11 Oct 2007

Seeking True Unity #4: Counselor Mike Greene Presents “How Did We Get Where We Are? A Brief History of Unity and Division …”

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, Restoration History, Unity

Preliminary Distant Voice on Unity – Barton W. Stone

“In those days there were but a few terms of communion among Christians. All were admitted to fellowship who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and obeyed him; and their obedience was considered the best evidence of their faith … If opinions of truth were to be made terms of fellowship, it is much questioned whether any two men on earth could so perfectly agree in all points, as ever to unite; there could be no union or fellowship on earth” (Barton W. Stone, “Objections to Christian Union Calmly Considered,” Christian Messenger 1 {December 1826}, 27)
Summary of the Prosecutions’ Case

We in the jury have heard from two highly trained experts in the law so we know what to expect with Counselor Mike. Mike has a completely different approach than either Steve or Phil. While Phil had appealed to “early leaders,” Mike devotes his presentation to presenting his version of the entire  historical record. He opens by acknowledging that the Churches of Christ and the IndependentChristianChurches and the Disciples of Christ all spring from the same seed in the early 19th century. He asks an important question “How was unity achieved? And more importantly, what happened to that unity.” (p. 25). He briefly notes the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery and the Declaration and Address of Thomas Campbell. He notes that Campbell was brought before the synod on heresy charges (he does not tell us what that was).
The counselor tells us that the Reformers (Campbell’s group) and the “Christians” (Stone’s group) were united to the praise of God. Counselor Greene makes this interesting statement: “There was little difference except Campbell’s emphasis on baptism for remission of sins which teaching Stone accepted but which he did not emphasize as did Campbell. Whatever faults Stone might have seen in Campbell his love for his fellow worker would hide forever” (p. 30). We will return to this statement, but for the moment we can only give thanks to God for the witness to Stone’s ministry of reconciliation testified to by Greene. This was a living demonstration, our Counselor insists, that “unity based on the Word was possible” and not simply pious rhetoric (p. 30).
This union on the word of God was destroyed, we jury members hear, because many left the original grounds of that union (the word) by importing innovations. The first of these was the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849 (our counselor informs us that Alexander Campbell was not present but was elected President anyway). Further innovation (i.e. departure from the pattern – Phil’s shattered plate) happened when L. L. Pinkerton introduced the melodeon at the Midway Christian Church. Mike hints that Slavery and the Civil War may have “exacerbated” the situation (p. 33). The counselor tells us that in the end those who proclaim “the pure gospel of Christ” (i.e. the Churches of Christ) have outstripped the “missionary society laden ChristianChurches” (p. 34).
The Thinking Jury Members Reflections on this Version of History

On several levels I have struggled with how to appropriately respond to Mike’s case. He has bit off a very large bite but he is constrained by space. The case is both admirable for its brevity in stating its interpretation of events in the 19th century but it is also incredibly flawed on many grounds … is this because the prosecution spins the history or is this because of the extreme limits of the chapter? By “spin” I want to be clear that I do not imply that the prosecution would ever knowingly distort the facts, I do however realize that the Counselor and his team have a version of that great 19th century story that is formed and shaped by the tradition they are apart of.
Firsts. Let me begin with the counselor’s last Matlock moment (the bad guys have been shown to be wrong all along because “we” are now “bigger” than them in spite of that accursed mission society). Here we loose some technical precision that at least one of the prosecuting lawyers demands. The counselor begins the chapter by acknowledging there are three branches to the shattered family of God connected with the Stone-Campbell Movement. When we end those distinctions seem to be lost. The Disciples of Christ have pursued a path of theological liberalism that in many ways is astonishing. They are nearly dead as a denomination. The Independent Christian Church however has in no way followed that theologically liberal path. In fact, theologically, many in the Christian (Independents) Churches are more conservative than in Churches of Christ and have always been so. They have close ties to fundamentalism and (with few exceptions) “we” have not. One more note here at the end. The Churches of Christ have not outstripped the Independents in growth, in fact the independents are exploding. They have over a hundred churches with 1000+ members … most of those have appeared in the last 15 to 20 years. Bob Russell’s church is the second or third largest church in America … and an Independent Christian minister, Gene Apple, has recently been hired by the WillowCreekChurch to replace the retiring Bill Hybels.
Seconds. Unity & Diversity in the Stone-Campbell Movement. What I intend on doing in this section is present an alternative reading of the “how” unity was achieved in the Stone-Campbell Movement through this method I will critique the Counselor’s interpretation. Like Greene’s presentation, this is of necessity short.
What became the American Churches of Christ had their beginnings in an incredible ecumenical event sometimes called “the American Pentecost.” Cane Ridge was an amazing event. There were, according to Barton Stone, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptists preachers side by side. There were white and black ministers proclaiming the love of God. There were men and women exhorters involved too. Stone comments that despite this diversity of perspective there was unity in the message …
 “The doctrine preached by all was simple, and nearly the same … All urged faith in the gospel, and obedience to it, as the way of life … The spirit of partyism, party distinctions, were apparently forgotten … The spirit of love, peace, and union, were revived. You might have seen the various sects engaged in the same spirit, praying, praising, and communing together, and the preachers in the lead. Happy days! joyful seasons of refreshment from the presence of the Lord” (Barton Stone, “History of the Christian Church, No. 1” Christian Messenger 1 {February 1827}, 77)
The DNA seeds for Stone’s celebration of the demise of division and unity around the simply evangelical message comes from many directions. The previous work of James O’Kelly and Rice Haggard (with whom Stone would unite in the Christian Connection). O’Kelly published the “Five Cardinal Principles of the Christian Church” which read:
1) The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Head of the Church
2) The name Christian to the exclusion of all party and sectarian names

3) The Holy Bible, or the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments our only creed,

and sufficient rule of faith and practice

4) Christian character, or vital piety, the only test of church fellowship and membership

