Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 13, 1971

Campbell's "Good Works" - (VIII.)

Colly Caldwell

It has long been the practice of religious leaders to classify their unauthorized schemes as "good works." So long as a religious, or even non-religious, activity appears to accomplish a good end or have some humanitarian value, many accept it as a work of the church. We will see here that such was true in Alexander Campbell's day as well as in our own.

Cooperation In Internal Affairs

In August, 1832, Campbell published the last article in his series entitled, "The Co-Operation of Churches." Having accepted the principle of inter-congregational organization for the accomplishment of external affairs, consistency seemed to demand that the editor bring to his readers a written review of his views on the internal affairs of the congregation. In the course of his studies, which appeared as articles in the Harbinger intermittently until 1841, he changed from a policy of keeping all matters of discipline (an internal affair) within the local congregation to a position of recognizing tribunals of appeal even on the universal level.

The question of church discipline was a matter closely tied to missionary organization. The concept of national organization for the "Christian Churches," which Campbell adopted, included both the oversight of all missionary activity and the correction of inadequacies and disciplinary injustices within the congregations.

While he recognized that church organization was congregational, Campbell wrote, sometimes people do not get a fair hearing in the congregation. In such cases it is altogether proper, he said, to invite the elders from one or more neighboring churches to arbitrate the case. 1 This position would render the local congregation helpless in matters of discipline and open the door for district tribunals to oversee the affairs of congregations and make decisions in purely local matters. Campbell was headed straight for the advocacy of a national organization to oversee the churches.

Orphanages And Schools

Campbell's writings in the 1840's were designed to convince the brotherhood of Disciples that a "general society" was essential to the continued success of the "restoration" cause. Campbell's efforts were substantially aided by the entrance of some congregations into cooperative endeavors designed to perform other benevolent activities.

As churches began to cooperate in evangelistic undertakings through their district cooperative meetings, some Disciples began to ask why it would not be advisable to cooperate in other "good works." They were particularly interested in combined endeavors for the care of the destitute. Benevolent institutions, such as orphanages and schools, were organized which called upon both churches and interested individuals to donate.

One such benevolent enterprise was the Female Orphan School chartered by L.L. Pinkerton at Midway, Kentucky, in 1846. Dr. Pinkerton insisted that all credit for the success of the institution would be given to the churches of Christ.2 The orphanage, constructed from gifts by the congregations at Midway and nearby Woodford, was designed originally to house and school twenty girls as near twelve years of age as possible. A general education, including vocational training, was offered for each child for a period of four years. At the end of that time the girls, who would be about sixteen, would be sent away and others admitted. The school was organized by the election of a superintendent, a matron, and a board of trustees, all of whom would be paid fixed salaries.3 J. T. Johnson, a Kentucky preacher, called for "forty or fifty churches in the heart of Kentucky" to bear the remaining part of the school's initial expense. Campbell encouraged this effort and called on Disciples to support it. 4 The cooperation movement had now led to the establishment of a benevolent society, financed by churches, claiming to do the work of churches, but overseen by an organization without scriptural authority (the board of trustees, et al.). What this amounted to was the financing of another institution by the church. That has happened again in the Twentieth Century. Men must be made to see that our support of other institutions (orphanages, asylums for the aged or infirmed, or whatever) is no more authorized than the practice of Alexander Campbell and his followers which resulted in the formation of the denomination called the "Christian Church." The nature of the work done is not at issue. The issue then and now, is the financing of other institutions by the church.

Inter-Denominational Activities

The cooperation movement not only involved Disciples in inter-congregational activities other than evangelism, but it also caused them to join in inter-denominational activities. Alexander Campbell advocated that his readers support at least three such organizations: the American and Foreign Bible Society, the American Protestant Association, and the Evangelical Alliance. At one point he even urged support of the Baptist Missionary Society.5 The American and Foreign Bible Society was organized by Baptist to publish the King James Version of the Bible. "I believe they are engaged in a great and good work," Campbell once said, "and I assist them."6 His appeal was based on the idea that since the Disciples had no Bible societies of their own, they should assist the Baptist organizations. He believed that if the Disciples would, "in their church capacity," contribute twenty-five cents per quarter, the Disciples' brotherhood could be responsible for sending out 50,000 Bibles annually and thus have a part in teaching the lost.7 The Bethany congregation, of which Campbell was a member, was persuaded to sponsor the organization. Campbell said of their action, "The 'church has resolved itself into a Bible Society, auxiliary to the aforesaid American and Foreign Bible Society, and formed a list of subscribers."8 He rejoiced in their action.

