When he came to this country, Alexander Campbell identified as an “Old Light Antiburgher Seceder Presbyterian.” The name became to him an increasing display of the sinful and ridiculous religious division present in the world. Rather than the glorious name “Christian” which was given by God, there were four descriptions of strict divisions separating those in pursuit of Jesus.
Religious division and error should continue to break our hearts. Jesus intended for all who claimed his name to be known for unifying love (for him and for one another). Unfortunately, the main way religious groups are known is the name on a sign in front of a building. Even that can often be deceptive. The time for the restoration of New Testament Christianity is now. We must continue the restoration. What is the Restoration Movement? The Restoration Movement refers to a people who want to restore Christian unity by restoration of Christian doctrine and practices prescribed by God in the New Testament. We are a part of that movement. We are trying to find unity with God and people by knowing and practicing God’s truth.
Division Traded for Unity
Barton W. Stone, an early American religious leader, tried to accomplish the noble goal of restoration of unity through truth in some different religious organizations. However, those organizations ultimately failed to nurture either truth or unity so they were dissolved. “Renouncing their allegiance to all authority but that of their divine Master, they resolved to be governed by the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice” (J.W. Shepherd, The Church, The Falling Away, and The Restoration, (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1977: 164). Stone “called the churches at Cane Ridge and Concord together and informed them that he could no longer preach to support Presbyterianism, but that his labors should henceforth be directed to advance the kingdom of God, irrespective of party, releasing from all pecuniary obligations to him” (Ibid., 165).
This decision led to a document titled “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” in 1804. The “Last Will and Testament’ focused on two great themes—unity and truth. They wrote
“We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the body of Christ at large; for there is but one body of Christ at large; for there is but one body and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”
The church would submit to the authority of God rather than the authority of a council. They said,
“We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the Church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible and adopt the law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ.”
This unity would only be possible if it was founded on the Bible. They further affirmed that
“We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book than having many to be cast into hell.”
They determined to go forth as one under the banner of the Gospel and the leadership of Christ.
A plan for unity was agreed upon which rested on the bedrock of the divinely inspired Scriptures and Christian humility among those interpreting those Scriptures. They continued the motto: “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” There has been much debate concerning how that motto should be applied. Is the motto prohibitive or expansive? Does the silence of the Scripture forbid or permit? Like any motto, to speak where the Scriptures speak and to be silent where the Bible is silent, is an expression of principled goal rather than a strict hermeneutic.
The motto expressed the desire to examine commands in areas of general authority and specific authority. Every command of God will authorize general principles and specific actions. Each command will also prohibit that which it does not authorize either generally or specifically. For example, the command to sing in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 authorizes and excludes. Generic authority authorizes the act of singing various songs in various styles in various melodies. It specifies that the command is fulfilled by singing and thus excludes playing. It specifies that the singing is to be reciprocal (speaking to one another) rather than a performance.
The motto of speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent is exemplified in the regulative principle of hermeneutics. Just as a thermostat regulates the temperature of a room, the authority of God regulates the actions of mankind in life and worship. The regulative principle holds that whatever the Bible commands must be done as it is commanded. Today, much of the religious world adheres to what is called the normative principle of worship which allows for aids or additions to be used to fulfill God’s commands. With the exclusion of Martin Luther, most every notable reformer held to the regulative principle in life and worship.
The Pursuit of Two Grand Goals in Delicate Balance
Though united in and exemplified by our Triune God, unity and exclusive truth are difficult goals for us mortals to simultaneously pursue. The Restoration Movement pursues two grand goals which must be held in a delicate balance. Christians are to pursue the goal of Christian unity—”Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Christians are also to pursue truth and true practices—”There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
The Pursuit of Truth
Psalm 19:7 tells us “the Law of the Lord is perfect.” It is perfect because it is from God and of God. God’s commandments are bound up in his nature and therefore are just as authoritative as God himself. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 teaches that God has spoken through his Word that we might know him by knowing and obeying the Scriptures. The Scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation” because they are God’s Words. Religious standards of human imagination are laughable authorities and dry springs. Only the divine Word can speak and form reality.
“We have the mind of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Since we have the Word, we may honor the incarnate Word by living according to the written Word. To rebel against the inspired Word is to rebel against the incarnate Word. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 commands the Word to be preached because the world will be judged by the Word (Revelation 20:12). Jude 3 demands we “contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” The written word is the “form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17) to which we must yield and preach (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6). Any attempt to be a Christian is dependent upon the authoritative Word and the Divine design for Christianity.
The Pursuit of Unity
God demands unity among his people. Just as we are to pursue truth, we are to pursue unity among those who are also pursuing truth. Ephesians 4:3 and 4:13 command us to pursue unity with Christians. Chrysostom described the unifying chain in Ephesians 4:3 as “more glorious than miracles.”[i] Ephesians 4:3 teaches “that there is a unity of the Spirit to be kept; secondly, that it needs keeping; and, thirdly, that a bond is to be used.”[ii] The unity begins when God adds the saved to his one church (Acts 2:47). How sad then when the saved remove themselves from that unity or attempt to exclude others from the unity given by God. To create division is to attempt to undo what God has done. Surely, this is blasphemy of the highest order.
The evil known as division will multiply if we do not honor God’s command to unify. We are to welcome the one “weak in faith…but not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1). Peter gave us a description of the attitudes which make unity possible in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, have the unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Above all things, the Christian is to “put on the love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). “Bind thyself to thy brother. They bear all things lightly who are bound together in love. Bind thyself to him and him to thee; thou art lord of both, for whomsoever I may be desirous to make my friend, I can by means of kindliness accomplish it.”[iii]
In Philippians 4:2, Paul exhorted two Christian women to agree in the Lord. Unfortunately, God’s people continue to distort unity. Unity is distorted by ecumenicalism and postmodern evasions of exclusive truth—Acts 4:12. Unity is abandoned by those who pervert the Gospel by heresy—Galatians 1:6-9. Unity is impossible with those who by the prideful exaltation of self-exclude other faithful brethren—3 John 9-10. Let us love the unity of the church and be willing to fight for it.
The Restoration Continues
“Dearly beloved brethren, why should we deem it a thing incredible that the Church of Christ, in this highly favored country, should resume that original unity, peace, and purity which belong to its constitution and constitute its glory?”[iv] We must continue Godly goals foundational to the Restoration Movement. We must always pursue both truth and unity. Ultimately, the simultaneous pursuit of truth and unity is the pursuit of God. God is one. Yet, our one God exists in three perfectly united Persons. Jesus spoke of the unity required in the church as being like the experienced unity among the Godhead. Jesus prayed to the Father, “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us … I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one” (Jn. 17:21, 23). No division exists among the Father, Son, and Spirit. Truth is bound in the Triune essence. Their perfection is our goal. Their mercy is our only hope. “Aim for restoration.”
[i] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. William John Copeland and Gross Alexander, vol. 13, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 94.
[ii] C. H. Spurgeon, “True Unity Promoted,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 11 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865), 3.
[iii] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom,” 96.
[iv] Richardson, Robert. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Second Edition, Expanded) (Kindle Locations 3302-3303). SCM e-Prints. Kindle Edition.