5) The right of private judgment, and liberty of conscience, the privilege and duty of all.
Cane Ridge was seen as dangerous by the Presbyterians. Stone and several others were disciplined for what amounted to being to open in fellowship. An Apology renouncing the authority of that presbytery hit the shelves in January 1804. The Last Will and Testament which appeared later that same year reflects all this background. It states its wish to “die and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large” … Stone recognizes that larger Body because of Cane Ridge. The LW & T is a plea for freedom and unity at its core. Stone insists he has, like O’kelly, has the right to think for himself. Because of Cane Ridge he can plea “”We will, that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less” (Item #7). Stone never, not at Cane Ridge, not with the Christian Connection, not with Alexander Campbell, ever made unity based on doctrine the ground for fellowship. The ground of unity was the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. The test of fellowship was stated clearly by O’kelly in Principle #4
Thomas & Alexander Campbell also had a run in with what Counselor Phil called the “exclusiveness of the denominations” that “shamed the name of the Lord” (p. 17). Thomas came to the USA from Ireland. He was here only shortly before he found himself in hot water so to speak. Counselor Greene tells us he was brought up on charges of “heresy” (p. 27) but he fails to specify what that heresy was. Thomas was asked to preach and serve communion to the Anti-Burghers in Cannamaugh north of Pittsburgh. He brought along a young, but strict, preacher named William Wilson. Thomas did offer communion (i.e. fellowship) with the Anti-Burghers but he also invited all Presbyterians to attend. Wilson reported Campbell to the Synod and on Oct 27, 1807 he was charged with “heresy” … he was to “liberal.” He was rebuked and finally censured. At this point Thomas, like Stone, renounced the tyranny of the synod and wrote one of the great works of Christian history, The Declaration & Address. The D&A, like the LW&T must be seen against its setting. It is a defense of fellowship and liberty of conscience in the Christian faith. The voice of Thomas explodes against intolerance from the first:
“[W]e are persuaded that it is high time for us not only to think, but also to act, for ourselves
This unchristian habit of sitting in judgment he passionately protests:
“[N]o man has a right to judge his brother, except in so far as he manifestly violates the express letter of the law. That every such judgment is an express violation of the law of Christ, a daring usurpation of his throne, and a gross intrusion upon the rights and liberties of his subjects
What powerful language. It was “evil” and “accursed” divisions that cause many Christians to even miss the “Lord’s Supper, that great ordinance of unity and love” and turn it into, as did the synod, as a way of dividing the precious Body of Christ. Such behavior and attitudes perverted the Lord’s “Gospel of Peace.” Like Stone he called for unity in the “common cause of simple evangelical Christianity.” What about all those areas of disagreement? Thomas rejects the binding of inferences outright. He says “We dare not, therefore, patronize the rejection of God’s dear children, because they may not be able to see alike in matters of human inference – of private opinion.” He declares “An agreement in the expressly revealed will of God is the adequate and firm foundation of this unity.” Thomas know exactly where the root of most division comes.

“[T]he bitter root of almost all our divisions, namely, the imposing of our private opinions upon each other as articles of faith or duty … as if they were the express law of Christ.” 
Just as O’Kelly and Stone, Campbell makes faith in Christ and Christian character the “original” criterion for Christian unity,

A manifest attachment to our Lord Jesus Christ in faith, holiness, and charity, was the original criterion of Christian character, the distinguishing badge of our holy profession, the foundation and cement of Christian unity.”

Thomas Campbell’s D & A is an incredible document. It is a disgrace that it is largely unknown and perhaps even rejected by most preachers and members today … but its message is loud and clear.
It is evident from the primary sources of the Stone-Campbell Movement that these men ever dreamed of seeking unity on the basis of doctrine or even the Bible but rather upon the message of Jesus Christ and profession of that faith in our lives.
Counselor Mike is correct, I think, that in many ways the Stone folk and Campbell folk were alike. They had a passion for unity. They both rejected creeds as a basis for fellowship. They both called for the Bible to be the book of rule and faith. They both pointed to the message of Jesus as the gospel. These are obvious formal similarities.
Yet at the same time, contrary to what the counselor suggests there was more than a “little difference” between these two groups. It is most interesting that Greene says that Stone found the “truth” on the “atonement, baptism, and salvation” (p.27). Alexander Campbell did not think Stone had the truth on these areas. Indeed one might say that there were certain formal similarities between Stone and Campbell but that there were deep and substantive theological/doctrinal differences. The short list includes:
1) What to call “ourselves”
2) Work of the Holy Spirit in conversion
3) Importance of baptism and using it as a test of fellowship
4) Frequency of the Lord’s Supper
5) Church government
6) Doctrine of atonement
7) Doctrine of Trinity
8) Numerous other matters
These differences between Stone and Campbell are nothing to sneeze at. But the two movements let the Holy Spirit work a miracle through them and united. Even after the union Stone and Campbell disagreed, mightily, over the proper name (i.e. Christian/Disciple), the nature of divine existence, the doctrine of atonement but they were united. Both Thomas and Alexander thought Stone to be completely wrong on the Trinity and Atonement but were willing to fellowship Stone anyway. Alexander had a “Christological” test, “I regard no man as a believer in Jesus as Messiah, who denies that he is a divine person, the only begotten of God; or who refuses to worship him” (“Mr. Broaddus,” MH 4 {Jan 1833}, 9). But Stone was worthy of fellowship because he did worship Jesus and would used biblical language rather than opinions of what the Bible said.
Counselor Mike asked a brilliant question! “How could unity be established” between Stone and Campbell. Did they demand doctrinal unity? They did not! The positions of Stone and Campbell in the D&A and other writings let us know exactly how and why they could unite. They united on the Gospel of Peace. I do not have to infer this rather it stated explicitly by those involved (note Thomas Campbell above). I will be quoting from John A. Williams, Life of Elder John Smith whom the counselor refers to on p. 31. Williams notes that

Some Reformers still looked upon the Christians as Arians; and some Christians were adverse to the union, in the belief that the Reformers denied the influence of the Spirit, and attached undo importance to baptism … While all did not hold in the same sense that baptism was for the remission of sins, they all agreed it was a divine ordinance, which could not safely be set aside or neglected” (p. 369).

