Attitudes and Consequences: A Review

By Timothy J. Smelser

In The Life of Reason the American philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians we understand that the record of God’s dealings with the Israelites was written for our ad-monition that we might learn by example not to do the things that they did (1 Cor. 10:6-11). Whether it is secular history or church history, one of the great benefits of studying such is to learn from the mistakes that others have made so that those errors are not repeated.

Homer Hailey’s book Attitudes and Consequences in the Restoration Movement examines two attitudes toward Scripture that have resulted in the religious situation we find in the church today. The development of these attitudes centers around the issue of scriptural authority and can be traced back to apostolic times. Hailey’s book is actually an expansion of his thesis for his Master’s degree which he earned from Southern Methodist University in 1944. He states as his objective, “to consider the attitude of the nineteenth century reformers toward the Scriptures, and to trace that attitude through the growth and development of the movement known as the Restoration Movement, until finally another attitude developed, parallel with it, repeating the history of the early centuries, which resulted in a division in that great brotherhood . . .” (Hailey, 13). Fanning Yater Tant, in an addendum found in the most recent edition of the book, summarizes Hailey’s thesis as “`attitudes’ toward the Scripture, rather than understandings or interpretations of it are the basic root of divisions and separations” (258).

In the preface Hailey almost appears apologetic for his extensive use of quotes from other books and religious journals, but the reader will likely find this to be one of the great strengths of this book. Besides quoting from noted historians such as Schaff, Jennings, Garrison, Gates, and others, Halley uses many biographies written by the contemporaries of the Restoration leaders. Letting the men of the movement speak for themselves, Halley incorporates lengthy quotations from some of the more familiar journals such as The Christian Baptist, The Millennial Harbinger, Lard’s Quarterly, and refers to yet others which might not be so familiar to the average reader such as The Christian Journal or The Scroll.

The book itself is divided into three parts. The first part covering the years of 1809-1849 (although the first two chapters address attitudes leading up to the year 1809); the second part 1849-1875; and the third 1890-present (1945). As was mentioned above, the book was republished in 1975 and included an addendum by Fanning Yater Tant covering the period of 1945-1975. In the first chapter Hailey captures the attitude of the New Testament writers toward Scripture choosing as his starting point the same model the leaders of the Restoration chose. What follows in chapter one is a brief, yet excel-lent, overview of attitudes toward Scripture from the Roman Catholic Church (citing Augustine and Thomas Aquinas), i.e., that “Scripture must be authoritative because the church declares it so” (14) and “to the church even Scripture owes its authority” (15), to the sixteenth century reformers (such as Luther and Zwingli) and on to the Congregationalist and Baptist churches in early America. His purpose is to show the development of attitudes and the subsequent unrest which would set the stage for the great Restoration Movement in this country.

A detailed history of all the men and events involved in the Restoration Movement is never attempted by Hailey. Instead, his interest lies in the struggles experienced as application of Thomas Campbell’s famous slogan (“Speak where the Scriptures speak, and keep silent where the Scriptures are silent”) was made to numerous is-sues. Throughout the book, the reader is brought back to the idea that there are two prevalent attitudes at work. The first, that “the Scriptures provided the all-sufficient guide in matters of doctrine, worship, and morality” and the second that “where the Scriptures did not specifically forbid a thing, the worshiper was at liberty to use his own judgment and wisdom in the matter of its introduction” (197). These two attitudes seemed to stem from the same basic root, but ultimately the application of such would cause them to stand diametrically opposed to one another. This became apparent even to the Campbells as they came to realize that due to these different attitudes the union they initially desired with the religious bodies of that time was a hopeless task (68).

Hailey takes the reader through the debates and discussions that were waged over such early issues as the proper name to wear, the use of creeds, the impropriety of a clergy class, and the purpose of baptism. As issues such as church cooperation and missionary societies polarized brethren, Hailey deals with the instrument question as the “dividing wedge.” Finally, in the third part of the book, he examines each camp separately and the subsequent issues that troubled each in the early part of the twentieth century.

To those not familiar with two of the more famous documents of the Restoration period, a few extracts from The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery can be found in chapter 2, and a very good over-view of Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address” can be found in chapter 3. Also worthy of mention is a satirical article of Alexander Campbell’s in The Christian Baptist written as the unpublished Third Epistle of Peter. His sarcasm was aimed at the “clergy” of his day, but the points are well taken in any age.

Young preachers (and old alike) should take special note of the personal struggles through which the men of the Restoration went. They experienced conflict in heart and conscience as they wrestled through various issues. Some-times this was a time consuming process. For example, in his first de-bate (against John Walker, 1820) Alexander Campbell “mildly suggested baptism for remission of sins as a Bible doctrine” (116). It was not until his debate with William McCalla, three years later, that Campbell affirmed this doctrine with conviction. In almost all of the issues of that day, there was a heart and soul-searching process that took place as men tested their convictions against the truth of God’s word.

Even though they were written fifty years ago, the words of Olan L. Hicks in the introduction to the book explain why this book is essential reading for young preachers today. He said, “There are many in the generation now coming into responsibility who may not know the story of the struggle and vigilance necessary to maintain the integrity of New Testament worship and work. . . . Those who believe in the New Testament as the word of God will have to bear the burden not only of converting the world, but also of combating infidel teaching from every side” (8).

There are probably very few of this generation who have taken the time to read The Arlington Meeting, and it is doubtful that those younger than 30 had the opportunity to attend the Nashville Meeting (1988) or the Dallas Meeting (1990). Gentlemen, if we do not equip ourselves to understand the particulars of the issues we face, if we do not learn from the battles waged and the stands taken by those who came before us, we will not be pre-pared soldiers of the cross. May God bless our efforts as we strive to do the work of evangelists and “fight the good fight of faith.”

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 23, p. 14-15
December 5, 1996