Monday, July 24, 2017

Restoration Leaders on the "Untaught Question" about the Lord's Supper

Regarding the Lord's Supper, should churches invite all in attendance to participate, permit only members in good standing to partake, or serve the Supper to all and leave it to individuals to decide? In 1861, this question and larger, related issues were addressed in the pages of The Millennial Harbinger by three important leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement: Isaac Errett (pictured here), Robert Richardson, and W. K. Pendleton. [1] Their teaching as well as their references to contemporary practices of the congregations they knew provide a window on what some, certainly not all, restorationists of the Civil War era thought about this aspect of the Lord's Supper.

What was the historical background to their discussion? According to Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, young Alexander Campbell and other reformers of the early first generation defended "close communion," which in their circles meant "the practice of admitting only believers baptized by immersion to the service of Communion." By contrast, Barton W. Stone and like-minded Christians in Kentucky did not forbid "defective believers" from participating in the Lord's Supper. Eventually, Campbell's outlook changed and his position moved closer to the one held by Stone.
As Campbell moved into maturity, he modified his view and joined some of the followers in shifting from close to open communion. The impulse to reflect the oneness of God's people around the Lord's Table was stronger than the will to hold fast to an exclusivist interpretation of New Testament Christianity. [2]
Such were the competing principles with which the first and all subsequent generations of restorationists have had to grapple. Is the Restoration Movement primarily motivated by Christian unity or doctrinal purity? Or, as McAllister and Tucker put it, "Is the church primarily an inclusivist or an exclusivist community?" [3]

Before examining the specific comments of Errett, Richardson, and Pendleton about the Lord's Supper, it would be best to establish the specific context in which they were written. Apparently, the three responses were occasioned by a letter from a certain "Bro. Hawley." According to Richardson's reply, a discussion had emerged "among the brethren in Detroit in regard to the question of open or close communion." The reference to Detroit provides an important clue. It is most likely that the author was Richard Hawley (1815?-1884). He attended the inaugural, 1849 meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati and was elected one of its officers. Among the officers of the ACMS, he served as one of twenty vice presidents, who were geographically distributed. Hawley represented Disciples in the State of Michigan. [4]

"Bro. Hawley," as his name appears, sent the same letter or a similar one to both Errett and Richardson, who then responded in the pages of the Harbinger. W. K. Pendleton, then a co-editor of the magazine, also offered his reflections on the issues.

Isaac Errett

In his response written from Muir, Michigan, Isaac Errett began by acknowledging that the plea of the present reformation was to bring back the conditions that presumably existed among the churches of apostolic times. However, because "the church has not yet half recovered," he wrote, the people of God were "scattered and divided" among the various Protestant sects. Consequently, Christians of the Restoration Movement, immersed as believers, were compelled "to recognize as Christians many who have been in error on baptism, but who in the spirit of obedience are Christians indeed. (See Rom. ii. 28, 29)."

Referring to the various sects who had taught much truth over many generations, Errett insisted that it would never do "to unchristianize those on whose shoulders we are standing, and because of whose labors we are enabled to see some truths more clearly than they." Therefore, in regard to the Lord's Supper, the standard practice was "neither to invite nor reject particular classes of persons, but to spread the table in the name of the Lord, for the Lord's people, and allow all to come who will, each on his own responsibility."

Errett reported his impression that "fully two-thirds of our churches in the United States occupy this position," with those churches that were originally Baptist being "rather more unyielding." He concluded with words of both conviction and generosity: "For myself, while fully devoted to our plea, I have no wish to limit and fetter my sympathies and affections to our own people."

Robert Richardson

For his part, Robert Richardson argued that because Christianity in apostolic times was not divided into organized sects, the question at hand, being "anterior to the apostacy," could not be discussed or decided on the basis of Scripture. In other words, because the first-century church was presumably united on all essentials, the New Testament did not contain an answer to the question of whether a church should permit unimmersed believers to participate in the Lord's Supper. Therefore, "we neither discuss nor determine this question. We simply leave it to each individual to determine for himself. It is really, as the brethren . . .  say, an 'untaught question'."

