The following is a chapter from the book One Church: A Bicentennial Celebration of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. The chapter is by Douglas A. Foster and is titled, “A Contemporary Restating of the 13 Propositions.”
I believe that this document holds not only some key thinking in our religious heritage, but also some important perspective that may be helpful in our discussion of creating missional life in Churches of Christ.
Christ established one church–just one. This church is made up of everyone who has faith in Christ and is trying to follow him in the ways God’s Spirit in scripture has told us, and who others can see are being transformed into his likeness by the way they act. No one else has a right to be called a Christian.
It is physically impossible for all Christians to be together in one place to worship and work, so there have to be local groups of Christians that reflect the culture, language, and context of each place. These groups will not all look, think, or act alike, yet they are all part of Christ’s church and ought to recognize it. They must accept and embrace each other just as Christ has accepted each of us. This will happen when Christians have the mind of Christ–that is, when they are willing to give themselves for those Christ died to redeem. This is the rule of Christ. This and this alone will join them perfectly.
Therefore, nothing should be required to recognize, fellowship, embrace, work, worship, and be fully and visibly united with all Christians that is not specifically made a requirement by God in his word. Nothing should be required in the way local bodies of Christians operate that is not specifically required by Christ and his Apostles for the church. Furthermore, the chief requirements for full fellowship that God has declared are our love for God and for people. This love is formed by our understanding of God’s love for us shown through Christ.
Both the Old and New Testaments are essential parts of the revelation of God’s nature and work. They cannot be seperated. While it is true that the practices required in the Old Testament (sacrifices, temple worship, priesthood, etc.) are not in force for Christians and that the good news of God’s saving work is found fully in the New Testament, both testaments teach us about God’s nature and work. The Bible is not primarily a constitution that functions as a legal document to consult in legal disputes. It is, instead, the sword of the Spirit; it is a place where we encounter God’s Spirit and are transformed increasingly into the likeness of Christ. Attending to scripture is essential to the visible unity of Christ’s church.
The Bible does not spell out in detail everything Christians are supposed to think, do or be–that is just not the nature of scripture. When there are specific actions Christians are told to take, there is almost never a set of detailed requirements for how to do it. Humans often want more detail and try to expand on the specifics, often making them requirements for accepting other Christians or groups of Christians. That is wrong. Again, Christians are those who say they are Christians and who show that they are by the way they live. No one should be allowed to require anything for recognition and fellowship that is outside of scripture and its work of transformation.
God gave us the ability to think and reason–that is a good thing. If, however, in the process of using our reason we come to conclusions that other Christians do not reach, and that causes us to reject them, we have been deceived by the evil one. Our pride has taken over and stopped our continued growth into the mind of Christ–a mind of complete humility and self-sacrifice. Human reason is not the ultimate standard for truth. Christians ought to be growing constantly in their understanding of the profound truths of the gospel–that’s part of our spiritual growth as communities. But requiring or even expecting others to be where you are is not conducive to the visible unity Christ so much wants.
Again, it is a good thing to use the intellectual abilities God has given us to plumb the depths of the marvelous truths of God. It is a good thing to think, and struggle and write about these matters. Individual Christians and Christian communities can and should draw great benefit in their spiritual growth from such efforts. Statements of belief can be very helpful in drawing our minds to the unspeakable riches and blessings we have been given and of which we can and should tell others. However, we must realize that such statements are the product of our human reasoning which, like everything else human, is not perfect. Even when we reach a mature level of doctrinal understanding, we need to remind ourselves constantly that there will always be Christians at all maturity levels–but they are still Christians!
Once again, having an understanding of every Christian truth is not a requirement to be a Christian, a part of Christ’s church. No one who is trying to follow Christ ought to be forced to confess any belief beyond what they understand and know. All a person needs to know to be part of Christ’s church is that they are lost and that salvation is through Christ. When they confess that they believe in Christ and that they want to obey him fully according to his word–nothing else can be required.
Everyone who confesses belief in Christ and commits to obey him, and who shows the reality of their commitment by the way they live, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as sisters and brothers, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whoever God has joined together this way, no one should dare divide.
Division among Christians is a sickening evil, filled with many evils. It is anti-Christian because it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ. It is as if Christ were cutting off parts of himself and throwing them away from the rest of his body! What a ludicrous picture! Division is anti-scriptural, since Christ himself specifically prohibited it, making it a direct violation of Christ’s will. It is anti-natural, because it makes Christians condemn, hate and oppose one another–people who are actually obligated in the strongest way to love each other as sisters and brothers, just like Christ loved them. In other words, division repudiates everything Christianity is supposed to stand for.
Two things are responsible for all the divisions and corruptions in Christ’s church through the centuries. One is a neglect or even and fundmental misunderstanding of God’s will for us in scripture–that we have the mind of Christ and be transformed into his likeness. The other comes from the first. Some Christians, assuming they are “right,” that they have gotten the “facts” perfectly, have assumed the authority to impose their conclusions on others as terms of recognition and fellowship.
In reality, everything needed for the church to reach the highest state of perfection and purity on earth is first to receive as members only those who have understood their lostness and confessed their faith in Christ and commitment to follow him according to scripture; second, to keep as members only those who show those commitments in their everyday lives; and third, to see that ministers who reflect these ideals, preach only what is clearly taught in scripture. Finally, they must stick close to what scripture makes primary, seen in the example of the early church in the New Testament, without being distracted or corrupted by human tendencies toward pride and control.
Finally, in every body of Christians decisions must be made about precisely how to conduct its work and worship. Scripture does not dictate such details. Whatever the best way of doing things for the local context should be adopted. These procedures, however, should always be understood as expedients or conveniences for that time and place. Others who do things differently should never be denigrated or condemned for such things, and when decisions are made to do things differently in the future, such changes should never be an issue of fighting or division.
In the coming weeks I hope to look more closely at some of these propositions and how they might serve to help us creating missional life in our congregations. What did you see that jumped out at you? Is there anything else in the missional conversation that correlates to what Campbell was saying here?
Our history, our heritage, contrary to the opinion of some, I believe is not a liability but an enormous asset to being people who are called out, formed, and sent for the sake of the world and the glory of God.