But on that glorious day when the Reformers and Christians united in their diversity “Raccoon” John Smith stood up and said,

God has but one people on the earth … There are certain abstruse or speculative matters—such as the mode of Divine Existence, and the Ground and Nature of Atonement

“I have the more cheerfully resolved on this course, because the Gospel is a system of facts, commands, and promises, and no deduction or inference from them, however logical or true, forms any part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No heaven is promised to those who hold them, and no hell is threatened to those who deny them. They do not constitute, singly or together, any item of the ancient and apostolic gospel. While there is but one faith, there may be ten thousand opinions; and hence, if Christians are ever to be one, they must be one in faith and not in opinion.” (p. 371-372, my emphasis)

It was in light of this great speech that Barton W. Stone extended his hand and said “I have no objection to the ground laid down by him as the true scriptural basis of union among the people of God” (p. 373).
I seriously doubt that Barton Stone would be welcome in a large number of Churches of Christ today. And for that matter Alexander Campbell probably would not be either. Yet that glorious unity Counselor Mike celebrates and laments its loss was in fact a unity on the Gospel amidst tremendous doctrinal diversity!
The example of 1832 was previously set by both Stone and Campbell though in their ministries. These great Reformers demonstrated in deed, and not just words, that they were willing to “swim the channel” and “climb the steepest hill” for the sake of the right hand of a brother in the Lord!! They were willing to even give up an arm for the sake of a brother’s fellowship. Two examples:
In 1825, Alexander Campbell took time out of his “Restoration of the Ancient Order” Series to respond to the queries of Joseph Hostetler who was “Dunkard” or German Baptist. Hostetler was a leader of a group of congregations in the Midwest. They practiced these items:
1) they practiced trine immersion (face forward into the water)
2) they practiced the Lord’s Supper in the context of a love feast
3) they washed feet as a required ordinance
4) they took the Lord’s Supper only once or twice a year (and only at night else it would not be the “supper”)
5) they practiced the holy kiss (and other matters)
Hostetler praises Campbell but thinks he is inconsistent on these matters. Campbell writes:
DEAR BROTHER [sic] – For such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion which you express on some topics, on which we might never agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of Christian union, I will esteem and love you, as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hopes in his salvation …” (Campbell, “Restoration of the Ancient Order, No. XI, Christian Baptist, Burnett edition, p. 223)
The Dunkards united with the “us” in 1827 a mere two years later. They did not give up their distinct beliefs any more than Stone and Campbell did when they formally united in 1831. You can read more of this “forgotten” union here at the Stoned-Campbell Disciple blog (i.e.Union of 1827).
Another example is that of Alyette Raines. Thomas Campbell met Raines on the Western Reserve while preaching in 1828. Raines had previously heard Walter Scott too. Raines was a “restorationist” (the old word for “universalist”). He believed, and preached, that all people would eventually be “restored” to God. He encountered the preaching of Scott and Thomas and accepted their formulation but retained his universalist views. Raines was a controversial “convert” to the Movement. At the next meeting the Brethren wanted proof that Raines had rejected his opinions before they would accept him. But he had not given them up. Thomas Campbell stood at the meeting and read from Romans 14. He then made this statement 
Brother Raines and I have been together for the past several months, and we have mutually unbosomed ourselves to each other. I am a Calvinist, and he is a Restorationist, and although I am a Calvinist, I would put my right arm into the fire and have it burnt off before I raise a hand against him.” 
From this we learn that not only was Raines a universalist but that TC was a Calvinist! It is the attitude that is demonstrated by Stone and the Campbells that made the union of 1831 possible. It was not because it was a perfect agreement on doctrine. It was the unity of God’s People based on the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.

Alexander Campbell claimed to follow the apostolic example of Paul in his fellowship with those he believed to be in doctrinal error.  He writes clearly and boldly
I frankly and boldly declare to them, as Paul did to the Corinthians, the things in which I praise them, and the things in which I praise them not. And I know of no way, of no course, that any christian can pursue consistently with the whole new testament, consistently with his serving God and his own generation, but this one. Therefore I advocate it and practice it. 

I have tried the pharisaic plan, and the monastic. I was once so straight, that like the Indian’s tree, I leaned a little the other way. And however much I may be slandered now as seeking ‘popularity’ or a popular course, I have to rejoice that to my own satisfaction, as well as to others, I proved that truth and not popularity, was my object; for I was once so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing songs of praises with any one who was not as perfect as I supposed myself. In this most unpopular course I persisted until I discovered the mistake, and saw that on the principle embraced in my conduct, there never could be a congregation or church upon the earth.” (“To an Independent Baptist,” Christian Baptist, May 1826, p.238, Burnett Edition).

This is the spirit that enabled Unity between Campbell and Stone. This is the spirit that enabled unity to be the heritage of the Churches of Christ.  This is not the spirit that our Counselor suggests to the witness on the stand. 

Thirds. So what happened to that incredible unity of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Counselor Mike says that “innovations” that is departures from the pattern was the reason for division. That is hard to accept in face of the story of the movement thus so far. I believe that the Movement began to undergo a profound change in the late 1830s and 1840s that bore unholy fruit.
What was that change? It was the rise of the very thing that Stone and Campbell reacted against … exclusive sectarianism. Both Stone and Campbell demonstrate an awareness of this tendency. Campbell penned an article called simply the “Crises” in 1835, at nearly the same time Stone simply published some “Remarks” in his Christian Messenger. AC’s piece is lengthy. He cites laments the growth of cancer among the “churches” associated with him and Stone. There is a growing delight in fighting and a corresponding decline in love. There is a growth of a “dogmatical, unfeeling, and snarling temper” that is eating at the heart of a growing number (The Crises, MH 6 {December 1835}, 595-600).

