Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 15, 1969
NUMBER 3, PAGE 2b-3,5b

Restoring The New Testament Church - V

Edward Fudge

To most members of today's churches of Christ and Christian churches in America, the mention of Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone usually brings to mind the word "restoration." And today emphasis is placed usually on the restoration of the New Testament Church.

Though those who led the nineteenth century Reformation in this country did believe that the New Testament Scriptures presented God's perfect plan for today's church, it is perhaps misleading to say that their emphasis in restoration pertained to the Church itself. More likely those men were attempting to restore God's Word to its place of importance and authority; both as guidebook for individuals and churches, and, especially in the beginning of their work, as the all-sufficient canon of orthodoxy, unity, and communion.

The plea, according to Z. T. Sweeney, "for the restoration of everything that is essential and universal in New Testament Christianity ... was born in the brain of Ulric [h] Zwingli, the reformer of the sixteenth century." Zwingli was a contemporary of Luther, and though in background they were poles apart, they were in agreement on most points of religion. Their agreement, however, was primarily in their mutual opposition to corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. These abuses both men tried to correct.

Zwingli said in effect, "We will put out of the church all that is not taught in Scripture." Luther said in effect, "We will keep in the church all that is not contradicted by Scripture." And Z. T. Sweeney notes that "had the view of Zwingli prevailed, the Reformation of the sixteenth century would have been a restoration of the divine teaching, instead of an abortive attempt at restoration of an apostate church, and Protestantism would have been centuries in advance of what it is to-day."

But the view of Luther prevailed, and three hundred years later Campbell and Stone found a Christendom full of warring factions, equally far from the ideal set forth in Scripture.

Search For Unity

At the first the efforts of both men seem to have been in a search for a practical plan by which all Christians could be united into a loving, cooperating brotherhood. From the first they discounted the possibility of success through human creeds or confessions of faith. Through a careful study of circumstances, history, and especially the New Testament, both Stone and Campbell, with no knowledge of each other, concluded almost simultaneously that real unity could be found only in total commitment to and complete obedience of the Christ.

Urging their neighbors to be obedient to Christ in all matters, they stressed the authority of Scripture. This did not necessarily mean the same as the restoration of "the New Testament order of things" to their fellow Protestants. The general feeling was that authority of Scripture was a topic itself; the idea of the ancient church as a model for all time was another topic altogether. The Campbells felt that the two ideas went together and were a natural pair.

The thought of churches in their day actually conforming to the uselessness of human guidebooks, the certainty of pleasing God by strict obedience to His will, and the glorious simplicity of unity in such a course impelled them to act.

With enthusiasm that characterizes such men in such times, the Campbells and Stone "resolved to go back over all the dark and polluted pages of the Church's history, disregarding all authority that had been usurped during the long centuries of her captivity, until the golden age of her virgin purity was found before the polluting touch of human hands was laid upon her, or the perfume of her garments defiled by the foul breath of the apostasy, and restore her to the world in all the divine perfection that characterized her when she emanated from Him who said: 'On this rock I will build my Church"' (F. G. Allen. From a Sermon entitled "Rebuilding Jerusalem").

In the "Declaration and Address," Thomas Campbell wrote:

Dearly beloved brethren, why should we deem it a thing incredible that the Church of Christ, in this highly favored country, should resume that original unity, peace, and purity which belong to its constitution, and constitute its glory? Or, is there anything that can be justly deemed necessary for this desirable purpose both to conform to the model and adopt the practice of the primitive Church, expressly exhibited in the New Testament?

Though he was to be disappointed to some extent, Thomas Campbell assumed that "when once the principle of the sufficiency of the divine standard and model — the church of the New Testament — has been accepted, and men begin to inquire in its pages as to what is the will of God concerning his church, they will all at once fall upon the same self-evident truths of faith and practice." In this assumption, Campbell was essentially proposing his solution to the problem of disunity among professing Christians. He was suggesting unity by conformity.

[It is not out of the way to note that Campbell's reasoning was partly obligated to the idea of "natural law," and particularly to the philosophy and reasoning methods of John Locke of England. Campbell did not approach the subject of Christian unity from the standpoint which he and others used with other topics: i.e. to see what the New Testament itself had to say on the topic. He did not, in other words, develop a Biblical theology here, as he did with the subject of infant baptism. There he went to Scripture, asking the question, "What does Scripture itself have to say about baptism — its purpose and nature and subjects?" He did not deal with baptism as others had — beginning with current ideas and situations and reasoning from that point on in logical steps. Calvinism's doctrines of original sin, depravity, infant baptism and perseverance had come through this sort of "natural reason." The Campbells spurned the method of reasoning seen in Calvinism to go to the Scriptures themselves and ask, "What does God have to say on this topic?". This they did not do when dealing with Christian unity. Such a question cannot help but profit any who will ask it honestly, then go to Scripture itself for the answers.]