A. Campbell And The Christian Church And Similar Oddities

By Daniel H. King

We note with some small amount of interest that Don S. Browning, Professor in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, has been named the first “Alexander Campbell Professor” in the school. The August/September, 1980 (Vol. 8, No. 2) issue of the Bulletin remarked that Browning is “an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),” and “was minister of the Kearney Christian Church, Kearney, MO (1952-1956), and minister of students at the University Church of the Disciples of Christ in Hyde Park (1957-60).”

The Bulletin goes on to explain, “The chair commemorates a founder of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) . . . .” Being familiar with the writings and teachings of Alexander Campbell, at least to a degree sufficient to register surprise here, we cannot help but have somewhat to say about this point. If there is any one thing Campbell stood against in both his preaching and his writing, it was the concept of the church of God as being an institution of human origin or design. The starting place for him in understanding the nature of God’s “grandest of all schemes” was the Bible and the Christ who is its center. It was Jesus who was to build the church: “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18). Those words roared from the pulpits of churches where Campbell preached. They also found their place on the pages of the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger, papers edited by the indomitable scholar of Bethany. Campbell condemned the churches started by Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and others, and decried the papacy and its strangle-hold on religious folk. It too was of human origin.

Imagine now, if you will, a man being placed in the “Alexander Campbell Chair” of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, a member of the Christian Church of which Campbell is considered “a founder”! To say that Browning and other members of that church had left the old paths, removed the ancient landmarks, and shifted from original ground is so obvious as to waste’s one’s breath in saying it. Nevertheless, this position is said to “commemorate” that great restoration leader. If Campbell could hear all these goings-on, and were it possible for him so to do, his thunder would be heard once more – as he rolled over in his grave!

This-firings-anew-a thought to my mind which I have often entertained as I have studied the words of Paul directed to Timothy in the second letter (4:3): “For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine . . . .” In very short order the Spirit of Truth had made known to Paul that a son of perdition would take his seat in the very temple of God (the church, 1 Cor. 3:16-17, etc.), setting himself forth as God (2 Thess. 2:1-12). It surely gave the apostle Paul no pleasure to realize that the future held such awful events for the body and bride of Christi The Almighty was unquestionably merciful and kind to Paul to remove him from the scene before the very churches with which he had labored with such resolve had fallen into the hands of men who cared more for their own popularity than for truth or right (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The lesson here is a plain one: Paul and his own generation could only work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, it would be left to the next generation to stand on its own two feet or fall on its own bottom. And it must be forever so. In fact, were we to concentrate upon this point with too great intensity doubtless it would discourage us from doing much of anything for fear the people we convert, the institutions we begin, the churches we start, the buildings we build, in fact all the good that we do, will fall into undeserving hands in a future over which we have no control whatever. The time would come for Paul when he could not even preach in the churches he, with the help of God, had started. The same would be true of Alexander Campbell today in relation to the Christian Church denomination. Campbell fought denominationalism in all its forms in his day and would fight it with equal vigor today – even if it appeared in the form of genuine “Campbellism,” i.e., the reverencing of the person or ideology of the man Alexander Campbell in the stead of Holy Scripture and its central figure, Jesus. The great pity is that the wealth and influence of yesteryear, contained in the treasuries and assemblies of those churches at the present, are not in any real sense supportive of what Campbell stood for. They go their own independent way, to the degree that they stand opposed to what he stood for and stand for what he opposed.

But there is another oddity about which I would have something to say before I quit just now. That is the Gospel Advocate. Recently I had the pleasure of reading The Life and Times of David Lipscomb by Earl Irvin West and was once more struck, with greater realization than ever before, by the fact that the very man who had given birth to that journal, nursed it through the stormy years of the instrumental music and society crisis, could not even get his views on church cooperation aired in the pages of that same paper! In fact, we dare say that the present editorship of that journal would not have the courage to reprint those careful studies of church cooperation that came from the pen of Lipscomb in the years immediately following the Civil War, and again in the years 1884-1886! Wrote West on Lipscomb’s views:

The practice in Texas was for the churches holding annual or state meetings, giving reports of the past year’s work of the various congregations, and then, putting the work under one local church for the coming year. The plan was that all of the churches in the state would work under the eldership of one church to preach the gospel. Lipscomb frankly rejected this. The church universal, he argued, had no organic existence whatsoever, and could never work save through the local churches. The matter of the many churches working through the eldership of one church was wrong in Lipscomb’s conception because it made out of the elders of a local church a missionary society in embryo. They were being granted a responsibility and work larger than that of one local congregation. When, therefore, Azariah Paul was sent to Turkey, Lipscomb presented the matter to three of the larger congregations in Nashville. Each congregation sent directly to the man in the field. The work was done, but not by one congregation assuming more than its scriptural amount of power (p. 271)

In January of 1910 a group of the “conservative” brethren sent out a request for a meeting of brethren at Henderson, Tenn., with the desire that West Tennessee was to call an evangelist and contributing churches throughout that area were to send their contributions to the elders of the Henderson church to send to the preacher. So, the Henderson church was to “take the direction of the work.” Wrote Lipscomb in the “Old Reliable” (March 24, 1910, p. 364):

Now what was that but the organization of a society in the elders of this church? The church elders of Henderson constitute a board to collect and pay out the money and control the evangelist for the brethren of West Tennessee . . . . All meetings of churches or officers of churches to combine more power than a single church possesses is wrong . . . . For one or more to direct what and how all the churches shall work, or to take charge of their men and money and use it, is to assume the authority God has given to each church. Each one needs the work of distributing and using its funds as well as in giving them (Quoted in West, Life and Times of David Lipscomb, p. 274).

Now, as a matter of fact, that is exactly what I, the editor, and other writers of this paper believe churches ought to do in order to have scriptural church cooperation. Not because that was what Lipscomb said or believed, but because that is what the Bible teaches. Lipscomb believed it and we believe it. But isn’t it strange that the Gospel Advocate today would not even allow those views to be expressed on its pages? Many of us learned what we now know to be the truth about Bible church cooperation, either directly or indirectly, from the writings of Lipscomb on the pages of the Advocate. But what the Advocate. advocated in the days of Lipscomb it no longer advocates, and what it condemned in the time of that grand “sage of Nashville” it no longer calls sin. The practice has been given the title, “the sponsoring church”, but it is still precisely what Lipscomb labelled it in the last century, “a missionary society in embryo.”

I would imagine that the Jews who arose to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah knew that it is the way of the things of this earth to fall victim to decay and destruction. Still they rose and built. We, too, know that this journal, the churches we establish, the buildings we build in which to worship God, the schools started by loyal brethren, etc., will possibly at some future time fall into unworthy hands. Still we must arise and build. It is but ours to concern ourselves with the salvation of our own souls and the souls of those whose lives we touch. God planted us upon this earth to labor in his service now. The future is ever in his hands. There is no need for us to feel desperation at what might have been. Better for us to make what can be happen. Perhaps the virtue is, after all, in the striving rather than the accomplishing. Those staunch and rocky fortifications raised by loving Jewish hands fell to earth once more after a few short years had come and gone. The only thing that gives us courage to press on now is the knowledge that what really matters will stand forever; and that. the Jerusalem we build up is a higher and better one than theirs (Gal. 4:26)!

Truth Magazine XXIV: 42, pp. 681-682
October 23, 1980