Tensions easily beset movements like
the Restoration Movement. External tensions arise because such movements
often foster misunderstanding, especially when preachers or leaders
believe the movement condemns them. You would not expect the same
tensions to arise from within.
In this section we look at two causes
Thomas Campbell's "Thirteen
Propositions" held that opinion should not preclude fellowship. He
realized some opinions might be God's truth, but he refused to bind them
upon others beyond their capacity to understand. Even the casual reader
sees that Alexander Campbell attacked those who took hard positions on
matters of opinion. The Restoration Movement also knew those who
emphasized their opinions over Scripture's clear teaching.
What is an opinion? Campbell defined it
Knowledge is our own
experience; faith, our assuracce [sic] of the experience of
others; and opinion, our persuasion of the probability of a
matter which we neither know or believe. In one sentence, then,
knowledge is the certainty of our experience; faith, the certainty
of the experience of other persons; opinion, the probability of our
own reasonings. I know that honey is sweet; I believe
that William IV is dead; and I am of opinion that the North
American Indians are of Abraham's extraction.
Opinionism, then, deals with the
liberty to propagate one's own opinions. This becomes dangerous,
however, when we allow our opinions to become an unwritten
creed. Let us see some examples.
A. Dr. John Thomas (ca. 1835).
Dr. Thomas insisted that reimmersion must occur for salvation. Thomas
maintained that Baptists were immersed for the wrong reason and should
be immersed by "true" Disciples. Alexander Campbell took issue
with this opinion in the 1835 Millennial Harbinger. Dr. Thomas
left the movement to form the cult known today as Christadelphians. They
see Jesus as less than God, salvation as universal, and they own no
buildings or other structures. See Frank S. Mead's Handbook of
Denominations for more information about them.
B. The Lunenburg Letter (ca. 1837).
A very serious problem arose when a lady from Lunenburg, Virginia (now
West Virginia) wrote Campbell a letter which he published in the 1837
volume of Millennial Harbinger. The letter, dated July 8, 1837
included a question concerning one of Campbell's comments in an earlier
issue. Campbell suggested Christians existed among the sects. Campbell
argued, you see, as did all early leaders, that there were sincere
Christians within the denominations. Campbell and the others refused to
condemn all members of denominational bodies.
Some of Campbell's readers in and
around Lunenburg, perhaps the writer herself, held the opinion that
baptism was a "water regeneration." Restorationists in
Lunenburg reached the opinion that baptism was the only essential
Campbell's answers in the Harbinger
satisfied no one. To some readers he appeared too narrow, to others far
too latitudinarian. Since the writing of these articles two positions
arose. One position, advocating "open membership," holds that
Campbell did not say baptism was immersion only and essential for
salvation. More conservative interpreters argue that Campbell said
Christians must be obedient in all things. The basic problem is
not Scripture, it rests in an appeal to Campbell's opinion! Suffice it
to say, both opinions remain with the Restoration Movement.
C. Cooperation and the Churches
(1830 f.) The Mahoning Baptist Association's dissolution greatly
disappointed Campbell. He hoped not only to remain part of a normal
denominational body but also he wanted churches to cooperate together on
projects they could not handle alone.
Campbell himself injected opinions
here. He argued for cooperation quite early. Some in the acapella
segment think that a healthy Campbell would not advocate cooperation. He
always seemed to vehemently denounce such extra-congregational
structures in the Christian Baptist. So, it is argued, Campbell
became senile and others led him to cooperation. I think acapella
historian Earl I. West presents a more honest argument. West simply says
that Campbell's apparent change of mind was wrong.
Even as organizations began forming,
others opposed them. Men like Jacob Creath Jr., Benjamin Franklin
and Tolbert Fanning voiced the opinions that the brotherhood
should avoid cooperative efforts.
D. Jesse B. Ferguson (1852).
Jesse B. Ferguson provides our last illustration. Ferguson advocated
that Scripture offered a second chance for the dead. Ferguson went
beyond that, though, advocating spiritualism and communication with the
dead. This fact drew Campbell's attention and ultimately divided the
Nashville, Tennessee congregation. For some time afterwards, Ferguson's
opinions and speculations caused the Nashville brethren trouble. Only P.S.
Fall successfully brought the church out of the doldrums.
Each one of these opinions and
speculations left their mark on the Restoration Movement. Some
controversies dug in so deeply that they are still felt. Some erupted
later in slightly different forms to continue causing disruption and
The nation's growing sectionalism also
caused tension. I'll say more about this later, too, but the Civil War
and the issues surrounding it left its mark on the movement.
A. Slavery. The slavery issue
hit the movement early. Northerners understandably vocally opposed
slavery. Once Northwestern Christian University, now Butler University,
began, it took an open stand for abolition. Strong language coming from
NCU offended southern brethren.
The English charged Campbell with
advocating slavery during his trip to England and Scotland in the early
1840s. Campbell felt the issue was a matter of opinion and refused to
take a strong stand either way. One English preacher, because of some
jealousy, charged Campbell with advocating slavery and he ended up in
jail for a time. During his incarceration Campbell fell ill and finished
his trip with some difficulty.
The slavery issue remained just below
the surface for some time. Most brethren advocated neutrality because
Scripture did not speak to it. Many others called for gradual
emancipation. Even Campbell supported the American Colonization
Society, a society which bought African slaves and sent them to
B. Missionary Society. As I
mentioned earlier, one of the early missionary societies openly resolved
to support Northern armies during the war. The society issued a
resolution to that effect in 1863. Since most missionary society
advocates lived in the north, except for Kentucky which was a border
state, southerners took exception.
Sectionalism drew heavily upon the
tendency to elevate opinions until finally, after the war, the
Restoration Movement divided. I think it is important for you to notice
that the roots for division went down long before the issues arose.