20 Dec 2011

Alexander Campbell, The Spirit of Intolerance & Fellowship

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Church, Church History, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity

In light of my last three posts that share dialogue on unity and fellowship in which the “approved apostolic example” of Paul was appealed to … especially his relationship with the Corinthians – I want to share some thoughts from the Stone-Campbell giant Alexander Campbell on unity.

In the late 1820s as things heated up in the Redstone Baptist Association, pressure was brought upon Alexander Campbell. The drawing a line in the sand disfellowshipping kind of pressure! A group met together and “Resolved” not to fellowship Campbell and his “doctrines.” What follows is his rather enlightening response – a response I believe needs to be heard in Churches of Christ today. It is more than worth reading. Read his words …

“The Spirit of Intolerance”

What means this intolerant spirit? I ask again, What is the meaning of it? Is every man who acknowledges in word and deed the supreme authority of Jesus of Nazareth as Lord Messiah; who has vowed allegiance to him, who is of good report as respects good works, to be sacrificed upon the alter of opinion, because his opinion upon some speculation, fact or doctrine differs from mine? Because, while he admits that Jesus died for our sins, he will not dogmatize upon the nature, extent and every attribute of ‘the atonement,’ is he to be deemed unfit for the kingdom of heaven? Admitting ‘an election of favor,’ is he to be given over to Satan because of some opinion about the the conditionality or unconditionality of that election? In one word, are we to understand that an exact agreement in opinion, a perfect uniformity is contended for as a bond of union? If so, let our Baptist brethren say so, Let them declare to the world that

‘Tenth, or ten thousandeth, breaks the chain alike.’

That a disagreement in the tenth opinion, or in the ten thousandeth opinion, breaks the bond of union. If this be the decree, let it be published and translated into all languages — let it be known and read by all men. If, again, a perfect uniformity be not decreed, but a partial uniformity, let it be proclaimed in how many opinions an agreement must be obtained; then we shall know who are, and who are not, to be treated as heathen men and publicans.

“What makes divisions now? The man who sets up his private judgements as the standard of truth, and compels submission to them, or the man who will bear with a brother who thinks in some things differently from him? No man can, with either reason or fact on his side, accuse me of making divisions among Christians. I declare non-fellowship with no man who owns the Lord Jesus in word and deed. Such is a Christian. He that denies the Lord in word or deed is not a Christian. A Jew or Gentile he may be, a Pharisee or Sadducee he may be, but a Christian he cannot be! If a man confess the Lord Jesus, or acknowledge him as the only Savior sent by God; if he vow allegiance to him and submit to his government, I will recognize him as a Christian and treat him as such. If a man cause divisions and offenses by setting up his own decisions, his private judgement, we must consider him a FACTIONIST, and as such he must be excluded — not for his difference in opinions, but because he makes his opinion an idol, and demands homage to it.

“There are some preachers in the East and in the West — some self-conceited, opinionated dogmatizers — who are determined to rend the Baptist communities into factions by their intolerance. They wish, moreover to blame it upon us. As well might blame the sun for its light and heat as blame us for creating divisions. When we shall have cut off from the church any person or persons because of difference of opinion, then they may say, with reason, we cause divisions. Till then it is gratuitous. They are the heretics, not we. Yes, they are the heresiarchs, and will be so regarded by all the intelligent on earth, and by all in heaven.”

Quote taken from Christian Baptist, Burnett’s Edition, p. 651.

I believe these words of Campbell are incredibly relevant to our day. They deserve thoughtful and careful reading. The spirit of factionism, of dogmatism, of intolerance, and of homage to our own opinions is as rampant today as in Campbell’s.

Bobby Valentine

4 Responses to “Alexander Campbell, The Spirit of Intolerance & Fellowship”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    It’s a great pity that Campbell is primarily regarded by many people as a restorationist, as if his only or primary goal was “restoring the New Testament church.”Such a view is a one-dimensional caricature of Elder Campbell’s aims.

    Were Campbell to reappear in 2011, he wouldn’t last ten minutes in some quarters before they’d disfellowship him for his “unsound views.” He certainly couldn’t have said anything in that letter at either of the churches I grew up in, which just shows you, not only how far we’ve strayed from the true goals and aims of the Stone-Campbell Reformation, but also how far we’ve strayed from the principles of the New Testament.

    Thanks for that reminder of how far Campbell was willing to go to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.



  2. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    Powerful words. I respect and agree with bro. Campbell. That doesn’t mean I can accept as brother and offer the right hand of fellowship to just anyone who claims to follow Jesus, but within the ranks of those who truly are loyal to Jesus and really do confess the authority of the Scriptures, I think I can agree. However, conscience still won’t allow me to worship with many whose fellowship I long for in my spirit and it troubles me that so many in Christendom dogmatically continue to push their opinions on me in ways I cannot accept. They love their opinions more than me I suppose. I digress…

    Bobby, just thought I’d ask your opinion… Do you believe the unity of all believers is a realistic possibility to hope for this side of eternity, and if so, upon what terms, and what do those terms look like? If not, please say why. Wouldn’t mind reading others’ thoughts too.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    Campbell had his limits, too. As he took pains to remind his *Baptist* and *Harbinger* readers, he wasn’t advocating a loose, latitudinarianism, an “anything goes” mentality. But he wouldn’t abide a dogmatic, judgmental person. He made allowances for a sincere believer to be mistaken on a particular point, and often wrote about God only holding a person accountable for the available light they possessed.

    I’m reminded of the Aylette Raines affair, in which Raines, who held to universalist views, was being censured by his brethren, who were advocating withdrawing fellowship from him. Both Campbells, father and son, stood up for Raines and refused to withdraw from him as long as Raines continued to keep his universalist views to himself, which he did. And Raines later credited Alexander with helping him think and study himself out of those views.

    Then, on the other hand, there’s the Jesse B. Ferguson affair, in which Ferguson made his universalist and spiritualist views public after repeated entreaties not to by Campbell, who eventually felt compelled to withdraw from Ferguson.

    I think that unity is possible because Jesus prayed for it. I’m not sure we want it badly enough, though. We often tend to couch it in terms of what non-essential beliefs/practices OTHERS must give up to be in communion with us, but maybe we should ask ourselves what non-essential beliefs/practices WE are willing to give up in order to be in communion with THEM?

    IMHO most of the stuff the CoC has traditionally divided over should never have been tests of fellowship in the first place.

  4. Darin Says:

    Amen. Thanks for sharing that.

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