by Bernie Parsons 05/08/2007
Differences abound between Calvinists, Campbellites, and those who seek the truth of God's word and will in the Holy Bible. Bernie Parsons
Calvinism, Campbellism, and the Truth
by Bernie Parsons
May 08, 2007
1 Corinthians 1:22: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24: But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
Sometimes, to illustrate a point, I make a couple of substitutions in the above passage of scripture. I put it thusly:
“For the Calvinists require a sign, and the Campbellites seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Calvinists a stumblingblock, and unto the Campbellites foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Calvinists and Campbellites, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
I am sure that this makes both Calvinists and Campbellites angry. I usually get hammered from both sides. You see, I was reared in the Church of Christ, which often angrily rejects the title of Campbellite. I understand their reasoning. They think that they are the one true church described in the New Testament. Some think that they got that way several years after the impetus of the Stone-Campbell American Restoration Movement. Others pretend that they have always been the one true church. They are wrong.
On the other hand, many Calvinistic Baptists make the same argument—they are the one true church in the Bible. I have read several of their articles that make this claim. Some try to establish a “Trail of Blood” from the present back to Jesus. Others try to trace the name of the Baptist church back to John the Baptist. Both theories are wrong.
The Baptists got their name somewhere around 1608 or 1609. The group grew out of the Separatist movement, which sought to reform the church along the lines of what the Bible teaches. This led them to reject infant baptism and adopt the practice of adult re-baptism (Anabaptists). Baptist means baptizer. These folks were baptizers of adults. They later became known as General Baptists, as they viewed atonement as available generally to any and all.
The Particular Baptists emerged a little later, possibly 1633 to 1638, depending upon whom you read, and how they try to account for this branch of Baptists. Particular Baptists followed closely the doctrines of the Catholic Reformer, John Calvin. They were known as Particular, for they believed that God had chosen those individuals who would be saved before the world began. This follows Calvin’s doctrines of election and salvation by grace only. Many of them today follow a modified form of Calvinism, in which they teach that one is saved by “faith only”, or by belief in Jesus.
We see, then, that the Baptists got their name, not from John the Baptist, but from the fact that they practiced adult baptism as opposed to infant baptism. What is ironic is that many Baptists today downplay the role of baptism in salvation from past sins. They spend a good deal of their preaching and writing efforts denying baptism! By the way, John was not an Old Regular, or a Particular, or a General, or a Southern, or a Missionary, or any of the other Baptist church names. He was a baptizer, and baptist was a description of what he did. A florist works with floral arrangements, a pianist plays a piano, and a baptist baptizes!
In the title of this article are three words that I want us to think about: Calvinism, Campbellism, and the truth.
The Calvinists Desire A Sign
A Calvinist follows the teachings, in one form or another, of John Calvin. Some follow a modified form of Calvinism, and many today follow the Scofieldite version of Calvinism. Calvin was a Roman Catholic. As he examined their doctrine, he began to realize that they were wrong in many aspects of their religion. Martin Luther had kicked off the Reformation in a big way, and had gotten away with it, making other men bolder yet. John Calvin was one such man.
At first, Calvin rejected some of the more blatant and outrageous practices, such as the indulgences, the supposed ability of priests to forgive sin, the worship of images such as the cross and figures of Mary and others, as well as the many rituals that the Roman church required of its members. He did not have a problem with infant baptism. In fact, he did not seek to replace the Roman church, but merely to “reform” it.
As he dealt with the issues with which he disagreed, he reached the conclusion that the problem was that the Roman Catholics felt that they could take away sins by the works that they performed. In order to prove them wrong, he delved deeper and deeper into the subject of salvation. His thinking began to be that Christ alone was able to take away sins (and he was correct in this assessment.)
Calvin’s big problem, other than the fact that he hoped to reform the Catholic Church (keeping most of its practices intact, but changing certain doctrine), was that he carried his idea of no human involvement in salvation to the extreme, resulting in error. He finally decided that man can have NOTHING to do with his soul’s salvation—that only God plays any role in our salvation. This doctrine became known as sola gratia, or grace only. In other words, before the world began, God chose each individual to be saved in any generation, and all others will be damned.
To support his theories, he began to lift certain scriptures out of their contexts, and misused them. Over time, he developed the idea that since God is sovereign, He alone has anything to do with the soul’s salvation. What he overlooks is the fact that a sovereign God can command anything that He wishes, even if that includes man’s action in the matter! At any rate, he began to teach that there is nothing for a man to do in order to have salvation—either God has already chosen him, or he hasn’t. This is the doctrine of predestination and election set forth by the Calvinists. Again, they lift the verses out of context in order to substantiate their doctrines.