Citing Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:28--"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat . . . ,"--Richardson asserted that the practice he advocated was "precisely in the spirit of this injunction, and we very properly forbear to decide the question either way, and consequently neither invite nor prohibit."

Like Errett, Richardson noted that the Scotch Baptists "are especially rigid in regard to this matter." Yet, he could vouch for them as "generally faithful and pious brethren" and thus suggested that "great forbearance" should be extended to those congregations.

W. K. Pendleton

In his follow-up "Remarks" on the question, editor W. K. Pendleton expressed his doubt that "the subject is one likely to develop any very serious controversy among the brethren." He approved what he referred to as the "almost universal" custom in Stone-Campbell churches to deny any authority "to exclude from the Lord's supper any who, by their walk and conversation, and in their own hearts, approve themselves as the Lord's people." Pendleton called on his readers to remember that "we are laboring, not to introduce a totally new church, but to restore the things which are wanting in one already existing; not to overthrow what is good, buy to teach the way of the Lord more perfectly."

Pendleton concluded with a revealing flourish. In the following purple passage, there can be no doubt that the essential question was not "Who should partake?" The basic matter at stake was the question of who should be regarded as a believer?
If Peter had been left to his Jewish prejudices and exclusivism, he would doubtless have refused to admit Cornelius to baptism. It was the overwhelming evidence of his reception by God that compelled the apostle to say, 'Who shall forbid that he shall be baptized?' So ought it to be with us. Can we deny that God has recognized and is still recognizing the truly pious and full of faith and good works in the many divisions of professed Christians, as really and truly his people? Will any one take the absurd position that the noble list of illustrious men who have been the light and ornament of religion in the ages that are past, and whose piety and learning are still the admiration and glory of the Lord's people--that all these, because of an error, not on the significancy or divine authority of baptism, but what we must be allowed to call its mode,--that all these, because of such an error, must be pushed from our ranks as reprobate--torn from our Christian affections, as heretics--thrust from the communion of the body and blood of the Saviour, whom for a long life they so truly loved and devotedly served, and counted no more worthy of our Christian fellowship than so many heathens and publicans! The conclusion is too monstrous for any but the hide-bound zealot of a cold and lifeless formalism. I should feel that I had injured the Christianity which I profess and which I love, could I recall that even for a moment I had allowed by head so to interpret its pleading mercy, or my heart so to restrict its wide-embracing charity.
Such a vigorous defense of a generous restorationism clearly indicates that second-generation leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement had much more than the Lord's Supper to discuss. The essential nature of the restoration plea and the position of the movement in the larger world of Christendom was the real issue.


[1] The responses from Errett, Richardson, and Pendleton appeared under the title "Communion with the 'Sects'" in the The Millennial Harbinger dated December 1861, Vol. 32, 711-714. This material was reprinted in Benjamin Lyon Smith, The Millennial Harbinger Abridged, Vol. 2 (Cincinnati: Standard, 1902), 239 and following.

[2] Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Saint Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), 237.

[3] The approximate birth and death dates for Richard Hawley are taken from McAllister and Tucker, Journey in Faith, 240. For Hawley as the ACMS representative from Michigan, see The Millennial Harbinger Abridged, Vol. 2, 400.

[4] McAllister and Tucker, Journey in Faith, 240.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Alexander Campbell's Four-Part Series "On the Breaking of Bread"

In their quest to rehabilitate what Alexander Campbell referred to as "the divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies," early leaders of the Restoration Movement identified weekly communion as a central practice. [1] For example, when Thomas and Alexander Campbell and like-minded believers established the Brush Run church in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in May 1811, "their first act of worship was the observance of the Lord's Supper, which they resolved to celebrate weekly thereafter." [2]

In February 1825, Alexander Campbell inaugurated a series of articles titled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things," which he published in his monthly magazine, The Christian Baptist. The completed series included thirty-two installments. Four of the earliest articles, numbers six through nine, were subtitled "On the Breaking of Bread." [3]

