Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 20, 1971

The Road To National Organization — (IX.)

Colly Caldwell

Although Campbell began trying to condition Disciples to accept the national society he had in mind as early as 1841, he understood the necessity for development of local and state societies before a general organization could be established.

The Example In Indiana

The cooperative which seemingly was most exemplary to Campbell of that which the churches in each state should organize was the "General Meeting of Elders and Brethren in Indiana." Leaders of this organization divided the state into four districts and appointed an evangelist for each section. Each evangelist was to visit every congregation in his district during the year to gather statistics, ask its cooperation in the evangelistic program of the state meeting, and then preach the gospel to its members. He was also to carry a letter asking each Christian to contribute at least twenty-five cents to the program.1 Another notable statewide meeting was held annually in Virginia. Churches wishing to be represented could send one delegate for each five dollars contributed. In Virginia, as in Indiana, a board of overseers was appointed to supervise the work of the convention.2 Campbell, Daniel Parker, and John Taylor had opposed Baptist societies of almost identical organization in the 1820's. Now, in the 1840's, Campbell was using them as the pattern for what he hoped would be a great nation-wide organization which would unite all believers in Christ.

Campbell accepted a much more liberal theological foundation for his beliefs during this time than he had while editing the Christian Baptist. His concepts of Scriptural authority had changed. Though he affirmed that only Christ has authority to rule man, the Bible, Campbell said, was not a sufficient guide to govern the church. There were current matters which the editor felt were inadequately handled because of the brethren's insistence upon ruling their affairs strictly by the Book under the congregational organization.3 One major problem this created, Campbell wrote, was that of selecting evangelists and other public functionaries. He considered that many who were preaching were not competent in Biblical knowledge or evangelistic ability and judgment. Thus, he affirmed that the "larger community" of churches was the only agency qualified to select public teachers and messengers.4 Because some evil men had converted associations and conventions into legislative sessions, he continued, the brethren had forsaken all efforts at general organization and thus had no way to protect churches from unqualified preachers. He could not conceive, he said, of a kingdom which had neither constitution nor constant cooperation and which allowed itself to be ruled by such fears. 5 Those churches which did not cooperate and care for each other limited their fellowship and communion and restricted their own progress, he concluded. 6

Campbell felt compelled, however, because of his former emphasis, to give some Bible basis for his policies. Without citing particular Scriptures, he claimed that bishops were appointed in every city in New Testament times and that they consulted, advised, and directed all the congregations in the city in reference to matters of general concern. 7 Basing further remarks on the work of the apostles, he claimed that if it were necessary for Paul to have the care of all the churches, then it is necessary now to have some organization to care for the congregations. 8 Such reasoning would just as easily authorize every phase of the Roman Catholic hierarchal system.

For the first time, large-scale division among the Disciples appeared to be imminent. In a letter dated June 14, 1842, A. P. Jones of Bennington, New York, suggested that surely the brethren were misunderstanding Campbell Some were attributing to him the advocacy of "some kind of a ministerial presidency over the whole body of Disciples." In order to clarify the editor's position and thus conclude the controversy which was resulting from his statements, Jones asked for direct answers from Camp-to two questions: (1) "Are you advocating a general ministerial presidency to regulate morals and discipline?" and (2) "Are you advocating a general concert of understanding and action?"9 The questions were never directly answered in the Harbinger.

