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David Lipscomb
Christian Unity: How Promoted, How Destroyed (1916)



      The writer from which we quoted insists that to oppose the introduction of matters of mere opinion in the church, and to reject the fellowship of men who insist on introducing service based on their own opinions, is "an absolute reversal of the most fundamental distinction of the reformers." The teaching of Mr. Campbell and the fathers is but of small importance. He did a great work for humanity. But he was a man. Yet as his name and those of his associates are appealed to in support of the right to introduce matters of opinion into the church, to do them justice, and for the intrinsic strength of their positions and arguments, we present a few extracts from their writings. The trouble is what to select out of the super-abundance.

      The "Declaration and Address," written and published by Elder Thos. Campbell is recognized as the beginning of the present effort to restore the apostolic order. The end proposed therein was:

      "To restore unity, peace and purity to the whole church of God. This desirable rest, however, we utterly despair either to find ourselves, or to be able to recommend to our brethren, by continuing amid the diversity and rancor of party contentions, the veering uncertainty and clashings of human opinions, nor, indeed, can we reasonably expect to find it anywhere, but in Christ, and his simple word, which is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. Our desire, therefore, for our brethren and ourselves, would be that rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men as of any authority, or as having any place in the church of God, we might forever cease from further contentions about such things, returning to and holding fast by the original standard, taking the Divine word alone for our rule; the Holy Spirit for our teacher and guide, to lead us into all truth * * that, by so doing, we may be at peace among ourselves, follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." [19]

      Here the only pathway to peace, in their esteem, was, for all "to reject all human opinions and inventions of man, as of any authority, or as having any place in the church of God."

      Article first of the Declaration is: "We form ourselves into a religious association * * * for the sole purpose of promoting simple, evangelical Christianity, free from all mixture of human opinions and inventions of men." The leading thought was to free the church from all practices based on human opinions and inventions of men. They were the occasions of strife and division.

      Of the preachers to be supported, section 5 says: "This society shall, to the utmost of its power, countenance and support such ministers, and such only, as exhibit a manifest conformity to the original standard in conversation and doctrine, in zeal and diligence, * * * without attempting to inculcate anything of human authority, of private opinion, or inventions of men, as having any place in the constitution, faith or worship of the Christian church, or anything as matter of Christian faith or duty, for which there cannot be expressly produced, a "Thus saith the Lord, either in express terms, or by approved precedents."

      They refused to sustain or countenance a preacher that would inculcate that anything of human authority, of private opinions or inventions of men, had any place in the church of God. Only that was to be taught for which "a thus saith the Lord could be adduced."

      In the address on the divisions of Christendom, they say: "Our differences at most are about things in which the kingdom of God does not consist, that is, about matters of private opinion and human invention. What a pity that the kingdom of God should be divided about such! Who then would not be the first among us to give up human invention in the worship of God, and to cease from imposing his private opinions upon his brethren, that our breaches might be thus healed?"

      They thought these divisions could only be healed by all giving up their opinions and inventions, and ceasing to impose them on the church. The divisions and breaches that the advocates of opinion so deprecate, can be healed by each one giving up his opinions, and the inventions of men, and by asking his brethren to submit to and accept [20] nothing, but what is clearly required in the Scriptures. Come to this principle and peace as a river flows out. But now union and peace are sought in the opposite direction, i. e., let every man bring his invention and opinion into the church.

      They declare, "There is no thing we have hitherto received as matter of faith or practice, which is not expressly taught and enjoined in the word of God, either in express terms or approved precedent, that we would not readily relinquish, that so we might return to the original constitutional unity of the Christian church, and in this happy unity, enjoy full communion with all our brethren, in peace and charity. * * * To this we call, we invite our brethren of all denominations, by all the sacred motives which we have avouched as the impulsive reasons for our thus addressing them."

      We make the same appeal on the same ground, to our brethren who introduce matters of opinion, for the sake of union and peace. They treat our appeals with indifference and contempt. If these inventions and opinions of men were not cherished in the church to-day, unity and peace would prevail.

      To the preachers they appealed: "To you, therefore, it peculiarly belongs, as the professed and acknowledged leaders of the people, to go before them in this good work, to remove human opinions and inventions of men out of the way, by carefully separating this chaff, from the pure wheat of primary and authentic revelation, casting out that assumed authority, that enacting and decreeing power by which these things have been imposed and established. To the ministerial department, then, do we look with anxiety. * * * His dying commands, his last and ardent prayers for the visible unity of his professing people, will not suffer you to be indifferent in this matter."

