Tuesday, February 08, 2005


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!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Experiential Religion

Religionists of the nineteenth century held experience in high esteem. To receive membership in a local congregation, nearly every denomination required of the applicant the relation of an experience. Such experiences could take several forms. A believer might report they felt something as simple as a surge of warmth overwhelming them as they prayed for acceptance. The experience might be a dramatic testimony or a physical manifestation. In every case, such experiences depended on feeling.

Although much of this originated in the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, a renewed emphasis came in the 1700s from Theodore Freylinghuysen. Freylinghuysen, a Reformed preacher in New Jersey’s Raritan Valley, taught that true religion grew from a feeling – a feeling of dependence. God, who Freylinghuysen said was unknowable, could be experienced through an inner feeling of dependence.

Revivalism also gave a “shot in the arm” to religious feeling and experience. George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Davies were all powerful preachers who could stir the emotions. Preachers and hearers alike often mistakenly attributed these emotional feelings to the working of the Holy Spirit whose regenerating power brought conviction and release. The “Second Great Awakening” of the early nineteenth century also saw its share of emotional phenomena. Hearing of remarkable events in Logan County, Kentucky, Barton Stone went to hear James McGready preach and to see for himself the revival’s effects. Returning to Bourbon County, Stone arranged for what became known as the Cane Ridge Revival. Richard McNemar, in The Cane Ridge Revival, reported the outbreak of strange physical phenomena that occurred there. Stone later reported that although such experiences were not normative, he did believe God was working during the revivals. After the revival, the desire to continually seek such experiences fractured the Springfield Presbytery. McNemar and John Dunlavy continually sought experiences. Their search eventually led them into Shakerism. Revivalists such as Finney, D.L. Moody, and Billy Graham used emotional appeals to bring their hearers to conviction and response.

Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott rejected the necessity of experience in salvation. Campbell attributed emotionalism and the call for experience to enthusiasm. Writing of the “camp meetings” of his day, Campbell wrote, “Camp meetings is [sic] the order of the day among (a host of groups). … I object not to a camp or field meeting, a one day, two day, or seven day meeting, as such; but you understand that “camp meeting” means not merely hill or dale, field or forest meeting; but a meeting for a revival – for deducing fire from heaven – for altars, anxious seats, mourning benches, and all the machinery of ‘getting religion’ by animal excitement” (“Letter to Elder William Jones,” Millennial Harbinger, 1835, p. 355). Campbell observed that thousands “got religion” but knew little of the Book or its teachings.

The reformers of the nineteenth century rejected any idea of such overt operations of the Spirit along with any need for experience, emotional or otherwise, for proving faith. As Campbell put it, “I teach that the Spirit of God only now operates through the written word, either in convincing sinners or in consoling saints” (ibid).

For Campbell, and others, faith originated in a quiet confidence in the testimony of the Scripture. Because the eye-witnesses faithfully reported their experiences, one could come to believe without reservation that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Paul’s letters, and the writings of others in the New Testament, continued Christ’s teachings as “he led them into all truth” (John 14:26). Leaders in the Restoration Movement realized it was not their experience but the experience of the Apostolic writers that meant something. Campbell taught that faithful proclamation of the ancient gospel produced faith in the hearers. Faith led to repentance, confession, and obedient submission to Christ in baptism for the remission of sins.

I find it interesting that religionists are today returning to a “religion of feeling and experience.” Commentators on the contemporary religious scene tell us that those around us are “seeking an experience with God” – indeed, they want to “experience God.” But what do they mean? They mean they want their emotions excited, their feelings moved, and their heartbeat stimulated. Today’s hearers must come away from a religious gathering with their “ears tickled” and “feeling moved.” Add to this, the sad fact that “booming bass” is often becomes a substitute for religious feeling. If one can feel the music, then there is an experience with God.

I am not making a case here for traditional worship, which is by common interpretation often boring worship. Uninteresting or boring worship is an offense against God. It is my conviction that one can present the ancient gospel in an interesting and winsome way, a way that appeals to thoughtful consideration without making it dreary or dull. At the same time, one does not have to dismiss the content component while emphasizing the emotional component to make disciples. Our churches are rapidly becoming large and shallow. Our preachers continue to spoon-feed pablum when long-time believers should be into the meat of the Word.

Campbell described our day well when he wrote, “The half has not been told you of what I have seen and heard. Tens of thousands in America have got a religion by ‘the baptism in fire of the Holy Ghost,’ who, if eternal salvation depended on it, could not tell where Jesus Christ was born, where the gospel was first preached, or what the gospel means. Myriads, too, have held this religion for a year, who, at the end of it, could not tell who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, or the design of that book. I should not be believed were I to tell half of what I know of the ignorance of the Book in this religious, enthusiastic, and fanatical population. ‘The preaching of the Holy Ghost,’ instead of preaching Christ crucified, buried, risen, glorified, is the chief cause of this.”

Time spent with God and with each other should be enjoyable and even entertaining. Enjoyment and entertainment, however, can never be the chief end. Worship must never degenerate to the level of “the show”. It is a gathering of the saints to celebrate what God, through Christ Jesus, has done for us. We express our thanks for his experiences rather than seeking one of our own. As in most things called Christian, it is a matter of balance as opposed to extreme.