By F.D. Srygley
Note: The following article written 100 years ago is as timely today as it was when first published. It was submitted by Paul K. Williams. It was the front page editorial written by F.D. Srygley in the Gospel Advocate, some time between 1889 and 1900 and is taken from the book, The New Testament Church, edited by F.B. Srygley, 193-195.
The “Baptist and Reflector” refers to the differences and discussions among “us as a people,” and suggests that we ought to agree among ourselves and quit arguing with each other before we push “our plea” for the union of all Christians on the Bible much further.
The brother errs, not knowing the Scriptures. Because we differ in opinions and argue questions among ourselves, it does not follow that we are not united as Christians on the Bible. We have never proposed or desired to unite Christians in any institution that is too narrow to allow them to differ in opinion or argue with each other. We are in favor of giving everybody room to think and liberty to speak for himself.
For myself, I am opposed to any institution that allows no one but the bosses and grand moguls to entertain an idea or express an opinion. For the life of me, I can’t see that I am under any more obligation to agree with Alexander Campbell than he to agree with me. I would never unite with him or anybody else on the Bible on any other condition than that I am as free as he to study the Bible. This is the only kind of union we have ever proposed, and it is the only kind that is practicable or right among men.
Whenever it comes to human organizations in which no one but the framers of doctrinal standards are allowed to do any thinking, I beg to be excused. My thinking apparatus is not very large, I admit, but I claim all the room the Bible allows me in which to operate it.
The Reflector evidently thinks that because every man, with us, is free to think for himself and to differ from and argue with everybody else, therefore we are not united. That is an error. We are united, and the beauty and strength of the union is to be found largely in the fact that it is a union in Christ wherein everyone is allowed to study the Bible and think for himself, without being amenable to ecclesiastic authorities or doctrinal standards of human make.
The Reflector seems to have the old, bigoted idea that if a man should happen to differ from me and undertake to argue a question with me, he must get out of my church and start a little concern of his own. That has been the trouble with religious bigots all along the ages. It takes just such bigotry as that to build up denominations and keep Christians apart. “We as a people” are a rather contentious set, I admit, but we have not yet given in to that idea.
It is just at this point I file my objection to the Baptist Church. One must accept its doctrinal standards, written by uninspired men, or get out of it. Here is the “Baptist and Reflector,” for instance. It could think out some very good ideas of its own and express them in very creditable English if it only had room. But, my! Wouldn’t the Baptist bosses sit down on it with a crash if it should happen someday to think a little thought all by itself, without consulting the doctrinal standards?
The basis of our union ought always to be as broad as the conditions of salvation. No man has any right to make his plea for union narrower than this. It is wrong to make anything a condition of fellowship which is not essential to salvation. We draw the line here. That which will damn a soul and separate us in the next world should divide us in this; nothing else should.
There are a few men among us who are trying very hard to “organize” the thing called “us as a people,” so as to shut off all investigation and stop all discussion; but they are entirely too narrow in their ideas to fairly represent this reformation. They say that if something of this kind is not done very soon, “our plea” will burst into smithereens, “our organized mission work” will break all to flinders, and “we as a people” will go to smash on general principles; but I think not. The shortest route I know to such a crash is to organize us and undertake to compel us all to quit thinking and arguing and accept the conclusions and carry out the plans of “leading men and papers,” without the liberty to conceive an idea or express an opinion of our own.