Another important Disciple who could see that Campbell's insistence on a nation-wide organization was leading to division was Walter Scott, now editor of the Evangelist In September, 1843, Scott sharply denounced Campbell for forming a new organization which could not be justified by Scriptural authority. "Who made brother Campbell an organizer over us?" he asked. "We are organized and demand no other than elders and deacons in every church." According to Scott, Campbell had forgotten the restoration of the New Testament organization and was reverting to the same type of human organization which was so characteristic of denominationalism. 10 Even those outside the Disciples' fellowship were able to see what Campbell was doing. A communicant of another faith addressed Campbell with the proposition that the editor was not as certain of the Scriptural basis for his new views on organization as he was on the "saving doctrines." He also said that Campbell was going very slowly in revealing his views. According to the writer, this indicated that he either had misgivings concerning their truth or was trying to feel the pulse of his readers to see if they would be accepted. That was indeed, he said, unlike the Alexander Campbell of the Christian Baptist. 11

Campbell dismissed much of his opposition without a word. He did, however, occasionally print letters from those who differed with him. The strength of the opposition, nevertheless, forced Campbell to try to stave off the imminent division. Calling the present controversy merely the "politics" of Christianity, he wrote that he had no fear of division over organization because it was not of the "essence" of "soul-redeeming" power. "We are not disposed," he continued, "to schism, division, or even strife on any theoretical views of church organization or church government. 12 What Campbell was not admitting was that many of the Disciples considered the organization of the church a matter of "faith" and not a matter of "politics."

In February, 1849. Campbell began his third major series in the Millennial Harbinger on church organization. It consisted of only five articles, but it laid the foundation for an organization which would include churches from every state in the union.

"There is now heard from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, Campbell wrote, one general, if not universal, call for a more efficient organization of our churches. Experience, then which there is not a more efficient teacher, decides and promulges that our present cooperative system is comparatively inefficient, and inadequate to the exegesis of the times and the cause we plead." 13

The theme of cooperation was no longer being limited to evangelism by Campbell. He had in mind an organization which would "bring all our energies to bear upon the church and the world." He argued that, if such an organization existed, the Disciples could carry everything before them. Without it they would lose rather than gain. 14 To expedite the establishment of the organization he was advocating, Campbell himself appointed a committee to answer two important questions: 1) "What shall be the form or character of our organization?" and, 2) "How shall it be established?" He asked that it submit a report for publication in the next number of the Harbinger. 15 In April, Campbell expressed dissatisfaction that his committee had met only once since its appointment in February. While its members were deliberating, he said, it was his intention to submit for their consideration his reflections on the matter. He was clearly going to lead in planning the organization and he was impatient. Though admitting "doubt" concerning scriptural premises on which to build a particular type organization, 16 he proceeded to argue that the whole issue was one of expediency. He said:

"For my own part, I see no necessity for any positive Devine statutes in such matters...Hence the congregational or Baptist associational form of uniting and co-operating, when divested of those appendages, against which we remonstrated twenty-five years ago, is now and has always been, more acceptable to my views than any other form of co-operation in Christendom." 17

The work of the body Campbell proposed would be all-inclusive. He suggested that the organization be active in evangelistic missions, domestic and foreign Bible translation, religious literature production, and establishment and maintenance of moral and benevolent agencies. These different works covered all aspects of what Campbell considered the work of the church to be.18 The general organization, acting for the universal church, would also control the ordination of evangelists and other public functionaries. 19 Campbell was not simply advocating the establishment of a missionary society.

He was asking for central government to regulate all congregations in all their inter-congregational activities.

Footnotes 1. MH, New Series, VI (August, 1842), 379

2. MH, Series III, I (November, 1844), 527 3. MH, New Series, V (November, 1841), 532

4. lbid 5. MH, New Series, VI (February, 1842), 59-64

6. lbid 7. lbid

8. MH, New Series, VI (March, 1842), 133-37 9. MH, New Series, VI (August, 1842), 355-59

10. MIL Series III, I (January, 1844), 42-44 11. MH, New Series, VI (October, 1842), 434-35

12. lbid 13. MH, Series III, VI (February, 1849), 90-93

14. lbid 15. Ibed

16. MH, Series III, VI (April, 1849), 221 17. MH, Series III, VI (May, 1849), 269-71

18. MH, Series III, VI (May, 1849), 271-73 19. MH, Series III, VI (July, 1849), 405; MH, Series III, VI (August, 1849), 459-63