Stone for his part confesses that a group of “anti-sectarian sectarians” have infiltrated “us.” These anti-sectarian sectarians cause Stone to “blush for my fellows who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship.” The folks are doing more “mischief” than all the “skeptics in the world. In fact they make skeptics” (Stone, “Remarks,” Christian Messenger {August 1835}, 180)

What might some of the extreme sectarian attitudes be that Campbell and Stone publicly lament over. First, is the rise of that narrow exclusivism that Phil reminded the jury those “early leaders” so justly protested. Second was the rise of extreme views regarding fellow followers of Christ. Third was the rise of a publication that had far more impact than it deserved.
John Thomas introduced the “rebaptism” heresy to the Stone-Campbell Movement in 1835. With this view, totally alien to the principles of the restoration movement, suddenly everyone (including some folks in the restoration churches themselves) were suddenly not Christians at all because they were not baptized “correctly” or “exactly.” 
The rise of the “Word-Only” view of the indwelling Holy Spirit began to infiltrate our ranks. Some preachers began to promote a view that non-Christians (those not baptized “correctly”) could not even pray! In 1837 Arthur Crihfield began that infamous journal called The Heretic Detector. He states in his Preface that he was set to expose real heretics through the “sword of the Spirit” and “make an impression not easily obliterated or forgotten” (“New Arrangement—Prospectus, &c.” Heretic Detector 1 {July 1837}, 169-70). This journal promoted radical extremism. Walter Scott explicitly condemned writings in the HD. When Crihfield promoted his doctrine on “alien prayer” he even concludes that it is wrong for a Christian to pray for the these aliens is sinful. Scott said he was ignorant in the extreme and insisted he explain Jesus’ prayer for the “aliens” from the cross (Scott, “To the Heretic Detector,” The Evangelist 6 {August 1838}, 186).
Other strange noises proceeded from The Heretic Detector for the first time. A highly sectarian view of the church emerged from the HD. Alexander Campbell had a concern for a united and even pure church. His famous series “A Restoration of the Ancient Order” however was not conceived as bringing back a “church” that had ceased to exist but rather an attempt on getting to a point that all could agree. But when Spencer Clack charged that Campbell was simply forging a new creed that without assent to there could be no unity, the Reformer demurred clearly and quickly. He declared “I have never made them (i.e. his understanding of the Ancient Order), hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of communion” (“Reply to Spencer Clack,” CB, Burnett Edition, p. 370).

Such a generous attitude was lost on Crihfield. For the first time, that I am aware of, it was claimed that we were the “one true church.” Thus at the end of the 1830s there was a shift in understanding ourselves as a movement within the Body to being the totality of the Body! John Howard, Crihfield’s cohort, supplied for the first time a list of the “identifying marks of the true Church of Christ.” He listed six marks: called “Church of Christ” or “Christian Church,” no creed but the Bible, admits only those who have faith, repented, confessed and been immersed; organized as independent congregations; elders and deacons and deaconesses!!; worships by preaching, praying and breaking bread. Thus the Heretic Detector really embraced a position similar to the Prosecution … restoration is not a plea for unity but a plea for evangelism! Howard and Crihfield understood clearly they had “unchristianized” everyone but their own group.

Thus I maintain that by the end of the 1830s a sectarian spirit had invaded the disciples in the Stone-Campbell Movement. It was this sectarian spirit that ultimately lead to our demise as a unity movement.
Diversity was inherent in the movement from the beginning. Having diversity, among SOME, by the late 1830s and 40s was seen as a dangerous thing. It is interesting that the Missionary Society never divided the SCM prior to the Civil War. Some disagreed with it but it was not a term of fellowship. Slavery however by the mid-1850s was a highly volatile subject. For the sake of brevity, I maintain that the Civil War (as much as any “doctrinal” issue) divided the Movement. Here are a few juicy quotes:
Should we ever meet them {northern disciples} in the flesh, can we fraternize with them as brethren? How can the servants of the Lord of this section {i.e. the South} ever strike hands with the men who now seek their life’s blood?” (Tolbert Fanning, “Ministers of Peace in the World’s Conflicts,” Gospel Advocate 7 {Nov 1861}, 348)
Most of the disciples, Southern and Northern, believed strongly in the “right” of their section. This was true of those who were pacifists and non-pacifists (Errett, Fanning, Franklin, etc).
At the conclusion of the War Fanning called for a general convention (interestingly enough!) of southern disciples! Fanning made it bitterly clear that northern disciples were not invited nor welcome and he explained that he doubted “the propriety of a hasty reconstruction” with northerners (Tolbert Fanning, “A General Consultation Meeting Suggested,” Gospel Advocate {April 17, 1866}, 243-244, his emphasis). After the Civil War, Fanning never again would say that “we” are one people.
I know it is not kosher to admit that something as unholy as a war could destroy a sense of brotherhood .. . and this is really unpopular among those who claim that only the Bible shapes and motivates their theology. But the Civil War shattered us as a people … and interestingly enough that group that gave Crihfield a hearing was in the upper South! (I have attached a map that graphically demonstrates WHERE the CofCs are located and the Disciples and it is amazing the correlation between where “we” are and where the Disciples are even to this day. Conservative historian Bill J. Humble wrote a magisterial article on the “Influence of the Civil War” in Restoration Quarterly back on the 100th anniversary of that bloody conflict (1965). He concluded:
The Civil War had so shattered the sense of brotherhood between northern and southern Christians that they could never again be called “one people” in any meaningful sense.
Humble does not say the War did this alone but that sectional bitterness did in fact shatter our oneness. Other issues hindered by that legalism brought in by the Heretic Detector produced an atmosphere where tolerance was almost unheard of. The Heretic Detector was reincarnated in the Firm Foundation of Austin McGary. David Lipscomb and his NashvilleBibleSchool certainly took part in the feelings of bitterness about reconstruction but also greatly resisted the narrowness of that other point of view. By the end of the 19th century another fly was added to the ointment … theological liberalism in the 1890s. The works of George Longman, R. C. and R.L.Cave, Edward S. Ames and a host of others went far beyond missions and instrumental music to suggesting that Jesus was never raised from the dead. That was all Lipscomb could swallow.
Final Words. The movement begun by Stone and Campbell did not find its success in pleas for doctrinal conformity. Rather Stone and Campbell understood the concept of grace-based unity and fellowship. Without that unity with Hostetler, Raines or Stone and Campbell would never have happened. They all loved the Bible. They demanded loyalty to the Bible. But they did not demand loyalty to their understanding of the Bible. This is stated explicitly and demonstrated in reality. They believed that 1 John 1.7 was true and that it covered sin—all sin. Including “missing the mark” doctrinally.  
Alexander Campbell roots his actions and attitudes explicitly on the example of the Apostle Paul. He states that if Paul could fellowship the Corinthians then surely he could Stone and others like him.
One of Campbell’s associates, Charles Louis Loos suggested that many in our movement had lost their way and became what he called “doctrine-defenders.” A “common tendency is to glory in doctrines” he said. In fact this is the most common kind of religious error. But we “truly call it idolatry and apostasy; for men’s hearts, by it, stray away from Him as the only true object of our devotion. It makes the heart vain, intolerant, and impious. How often doe we see men rudely, and almost impiously, carry on a carnal warfare among men, not out of love for Christ and humanity, not glorying and rejoicing, like Paul, in a crucified Redeemer, but in a doctrine, having nothing but this doctrine and its triumps in their eyes … With them the favorite doctrine, and not Christ, is the first and the last, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.” 
Finally Loos bursts
“”Doctrines do not save us; we are saved by Christ. Doctrines do not cleanse us from our sins; it is the efficacious blood of Christ. We are not converted to doctrines but to God. We do not believe in doctrines, but in Christ. We are not baptized into them, trust in them, glory in them, but in Christ Jesus the Lord.” (Loos, “Glorying in the Cross Only” in Biographies and Sermons of Pioneer Preachers, ed. W.T. Moore and reprinted by B.C. Goodpasture, pp. 461, 462, his emphasis).
It may be the case that the prosecution wants nothing to do with the principles of the reformation as confessed by Stone, Campbell, Loos and others. They held dearly to the Bible. They wrote about their understanding and called folks to “see if it was so.” We should do the same. But at the same time they had a generous and loving … Spirit disposition … that allowed them to confess unity in Christ while disagreeing on a host of “doctrines.” Because it was not then and it is not now any doctrine that saves either the prosecution or the jury. Grace flowing from God to us unites us both to him and to each other. Sectarian attitudes however claim that we are in fact the one true church.
My apologies to Mike for the length of this response but it actually the shortened version. I wanted to deal with the Civil War and liberalism in more detail … but another day. For now I close with the anthem written by Barton Stone and published in The Christian-Hymn Book of 1829

Come, My Christian Friends

Come, my Christian friends and brethren, Bound for Canaan’s happy land, Come, unite and walk together, Christ our leader gives command. Lay aside your party spirit, Wound your Christian Friends no more, All the name of Christ inherit, Zion’s peace again restore.

See Seeking True Unity #1 HERE
See Seeking True Unity #2 HERE 
See Seeking True Unity #3 HERE
See Seeking True Unity #5 HERE

Bobby Valentine

22 Responses to “Seeking True Unity #4: Counselor Mike Greene Presents “How Did We Get Where We Are? A Brief History of Unity and Division …””

  1. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post once again.
    I want to thank you for being my teach. I consider you my disciple. I am learning so much from your posts. It is amazing how much they don’t teach us on the University level on this stuff. Why? I constantly pray for unity. I believe that is what God desires. May we one day be brought to complete UNITY as Jesus prays in John 17. Thanks again so much for sharing these series with us. I know I greatly appreciate it so much brother. I hope you have a blessed week.

  2. John Mark Hicks Says:


    Well-done, my friend. It is an important point to stress that unity within the early movement was a unity-in-diversity, and that diversity included key theological/doctrinal questions. The unity was based on a rather minimal foundation (one confession of Jesus as Lord, one baptism, etc.). The diversity was quite stunning; much more than would have been permitted in the contemporary denominations of the time (e.g., Arianism) and certainly more than our time among Churches of Christ.

    I also agree with your points on the HD, the role of sectionalism and that higher critical liberalism (including the denial of the deity of Jesus) is what moved Lipscomb to adamantly oppose the “northerners” and recognize a separate denominational body (i.e., “Christian Church”) though there were many in the north who also opposed that higher critical liberalism (e.g., the Christian Standard).

    I have not read Greene’s article so I cannot comment in relation to his claims.

    Your position, however, is on point–the exclusivist spirit on particular points such as rebaptism, exclusivist patternism, denial of Spirituality, etc. was present in the late 1830s. This position fomented in particular parts of the Upper South (such as West TN) and moved to Texas with the migration of the 1840s-1850s. It provided fertile ground for the rise and later dominance of the radical perspectives of the Firm Foundation in the 1880s-1910s(the “Texas Tradition” as we have called it).

    I am enjoying your series and the dialogue in the comments.

    John Mark Hicks

  3. Gardner Hall Says:

    When I see others who have commented, I feel unqualified to do so. However, your kindness and desire for input from different perspectives have motivated me make a few points anyway.

