Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 1, 1955

Digressions In The Restoration Movement -- No. 2

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

It must never be forgotten that while Alexander Campbell lived he was far and away the most influential voice in the Restoration Movement. He towered like a giant above all the others. His writings and preaching on any subject carried more weight than the words of any dozen who might have opposed him. And it was the writing of Campbell more than that of any other man, or group of men, which led the way in the digression — culminating in the formation of the Missionary Society.

In his early years, before he had become confused on the "cooperation" idea, he wrote with clarity and force on the subject of church relationships. Concerning congregational independence and the idea of "delegates" at a communion of churches, he declared, "Now there are some things here on which I want more light; and first on the subject of these delegates. Are they representatives of the church? If so, what do they represent? Do they represent the wish, desire, conscience and interest of those at home? I can see how a person may be a representative in the national councils, in matters pertaining to this life; but I cannot see how any person can be my representative in anything belonging to my conscience in the things pertaining to the kingdom of Jesus Christ." (Christian Baptist, Vol. IV, p. 262.)

And concerning mission work: "When the Christian Church assumes such a character, there will be no need of missionaries. She will shine forth in the doctrine and in the practice of her members.... If in the present day, and amongst all those who talk so much of a missionary spirit, there could be found such a society, though it were composed of but twenty, willing to emigrate to some heathen land, where they would support themselves like the natives, wear the same garb, adopt the country as their own, and profess nothing like a missionary project, should such a society sit down and hold forth in word and deed the saving truth... allowing their own works and example to speak, for their religion, and practicing as above listed, we are persuaded that in the process of time, a more solid foundation for the conversion of the nations would be laid, and more actual success resulting than from all the missionaries employed for the twenty-five years. Such a course would have some warrant from the Scriptures, but the present has been all human." (Christian Baptist, Vol. 1, pp. 16, 17.)

We can take Campbell's statement and apply it with undeniable appropriateness to our day and the "sponsoring church" and the "Herald of Truth" concepts. We might well wish that the Campbell of 1823 were with us today to bring the great power of his pen and life in condemnation of the human organizations which have begun to develop in our day.

The above quotation from Campbell lays stress, and properly so, on the individual work of all Christians in spreading the gospel of our Savior. To this agrees the church historian, Philip Schaff, who tells us how it was done. "It is a remarkable fact that after the days of the apostles no names of great missionaries are mentioned till the opening of the Middle Ages (about 600 A. D.); Christianity once established became its own best missionary. It grew mentally from within. It attracted people by its very presence and while there were no professional missionaries devoting their whole life to this specific work, every congregation was a missionary society, and every Christian believer a missionary inflamed by the love of Christ to convert his fellow man. This example had been set by Jerusalem and Antioch, and by those brethren who after the martyrdom of Stephen 'were scattered abroad and went about preaching the word' (Acts 8:1.)" (History of the Christian Church, Vol. III pp. 19, 20.)

Benevolent Work

Historians unanimously agree that poverty and slavery abounded everywhere in the Roman Empire during the New Testament age. The apostles met it on every hand in their journeys. They could have spent all their time and all their strength in relieving the poverty-stricken; but they did not do so. Jesus had commissioned them to preach the gospel. The salvation of the soul is the primary purpose of the church and transcends one's physical needs. It has a higher and nobler purpose than that of a mere social function. All the teaching of the New Testament on the subject of charity — the giving of a cup of water, the story of the good Samaritan, visiting the widows and orphans — are no more than individual obligations. We have no authority at all for setting up institutions to take care of these obligations. The church is obligated to take care of the needs of suffering saints. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Catholic missionaries began to make charity the primary work. Schaff says, "The organized congregational charity of the Ante-Nicene Age (325 A D.) provided for all the immediate wants. When the state (Roman Empire) professed Christianity (313 A.D.) there sprang up permanent charitable institutions for the poor, the sick, widows, orphans, and helpless old men. The first clear proof of such institutions we find in the age of Julian, the Apostate, who tried to check the progress of Christianity and to revive paganism by directing the high priest of Galatia, Arsaccius, to establish in every town a "Xenodochium" to he supported by the state and also by private subscriptions; for, he said, it was a shame that the heathen should be left without support for their own, while among the Jews no beggar can be found, and the godless Galileans (Christians) nourish not only their own but even our poor. A few years afterward (370 A. D.) we hear of the celebrated hospital at Caesarea....................................................... In the west such institutions spread rapidly." (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II pp. 376, 377.)

History repeats itself. The digressions which led to the Christian Church and the inevitable division which followed did not teach the lesson they should have. We are confronted today with the greatest threat since the digression of Civil War days. Big "brotherhood" projects are not only unscriptural, but open the way for many other innovations. The world enters the church, and lines of demarcation are broken down. What is scriptural and safe? The aim of the Restoration Movement was to restore the apostolic church, not to bury it under the machinations and organizations of men.

Let the church, in her congregational capacity, do the work God laid upon her; and let the Lord have the glory he intended from such.