A separate study covers this in my article titled, “Errors of Calvinism”, so I will not repeat them here.
By the way, John Calvin was very political in his beliefs, and helped craft state government that was ruled by Protestors, or Reformers, of the Roman Catholic church. These Protestants, as they came to be known, under Calvin’s direction, actually rounded up those who did not agree with their doctrines, and murdered them. This murderer is the great man that the Calvinists follow!
The Scofield Calvinists have now changed the doctrine of sola gratia, or grace only, into one of sola fide, or faith only! I often refer to this as Modified Calvinism, or Scofield Calvinism. These Calvinists still maintain that a man has nothing to do to receive salvation other than to believe only in Jesus as Christ, although some have also mandated a “sinner’s prayer”. This prayer takes different forms in different Calvinist groups. The Southern Baptists, and many other Baptist groups, are of the Modified, or Scofield, Calvinist persuasion.
The evolution of this doctrine has created the need for a “sign” of salvation. If one is already saved, then someone or something must indicate that it is so. The Calvinists have come to rely upon dreams, visions, or peculiar occurrences to indicate that God has elected them and predestinated them to eternal salvation. Thus, I said in the outset of this article that the Calvinists, like the ancient Jews, desire a sign.
The Calvinists of all stripes are in error regarding what God has declared about the soul’s salvation. God has commanded more than they admit. In what God has commanded, there is an active role of obedience on the part of the believer before the soul is considered in a “saved” condition.
The Campbellites Seek Wisdom
Enter the American Restoration Movement, and Thomas and his son Alexander Campbell, Presbyterians (modified Calvinists) who sought Biblical truth, but were not able to entirely let go, because of their background. There were other restorers of this time period, including Barton W. Stone, but the Campbells stand out as leading reformers. In fact, so much so, that their detractors, the Calvinists, call those who seek church restoration to be Campbellites.
The Campbells, and their contemporary restorers, were on the right track. They called for all churches to drop their individual names, and be merely identified as disciples of Christ, or Christians. At this point, many Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches dropped their unique identifiers, and began to call themselves the Christian church, or the church of Christ. They maintained that they were simply Christians, or followers of Christ, otherwise known as disciples of Christ. They determined to use only the Bible as their creed. Their hope and goal was to restore the church as it was described in the New Testament writings, in the first century.
One of the first things that came to light was the fact that adult baptism (immersion in water) is taught throughout the New Testament writings. This was not a new discovery, as there had been several Separatists who had reached this same conclusion about two hundred years earlier. Some of them were known as Anabaptists (rebaptizers) at the time.
As the restorers pressed forward with their idea of restoring the church as it was when the apostles were alive, adult baptism became a core belief. Infant baptism was rejected, since the candidate needed to believe that Jesus was Christ, and had to repent of his or her sins, prior to baptism.
This did not sit well with those who remained loyal to their creeds and church councils. Most of them continued to believe in infant baptism at the time. Others, who had rejected infant baptism, had nonetheless gravitated toward the Modified Calvinism doctrine of faith only, rejecting baptism as non-essential to salvation. The Calvinists began to wage war, as it were, on the restorers, whom they often derisively called Campbellites. This battle continues to this day.
Unfortunately, the Campbells and their students sought to employ the hermeneutics of command, example, and necessary inference. They tried a scientific approach to discovering the “pattern of the New Testament church”, as they liked to call it. Their attempts to find a pattern for everything resulted in dissention and fracturing of the restoration movement. Like the ancient Greeks in the opening scripture, the Campbellites sought wisdom.
The Truth: Christ Crucified—the Power and Wisdom of God
Now we can engage the truth! The Church of Christ, under the direction of David Lipscomb of Nashville, Tennessee, split off from the other reformers in 1906. Lipscomb and his followers felt that the other disciples were not willing to discard some practices that they felt were not supported by scripture. This included things such as using mechanical music in the assembly, or worship service as it is generally called; the organization of a missionary society to preach the gospel around the world; and the issue of slavery, and the American Civil War (Lipscomb was a pacifist).
At first, they continued to refer to themselves in the general sense of being the churches of Christ. Over time this name was chosen and was capitalized in order to denominate this particular group and their beliefs. It became known as the Church of Christ. Many in the Church of Christ (or Churches of Christ) now claim that they are the only church name found in the Bible. The truth is that the titled name Church of Christ is never found in the Holy Scriptures. The closest thing that comes to it, and which is often quoted by preachers and members of the Church of Christ is the following:
Romans 16:16: “Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.”
