29 May 2021

Unity & Heresy: Love of Party Position or Love of Truth, Regardless: Alexander Campbell, 1858

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Christian hope, Christology, Patternism, Precision Obedience, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity

Great is the Truth, and mighty above all things, and will prevail” (1 Esdras 4.35, KJV. From the masthead of the 1858 Millennial Harbinger)

In March 1858 an elderly Alexander Campbell was on the steamboat Tempest in the Cumberland River. He occupied his time by reading articles and writing.

Campbell read an article clipped out for him from the Western Recorder, a Baptist publication out of Louisville. The Recorder, apparently, had a new editor who was determined to make the paper “intensely Baptistic” as Campbell quotes the editor, “let the lines be strictly drawn.”

Campbell complimented the editor for being upfront about his sectarian loyalties. He was wrong but he was honest, many are not honest about their sectarian loyalty. At this point Campbell does not criticize any point of doctrine but the perspective of approaching a subject. The editor was more concerned about party loyalty than what the actual truth may be. Truth may not be our position. Campbell then quotes from a contributor to the Recorder who noted that it was important to have equal space for opposing ideas because that is how “impartial men” discover truth rather than “our position.” Campbell praises this idea. He then testifies,

We SYMPATHIZE with the latter, while we ANTIPATHIZE against the former. We have, on sundry occasions, gone even farther than this, in giving equal space to those opposing our main positions with that occupied by ourself, in defending them. We prefer to be generous rather than merely just to our opponents.” A lover of truth has no loyalty to a party or “our position.

A lover of truth has no fear from free examination of the evidence. We cannot simply assume that “our position” is identical with “the truth.” A lover of truth does not decide ahead of time that you are wrong and we are right. And a lover of truth does not demand homage to “our” position as the basis of recognizing one’s Christianity nor as the basis of Christian fellowship. A lover of truth seeks the truth as “our position” regardless of who said it and what it is. This strikes fear into the sectarian.

Every man who propounds any Basis of church union, communion and co-operation, other than that ‘Jesus is the Christ the Son of God,’ is a HERETIC, — a full developed heretic–or a SECTARY, according to Paul.”

Campbell then notes that many Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Papists etc are “heretics” in the Pauline sense of the term.

It is true that he who lays down any other foundation [for Christian faith/unity] is the heretic, the schismatic … It is a fearful thing to lay a human, a false basis for the church of Jesus the Christ.”Campbell, reflecting on the article, notes that most “heretics” make some form of agreement on church government the basis of fellowship with themselves. “Most modern sects make church POLITY and POLITICS their basis.”

Church polity, including Campbell’s own “ancient order,” is not and never can be the basis of unity except as insisted upon by “heretics.”

A lover of truth, a seeker of truth, may have his or her understanding on the biblical data on all of these matters. But it is the love of party that makes our understanding of those positions the basis of recognizing the Christianity of others and the basis of fellowship with them. Campbell certainly had “positions” (i.e. understandings/opinions) on these matters.

Campbell notes that the first and original designation for Christ’s followers was not Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, not even “Christian.” The original and most basic designation was, and is, disciple. Jesus was the “Great Teacher.” He is the master, the teacher. We are the learners who shall never cease to learn from the Great Teacher. Disciples, learners, do not evaluate other students standing with the Teacher based on their position (i.e. understanding) of the Teacher. Our task as disciples is to learn.

Campbell closes by taking us to John 17 and the prayer for us as disciples to be “one.” We are already “one.” God’s fractured people are already one. The problem is many disciples have become heretics by insisting that other students embrace “our position,” before we can recognize them.

What a timely article penned by Campbell. Lovers of Truth, as opposed to Heretics/Lovers of Party, have no fear from study, from learning, from growing, from admitting the other may right and “we” (I) may be wrong. Lovers of Truth have no fear from letting other people see the evidence from the person who holds the position themselves.

Campbell put his pen down and found a post office at the next town to mail his brief article back to Bethany, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Lovers of Truth recognize the ultimate truth, it is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, that holds us together not sectarian loyalties. Have we become “heretics?” I believe it is a message that so many within the Stone Campbell Movement desperately need to hear today.

For more see Alexander Campbell, “The LOVE of PARTY versus THE LOVE OF TRUTH,” Millennial Harbinger, May 1858, pp. 260-262.

Articles of Related Interest on this Blog See

A Taxonomy of Sectarianism …

Church of Christ, Sectarianism & Romans 16.16

1835: Tares Among the Wheat, Roots of Sectarianism in Churches of Christ

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