brethren, in peace and charity — To this we call, we invite our brethren of all denominations, by all the sacred motives which we have avouched as the impulsive reasons for our thus addressing them."

We make the same appeal on the same ground, to our brethren who introduce matters of opinion, for the sake of union and peace. They treat our appeals with indifference and contempt. If these inventions and opinions of men were not cherished in the church today, unity and peace would prevail.

To the preachers they appealed: "To you therefore, it peculiarly belongs, as the professed and acknowledged leaders of the people, to go before them in this good work, to remove human opinions and inventions of men out of the way, by carefully separating this chaff, from the pure wheat of primary and authentic revelation, casting out that assumed authority, that enacting and decreeing power by which these things have been imposed and established. To the ministerial department, then, do we look with anxiety. — His dying commands, his last and ardent prayers for the visible unity of his professing people, will not suffer you to be indifferent in this matter."

This appeal comes just as strongly to those bringing their "fads, fancies, preferences," based on opinion, into the church today as it did then, and it is a shame that Christians do not hear it. The inventions of men are called chaff, to be burned with fire unquenchable.

Again, "Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church, or to be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament."

This precludes and prohibits all inventions and devices based on opinions of men in any age.

But again, "A partial neglect in some instances of the expressed will of God, and in others an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions and human inventions a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith or worship of the church, are, and have been, the immediate, obvious and universally acknowledged causes of all the corruptions that have taken place in the church of God."

Whenever an invention or device based on human opinions is adopted into the work or worship of the church of God, every one in that church is compelled to approbate and fellowship it, or is driven out of that church. The introduction of such things is declared by the author and approvers of this address, the original movers in this reformatory movement, to be "the immediate, obvious and universally acknowledged cause of all the corruptions and divisions that have taken place on earth." Yet these men are represented as condemning those who oppose the introduction of fads, fancies, preferences — based on opinion and nothing but opinion — and those who oppose the introduction of these "obvious and immediate and universally acknowledged causes of all the corruptions and divisions that have taken place in the church of God" as worse than those who introduce these causes of division. Fierce, bitter words of denunciation they give to those who oppose, only words of comfort and praise to these who introduce, opinions into the church of God.

The address implores the preachers, "That in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of the Divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive church, exhibited in the New Testament without any additions whatsoever or human opinions or inventions of men."

Lastly, "That if any circumstantials, indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances, be not found upon the page of revelation, such, and only such, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose, should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the church."