Thomas Campbell was born on February 1, 1763 in County Down, Ireland. His parents were members of the Church of England, and sent Thomas to military school. After his graduation, Thomas began to teach and he drew the attention of Seceder named John Kinley who offered to finance his advance education.
The Seceders were a religious group that separated from the Church of Scotland in protest against limitations in the powers of a congregation to appoint its minister. They were closely associated with the Presbyterian Churches.
Thomas Campbell’s father did not want his son to be taught by this rogue religious group, but since he did not have the financial means to provide these opportunities he agreed to let Thomas advance his education. Thomas Campbell enrolled at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and after finishing his seminary training, he began preaching for Seceder churches.
But Thomas was a trouble maker, and was often at times at odds with the Presbyterian Church. He was brought up on several charges:
Using too much scripture in his lessons,
He regulated the Westminster Confession of Faith, their Creed, to secondary status behind the scriptures.
He insisted that someone have saving faith and not a saving experience. Let me explain that one. There was this idea that you would come to faith but you could only be saved if God wanted you to be saved. So God would let you know that you were going to be saved by giving you a sign, like a vision, a miracle, a big flash of light, etc. (much like Martin Luther’s experience in the thunder storm) But Thomas taught that you should have a saving faith and not an experience.
He didn’t require that a person pledge their agreement with the creed before they were able to take communion. If they said they pledged their faith in Christ and Scriptures then he would allow you to take communion.
He believed that communion could be taken without clergy or elders present.
He did not disapprove of his congregants going to hear other speakers of other faiths. (This was considered outrageous.)
Thomas spent a lot time defending his beliefs and teachings to the magistrates and it was taking a toll on his health. In 1806 Thomas was exhausted and his doctor advised Thomas he should set aside the burdens in Ireland and go to America, a suggestion the church leaders were all to excited to help him take. Remember America was where we sent trouble makers. And Thomas was an awful lot of trouble.
The Church sent him to the far western part of the frontier: Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. But when he arrived here, he began to notice that there were lots of people who were showing up to worship that were not of his tribe. His church had expressly forbidden him to minister to them, offer them communion, or welcome them in any way. But Thomas was a very compassionate man, and wanted to make Jesus available to the masses. Since there was no real oversight, Thomas began to welcome everyone to come to worship and participate in communion.
On October 27, (5 months into his new work) he was called before the Synod on charges of teaching against human creeds and confessions of faith. He was accused of inviting some people from other beliefs, who didn’t have the opportunity to partake of communion, to share the Lord’s Supper with his congregation. This act shocked the more orthodox and sectarian ministers of the Presbytery, and they proceeded to bring heresy charges against him.On February 12, 1808 Thomas Campbell was officially rebuked, and censured and eventually he withdrew from the Presbyterian Church.
The next Sunday Thomas was preaching in the home of his friends, and when the crowds became to large he moved to the open maple groves. Thomas began to preach a message that centered only on the scriptures. This caught the crowd off guard; Thomas wanted to only teach and preach what the Bible taught and refused to speak anymore about the traditions, creeds, and confessions of faith.
The group formed the Christian Association of Washington, and they secured a log cabin on the Sinclair farm. It was here that Thomas penned the Declaration and Address document. Stone’s Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery was the first document of the Christian movement, but Campbell’s Declaration and Address was the most important work in the early church and it still holds influence on the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ today.
Where Stone’s Last Will and Testament was rather short and to the point, Campbell’s Declaration was a bit lengthier. I have a copy of the 13 propositions for you, but I have omitted the preface and the explanatory notes from the end. If you are interested in reading all of it you can find it for free online. In this Declaration, Thomas makes a strong plea for Christian unity on the basis of the Bible alone. Thomas believed that we would be able to find unity by abandoning everything that could not be found in the Bible. The declaration builds to a statement which has become a slogan among Restoration Churches: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”
You have no idea how earth shattering this was to the religious world. We won’t spend the time to consider every one of these propositions, let’s consider the first 2. Proposition 1: That the Church of Christ (This name was picked intentionally, and not because Paul used the name in Romans 16:16 The churches of Christ salute you. The name means all Christians or all Churches much like the name Catholic means universal) upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.
