THE DECLARATION AND ADDRESS OF THOMAS CAMPBELL

(Printed September 7, 1809)

 

THE CHRISTIAN UNION OVERTURE:  Two Themes of Restoration Heritage--Truth and Unity of The Church in the Post Modern Context of the Denial of True Truth and the Possibility of Unity in a Pluralistic, Relativistic Culture (Humanistic, Secularistic, Naturalistic); compare John 17 and Ephesians 4 on Truth and Unity.

 

THE DECLARATION AND ADDRESS IN CONTEXT:  Its lasting message in context of radical change

 

I.  CONTEXT OF WORLD CHANGING DOCUMENTS:

 

A.  The Code of Hammurabi

B.  The Laws of Moses

C.  The English Magna Charta

D.  The Declaration of Independence

E.  Campbell's Declaration and Address

 

II.  CONTEXT OF RADICAL CHANGE:  Contra authority and tradition

 

A.  Confessions of Augustine (Pagan Graeco/Roman context)

B.  The Imitation of Christ (medieval context of Christendom)

C.  Little Flowers of Francis of Assisi (founder of the Franciscan Order 1181-1225 A.A.)

 

These documents possess a sustaining quality which changing times have not (cannot) remove their relevancy.  Their abiding value is not affected by their extraneous inaccuracies.

 

III.  THE DECLARATION AND ADDRESS OF THOMAS CAMPBELL

 

The Declaration is surely one of the immortal documents of Christian history.  The merit of its themes goes far beyond the boundaries of The Restoration Heritage. (The Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, written by his son, Alexander, contains the data of his descendants.  Thomas Campbell immigrated to the United States in 1807 (Iris/Scottish background was the source of religious conflict with southern neighbors).  Thomas Campbell immigrated to the United States in 1907, coming under the direction of the General Associate Synod of the Anti-Burger Presbyterian Church.  When he arrived in Philadelphia he was cordially received by the Presbytery of Chartiers in Western Pennsylvania.

 

Before leaving Scotland, he was prominent in the movement that sought union between the Burgers and Anti-Burgers at the Scottish General Assembly in Glasgow.

 

A. By temperament, education and inheritance, Thomas Campbell was predisposed to religious tolerance.

 

B. He manifested a disposition toward Christian unity during his nine years' pastorate in Ireland, far beyond the prevailing viewpoint of the age.

 

C. The new national life that was awakening in America was an essential context for his later plea [see Mark A. Noel, A History of Christianity in The United States and Canada (Eerdmans, 1994) for a superb narrative history of churches, institutions and movements and their interaction with North American culture).  Note his extensive coverage of our 19th century developments and minimal pagination on our 20th century impact; e.g. the charge against Campbell for not preaching the gospel concerning communion service while conducting his missionary work.  He invited all members to participate, thus arousing opposition of his co-worker, Mr. Wilson (charges of heresy and integrity).  The Memoirs gives details of Campbell's withdrawal from The Synod].

 

D. Alexander Campbell tells us on page 23 in The Memoirs that the Declaration and Address was in press when he arrived in America in the autumn of 1809.  Alexander told his father that he would have to abandon infant baptism if he followed the promises contained in the document.  The Memoirs assert that the denominational theory of the Church, with its idea of various branches all separate and yet equal in value made no appeal to him.  The Church about which he read in the New Testament was not split up into denominations and he saw no warrant for the sectarian divisions of his own day.  He felt himself to be brother of all who sincerely believed in and worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ in all the churches and he desired to have fellowship with them.  It was this desire that prompted the writing and publication of The Declaration and Address.

 

E. Campbell sought to brush all obstacles to disunity away and this was his primary intention.  His primary audience was the ministers in various churches.  He declares "to all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity through all the Churches."

 

F. The Declaration and Address grew out of a meeting held at Buffalo, Pennsylvania on August 17, 1809, which was attended by a number of persons of different religious denominations who were more or less perplexed in their views of religion.  This countryside group meeting, which was destined to become historic, did not adjourn until it had organized The Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania, and had appointed a committee of 21 of its members "to confer with Thomas Campbell to determine upon the proper means to carry into effect the important end of their association."

 

This committee met in due time and as a result of its activities, The Declaration and Address was written and published.  Alexander explained the purpose of the document in the following words (from his Memoirs).

 

"This Declaration and Address 'was not the constitution of any church existing then or now, but a 'Declaration' of a purpose to institute a society of a voluntary advocates for a Church Reformation."  Its sole purpose was to promote "simple Evangelical Christianity . . ."  (Campbell's footnote written many years after the original publication knew what his father had in mind; when Thomas wrote the document he was not yet ready to abandon infant baptism.)  ". . . that simple original form of Christianity expressly exhibited upon the sacred page; without inculcating anything of human authority, of private opinion, or of inventions of men, as having any place in the constitution, faith or worship of the Christian Church: or anything as a matter of Christian faith or duty for which there cannot be expressly produced a "thus saith the Lord, either in expressed terms, or by approved precedence."  (This footnote by Alexander Campbell was written many years after the original publication)  The fundamental principles that guided the latter development are all present in The Declaration and Address.  The ultimate consequences of these principles are certainly implicit rather than explicit in the document.  This document is the Magna Charta of our heritage!

 

G. The consequences of Thomas Campbell's thought were probably not his original intention.  At that time he was still a Presbyterian.  He probably had no intention of separating from his Presbyterian brethren.  Thomas Campbell probably felt that the removal of unscriptural and un Christian additions through the ages would generate Christian union.