      This appeal comes just as strongly to those bringing their "fads, fancies, preferences," based on opinion, into the church to-day as it did then, and it is a shame that Christians do not hear it. The inventions of men are called chaff, to be burned with fire unquenchable.

      Again, "Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament." [21]

      This precludes and prohibits all inventions and devices based on opinions of men in any age.

      But again, "A partial neglect in some instances of the expressed will of God, and in others an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions and human inventions a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith or worship of the church, are, and have been, the immediate, obvious and universally acknowledged causes of all the corruptions that have taken place in the church of God."

      Whenever an invention or device based on human opinions is adopted into the work or worship of the church of God, every one in that church is compelled to approbate and fellowship it, or is driven out of that church. The introduction of such things is declared by the author and approvers of this address, the original movers in this reformatory movement, to be "the immediate, obvious and universally acknowledged cause of all the corruptions and divisions that have taken place on earth." Yet these men are represented as condemning those who oppose the introduction of the fads, fancies, preferences--based on opinion and nothing but opinion--and those who oppose the introduction of these "obvious and immediate and universally acknowledged causes of all the corruptions and divisions that have taken place in the church of God" as worse than those who introduce these causes of division. Fierce, bitter words of denunciation they give to those who oppose, only words of comfort and praise to these who introduce, opinions into the church of God.

      The address implores the preachers, "That in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of the Divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive church, exhibited in the New Testament without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men."

      Lastly, "That if any circumstantials, indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances, be not found upon the rage of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose, should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more [22] sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the church."

      This much from the original address initiating the work of restoration. We now make some extracts from Alexander Campbell, the meaning of which cannot be mistaken. Remember, the point is, actions or institutions based on human opinions, without Divine authority, are to be tolerated in the church, and those who oppose practices based on mere opinions are factionists and heretics.

      Christian Baptist, p. 128. "To bring the Christianity and the church of the present day up to the New Testament. This is in substance what we contend for. To bring the societies of Christianity to the New Testament, is just to bring the disciples individually and collectively, to walk in the faith, and in the commands of the Lord and Savior, as presented in that blessed volume; and this is to restore the ancient order of things."

      On the necessity of doing things just according to God's order, p. 138.

      "The conversion of the world is an object of the dearest magnitude in the estimation of the heavens. All the attributes of Deity require that this grand object be achieved in a certain way or not at all. The way or plan the Savior has unfolded in his address from earth to heaven. * * Israel failed in his own way. In God's way he was successful. We have failed in our own way, to convince the world, but in God's way we would be victorious. Wisdom and benevolence combined constitute his plan, and although his ways may appear weak and incomprehensible, they are in their moral grandeur of wisdom and benevolence, as much higher than ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth."

      On page 140. "The constitution of the kingdom of the Savior is the New Testament, and this alone is adapted to the existence of his kingdom in the world. To restore the ancient order of things, this must be recognized as the only constitution of this kingdom. And in receiving citizens they must be received into the kingdom just as they were received by the apostles into it, when they were setting it up."

      So rigidly is everything else to be excluded but that commanded, he insists, page 159, that we must confine ourselves to the very terms used in the Scripture to express the things to be believed and done. [23]

      "To disparage these terms, by adopting others in preference, is presumptuous and insolent on the part of man. * * * From this source spring most of our doctrinal controversies. Men's opinions expressed in their own terms, are often called Bible truths. In order, then, to full restoration of the ancient order of things, a pure speech must be restored.

      On page 165 he ridicules the idea of no established order of worship; so every one is allowed to act on his opinion, thus:

      "One society of disciples meets on the first day morning, and dances till evening, under the pretext (opinion) that this is the happiest way of expressing their joy, and when they have danced themselves down they go home. Now in this, there is no disorder, error, innovation or transgression, for there is no divinely authorized order of Christian worship. * * As none but the Lord can prescribe or regulate the worship due to himself and profitable to us, so, if he has done it, human regulations are as vain and useless as attempts to prevent the ebbing of the sea, or the waxing and waning of the moon. But to proceed. Another society meets for worship, and they sing all day; another shouts all day; another runs in a race all day; another lies prostrate on the ground all day; another reads all day; another hears one man speak all day; another cries in the forenoon and listens to the organ in the afternoon, and all is equally right, lawful, orderly and acceptable; for there is no divinely authorized order of Christian worship."

      He reduces it to this absurdity if there be no Divine order, but every one be left to follow his own opinion.

      "It follows then there is a divinely authorized order of worship in Christian assemblies, and that this worship is uniformly the same."

      On page 295 he gives the rule he adopted to arrive at the truth.