Thomas Campbell is firing a shot across the bow of religion and folks don’t like it when you mess with their religion. One of the early preachers that we won’t spend a lot of time on is Raccoon John Smith. He was one of the most successful and beloved preachers of his day. The story is told that Smith would preach with two guns, one on each hip. They were challenging everything that the people knew about religion, and inviting them to come and meet God. This new Christian Association had no intention of becoming a separate denomination. But changes were coming.
Proposition 2: That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God. And for this purpose they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.
The Deceleration and Address was a call to unity. It did not concern itself with worship practices. And yet if I were to ask you what is the difference between a Church of Christ and a Methodist church, most of you would talk about worship practices. They use instruments, they allow women to preach, they have a choir. But we come from a unity movement, a desire for everyone who believes in Jesus to be able to gather at the table and celebrate our commonality. For Thomas Campbell believing in Jesus was the only test of faith.
The original plan was for Thomas Campbell to get established in America and his family, wife Jane, son Alexander, and daughter Dorthea, would come over at a later time. In March, 1808 Thomas sent word to his family he was ready for them to join him. But a series of misfortunes would lead Alexander on a spiritual journey that would shape the man who would be a light in the wilderness.
When they finally boarded the boat to sail to America, their ship encountered a storm and began to sink. The ship wrecked off Scotland Coast, and since it was late in the year his family would have to stay in Scotland. So Alexander enrolled in the University of Glasgow, the same school his father attended years before. While in school Alexander was introduced to various independent movements of the church. These churches were congregational in their government, denied all creeds and confessions of faith. It was at Glasgow that he had professors who taught strange doctrines like: you could read the Bible on your own, that the King had no say over which church you attended, and that churches should be lead by deacons and bishops in a local body and not over several churches.
Alexander continued his study of the scriptures and began to notice that a lot of their rules he grew up learning in the Presbyterian Church and from his own father were not found the Bible. The more he studied, the more he fell in love with Jesus and the less interested he became in the rules.
The turning point in his belief system happened during the semi-annual communion service at the church in Glasgow. Where we take communion every Sunday, this was a twice a year event. Remember you had to have special people to give out the communion. And since they were special, there weren’t many of them. So most folks would go a long time in-between opportunities to take communion.
It was the custom to give all who were to partake of the Lord’s Supper a metallic token to shut out the unworthies from partaking. As Campbell had come from Ireland without any letter of recommendation, it was necessary for him to take an examination before the elders on Saturday to determine his worthiness. He took the examination and passed. But the next day, the church leaders called up everyone with a token to participate in communion. As Alexander made his way up to the front to partake of communion, he noticed the people left sitting in the pews and standing along the walls of the church crying. These people loved Jesus but would not have the chance to take communion. Alexander couldn't find anything in all of scripture that would deny anyone the communion. He saw that communion was open, available to anyone who wanted to take it: men, women, children slaves, free. He put his token in the plate, refused to partake of the communion, and walked out of the building and out of the Seceder Presbyterian Church. We began as a movement when that token hit the plate. When Alexander said that we would no longer keep Jesus from the masses; our movement, which started as a full unity movement, began.
In September of 1809 Alexander finally touched ground in America. He was uneasy about meeting his father since his beliefs had changed so drastically. What Alexander didn’t know was that his father had under gone his own spiritual transformation in America.
On their journey to their new home, in Bethany Virginia, they both struggled about how to tell one another that they were no longer a member of the Presbyterian Church. Alexander was a talker and Thomas was much more quiet and reserved. Thomas broke the silence, by asking Alexander to read the Declaration and Address and not respond until he had read and considered it all. Alexander spent a considerable amount of time studying the declaration. He would later write that, “His heart broke open when he realized that his father has come to the same decisions based on the same reasons that he had.”
This new idea was not easy It would seem that every new day would bring about a new difficulty or distraction to the work that Alexander and his father were undertaking. Every attempt they made was met with opposition. They were not finding a lot of success in bringing about unity and a fellowship of all believers. They desperately tried to find a group to which they could associate, but it was becoming clearer every day that one would not be found. If they were going to reform the church they would have to start from scratch. With that thought in mind they turned their full attention to the task of starting a reformed church in Brush Run.
May 4, 1811 the Brush Run Church was officially formed, and decided that they would be an independent congregation, separate from all other associations and denominations. Contrary to the original desire of both Thomas and Alexander, they had now become an independent movement.