 

IV.  FUNDAMENTAL PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THE DECLARATION AND ADDRESS:

 

The work expressed thirteen propositions and consists, for the most part, in an introduction to these propositions and a commentary upon them.  This document is a religious classic and its fundamental concerns are more relevant now than when originally published.  One of this author's concerns is to bring the proposition of Truth and Unity back into the postmodern context for discussion in the Secular City and the fragmented Global Village.

 

The principles set forth in the thirteen propositions of The Declaration may be summed up by the following schema: (1) The essential unity of the Church of Christ.  (2) The supreme authority of The Scriptures.  (3) The special authority of the New Testament (cf. see my work, "Theology of Promise as the Bridge Over the Horizons of The Old and New Testament").  (4) The fallacy of human creeds. (5) The essential brotherhood of all who love Christ and try to follow him.  (6) If human innovations can be removed from The Church, the followers of Christ will unite upon the scripture platform (cf. implication of Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Structuralism, etc.).

 

Cf. Appendix to the Declaration and Address:

 

1.  Attitudes toward creeds

2.  Not being a party

3.  Only test of fellowship

4.  Declaration not a 'rock of offense;' rather a peaceful and      affectionate overture for unity.

5.  Suppose the New Testament wrong

6.  Unity by forbearance

7.  Advantages of clearing out dead material of human creeds

8.  Charge of Latitudinarianism

9.  Three great evils: Express only that declared by scripture; Judging brothers; Consequence of excommunication

10. True basis of unity

11. Different interpretations of scripture (who is in and who is out of the Church) Latitudinarian

 Universalism "and controversy."

12. No absolute uniformity

13. "The Plea" is better than past programs for Reformation

14. Argument against creeds ("no creed but Christ") (proper use of creeds and catechisms).

15. Superiority of scripture.

 

Thomas Campbell was looked upon as a "Radical" in his day but, in our present cultural malaise, he would be considered very conservative!!!

 

A. Campbell's only platform for Christian unity was the New Testament (cf. context of Revolutionary Scientific, Social, Economic, Legal, Hermeneutical, Biblical Criticism, etc., radical change in perspective of his audience and ours); 19th century origin of "Historical Consciousness"--cultural/epistemological relativism (see my paper "Turner's Frontier Thesis").

    

B. If The Declaration and Address is of any post modern relevance for proposing Christian unity, it is essential that the New Testament be regarded as final, inspired, authoritative revelation (these foundational assumptions would not be valid for our post modern culture).

 

C. Contemporary scholarship would reject both creeds and scripture as normative.  The logic employed contra The Westminster Confession and the Thirty Articles will also apply to The Nicene Creed, Scriptures, Campbell's confrontation with creed reform has in our present culture entailed the same results for the scriptures.

 

V.  HERMENEUTICAL HORIZONS OF THE THIRTEEN PRINCIPLES:

 

A. The first point is most essential, as it underlies all others and motivated the writing of The Declaration and Address, the basic ideal of Christian unity!  Postmodern theologians reject the theory of denominationalism (see my papers "Mainline Denominations to Sideline Denominations from A Naturalistic/Functionalistic Perspective;" "Turner's Frontier Thesis;" and Niebuhr's, The Social Sources of Denominationalism).

 

B. The second and third principles states that the place of the Old Testament as the authoritative horizon for Christian faith in our Secular City (cf. Biblical Criticism first confronted the Old Testament, then the New Testament (Gospel/Gospels) as normative for both faith and practice and the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith for the Christian faith).  Contemporary Biblical scholarship does not hold the New Testament in as much reverence as implied throughout The Declaration and Address (Campbell believed that the New Testament platform for the unity of the Church was "infallible."  If this claim is destroyed, it is difficult to see how the "plea" can avoid being destroyed with it.  Campbell's proposal for Christian unity rests upon the authoritative status of the New Testament!).

 

C. The fourth proposition states that the inspiration of the New Testament text was essential for Campbell's propositions.

 

D. The fifth proposition stated that only confession of personal faith in Christ is accepted as the theological foundation for church membership (cf. Pluralism, New Age Movement, resurgent non-Christian religions (East meets West), the absurdity of Acts 4.10, "no other name," to the post modern mind.)

 

E. The sixth proposition was entailed in the preceding ones.  It seemed unthinkable to Thomas Campbell that any real Christian should deny the absolute authority of the New Testament (cf. my paper, "The Demise of Authority Structures in Our Post Modern Culture").  Based on this assumption, Campbell could not understand why all Christians could not come together on the New Testament platform.  Campbell's "Common Sense" epistemology via John Locke was also essential for the claims of "universal agreement" of the theological guides present in the New Testament.  If the New Testament was accepted as common basis, it appeared only logical that their differences should disappear.  Campbell did not consider 2000 years of Church History in his hermeneutic nor the radical paradigmatic revolutions in thought, especially 19th and 20th century thought.

 

Christian unity based in authoritative truth located in the New Testament scripture is not politically correct in our Global Village.  Our Post Modern cultural challenge is the greatest in the history of the Church!  The very foundations of our Restoration Heritage is adjudged to have been destroyed by the radical revolutions in thought which have and still are occurring in our post modern culture.  If the foundations and their implications of our culture go unchallenged, both the truth and relevancy of our heritage will be dismissed as archaic, obsolete nonsense.  Campbell was addressing our "audience" in the 19th century which had not yet been influenced by revolutionary thought patterns; we live in a humanistic, secularistic, pluralistic, relativistic, naturalistic western culture maze, where both "True Truth" and the relevant foundation for unity of the Church and culture are far from us.

 

What are Campbell's hermeneutical presuppositions?

How have the cultural and scientific revolutions of the 19th/20th/21st centuries impacted our Heritage?

 

Dr. James Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL