Do We Need To Shed Part of The Influence of Alexander Campbell?

I need to thank Leonard Allen.  In his book, “Things Unseen” he has helped me understand Churches of Christ in Ontario.  Though his book is not written for this purpose, it certainly helps one understand the strong emphasis we in Ontario have historically placed upon the Church of Christ being the kingdom of God and our strong view of doctrinal precision.

It seems that there is a movement in Ontario to go back to our roots, to again be reminded of our doctrinal practices and of course the idea that we are the kingdom of God.  This movement can be seen as one reads the Gospel Herald and listens to various sermons, conversations and of course lectures from influential ministers or lay people within the Church of Christ in Ontario. 

For some time now this idea of reiterating our doctrinal practices, restating who we are and circling the wagons has not sat well with me. I am not convinced that by doing these things will we allow our movement in Ontario to continue.  In fact I think the opposite will take place: in our desire to protect our movement we will actually kill ourselves!  What I think needs to happen is we need to begin to explore the teachings of Jesus and to discern what type of church we need to be in a rapidly changing and diverse culture.  In order for this to happen, we might have to shed part of our Alexander Campbell influence.

Allen in his book shows how Campbell made the Bible into a book of facts and that our purpose was/is to get the facts straight.  These facts, said Campbell do not come from the gospels (the teachings of Jesus) but rather from Acts 2 through the book of Revelation.  To understand this we must realize that Campbell divided the Bible into three blocks: Genesis 1 through Exodus 19 (the patriarchal age); Exodus 20 through Acts 1 (the Mosaic age); and Acts 2 through Revelation (the Christian age).  Campbell argued that only texts from Acts 2 through Revelation could authorize Christian faith and practice.[1]

Is this a problem for anyone?  For me it is a huge problem.  I am not comfortable forming and shaping a church after Acts 2 through Revelation rather I desire to form a church after the teachings of Jesus.  This means that I will be placing a greater emphasis on the gospels rather than the remainder of the New Testament.  Please, don’t misunderstand me.  Acts 2 through Revelation are very important to our faith and the forming and shaping of the church but they should not / must not solely form our churches.  Our churches need to be formed after the teachings of Jesus not simply Paul or any other letter writer of the New Testament!

So I guess this is where Campbell and I disagree with each other.  I believe that what Jesus teaches should form our churches and our ethics and should also be the basis for our faith and practice.  With this the church has freedom in every time and place to develop Christian practices that will help us live out the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus is not simply asking us to get the facts straight he is asking us to live radical lives in his name. 

The implications of what I am saying are huge, I know.  I guess this is why I am really struggling with this.


[1] C. Leonard Allen, Things Unseen (Leafwood Press, 2004), 36.

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Published in: on August 14, 2007 at 1:46 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Nathan –
    I am convinced that you are right on here. This is going to be one of the larger conceptual/theological/ecclesiological hurdles we are going to have to navigate. Not, “What does the Bible mean,” but “How does the Bible function?” If it’s a blueprint for congregational polity…Acts 2 and following will necessarily become our favorite and most shaping section of the Text. If it is a redemption story about God and his people, a story that began before we were born and will end…well, it may never end, then the narrative power and gospel possiblities that Jesus offers us become central. And, as a result, our church discussions and Bible studies will be far more exploratory than explanatory. What steps will we need to take in order to help our people get there without having a collective heart attack?


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