    I think you have skillfully shown in this post that the “prosecution’s” history lesson is an oversimplification, just as you effectively showed its denominational concepts in your last post.

    My concern continues to be that in throwing out the bathwater of sectarian thinking (based in part on that oversimplified historical approach), we also may be tempted to throw out the “baby,” the need to zealously defend the unpretentious worship and uncomplicated organization that characterized first century Christians and their assemblies (along, of course, with so many other aspects of their service to the Lord.)

    Of course, you are right that there has to be some unity in diversity if we are to follow the Savior. The big question has always been, how much diversity? We all draw some lines somewhere! So, we’re still left with the tough questions:

    (1) When does forbearance become enabling?

    (2) How can we be loving and non-sectarian servants of Christ even as we address the very real dangers of apostasy, compromises with entertainment-oriented worship and the denominational machinery of the “Church of Christ Church” such as its church supported schools and institutions. Can’t we be merciful, grace oriented, non-sectarian and kind even as we speak out lovingly against the same kind of compromises that eventually led to Romanism?

  4. Falantedios Says:

    I am extremely frustrated at my education at Lipscomb University in two directions: 1) That “Early Church History” was the name of the class on the Restoration Movement; and 2) that that class did not begin to touch on topics like these.

    Dear Gardner,

    I don’t believe Bobby or JM Hicks or even the Campbells or Stones would ever suggest that ANYONE was wrong to speak out lovingly against what they view as compromise. One of Thomas Merton’s books is entitled “A Vow of Conversation.” I’m sure it doesn’t mean what I’m using it for, but I’m striving to use that phrase to guide my participation in these issues.

    I do not know that I would be able, like Thomas Campbell, to extend the hand of fellowship to a universalist.

    I struggle with what I feel is the lack of opportunity to encourage non-sectarian attitudes. I’m trying to take the Jesus view of starting from the bottom and trusting God to handle things in HIS time. I do not feel like someone in my position in a local congregation has much opportunity to effect the sectarian attitude of that congregation. I am trying to teach my teenage class in a non-sectarian fashion without jeopardizing the opportunity to teach, and I am praying for the opportunity to begin a house church that meets with the local congregation but is a place where we can try and speak and act in non-sectarian ways.

    in HIS love,

  5. Tim Archer Says:


    Thanks for pulling this information together. Lots of gems from the past.

    I think Gardner raises a valid point that all must consider. Sadly enough, during my lifetime at least, our movement has been one of reaction more than proaction. We see a trend going one way and tend to bounce to the opposite extreme. Not to say that you’ve done so, just a general warning to us all.

    As Dan Coker used to say, “We don’t have to be so open-minded that our brains fall out.”

    Keep up the good work brother!

    Grace and peace,

  6. Gardner Hall Says:

    I share the challenge with you. I’m reading “A Gathered People” right now and realize that improvements are needed in my approach to worship. However, to encourage others with whom I work to make the Lord’s Supper a more meaningful part of the assembly will be a challenge. You can’t give others the whole bottle of medicine at once, but a spoonful at a time. The same is true of our teaching the importance of independent, non-sectarian service of Jesus. As simple as the concept is, it’s difficult to practice, much less get others to see. (You’re right, the fact that “Restoration History” is equated with “early church history” is blatantly sectarian.) I’ll pray for you and ask for your prayers for my own struggles.

  7. Steve Puckett Says:

    Great words bro. I appreciate your grasp of RM history. I think many in our movement take pride in our identity being that we have no identity except AD 33 Christianity. I think these attitudes can be shattered when folks are given a healthy dose of who we are and how we got here. Churches of Christ, and they are not alone here, have been shaped and continue to be shaped more by their religious culture than by any teaching of the Bible. That’s true of traditionalists and progressives.


  8. Falantedios Says:

    Is it hard to practice, perhaps, because we spend more time looking inward, trying to ensure we’re “doing it right” and less time looking outward, striving to discern what God is doing around us (perhaps in spite of us)?

    Temple Worship was designed in part to make the nations jealous of the glory and the intimacy that the Israelites had with Almighty God. When I read the sermon to the Hebrews, I see many things about Tent/Temple Worship that were shadows (including, perhaps, strict guidelines for worship practices, examinging the contrast in Hebrews 9:1), but this sense of Worshipping God For the Sake of the World does not seem to have been made obsolete.


    PS – Thank you for your prayers, Gardner. You will be on my lips and heart to our Father as well.

  9. Kent Says:


    Bravo, again. I appreciate your attempt to dialogue with history. So many times people ignore history and say that the only history that matters is the history that we find in the scripture. While we place scripture on the highest plain, more recent history is important. And, like the saying goes, those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. We have seen this time and time again.

    With that said, it never ceases to amaze me at how the role of the Civil War is brushed off in our discussions of division. All you have to do is look at where the majority of Churches of Christ are located (in the south) and where the majority of Christian Churches of located (in the north) to realize that that event has had a profound impact on us. And, even though the war was almost a century and a half ago it still is impacting us, and not just in our churches. I still wonder how much longer the RM would have been united had it not been for the persistence of the ACMS in promoting the northern cause during the war. If that society had not come out with a specific declaration against the south and many of the churches there, I wonder what would have happened? That, to me, is a question that we do not ask often enough. I also think that we fail to take into account the impact that Reconstruction had on our churches. While many in the south were going hungry after the war, churches in north had money to spend on things like organs. I could go on. I think the point is that much of our division was social division before it became theological division. No doubt the prosecution will deny deny deny any of this and will trot out the status quo lines in response to this. I do appreciate you bringing these discussions to the blogosphere and trying to encourage discourse, something that we too often lack.


  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Kent you make a brilliant point about the Civil War, MS and Reconstruction.