The birth of Alexander’s first child led him to reconsider his views on infant baptism. He concluded that neither he nor any in his family had ever been baptized, like those in the Bible. So, Alexander contacted a Baptist preacher, Matthias Luse, and asked him if he was willing to baptize him and his family. Lues agreed and before long every member of the Brush Run congregation was immersed as an adult believer.
Naturally, the local Baptist Churches took notice to the events unfolding in the Brush Run church and began to try to make an association with Alexander and they often invited him to preach for them. There was a kinship between the Brush Run church and the Baptists in the area, that continued until Alexander decided to translate the New Testament into what he called the Living Oracles. In his translation, every time he would get to the word translated baptize in the King James Bible he translated it immerse. He even went so far as to call John the Baptist as John the Immerser. The Baptist Associations quickly rejected the translation and their association with the Brush Run Congregation.
Perhaps Campbell's most important work was launching and editing The Millennial Harbinger. Campbell viewed the magazine as an important vehicle for promoting the religious reforms that he believed would help usher in the millennium.
One of the defining points of our movement was this idea of the coming Millennial Reign of Jesus. For those who are not familiar with the Millennial, it is a teaching that there will be a 1,000-year reign of Jesus after the Tribulation and before all the people of the world are sent to either heaven or hell. Jesus will reign as king over all the nations of the world.
The Campbell's believed that unity could be found when all agreed to return to the “Original Standard” or book unity. They believed that if we could come to unity, we would bring back the return of Christ, or the Millennial. What is interesting to me, is that if you were to ask Thomas or Alexander what they believed would happen to this movement in 1831 or 1861 they would have responded hat Jesus would have made His return to the earth and would be reigning over the world in peace.
A majority of the members of our unity movement believed that they lived in a pre-tribulation world. And yet today our movement rejects this idea, due to the teachings and debates of men like H. Leo Boles and Foy E. Wallace Jr. The Churches of Christ are now what is considered Amillennial, which means we reject the idea that Jesus will have a literal, thousand-year-long, physical reign on the earth. We believe that Jesus is presently reigning from heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father, and on His return we will enter eternity.
The movement continues to experience growth, from about 22,000 in 1830 to over 200,000 in the year of Campbell's death.
Over the next few years Thomas and Alexander would meet other reformers and movements started by Barton W. Stone, Raccoon John Smith, and Walter Scott. As the years passed, this new movement stayed true to it’s original principal and beliefs set forth in the Declaration and Address, “Where the Bible speaks; we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” and “in matters of faith unity, in matters of opinion liberty, and in all things charity.”
You need to remember that these are the first generation reformers. But as we have already seen the second generation is coming, and with the second generation comes a drift from the original intent.
Declaration and Address By Thomas Campbell
Let none imagine that the subjoined propositions are at all intended as an overture toward a new creed or standard for the Church, or as in any wise designed to be made a term of communion; nothing can be further from our intention. They are merely designed for opening up the way, that we may come fairly and firmly to original ground upon clear and certain premises, and take up things just as the apostles left them; that thus disentangled from the accruing embarrassments of intervening ages, we may stand with evidence upon the same ground on which the Church stood at the beginning. Having said so much to solicit attention and prevent mistake, we submit as follows:
PROP. 1. That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.
2. That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God. And for this purpose they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.
3. That in order to do this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God. Nor ought anything to be admitted, as of Divine obligation, in their Church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament Church; either in express terms or by approved precedent.
4. That although the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the Church, and therefore in that respect can not be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline, and government of the Old Testament Church, and the particular duties of its members.
5. That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be, no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency by making laws for the Church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they observe these commands and ordinances as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.
6. That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.
7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of Divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient, and the more full and explicit they be for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of Christian communion; unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the Church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment, or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the Church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.
8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all Divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge; but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice, and of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in and obedience to him, in all things, according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church.
9. That all that are enabled through grace to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, 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. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.
10. That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work.
11. That (in some instances) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God, and (in others) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions and human inventions a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith, or worship of the Church, are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes, of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the Church of God.
12. That all that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the Church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members but such as having that due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge described above, do profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures; nor, secondly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their temper and conduct. Thirdly, that her ministers, duly and Scripturally qualified, inculcate none other things than those very articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God. Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all Divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive Church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.
13. Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the Church.
–Thomas Campbell, 1809