Monday, February 25, 2008

The Christian System, Alexander Campbell

The Christian System, Alexander Campbell

This book is challenging. As my father says, “You better have your thinkin’ cap on when you read Alexander Campbell’s books.” The book is a structured look at Christianity and its major tenets including baptism, communion, faith, the kingdom, and the Godhead. Campbell structures much of his writings on propositions which lead to a conclusion, then substantiates the propositions which lead to that conclusion. Particularly illuminating is this technique used in his discussion of the Lord’s Supper and remission of sins. His book analyzes certain biblical principles and practices which some have nearly forgotten as such. For example, Campbell’s comments on baptism for the remission of sins need to be heeded by some of the liberal elements among us:

The doctrine of remission is the doctrine of salvation; for to talk of salvation without the knowledge of the remission of sins is to talk without meaning. To give to the Jews ‘a knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins’ was the mission of John the Immerser, as said by the Holy Spirit. In this way he prepared a people for the Lord. This doctrine of forgiveness was gradually opened to the people during the ministry of John and Jesus, but was not fully developed until Pentecost, when the secrets of the reign of heaven were fully open.

Alexander Campbell was one of the greatest leaders during the Restoration Movement from the blinders of denominationalism to pure Bible-centered Christianity. So popular was this man that we were called “Campbellites” in disdain. Now Campbell did not establish the church, Christ did; but he made many valuable contributions which I feel we neglect for fear of being associated with the man as the Lutherans are with Martin Luther. It is my fear with the arrival of the information age of computers and the entertainment craze to be visually stimulated, we as members will forget the significant contributions of men like Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and J.W. McGarvey to the cause we plead. In an excellent novel based on the life of Campbell, the then current President of Bethany College (which Campbell founded) had this to say about the accomplishments of Campbell:

Mr. Campbell has not received simple justice at the hands of American History. The fact that he was chiefly responsible for the development of the largest religious body of American origin, which now numbers more than 3,000,000 adult communicants in all its branches, is in itself enough to place him in the American Hall of Fame. His relationship with James Madison, John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Clay is significant. His influence of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829 began the movement that later founded the State of West Virginia. His debates were national events of great importance.

One will not agree with every position Alexander Campbell holds, but we should not treat the opinions and views of this great scholar lightly.

[1] Alexander Campbell, The Christian System, Tennessee: Gospel Advocate Company, 1980, p. 153.
[2] Louis Cochran, The Fool of God, New York: Duel, Sloan and Pearce, 1958, Jacket.

Originally printed in West Virginia Christian, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2001, p. 8. Reprinted by permission.

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