Campbell's support of this Baptist Bible Society caused several leading Disciples, even those who advocated acceptance of his position on church cooperation, to lose faith in his judgment. Their antagonism toward him was intensified in the summer of 1845, when he refused to support the newly organized American Christian Bible Society. Campbell thought that W.S. Burnet, James Challen, and J.J. Moss had acted unadvisedly in leading the group of Disciples which met in Cincinnati to establish the society.9 Campbell said that the cost was exorbitant and that the Baptist would be more inclined to accept his teaching of restoration principles if Disciples would cooperate with them in supporting the Baptist Society.10 In 1843, Campbell enthusiastically announced support of the American Protestant Association at Philadelphia. The primary purpose of the new organization was to unite preachers of all denominations in a war on Catholicism, but a secondary purpose was to encourage a greater distribution of Bibles.11 During the year, he published lengthy reports from this association and asked the Disciples to support it with contributions.12

Campbell announced support, with some reservations, of a third organization, the Evangelical Alliance, in 1846. The Alliance was also a Protestant group fighting Catholicism. It was organized much as the American Protestant Association had been, but Campbell saw in it no real effort to create love or unity among the participants. Instead he perceived that it was based on a sectarian spirit and partisan zeal. The fact, however, that so many different denominations were cooperating gave him hope.13 Campbell considered that all these efforts of "Christian Churches" to cooperate in benevolent activities among themselves and with the denominations were important not only to his millennial theme but to the general organization he had conceived. As the years passed, he evidently became increasingly convinced that, if all men were to be saved and join together in the Lord's work, they would have to unite and cooperate through a great central ecclesiastical organization.

In November, 1841, he wrote, "Our organization and and discipline are greatly defective and essentially inadequate to the present condition and wants of society."14 Bear in mind that he was talking about the New Testament plan of congregational government he had insisted upon when he was demanding New Testament authority. The remedy, he suggested, was "a community organization, more homogeneous with the nature of the kingdom of life than any yet developed."15

The Process Of Change Advanced Further

Having left the Bible on church organization, Alexander Campbell was "off to the races." Man cannot leave the New Testament pattern on just one point. Every departure is like every lie. Once a lie is told, a chain of lies must follow to cover up the first.

Campbell desired a stronger organization for missionary or evangelistic work. When the principles were established that would allow that, they also allowed for establishment of all sorts of other organizations sponsoring "good works." They allowed, too, the support of inter-denominational activity. But these principles were not founded upon Biblical truth.

Again, one cannot but compare the departure of the nineteenth century with that of the twentieth. Accepting the principles on which the Herald of Truth missionary society and the orphanage type benevolent societies are based is but the first step in a greater departure. We are now witnessing preachers and churches in many places as they are engaged in all sorts of activities which they call "good works" but which can muster only a strained connection with good will, much less religious activity. We are seeing more every day the hobnobbing of preachers with teachers of error. They are studying their methods openly and accepting their practices. They commune with them in joint endeavors and are linked with them in the minds of the world. Such is no less sinful today than it was in Campbell's day. If these brethren wish to do the same things Campbell did in leading away Disciples in the nineteenth century, why do they not now join the Christian Church and be done with it. Some of the institutional-minded leaders would like nothing better. They know that there is no basic difference.

Footnotes 1 MH, New Series, IV (October, 1840), 433-34.

2 MH, Series III, III (July, 1846), 419-20.

3 MH, Series III, V (December, 1848), 712-13.

4 MH, Series III, VI (October, 1849), 589-91.

5 MH, Series III, II (April, 1845), 185-88.

6 MB, New Series, VI (July, 1842), 315-16.

7 MH, New Series, VI (November, 1842), 522.

8 MH, Series III, I (May, 1844), 231.

9 Ibid.

10 MH, Series III, II (August, 1845), 372.

11 MH, New Series, VII (April, 1843), 182-84.

12 MH, New Series, VII (May, 1843), 205-09; (July, 1843 ), 318-22; (August, 1843), 340-46; (August, 1843 ), 351-53.

13 MH, Series 111,111 (August, 1846), 445-48.

14 MH, New Series, V (November, 1841), 532.

15 Ibid., p. 536.