Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 25, 1955
NUMBER 16, PAGE 2-3a

Digressions In The Restoration Movement

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

In 1823 Alexander Campbell had an accurate and full understanding of the mission and organization of the church that Jesus built, and comprehended clearly how it should function in its work. Concerning societies for spreading the Bible, he wrote, "No man who loves the Bible can refrain from rejoicing at its increasing circulation. But every Christian who understands the nature and design, the excellence and glory of the institution called the church of Jesus Christ will lament to see its glory transferred to a human corporation. The church is robbed of its character by every institution, merely human, that would ape its excellence and substitute itself in its place." (Christian Baptist, November 20, 1823.)

"The order of the assemblies were uniformly the same (the New Testament church) ...their devotion did not diversify itself into endless forms of modern times... their churches were not fractured into missionary societies, Bible societies, education societies, nor did they dream of organizing such in the world They knew nothing of the hobbies of modern times. In their church capacity alone they moved. They neither transformed themselves into any kind of association...." (Christian Baptist, Vol. I, page 6)

Reading such statements from Campbell, one almost gets the impression that the great leader is living today, and writing against the modern trends — sponsoring churches, big "brotherhood" projects, etc. He knew and wrote that the local church was the largest organization set up by the apostles and authorized by the Lord. He was neither confused about that or uninformed concerning it.

A great change, however, took place in the life of Campbell. This change was so radical and so complete that church historians generally have been impressed by it. The following quotation from W. W. Sweet is typical of many:

"The third arch-opponent of missions was Alexander Campbell, who between the years 1820 and 1830 was particularly active in preaching, debating and conducting his paper, 'The Christian Baptist', and after 1829 'The Millennial Harbinger'. Campbell professed to be favorable to missions and to the spread of the gospel, but he objected to all societies which did not have a scriptural basis and authorization. One of the chief reasons for Baptist opposition to the cause of missions and other societies was their objection to the centralization of authority. One of the fundamental principles of the Baptists is the complete independence of the congregation; and the formation of societies, with their officers and paid secretaries, with the authority to send men here and there, seemed to be in complete violation to Baptist principles

"Later he (Campbell) gave up his opposition and in 1849 became the first president of the Missionary Society of the Disciples, though this was strongly opposed by others, who got their best arguments against the Society from the columns of the Christian Baptist." (The Story of Religion in America, pp. 256-257.)

All the reasons that led Campbell to this complete change may never be known; the fact remains that he did change. It may have been due to his declining health, the death of his loved ones, or his general environment. He may have been influenced by his former friends in Scotland, the Haldanes. In 1846 they had set up the "Evangelical Union" in which the Scottish Baptist churches were bound together in an evangelical endeavor with annual meetings made up of representatives sent from each church. These meetings would choose and send out evangelists. Campbell's ideas for county and state meetings which led him finally to plead for nationwide cooperative endeavors, and led inevitably to the establishment of the Missionary Society.

During these years, too, the various denominational churches were everywhere forming societies of various kinds for spreading their doctrines. The formation of "Bible Societies" was wide-spread. It was a period of nationalization in America, a time when the whole trend of popular thinking was toward centralization. "Our political and territorial divisions are countries and states. The churches in each county should, therefore, form an intimate acquaintance with one another, and cooperate first in all means necessary to the conversion of the county in which they are located." (M. H. Vol. II, pg. 436.) "So on to the state and world." (Ibid. p. 437.) "The only question is, How shall this be done to the best advantage ? The New Testament furnishes the principle which calls forth our energies, but suggests no plan." (M. H. Vol. II, p. 436.)

Campbell then goes on to argue that the statements "churches of Galatia" (I Cor. 16:2), "churches of Macedonia" (II Cor. 8:9) give scriptural assent for churches to cooperate on a geographic basis. Such reasoning is clearly fallacious for the statements refer simply to the individual congregations in these areas and their contributing (as individual congregations, not as a "district body") to the relief of the poor saints in Judea. The "messengers" to which Campbell refers were simply those chosen by each church to bear its bounty to the place where the need existed.

Campbell's conception of the work of an evangelist was also in error. At the "annual meetings" certain evangelists were chosen to go forth and establish new congregations. Walter Scott was one such chosen evangelist on the Western Reserve (now Ohio). Campbell (along with some present day brethren) was mistaken in supposing that the idea of travel or movement inheres in the word "evangelist." Timothy was in Ephesus, and apparently located there, when Paul wrote to him, "Do the work of an evangelist." (II Tim. 4:5.) Was it required of him that he leave Ephesus before he could obey that injunction?

One other egregious error Campbell made was his belief that a congregation could participate in a "state meeting", help select and send out and support an evangelist, and still maintain its congregational independence unimpaired. This is an impossibility. For when ten or twenty or a hundred congregations pool their resources into one common endeavor, one church or one group of men is certain to take the lead and make the decisions for the whole project. This would rob the other churches of equal status in the work. One way or another one must dominate, the others be subordinate. Once a Church gets in either place (either dominant or subordinate) it ceases to fulfill the place of a simple New Testament church.

(To be concluded.)