As early as 1835, Alexander Campbell saw dangers threatening the reform he continued to speak for. He proved not only to be a Bible scholar but something of a prophet as well. I find the article entitled, "Crisis", informative and somewhat helpful for us today. I will do my best to update the writing style and provide a "Readers' Digest" version, but interested readers should check out the 1835 edition of The Millennial Harbinger, pages 595-600 of the College Press edition.
Many dangers threaten the progress of the cause for which we plead. As we bring this volume to a close, it is important for us to give an overview of where things are and where they will be in the future.
Our best estimates place the members of the Restoration Movement at 150,000. This is a far greater number than anyone could have expected. If it were not for Scriptural evidence, the movement could not have sustained itself. There has been little cooperation as well as occasional mismanagement from the ranks of its warmest friends. In addition, there are many who stand against what we're trying to do. The movement's success is due to God's doings not our own.
It concerns me that we have more to fear from our friends than our enemies. Our enemies may misuse the truth but that enables truth to win out. The real dangers come from those within. I am arranging my concerns, not in order of importance or danger, but as they come to me.
1. All too many think the efforts at reform constitute little more than an argument among Baptists. Our efforts and the opposition to them are seen as a family quarrel much like the tensions seen in the Presbyterians concerning New School and Old School, or among Quakers, Methodists, and others as they fight over doctrine, discipline or government.
The reason so many see it as a "war among the Baptists" is that so many of our brethren direct their attention to that party more than any other. They defend themselves from the Baptists and speak long and loud about the weaknesses of Baptist doctrine and administration. In this way some of our brethren appear to fight only the Baptists and thus encourage the belief that it is some family feud or sectarian bickering rather than laying a new foundation, or rather, the laying again of the old foundation originally laid by the Apostles.
When you look into the New Testament, the Christian cause was hurt in much the same way at first. Too many considered Christianity nothing more than a new schism among the Jews -- just another of the isms seen in Judaiam. In that day, opponents of the Gospel pointed to the frequent encounters and controversies between Paul and the Jews as proof. Just as such views hindered the spread of the Gospel in the first century, so the controversies with the Baptists hinders its spread now.
The Restoration Plea did not begin among the Baptists. It began among the Presbyterians. I can show that the reformation of no one party in Christendom was the origin of the first advocates of the original Gospel and order of things. When we joined the Redstone Baptist Association of Western Pennsylvania, it was with the clear declaration that we aimed at making the New Testament without creed or catechism the only rule of faith and manners. We also clearly stated our opposition to human traditions. We formed a connection with the Regular Baptists, but we never approved all of their opinions and views although we agreed on all essentials.
Our views have not changed since that time. We have keep our opinions to ourselves and to contend only for the faith delivered to the saints. We are willing to cooperate with all lovers of the truth in the restoration of pure speech and the effort to return the Christian institution to its original purity and simplicity. It is not, however, a reformation of the Baptists, nor of any party, but the gathering together into one community, under the Apostles' teaching, all those from every denomination who resolve to obey Jesus in all things. Everyone, therefore, should be careful to avoid the appearance that our intentions are to reform the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, or anyone else. Don't talk about "Old Baptists" and "Reformed Baptists" -- just plead Christ's cause. Contend only for that sect of disciples called "Christians first at Antioch!"
2. The reform for which we plead is not specifically anticalvinist either. Some writers and speakers think that the destruction of Calvinism is our focus. The cause for which we plead, however, is no more anticalvinist as antiarminian. We plead for a more ancient and venerable faith and it ought not be compared or contrasted to any other system invented over the last millennium. Calvinism is a system of religious philosophy. It is probably as good a system as arminianism. If I could dissect my own speculations, they would probably be more John Calvin that Jacob Arminius. It just isn't helpful to condemn any or all who have been taught in the Calvinist system. We should not fight the Calvinist/Arminian battles again. We should not have anything to do with human systems!
3. Another danger I see that hinders our cause is the accusation that we are seen as antitrinitarian. A unitarian in th east represented our brethren as a "large class of Reformers in the West" who have "decidedly antitrinitarian views." The truth is, we are as much antiunitarian as antitrinitarian. When a brother attacks Calvinism, an arminian rejoices. When you attack a unitarian a trinitarian rejoices. Without knowing where we really stand, they think they have an ally.
John Wesley once said, "Are we not leaning too much to Calvinism?" Had I been there, I would have said, "Friend John, are you not leaning too much to arminianism?"
It seems to me that in respect to all systems, creeds, and parties, we must inflexibly remain neutral.
4. I think that if we are not careful difficulties will arise on questions of expediency. Those issues could hinder the spread of the principles for which we contend. We don't have a lot of difficulty with "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit, one body,one hope, and the one God and Father." Questions of expediency, however, can create problems. Issues like Paul's circumcision of Timothy or the shaving of his head in purification brings questions about propriety. The only defense the New Testament presents against these potential problems is that the younger submit to the elder -- the minority to the majority -- and that all submit to each other. The wisdom of age can provide a defense against the excesses of action. Preferring one another, as Paul taught, can mitigate differences over expediences. Love can indeed conquer all.
When any question of expediency arise or when any difference of opinion arises, let everyone remember that unity, love, and cooperation are worth more than all our views of expediency and all our opinions on speculations.
5. Something else that will hinder the plea is the tendency on the part of some to attack others and speak of errors rather than the Gospel. It is very easy to become dogmatic and seek only to denounce error rather than preach Christ. This kind of attack arises out of evil genius rather than a love for the Gospel. Negative and attacking preachers gather large audiences but they have little concern for the lost. This blighting and blasting spirit disturbs us. Too many have had that sort of approach and the rest of the world shames us with it.
6. In the same way, the Gospel of peace should not be caught up with preaching against Temperance Societies, Bible and Missionary cooperations or get involved in party politics or the cause of political aspirants.
It would seem to me that we still have too many within our movement who know what we're "agin" rather than what we're "fer." Perhaps someone with more skill and understanding might read Campbell's article and see something else. I think if Campbell could come to the future with Mr. Peabody's "Way Back Machine," he would weep with the way our speculations, contentions, and vicious speech hurt each other and the cause. I know Jesus does!