By John McCort
When Thomas Campbell penned the words, “We shall speak where the Bible speaks, we shall be silent where the Bible is silent,” little did he realize the far-reaching impact it would have on the religious world. From the embryo of this famous phrase was conceived the Restoration Movement. This movement grew beyond Campbell’s wildest dreams. The whole thrust of the movement was to restore the New Testament church to it’s original simplicity. The principle behind the Restoration Movement is a valid principle.
While I agree with the underlying principle of the Restoration Movement, I fear that Thomas and Alexander Campbell have become sacred cows. The Campbells did a great service to millions of people by turning their attention back to the Scriptures and to the New Testament church. Yet the lives, belies, and teachings of Thomas and Alexander Campbell were many times completely inconsistent with the restoration principle they were teaching. For a long time after the famous “Declaration And Address” had been written, (which set forth the principles of the Restoration Movement), Thomas and Alexander Campbell both practiced infant baptism. While preaching simple, undenominational Christianity they joined themselves to a denominational organization called the Redstone Baptist Association. While preaching the restoration of the New Testament church, Alexander Campbell, for a period of time, believed he was still in fellowship with “Christians” in all denominations, even the Catholics. After Alexander Campbell finally rejected all denominational organizations, he turned around and formed the American Christian Missionary Society, which was no different in principle from the denominational machinery he had just left. The point being made is that the lives and teachings of the Campbell’s were often contradictory with the original principles of restoration they were pleading for.
Many preachers are self-styled experts on the Restoration Movement. Some have devoted huge amounts of time to studying the lives and teachings of the restoration leaders. Many preachers can quote profusely from these leaders. I fear that some have enshrined the Campbell’s to a point that what they have said becomes equal authority with the Scriptures. The fallacy of quoting the restoration leaders is that they can be quoted on both sides of nearly any issue. Quoting the restoration leaders, to prove a point is about like the Catholics establishing doctrines on the basis of the “unanimous consent of the church fathers.” There never was any “unanimous consent” among the early “church fathers.” Neither is there much unanimity among the restoration leaders. Alexander Campbell, for example, can be correctly quoted on both sides of the pious unimmersed question. The restoration leaders can be quoted on both sides of the sponsoring church question or the instrumental music question. It is very dangerous to start quoting the restoration leaders on much of anything because invariably somebody else can quote an equally eminent restorationist on the other side of the question. It can be quite devastating to a young preacher who has heard the Campbell’s revered and quoted all of his life to discover suddenly that the Campbell’s believed and taught false doctrine. This disillusionment can destroy a young preacher’s confidence in the restoration principle as a valid principle.
It seems strange to me that the original plea for religious unity made by the Campbell’s is being used today as a tool to divide brethren. In the name of religious unity, wicked men are dividing brethren over the subject of unity and fellowship. These self-styled restorationists, though, have left the only basis for unity: the doctrine of Christ. Even though the Campbell’s were inconsistent with their own teaching, the principle of religious unity based on the Bible is a valid principle. In our preaching we need to make sure that we are converting people to Christ through His word; not to a warmed-over, sectarian form of Campbellism.
Truth Magazine XIX: 42, pp. 670-671
September 4, 1975