      "When any act of devotion or item of religious practice presented itself to my view, of which I could learn nothing from my Master's last will and testament, I simply gave it up, and if I found anything there not exhibited by my fellow Christians, I went into the practice of it, if it was the practice of an individual; and if it was a social act, I attempted to invite others to unite with me on it. Thus I went on correcting my views, and returning to his institutes until I became so speckled a bird that scarce one of my species would cordially consociate with me." [24]

      There was no acting on his opinions here, nor tolerating acts of service based on the opinions of others.

      On page 314, speaking of divisions in opinions about God and the God-head, he says:

      "Suppose all would abandon every word and sentence not found in the Bible on the subject, and quote with equal readiness every word and sentence found in the volume, how long would divisions on this subject exist? It would be impossible to perpetuate them on this plan. * * ** And as to any injury a private opinion may do the possessor, it could on this principle do none to society."

      It is not to be given to or imposed on the public. It is private property.

      In 1837, the fifteenth year of his editorial work, he published three essays on "Opinionism." From the first essay, page 439, we extract the following:

      "There is a growing taste for opinionism in the ranks of the reformation. This must be quashed out or there is an end to all moral and religious improvement. It has ever been the harbinger of schism, the forerunner of all discord, and vain jangling. It has indeed been the plague of Christendom. * * What is an opinion? Persuasion without proof, say some of our lexicographers. It is a speculation built on probable evidence. It is neither knowledge nor faith; but in the absence of these, it is an inference, a conclusion to which the mind assents according to its information or mode of reasoning.

      An opinionist is one fond of opinions, especially of his own. Opinionism then is fondness of opinions. But that I may meet the exigency of the crisis and give a proper latitude to this term, I hereby define opinionism to be the liberty of propagating one's own opinions.

      Some of our correspondents suppose opinionism, as thus defined, to be an essential part of Christian liberty, then if any restrictions should be imposed on their benevolent efforts to propagate their opinions, they complain of an infringement of their rights.

      We do not admit the right; for if this be the right of a Christian, then every man, woman and child in Christ's church has a right to propagate his or her opinions, and to complain if that right be not respected by all the Christian community. And as there is no restriction as to the number or magnitude of subjects on which opinions may be formed, there can be no limitation of the number of opinions that may be offered, adopted or propagated; and thus the whole earthly [25] pilgrimage of the church may be occupied in the discussion of opinions.

      We are therefore rationally and religiously compelled to deny any such right. It is not the right of any one citizen of Christ's kingdom to propagate any opinion whatever, either in public assembly or private, consequently it is not the duty of all nor of any one, to listen to an opinionist in his efforts to establish his opinions. This is an important point, and we state it boldly and confidently. * * * To walk by opinions rather than faith, is effectually to make the book of God of no authority. Moreover, in the decisions of that volume, he that propagates an opinion or seeks to attach persons to it, or to himself on account of it, is a factionist in embryo, in infancy or in manhood."

      Mr. Campbell declares every one who introduces an opinion or preference based on an opinion is by the decisions of the Bible a factionist. Yet our writer says those who oppose the making of these opinions the basis of action, are the factionists. Mr. Campbell was then the prince of factionists. Yet he is quoted to condemn those who oppose the introduction of opinions as the basis of actions that affect the whole church.

      Campbell proceeds: "Unless this matter is better understood it will fare with us as with Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and other religious communities. We shall be broken to pieces as well as they. * * *  While it is conceded that on some matters we all have liberty to form opinions, and, if asked for them, to express them, we must regard this as very different from the right to propagate our speculations, instead of practicing the precepts of the gospel. * * * "We must, I repeat it, set our faces against this course, or we will all repent it. The weakest are generally the most dogmatical, and those who know the least, the most positive and overbearing, and therefore there is no convincing them. Nothing is to be hoped for from the strife of opinions; for the chorus will ever be, 'My opinion is as good as thine,' and 'Am not I as infallible as thou?' But we sin against the teaching of the apostles if we do not abandon this course. Paul enjoins that we 'give not heed to fables'--'to endless genealogies'-'that he that consents not to the doctrine which is according to godliness, is proud, self-opinionated, doting or sick about questions, and debates of words, from which come envy, strife, railing, evil surmisings,' etc. * * * Hence said the apostle, 'Foolish and untaught questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.' These untaught questions are precisely [26] questions about opinions; and that they do gender strife we have proof."

      "I have no doubt but all partyism now in protestant Christendom, and most of the errors too, grew out of the neglect of the Scriptures quoted from Paul, and a misunderstanding of the faith and of untaught questions."