Campbell began his series with an indictment of the monthly, semi-annual, and annual observances of the Lord's Supper within the various branches of Protestantism. Neither the frequency nor the demeanor of those observances met the standard of the New Testament. Campbell's complaint likely includes a veiled reference to the yearly summertime festal communions held by the Presbyterians, the denomination of which he and his father were former members. He notes especially that some believers had turned the Lord's Supper into a morose affair, a somber observance. [4] By contrast, he wrote:
It was the design of the Saviour that his disciples should not be deprived of this joyful festival when they meet in one place to worship God. . . . He did not assemble them to weep, and wail, and starve with him. No, he commands them to rejoice always, and bids them eat and drink abundantly. [5]
The heart of the series took up the question of frequency. Campbell well understood that the New Testament contained no explicit command that Christians should observe the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis. This led him to highlight the significance of approved examples in biblical interpretation. Campbell noted that the New Testament
does not altogether consist of commands, but of approved precedents. Apostolic example is justly esteemed of equal authority with an apostolic precept. Hence, say the Baptists, shew us where Paul or any apostle sprinkled an infant, and we will not ask you for a command to go and do likewise. [6]
Passages from three chapters of the New Testament make up the scriptural centerpiece of Campbell's argument for the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper: Acts 2, Acts 20, and 1 Corinthians 11. In the first of these, Acts 2:42 describes how the earliest Christians in Jerusalem "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Campbell noted that "the first congregation organized by the apostles after the ascension of the King, did as steadfastly attend on the breaking of bread in their religious meetings, as upon any act of worship or means of edification." [7] Thus we learn "that the breaking of bread was a stated part of the worship of the disciples in their meetings." [8]

Based on the first half of Acts 20:7-- "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread"--Campbell insisted that "above all, we ought to notice that the most prominent object of their meeting was to break bread." [9]

From 1 Corinthians 11:20, Campbell argued that when Paul reproved the church at ancient Corinth for their abuse of the Lord's Supper, by implication he pointed to the central place of the breaking of bread in Christian worship. Paul wrote, "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper." Campbell, in order to make his point, offered a comparison. If a man hired workers, but later found them idle, he might say to them, "You did not come here to work." Thus, in 1 Corinthians 11:20 Paul indirectly identifies the Lord's Supper as an essential part of Christian worship. [10]

Campbell concluded his series "On the Breaking of Bread" by pointing to early church history as a verification for his conclusions about the frequency of the Lord's Supper. He emphasized that while the New Testament foreground has no authority, it is useful as an answer to those who say, "Innovation!" in reaction to authentic New Testament teaching. The following brief passage includes two disclaimers regarding the authority of tradition. It also provides two reasons for studying church history:
We lay no stress upon what is no better than the traditions of the church; or upon the testimony of those called the primitive fathers, in settling any part of Christians worship, or Christian obedience. Yet when the scriptures are explicit upon any topic, which is lost sight of in modern times, it is both gratifying and useful to know how the practice has been laid aside, and other customs been substituted in its room. There is, too, a corroborating influence in authentic history, which, while it does not authorize any thing as of Divine authority, it confirms the conviction of our duty in things Divinely established, by observing how they were observed, and how they were laid aside. [11] 
At the end of the third of his four essays on the Lord's Supper, Campbell offered the following synopsis of his position on the topic. It serves as a good summary for this blog post as well:

"To recapitulate the items adduced in favor of the ancient order of breaking bread, it was shewn, as we apprehend--

1. That there is a divinely instituted order of christian worship, in christian assemblies.

2. That this order of worship is uniformly the same.

3. That the nature and design of the breaking of bread are such as to make it an essential part of christian worship in christian assemblies.

4. That the first church set in order in Jerusalem, continued as stedfastly in breaking of bread, as in any other act of social worship or edification.

5. That the disciples statedly met on the first day of the week, primarily and emphatically for this purpose.

6. That the apostle declared it was the design or the primary object of the church to assemble in one place for this purpose, and so commanded it to the churches he had set in order.

7. That there is no law, rule, reason, or authority for the present manner of observing this institute quarterly, semi-annually, or at any other time than weekly.

