By Leonard Tyler
Hear Mr. Alexander Campbell in his first issue of the Christian Baptist.
“The `Christian Baptist’ shall espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting that ancient sect called `Christians first at Antioch.’ It’s sole object shall be the eviction of truth, and the exposure of error in doctrine and practice. The editor acknowledging no standard of religious faith or works, other than the Old and New Testaments, and the latter as the only standard of the religion of Jesus Christ, will, intentionally at least, oppose nothing which it contains, and recommend nothing which it does not enjoin. Having no worldly interest at stake from the adoption or reprobation of any article of faith or religious practice – having no gift nor religious office of any worldly emolument to blind his eyes or to pervert his judgment, he hopes to manifest that he is an impartial advocate of truth” (Prospectus of the Christian Baptist, Buffalo Creek, Brooke County, Va., Edited and published by Alexander Campbell; Vol. I, page IV, July 4, 1823).
An Honest Search for Divine Authority
These early seekers of truth as set forth in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, recognized that truth exposes erroneous doctrines and those who espouse such. They claimed to change and be changed to conform to the mold or pattern set forth in the teaching of Christ. Here is what Alexander Campbell wrote, “If it be a crime to change our views and our practice in religious concerns, we must certainly plead guilty. If it be a humiliating thing to say we have been wrong in our belief and practice, we must abase ourselves thus far” (Ibid., Preface, page VIII).
They also understood that men defeated by truth were not intellectually honest and that they would garble, twist, and pervert plain positive statements. So Mr. Campbell wrote, “There is another difficulty of which we are aware, that, as some objects are manifestly good, and the means attempted for their accomplishment manifestly evil, speaking against the means employed we may be sometimes understood as opposing the object abstractly, especially by those who do not wish to understand, but rather to misrepresent” (Ibid., page X).
He made one last request which emphasizes his desire for honesty as well as open investigation. Think about it. He has already proposed, “Never to hold any sentiment or proposition as more certain than the evidence on which it rests . . . ” Alright, what about you, Mr. Campbell? Here is his answer. “We have only one request to make of our readers – and that is, an impartial and patient hearing; for which we shall make them one promise, viz. that we shall neither approve nor censure any thing without the clearest and most satisfactory evidence from reason and revelation” (Ibid., page X). So long as this design and purpose of heart is followed, we believe that truth can be found and men can be united in Christ and saved eternally. This is why such men are named, quoted, and eulogized. Not because they were the authority, but rather they diligently sought the proper authority, God’s Word. They sought to understand it as a basis of their faith, to find direction for their lives, and to establish the hope of their salvation. This is our greatest need today, viz; men who seek God’s will as revealed; men who believe, practice, teach, and find joy and confidence in its promises. Herein is found faith, unity, accomplishment and eternal salvation.
To Correct Error, Restore Truth
They sought sincerely to learn the truth and accept it. Listen to Mr. Barton W. Stone in the first issue of the Christian Messenger.
To illustrate lengthily the importance of the object contemplated in this work; would be unnecessary. Of this the public will judge, to whom the work is now presented.
It is universally acknowledged, by the various sects of Christians, that the religion of Heaven, for centuries past, has fallen far below the excellency and glory of primitive Christianity. The man, who honestly investigates the cause of this declension, and points the proper way of reformation, must certainly be engaged in a work, pleasing to God, and profitable to man. This is our design; and to accomplish this desirable end, shall our best exertions be enlisted and engaged. That these exertions may be better calculated to effect the object contemplated, we invite and solicit the aid of qualified brethren, who feel as we do, an ardent desire for the restoration and glory of the ancient religion of Christ – the religion of love, peace, union on earth.
That there are errors in the doctrines, as well as in the lives and practices of the various religious denominations now living, I presume, no Protestant will deny. Their various, jarring creeds their bitter strife and uncharitable opposition to one another their pride and worldly spirit – their death and cold formality these are undeniable evidences of the melancholy fact. To have these errors corrected and removed from the church; and to have truth restored in her heavenly, captivating robes, unadorned with the tinsel of human wisdom, are certainly the pious wishes of every honest Christian. Therefore, unappalled at the dangerous attempt, not discouraged at the attendant difficulties, we will boldly, though humbly, advance to the work, as the Bible alone acknowledged by all Protestants to be the only infallible rule, by which all doctrines and spirits are to be tried; so by this rule we will honestly try the various, jarring doctrines and spirits, which have done so much mischief in the world, for so many centuries back. Should we be so happy as to find the error, we shall be compelled by our benevolence for man, and love of truth, to expose it to view; and to endeavor to exhibit the doctrine of the Bible, unsullied by the unhallowed touch of man’s wisdom.
Before we can promise ourselves success, the mind must be previously prepared to enter upon the work.
1. We must be fully persuaded, that all uninspired men are fallible, and therefore liable to err. I think that Luther, in a coarse manner, said that every man was born with a Pope in his belly. By which I suppose he meant, that every man deemed himself infallible. Our pride abhors the idea of being accounted weak. To give up an opinion, a sentiment or doctrine, and to receive a different one, has been long reckoned a certain evidence of weakness. The public has strangely affixed this stigma on the man, who dares change his opinion. If the various reformers, in the different periods of the world, had been influenced by this principle what would have been the consequences? Certainly, they would have remained in error – have evaded persecution, and we should now have been under the midnight shades of paganism and popery. If the present generation remains under the influence of the same principle, the consequences must be, that the spirit of free enquiry will die – our liberty lie prostrate at the feet of ecclesiastical demagogues -every sect must remain as it is – their various and contradictory notions must continue, and strife and division remain, in opposition to the will of God, and to the disgrace of Christianity” (The Christian Messenger, Vol. 1, No. 1, by Barton W. Stone, page 1-2, Nov. 25, 1825).
Which Way Will We Go?
May I take the liberty to place an awakening beware! We had better take warning today less we shall end up right back where they started. It seems that some – the extreme liberals among us, – reject the restoration movement. These radicals claim in effect that the early efforts blocked true thinking, stigmatized progressive acquisition of truth, and infringed upon the rights, liberties, and blessed privileges inherent under God. Our digression from a true, honest, conservative, literal understanding of pure and undefiled religion before God is rapidly back-stepping the path of restoration to a full-fledged denominational, theological, experimental and empirical religion. We must awake from our sleep, arise, redeem the time, and shout from the house top those things which are revealed in the Divine Volume and surely believed by us.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 28, pp. 433, 444
July 16, 1981