      "All the contentions and divisions, all the sects and parties in Christendom are as certainly and indisputably the effects of opinionism in religion as the love of money is the root of all evil."

      Mr. Campbell further says:

      "There is one very material injury which the advocate of his own or another's opinion, inflicts upon society, even when he fails to make a party; he alienates man's ears from the voice of God, and turns them to himself. This is an exceeding great evil."

      All can see this is true, as men begin to advocate their own or the opinion of others, they turn their own attention and that of others who listen to them, from the teachings of God to their opinions--from the obedience and service of God to the practices based on the opinions of men.

      Mr. Campbell in 1844 published six lengthy essays, headed "Tyranny of Opinionisms," the essence of which is:

      "Any one who feels himself conscientiously obliged to utter opinions, must regard them of permanent value--as equal to Divine oracles. It is a grand mistake."

      Such are some of the expressions in the first essay. It is followed up by two others in the same volume and to the same purport, with a promise to follow it up with others still in the succeeding volume--which is missing from our lot. In 2nd essay, page 481, he says:

      "Zeal for an opinion, then, when brought to the touchstone of truth and the Bible, is mere self-love, operating in the form of pride." "It may be yet made evident that this peculiar pride of opinion or understanding, enters into the essence of all partyism amongst men, nay that itself is the very spirit of discord, the soul of the sectary, and the demon of religious persecution. Its name is legion, the first born of Satan, and its brood are emulation, strife, wrath, sedition, treason, heresy. All the contentions and divisions, all the sects and parties in [27] Christendom, are as certainly and indisputably the effects of opinionism as the love of money is the root of all evil."

      We might quote much more from him, this must suffice.

      Surely no sane man would refer to Mr. Campbell as advocating the toleration of opinions in religious service.

      The extracts will show that this introduction into the service, of practices based on opinions, was the great demon of corruption and discord in the churches of God, and the leading and chief aim of those reformers, was to cast every thing out of the church based on opinions, and to admit only that into the service which the Scriptures require by positive precept or approved example.

      The occasion of the article from which we quoted, is that some brethren at Sand Creek, (wherever that is) declared non-fellowship with all who introduce and maintain missionary societies, other than the churches of God, the organ in the worship, and fairs, festivals and frolics for raising money to carry forward the work of God.

      The writer calls these things

      "Fads and fancies and preferences about suppers and organs and pastors and missionary societies--about such matters as these or opinions concerning them, it is proposed to build up a new denomination on the old creed of opinionism."

      This means that brethren who declare non-fellowship with those who introduce such things are building up a denomination on opinionism. That is, those who refuse to fellowship those who introduce opinions and practices based on opinions, into the church of God, are building up a denomination on opinionism. That is clearly the meaning of this sentence. Not one word of opposition to the introduction of these "fads and fancies and preferences based on opinions," "and wholly outside the realm of faith"--not one sentence of condemnation of those who introduce these opinions, or practices based upon them, that gender strife and division in the church, can be found in this or [28] any article of those who claim the right to act on opinions.

      But bitter and fierce is the condemnation of those who oppose the introduction. To introduce fads and fancies of opinion into the church of God is all right in their eyes, but to oppose their introduction is a sin of darkest hue. To oppose the introduction of matters of opinion into the church of God is to build a denomination on opinionism, according to this logic.

      After what is here presented of the teaching of Alexander Campbell and his coadjutors on the subject of the sin of introducing opinions, and practices based on them, into the church, what is thought of this statement:

      "What a violent contrast to the simple but comprehensive conditions of fellowship enunciated by Alexander Campbell and his coadjutors and taught in the New Testament, is the Sand Creek efforts based on the same foolish philosophy--to forge men together in the bonds of identical opinions * * * in matters of no vital importance."

      Is it true that these "Sand Creek" folks proposed an opinion as a ground of action for the church? Is not the height and breadth of their offending, that they exclude those who introduce opinions and practices and institutions based on opinions, into the church of God? * How far does their action differ from the teaching of Alexander Campbell when he says:

      "There is a growing disposition for opinionism in the ranks of the reformation. It must be quashed, or there will be an end to all moral improvement. It has ever been the harbinger of schism, the forerunner of all discord. It has been, indeed, the plague of Christendom."

      * It is not intended by what is said above, to endorse the manner of proceeding by the Sand Creek brethren. I never read their resolutions nor an account of their meeting. But I believe only evil grows out of conventions and meetings not scriptural, to define faith or declare heresy. [29]

[CUFO 19-29]

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David Lipscomb
Christian Unity: How Promoted, How Destroyed (1916)

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