Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 30, 1955

Human Reason Vs. God's Wisdom

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

In 1823, Alexander Campbell was guided by the New Testament in his thinking pertaining to the organization and work of the church. At that time, he believed that there should be no organization larger than the local church, through which Christians must fulfil their obligations and duties in evangelistic work. Here are his words in the Christian Baptist, Vol. I, 1823: "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." (page 6.)

Under the question, "How, then, is the gospel to spread through the world?", he wrote as follows: "The New Testament is the only source of information on this topic." (pg. 15.) Here, Campbell was relying on the word of God as the only source of doctrine. But from the time he began to edit the Millennial Harbinger, Campbell leaned toward human reason and away from the Bible.

This becomes apparent in the article entitled, "On the Rules of Interpretation," in the volume of 1832. Here are some of Campbell's statements:

"But still, there is scarcely any man of common understanding to whom a truly skilful critic may not state and explain the principles of interpretation, by which he is guided in the exegesis of any particular passage, in such a way that this man may pass his judgment on the principle and make it the subject of his approbation or disapprobation. This proves incontrovertibly that the principles of science in question in themselves are the dictates of plain common sense and sound reasoning; and if this be true, then they are principles which may be employed in the interpretation of the word of God; for if there be any book on earth that is addressed to the reason and common sense of mankind, the Bible is preeminently that book." (pg. 69.)

This thinking, Campbell carried over into the subject of church cooperation. A few quotations from the Millennial Harbinger will verify this:

"A church can do what an individual cannot, and so can a district of churches do what a single church cannot . . . . Reason and the nature of things make this apparent." (M.H. 1831 - p. 237.)

"The churches in every county, have from scripture and reason, all authority to bring their combined energies upon their own vicinity first, and when all is done at home, they may, and ought to cooperate with their weaker neighbors in the same state, and so on an increasing circle of their cooperations, as they fill up the interior, with all light and goodness, until the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covers the whole earth." (M.H. 1832 - p. 437.)

"Now if Christ's kingdom consists of ten thousand families, or churches — particular, distinct, and independent communities — how are they to act in concert, maintain unity of interests, or cooperate in any system of conservation or enlargement, unless by consultation and systematic cooperation? I affirm it to be in my humble opinion, and from years of observation, and experience, impossible." (M.H. 1842 - p. 60.)

Thus, Campbell renounced his noble position of the scriptures only and let reason, the nature of things, observation, and experience become the arbiter. This is the real source, the basis of the digression in Campbell's thinking. It is actually the first step in rationalism, in pragmatism, and on this reasoning, he supported the big cooperative projects of his day. This thinking will eventually lead to the extreme forms of liberalism and the present day modernistic Christian Church clearly demonstrates this.

Campbell's rule of interpretation, referred to earlier, cannot be applied to all the scriptures, for the simple reason that some Bible doctrines can only be accepted by faith. The connection between the forgiveness of sins and baptism cannot be understood from human reason alone. It must be accepted and obeyed by faith.

The title of this article, "Human Reason vs. God's Wisdom," constitutes the main difference between Alexander Campbell and David Lipscomb on church cooperation. Lipscomb believed in following the Bible whether he could see the reason for it or not; and because of this, Lipscomb took the scriptural position.

A survey of the articles and the material written by institutionally-minded brethren of today reveals that they, like Campbell, appeal to human reason. After long and fervent speeches (in which usually no scriptural verses are given to support their views), they conclude with an appeal to the work they are doing and to people's emotions.

But everyone who obeys the gospel thereby pledges himself to follow and obey God's will. The Bible is the only standard, the only criterion, to which we may appeal for unity and for God's guidance. By doing this, we can be one and have the same mind. (I Cor. 1:10.) On this subject, it is also necessary to inquire about the nature of God's will. The prophet Isaiah, by inspiration, tells us of that: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways, saith Jehovah." (Isa. 55:8.) This is certainly true on the church cooperation question. Furthermore, where we, from human wisdom, see strength, God sees weakness. And what appears to be a weakness to us, is in reality the power of God. (I Cor. 1:27-29.) From a human point of view, one sees strength in number, as Campbell did in the preceding quotations and as sponsoring church advocates do today. God sees strength not in numbers, but in the plan he has given — the local church:

Those who believe in and support the big brotherhood projects have miserably failed to prove that their position is scriptural. They have perverted, misapplied, and wrested certain Bible passages, yet none has proven that what they are doing is in accord with the New Testament. What does this reveal? It shows that they, like Campbell, are following human reason instead of and in place of the Bible. And, like him, unless their course is checked, they will lead the church into apostasy.