8. We have considered some of the more prominent objections against the ancient practice, and are ready to hear any new ones that can be offered. Upon the whole, it may be said that we have express precedent and an express command to assemble in one place on the first day of the week to break bread. We shall reserve other evidences and considerations until some objections are offered by any correspondent who complies with our conditions." [12]


[1] "Order of Worship"Christian Baptist, Vol. II, July 4, 1825, p. 164. Along this line, another of Campbell's phrases was "the ancient order of worship in the Christian church." See Ibid.

[2] Paul M. Blowers and Byron C. Lambert, "The Lord's Supper," in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 489.

[3] The first installment in Campbell's series titled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things" appeared in The Christian Baptist dated February 7, 1825. The final, thirty-second installment was published in the issue dated September 7, 1829. Campbell published The Christian Baptist from 1823 to 1830.

[4] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--IChristian Baptist, Vol. III, August 1, 1825,  pp. 174-75. For more about the origins and history of festal communions and camp meetings, see Leigh Eric Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001). For the famous 1801 Cane Ridge Revival as a Presbyterian festal communion, see Paul K. Conkin, Cane Ridge: America's Pentecost (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), a book that owes a good deal to Leigh Eric Schmidt's 1987 Princeton PhD dissertation, and to Marilyn J. Westerkamp, Triumph of the Laity: Scots-Irish Piety and the Great Awakening, 1625-1760 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[5] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--I," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, August 1, 1825,  p. 174.

[6] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--II," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, September 5, 1825, p. 179.

[7] Ibid., 181.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--III" Christian Baptist, Vol. III, October 3, 1825, p. 187.

[11] "On the Breaking of Bread, No. IV," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, November 7, 1825, p. 194. It is interesting to note how Churches of Christ historian Everett Ferguson offers much the same rationale for, and caveats regarding, the study of Christian history in the introductory chapter of Church History: Early and Medieval, 2nd ed. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1985).

[12] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--IIIChristian Baptist, Vol. III, October 3, 1825, pp. 187-88.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Alexander Campbell, Early Church History, and the Breaking of Bread

Alexander Campbell concluded his 1825 series "On the Breaking of Bread" by pointing to early church history as a verification for his conclusions about the frequency of the Lord's Supper. He emphasizes that New Testament foreground has no authority. However, he writes, it is useful as an answer to those who say, "Innovation!" in reaction to authentic New Testament teaching. Notice in the following brief passage the two disclaimers regarding the authority of tradition. Note also the two reasons given for the value of studying church history. As soon as I read this, I was taken back to Everett Ferguson's booklet in the Way of Life series on Early and Medieval Church History, where Ferguson makes similar points in favor of this kind of study, in church "Bible classes" no less:

"We lay no stress upon what is no better than the traditions of the church; or upon the testimony of those called the primitive fathers, in settling any part of Christians worship, or Christian obedience. Yet when the scriptures are explicit upon any topic, which is lost sight of in modern times, it is both gratifying and useful to know how the practice has been laid aside, and other customs been substituted in its room. There is, too, a corroborating influence in authentic history, which, while it does not authorize any thing as of Divine authority, it confirms the conviction of our duty in things Divinely established, by observing how they were observed, and how they were laid aside." (A. Campbell, "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. IX, On the Breaking of Bread, No. IV," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, November 7, 1825, p. 83).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Brevard S. Childs on the Message of Habakkuk

Brevard Childs was a first-rate biblical scholar, a real master of the various critical analyses so basic to his craft. But he did not consider any of the methods as an end. He understood them as means.

It seems to me that Childs was really a bit of a preacher, a believer in Christ who was convinced that the ultimate goal of even the most intricate Bible study was to reveal the message of the sacred text so that the people of God might be instructed and edified to His honor and glory.

I wrote that while preparing my Bible class for next Sunday. This is from the conclusion of Childs' discussion of Habakkuk:

"Righteousness is not judged by human capacity to understand the mind of God in world history, but rather in a faithful response of obedience which lives in God's promise. The prophet's testimony (3:18f.) witnesses to this faith which rejoices in God's salvation and awaits the end in spite of a human situation which oppresses the people of God (3:17)." --Introduction to The Old Testament as Scripture, p. 453.