    A couple of factoids. The Missionary Society was not, as commonly claimed, the first formal organization in the Disciples. The American Christian Bible Society was and it was organized on Jan 27, 1845. Alexander Campbell opposed this organization but not on biblical grounds. AC wanted to with the American and Foreign Bible Society that was already in existence (and Baptist btw). It never did rival the Baptist effort which had prominent support from many leaders in the SCM.

    But as late as 1860 Fanning could declare that “we are one people” in spite of the Society and other issues then raging. Certainly something altered that view.

    The comment about money is insightful. Lipscomb did not define fellowship as simply agreement on doctrine. He wrote frequently that fellowship was SHARING our lives and possessions with others in need. Thus while some in the North could spend 90,000, as did the Central Christian Church in Cincinnati in 1872 while southern brethren were literally starving … this did not sit well with Lipscomb as you can imagine. (See Kingdom Come, ch. 6 for more).

    Lots going on and the Civil War and Slavery were critical matters. Far more important than we want to admit.

    Bobby Valentine

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    John Mark thanks for the kind comments and insights. You know there is a connection with the HD perspective and Ben Franklin. John Howard, a frequent contributer to the HD and had his own paper The Bible Advocate (from Paris, TN) wrote a sermon that was given far greater circulation because it was included among Franklin’s writings. “The Beginning Corner: or the Church of Christ Identified” in Biographical Sketch and Writings of Elder Benjamin Franklin, 208-227.
    Along with that positive law stuff (which i was going to mention in my post but ran out of space) is, I think, an important document. Glad you are here.

    Gardner I am indeed glad you are here and I value you highly as my beloved brother. I do not wish to be understood as saying we do not study and even “argue” about what we believe. Here is what I wrote near the end of my post:

    “They held dearly to the Bible. They wrote about their understanding and called folks to “see if it was so.” We should do the same. But at the same time they had a generous and loving … Spirit disposition … that allowed them to confess unity in Christ while disagreeing on a host of “doctrines.”

    I have the duty and right to teach and challenge. We need to have our cages rattled. But we are not called “saber rattling.” We are not called to war on each other. Both Stone and Campbell tried to convince the other of the “rightness” of their position on a variety of doctrinal matters. They got forthright with each other but at the end of the day they recognized something greater in each other than agreement on the doctrinal discussion. I think we can do this … if we try and have the courage to do it.

    Bobby Valentine

  12. K. Rex Butts Says:

    Great Post again.

    Gardner Hall,

    What is unpretentious worship?

    Also, what do you mean by the uncomplicated organization? I ask this because most of the time when I hear people describe the church of the New Testament as having a simple organizational structure, these are the same people who completely ignore the first church counsil at Jerusalem which we learn about in Acts 15. This surely complicates the structure a bit from what is generally assumed to be the simple pattern for organization, that is this counsil messes up the neat little definition normally used in the CoC for local church autonomy.

    Something also helpful to consider is the fact that whatever organizational structure there was, is that the ‘once-and-for-all’ form for the church of Jesus Christ? Or does it make a difference that from Pentecost to Act 15, we see a church structure that we see a non-fixiated church structure that changes in response to its contextual need (If we read the Pastoral Epistles, then we see even more changes taking place at a later date than the Jerusalem Counsil). I raise this question because we are living in a completely different historical and cultural context, with many different needs, when Church is geographically much larger than two milleniums ago. I for one, think the missionaries societies are a great way to organize mission and evangelistic efforts and do so without violating the right of local church autonomy.

    Just some thoughts.

  13. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thanks for your questions. Unpretentious worship would be that which primary focus is on pleasing and glorifying God, as opposed to that which is designed to grab the attention of men, entertain them or showcase the talents of gifted people. Simple organization would be ordaining of elders in every church (Acts 14:23). I don’t see Acts 15 as being so much an ecclesial organization, but rather simply a meeting of inspired men to seek God’s inspired guidance in the face of judaizing teachers.

    Christ’s teaching through his inspired apostles wasn’t meant to fit perceived historical and cultural needs, but rather it clashed with them in many areas. Accommodating different historical and cultural needs has been the reason given by Catholicism to justify the development of their hierarchy. Bishop Spong uses it to justify ordaining homosexuals. I don’t think we want to go down that road if we truly believe in restoration.

    Thanks again and may God bless you, Gardner

  14. ben overby Says:


    I hope this isn’t just a series of artilces; I hope it’s put into book form and made available to our brotherhood.

    As someone who doesn’t get to experience the sectarian stuff as mere theory but as real “in your face” pain, I wish that we enjoyed teh spirit of Stone, the Campbells, and on my personal favorites (whom you quoted) John Smith.

    The leadership in my neck of the woods has pushed up the schedule and be preaching/teaching at my current location for only two more weeks. I’ve acquired a steamy hatred for sectarianism (not the sectarians, just the “ism”). In some ways I think I’m still doing penance for dishing out so much vile when I, too, was hooked into the arrogance that so divides us today.

    May God grant us wisdom and power in restoring the restoration! To Him be the glory and may He be the basis of our unity!

    Ben Overby

  15. Kent Says:

    So, Gardner, are you saying that worship that grabs people’s attention and/or entertains and uses people’s talents whether it means to or not is pretentious worship? Seems as though that’s a little harsh. How can we judge the hearts and motives of people? Shouldn’t we leave that up to God?

  16. Zack Says:

    My oh my. How far we have fallen. If we could just unite on our love and obedience to Christ again like Stone and Campbell.
    Well done and well said dear brother!
    Can’t wait to read more. Be blessed!

  17. Kingdom Seeker Says:


    I don’t mean to criticize, but to say that the teaching of the apostle was not conditioned by the historical and cultural context or interested in accomodating to culture is very misleading. Of course there are aspects of culture to which Christianity cannot accomodate, which is why Paul has such a problem with the immorality taking place in the Corinthian church. But Paul also accomodates some of his teaching out of consideration for the culture around him. The whole discussion on the use of spiritual gifts is given with consideration for the unbeliever (worldly culture) present among the church. Also the discussion of the Christian submitting to secular authorities arrises out of the consideration of secular culture.

