Alexander Campbell’s Relationship to Protestantism

The following is three paragraphs from a paper which I have just placed on my Academic page.

The paper is entitled “The Unfinished Business of the Protestant Reformation: Alexander Campbell’s Relationship to Protestantism.”  It was delivered on April 8, 2017 at the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference held at Johnson University. You may read the full paper here: Unfinished Business Paper.

“The function of the “restoration of the ancient order,” therefore, was not the restoration of Christianity as if Christianity itself had not existed for the 1000 years prior to 1809 (or 1804). Rather, it was a reformation through restoration which adjusted the present order so that it might more faithfully practice the ancient order, that is, to practice Christianity the way the apostles and their converts did.

But if this has no creedal function as a test of communion, what is accomplished by an exposition of the ancient order? Campbell answered that question in the series’s first article. “A restoration of the ancient order of things,” he wrote, “is all that is necessary to the happiness and usefulness of Christians.” The ancient order is a means to the comfort and practical vitality of a Christian community, which is a kind of perfecting or sanctifying of the community. This is communal sanctification rather than foundational Christian identity. The restored order functions as a means of grace that enables believers to more fully experience their faith in community, actualizes the visible unity of the church as congregations conform to it, and tends toward the conversion of the world. A united church—in both faith (evangelical core) and practice (ecclesial forms according to the ancient order)—is equipped for mission, which is the primary task of the church.

In other words, Campbell’s project for the restoration of the ancient order as well as the ancient gospel is an agenda within “Evangelical Protestantism” rather than in opposition to it. Campbell never intended his ancient order to become a particular version of Protestantism around which a sect would emerge. That is the very thing Campbell adamantly opposed as sects were built upon what is unique. Rather, the ancient order practiced Christianity minus the particularities of modern Protestantism without unchristianizing Protestants.”


5 Responses to “Alexander Campbell’s Relationship to Protestantism”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Hi JMH,
    I appreciate your writing very much, both the content and the irenic tone. I wish I could be so Christ like in my demeanor. As you already know, I am was raised in the CofC but eventually left for a community church. I simply couldn’t take the narrowness and judgmental attitude any longer, along with the emphasis on “majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors.” Once I questioned you regarding whether the CocC should continue to exist as a separate fellowship. If I recall correctly, you said “yes” it should and cited the belief in baptism for the remission of sins as one thing worthy of maintaining. As you know, I am all in favor of baptism and think it appropriate by immersion as soon as one recognizes that they have come to faith in Jesus. The bible clearly teaches this. However, the purpose of baptism being “for” the remission of sins is taught only in Acts 2:38. It seems to me that this emphasis on a single preposition translated “for” may have been taken too far. I am not enough of a Greek scholar to argue the meaning of “eis” with the genitive so I’ll concede that “for” in Acts 2:38 may be the best translation and have the sense of doing something in order to obtain something. That is, the way it has been traditionally been taught in the CofC.

    I am all in favor of “calling biblical things by biblical names.” However, I also believe that “scripture interprets scripture” and that the “main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.” This brings me back to placing so very much emphasis on a single preposition “for” in Acts 2:38.

    Were I to discuss the baptism of the Holy Spirit and place a great deal of emphasis on understanding it a particular way according to a particular preposition I would feel foolish making a point of whether one is baptized in, by, of, etc the HS.

    I think I’ve said enough for you to understand my question.consternation. No doubt, you someone has put this to you before and you could share the benefit your you education and perspective with me. Perhaps there is a CoC argument or perspective I’ve overlooked. I would appreciate understanding what additional basis there is for understanding Acts 2:38 the way it has been done in the CoC. I feel sure Alexander and Thomas Campbell didn’t feel they were not already Christian at the time of the immersion by Matthias Luce. I can’t quite agree with AC’s argument that one was actually a Christian when they came to faith, but formally a Christian when they were baptized. Anyway, I would like to know your thought on the matter, Thanks for all you do, Randall

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Randall.

    Of course, I would not locate the continued existence of Churches of Christ as a tradition solely in baptism for the remission of sins. I can think of other reasons as well.

    Specifically, in relation to baptism for the remission of sins, the position of Churches of Christ is the historic position of the church just as weekly communion is. In fact, it is part of the Nicean creed which affirms “baptism for the remission of sins.” This has always been historically understood as “baptism in order to receive the remission of sins” until the work of Ulrich Zwingli in the early 1520s (though Calvin and Luther opposed Zwingli on that vary point).

    The interpretation of “eis” is not a problem except among some Baptistic scholars influenced by Dana & Mantey as well as Robertson. It is a recent argument in the history of scholarship.

    I would also suggest that a sacramental understanding of baptism as a means of grace is the historic position of the church, and is still the position of the church in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, among many Presbyterians, among most Pentecostals, traditional Methodists (following Wesley), etc.

    This “means of grace” understanding is not dependent upon Acts 2:38 alone but is shaped by other texts, which I’m sure you could name as well (including Romans 6, Colossians 2, Titus 3:5, John 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21, etc.).

    Clearly Alexander did not think he was “saved” when he was immersed. This is because he saw–as he later explained in several places–that baptism serves faith rather than faith serving baptism. Nevertheless, the role of baptism within the church he came to embrace relocated baptism in the great stream of the Great Tradition of the church–“baptism for the remission of sins” as affirmed at the Council of Nicea.

    Peace, my friend.

    •   Randall Says:

      Thanks JMH,
      Thanks for the timely and substantial reply. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to address my question. The historical view of baptism you have discussed is important to me.

  3.   Dwight Says:

    I think we place too much emphasis on the “for” or “eis” and not on the “remission”, which is really “forgiveness”. The term remission brings to call cancer and chemo, in that when the chemo is applied, then there is remission on a one-to-one basis or on other words cause-effect- baptism causes remission. But when we replace remission with forgiveness, we instantly should see a forgiver or Jesus involved.
    What we have done, sadly, is made baptism the cause of our salvation, when it is Jesus who is the cause of our salvation. The Baptist are possibly just as bad in seeing faith as the cause of their salvation, but we do no better if we replace faith with baptism.
    The answer to “what must we do (to receive salvation, to be reconciled to God, to not be in sin, to not be lost, to please God)?” is “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
    This places Jesus in between the repentance/baptism and the forgiveness of sins/gift of the HS. He is the reason for repentance/baptism and the one who forgives and grants forgiveness.
    So baptism doesn’t forgive us, but places us before the forgiver.
    As we have seen later in Acts 19 being baptized for repentance or from Mark 1:4 “repentance for the remission of sins” was not enough to grant forgiveness. The baptism into Jesus places us before the forgiver.

  4.   Frank Bellizzi Says:

    This is a really fine article from which I learned a good bit. I especially appreciate your breaking down the different senses in which A. Campbell understood the word “Protestant.” Also, your contextualization of the series on “The Ancient Order of Things” was something I’d never heard before.

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