Thomas Campbell’s Declaration & Address

Thomas Campbell’s Declaration & Address
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 9:33am

ANOTHER RECENT QUERY: What is your opinion of the relevance or validity of Proposition 6 in Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address,” which reads thus:

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it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession (from “Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union” [Chicago: Christian Century Co., 1904], p. 110).


A lot depends on how Thomas Campbell [TC] is defining his terms. I begin with the distinctions that I made in a presentation on faith and opinion at a recent CRA Bible conference. If “matters of faith” means “essential for salvation,” and if that is what TC means by “their faith,” i.e., their SAVING faith, and if that is what he means by “terms of communion” and “the church’s confession,” then I agree with him. In this case, as I see it, the basic essentials (for salvation) are few—in particular, the Biblical teaching about the person and work of Jesus (deity, death & resurrection) and about how to be saved. Also, the essentials for salvation are the same as the terms of communion; the latter are neither more nor less than the former.

This leaves EVERYTHING ELSE SCRIPTURE SAYS, whether directly or by inference/deduction, as non-essential for salvation. But here is an extremely important point: though the rest is not essential for salvation, it is nonetheless authoritative truth which OUGHT to be believed by every Christian. I.e., we have a MORAL OBLIGATION to believe EVERYTHING Scripture says. Thus I am not comfortable with the language “not formally binding upon the consciences” of those who cannot see the connections.

Inferences and deductions are part of the process of reasoning, a process that is built into human beings by virtue of our being made in God’s image. Our powers to reason are patterned after God’s infallible, infinite reasoning nature. I think it is misleading to call “inferences and deductions” simply “the wisdom of men.” True reasoning is godly wisdom (James 3:15-17), for God has bestowed this ability upon us (though necessarily in a finite way). It is also too much of a generalization to excuse men from believing such inferences and deductions on the basis that they do not perceive or see the connection. This is so because so much of what we perceive or see or believe is not the result of our intellect but of our will. Sometimes people do not perceive such deductions, not because it is beyond their reasoning power, but because they do not WANT to see them. See Romans 1:18ff. It is a matter of hardness of the heart (Eph. 4:18).

Either way, however, i.e., whether one CAN not or WILL not see the connections, such refusals to accept inferred truth in matters of non-essential (for salvation) doctrine do not condemn a Christian and should not hinder fellowship. In such cases a person is saved (justified) in spite of his false beliefs, just as all Christians are saved (justified) in spite of their sins (Rom. 3:28). Truth is still truth, however, and should always be sought and taught as such. What is not essential for justification is still essential for sanctification.

In cases where inferred truth is not accepted, I believe God will apply the principle of judgment called “conscientious response to available light.” Only in this sense are such truths not BINDING on the conscience. I think TC is clear in his affirmation and defense of truth and sound doctrine even in inferred matters, since he calls them “the doctrine of God’s holy word” and since he says they should be taught for the church’s edification. There is no comfort in TC for those who are saying today that if it is not necessary for salvation, it is “just your opinion” and it does not matter what you believe about it. I see this attitude itself as a “doctrine of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

(All the above remarks are extemporaneous and do not follow any certain logical order.)

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