The truth is that this was not assigned as a formal name in the Bible, but was used in a generic sense. The English word church was translated from the Greek, ekklesia, which meant a called out assembly. This is a description of who and what they were, rather than a formally designated name. I have no problem referring to Christians as the church of Christ, since Jesus bought it with His blood and established it. I do have a problem with formalizing it, and denominating it as Church of Christ.
In 1906, David Lipscomb, of Nashville, Tennessee, declared the churches of Christ to be separate and distinct from the disciples of Christ. It was not long before the churches of Christ began to individually call themselves the Church of Christ. They now argue that “Church of Christ” must be over the door in order to define the doctrines taught inside.
For those of you who argue that you have found tombstones or books pre-dating the Stone-Campbell Movement, making reference to the Church of Christ, you should know by now that the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many Protestants (who were nothing more than Catholic Reformers), refer to themselves as the Church of Christ in their writings. I will grant you also that there may have been a separatist group here or there that adopted that name long ago. History shows that the formal name Church of Christ was taken by the group that follows a certain set of doctrines, and came not from “the only church name that you will find in the Bible” but from a group of church “restorers” during the American Restoration Movement.
Since its withdrawal from the restoration movement in 1906, the Church of Christ has solidified its doctrines, based largely upon what Alexander Campbell and his contemporaries taught as the truth. With David Lipscomb’s defining influence, the Church of Christ has continued to evolve its teachings based upon what certain influential men have to say. These men often have started “Church of Christ colleges”, have edited periodicals and written books and tracts, and have been persuasive speakers. Through these centralized organs the Church of Christ has been shaped and its doctrines honed to their present state.
One of the common boasts of the Church of Christ is that, although each congregation is autonomous and they have no centralized head on earth, yet amazingly the far-flung congregations have developed a common core of doctrines. Not so amazing, once you understand how that core was developed.
By educating young preachers and church members in the colleges, certain doctrines are thereby sent forth into all corners of the nation, and the earth. Preachers, elders, and other church members all over the globe are also exposed to common arguments and doctrines through the mailing of periodicals. Influential preachers and orators crisscross the countryside, and even evangelize in foreign fields, taking their doctrines with them.
A more sinister practice is also at work to centralize and solidify these core principles. When someone comes along who questions any of the aforementioned doctrines, he is thrust out from the midst, labeled a troublemaker and a church wrecker, and is declared to be anathema. He is subjected to a process known in the Church of Christ as “disfellowshipping”.
By the above methods, a centralized belief system is adopted and secured. Although there is no central council pulling the strings, and no written creed setting forth these doctrines, they are passed along orally in the preaching and Bible teaching. They are also championed in written sermons, books, periodicals, and tracts.
The Church of Christ claims to presently have all of the truth. The Truth (word of God) is revealed in the Bible. We in the Church of Christ don’t presently have all of the truth—see the article on Some Questions We Should Ask Ourselves. Instead of deluding ourselves into thinking that we are the restored church of the first century, we should rather look beyond the past one hundred years of Church of Christ history, beyond Campbell and the American Restoration Movement, and back to the Bible. Some say that we already have—but I maintain that we have not.
We have gotten bogged down in the Campbells’ reformed Presbyterian thinking and its aftermath. The Church of Christ roots go directly back through David Lipscomb to the Stone-Campbell restoration attempt, and from there, through the Presbyterian Church, and thence through the Church of England (Anglican Church) back to the Roman Catholic Church, and the so-called Ancient Church Fathers. Until we admit this, we are condemned to repeat their (our) errors in understanding and doctrine.
Until we understand the original spirit of what Alexander Campbell was advocating—a restoration of “New Testament” Christianity and the church—we are locked into a modified form of Roman Catholicism cum Protestantism. Which is to say, we are indeed Campbellites, though we deny it, if we adhere to his teaching rather than reaching around him to discover the truth contained in the Holy Scriptures.
As long as we keep pounding away at quoting Thomas Campbell’s “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”; the Five Step Gospel Plan of Salvation; the Five Items of Acceptable Worship; the hermeneutics of command, example, and necessary inference; and other such things spawned from our long and convoluted history, we are indeed Campbellites.
If, instead, we
will study, teach, and practice what the Bible teaches, we are Christians—the
ekklesia, the called assembly of Christ. Or, as we know it from the King
James Version of the Bible, the churches of Christ. And I spell that with a
small “c” in “churches”!
I trust that you have benefited from this scriptural study. There are additional articles available on various interesting and important Bible topics. You may access them by using the links at the top of this page.:
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