    My point is this: It is over-simplifying the matter and wrong to say that authentic Christianity (New Testament Christianity) should never accomadate to its surrounding culture. There are aspects in which Christianity cannot accomodate to it contemporary culture and remain the true body of Christ with its distinct missional purpose. Sexual morality is but one example where the church must be sacred among the world. However, there are aspects in which Christianity must accomodate to the surrounding culture as the incarnate body of Christ with its distinct missional purpose. I believe evangelistic leadership (missionary societies) is one example of ways in which a group of several local congregations can more effectively carry out the Great Commision. But determining exactly when and where Christianity can accomodate to culture and when and where it cannot is a question of biblical interpretation/hermeneutics. My point for now, again, is simply to show that even in the New Testament there are examples of both accomodation and non-accomodation.


  18. Gardner Hall Says:

    I agree with you in the sense of culturally (not morally or spiritually) “becoming all things to all men.” You are right to make that distinction. However, I think missionary societies are denominational machinery that tend to foster denominational pride and dim our nonsectarian focus on Christ and therefore go beyond what is merely cultural. I can see using cultural accommodation to promote something like wearing beards where that is a cultural preference. I can’t see it to justify altering a workable arrangement that the apostles placed in order. How would you respond to a Roman Catholic who argued that cultural accommodation justified the Catholic hierarchy?

    Kent, I don’t want to be harsh or judge anyone’s heart and apolize if my statement came across that way. I just think that worship that is designed to entertain or showcase human talent is misdirected. In saying that, I realize that some who push entertainment oriented worship, surpass me in some aspects of spirituality. I trust in God’s mercy for them as I do for myself.

    To get back to point of Bobby’s blog, I suppose what we’re doing is disagreeing as did many early restorationists, but without the condemnation and harshness that came to characterize many exchanges from the time of Crihfield, the Civil War, etc. I’ve just started blogging and I’m dismayed at the sarcasm and ad homen attacks in some. I suppose that Bobby’s high standards have rubbed off those of us who like his blog, and thus we can enjoy these loving and educational exchanges.

  19. Falantedios Says:

    I believe entertainment-oriented ministry saws off the limb upon which it sits. It needs no criticism from me to undermine and eventually destroy itself.

    However, I do not believe that worship is intended for an audience of one, even when that one is Almighty God.

    Our worship of Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is intended by Abba to catch the attention of the world, to be an aroma in their nostrils – for some the aroma of life; for others the aroma of death. Either way, real worship of God should get the world’s attention.

    In Islamic society, it isn’t much of a challenge to get the world’s attention.

    In America 2007, it is extremely challenging and will require much more work.

    in HIS love,
    Nick Gill

  20. rexeffect73 Says:

    Gardner Hall,

    I agree that what became the Roman Catholic hiarchy is wrong. Not so much because of the hiarchy itself but because the leadership stopped being a leadership through service in exchange for leadership by rank and power (IMHO). That is to say, the cross no longer was the metaphor for leadership (which is a problem in the Corinthian church as well).

    Having said that, there was more leadership in the NT than simply a bunch of individualistcally autonomous churches. When I look at the history of the Restoration Movement and the Churches of Christ and I see churches unable to work together to serve the poor because they disagree with each other on some completely different issue, then I think we need a little more organized leadership to remind us about what Kingdom business is really about.

  21. Gardner Hall Says:

    You can’t separate the formation of manmade ecclesiastical organizations (like the Roman Hierarchy) from the emphasis on rank and power. They’re companions. They’re a “package deal.” In other words, if you want to form your own church organizations, inevitably because of their very nature, they’ll be involved in rank and power games. God’s simple ways give glory to Him. Man’s church organizations, although they usually begin with good motives, ultimately become chess pieces in those battles for the glory of men.

    We agree that we exist to serve and glorify God, and that petty arguments in the past have hindered God’s people. I think we both agree that more emphasis on God’s grace and mercy is an essential antidote. I just disagree with you that more denominational machinery like “missionary societies” is a part of the solution. That type of machinery reinforces sectarian “Church of Christism” and contributes to the incessant internecine warfare that Bobby has documented in this latest blog.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and loving challenge, Gardner

  22. Ken Says:


    Here my comment several months ago when you posted the 1827 union topic:

    It doesn’t appear to be a union of Dunkard and the Stone Movement.

    Hostetler and Wright were already influenced by Campbell’s writings even before the 1827. Hostetler, in his letter to Alexander Campbell states that he read the CB vol. 1,2 and 3, and was in much agreement with what he read. He asked Campbell for his teaching related to several Dunkard distinctives, primarily triune immersion. Campbell’s reply was in Feb. 1826. Campbell specifically states that triune immersion was an invention of man and had no divine warrent.

    Apparently, Hostetler took his response to heart (I also think that Campbell may have sent Hostetler some private correspondance). In the spring of 1826, Hostetler was already disavowing Dunkard teaching. He called a large meeting of Dunkards and preached what appears to be the “Restoration plea”. His sermon caused such a ruckus that many of the Dunkard preachers present called for a heresy trial.

    Before the trial, Hostetler went to the Dunkard congregations preaching and many people responded by being baptized by Hostetler. That is critically important because these Dunkards would have already been baptized by triune immersion. Obviously, Hostetler was teaching that triune immersion was an invention of man and had no divine warrant (Campbell’s teaching). Eventually Hostetler was persuasive enough to carry the 15 congregation with him. I submit by 1827 they ceased being Dunkard in any theological way and aligned themselves with Campbell’s teaching.

    In fact, Hostetler is described as a preacher of the “current Reformation” by 1828.

    The Dunkards were a rather large group in the midwest. They exist today. They never united with Stone or Campbell and were never a part of the RM.

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