Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Stone-Campbell Restoration History and Teaching: A Brief Survey

The following is a quick overview of the history and outlook of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. I wrote it in order provide basic information to readers of an academic paper who are not of Disciples heritage, who are not members of the Christian Church or Churches of Christ. My goal here is to evaluate and improve this statement. I welcome all respectful questions and comments: 

The phrase Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement refers to a back-to-the-Bible tradition that grew out of the teachings of Barton W. Stone (1772-1844, pictured here), Thomas Campbell (1763-1854), and, above all, his illustrious son, Alexander Campbell (1788-1866). The great evangelist of the movement was Walter Scott (1796-1861), a distant relative of the famous Scottish novelist by that name.[1]

These leaders and their followers pursued a distinct religious goal: the restoration of primitive Christianity. They spoke of restoring “the ancient gospel,” the Bible’s most basic claims about Christ which everyone must believe and respond to in obedience. They sought to identify the biblical progression by which one becomes a Christian. And, they set out to restore what Alexander Campbell called “the ancient order of things,” especially the Bible’s teaching about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the congregational offices of bishop and deacon, and church discipline. Additionally, restoration pertained to matters more personal and inward: to self-control, pure speech, right living, the love of mercy, and the hopeful spirit of the New Testament.

The project of restoration involved tearing down as well as building up. Christians of the Stone-Campbell movement sought to erase all distinctions between clergy and laity. Along with what often seemed to them the arbitrary authority of religious elites, they also rejected the authority of creeds, confessions, extra-biblical traditions, and specialized, learned theology. They replaced all such traditions with a populist hermeneutic according to which every person was welcomed, even expected, to read and understand the Bible for oneself. Having embraced the tenets of Enlightenment philosophy and American freedom, Stone, the Campbells, and like-minded believers acted upon their conviction that the imposition of illegitimate authority in matters of faith provoked disunity and amounted to a certain type of idolatry, a defiance of Almighty God. Such pseudo-authorities were never needed anyway, since the essential teachings of the Bible, the Word of God, could be understood and agreed upon by all responsible people who were truly seeking the Lord.[2]

The ultimate goal of the Stone-Campbell Movement was the unity of all believers in Christ, a oneness that was essential to the salvation of the world. Leaders often noted that on the night when Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the authorities, he prayed that his followers would be one, even as he and God the Father were one. According to Jesus as he prayed to God the Father, the purpose of Christian unity was that “the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). The unity of the church was necessary for a lost world to believe the gospel, to recognize the true identity of Jesus Christ as well as God’s unique love for those who follow Christ.[3]

Ironically, sometime after the Civil War, Christians associated with what Alexander Campbell called “the present reformation,” a movement designed to unify all true believers on the basis of the simple gospel and plain Bible teaching, splintered into two distinct groups. On one side stood those Christian Churches that would eventually give rise to the Disciples of Christ denomination and the independent Christian Churches. (Those two now-distinct churches emerged as separate groups during the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Predominately, these congregations were in northern states, with power centers in places like Cincinnati and Indianapolis. They tended to value the later Alexander Campbell’s emphasis on Christian forbearance and unity at the expense of doctrinal particulars. However, influenced by then soldier-preacher and future U.S. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881), representatives of the northern congregations used resolutions issued by the Disciples’ American Christian Missionary Society to officially endorse the Union.

On the other side stood congregations that typically wore the name Church of Christ. Following the war, these churches were influenced by leaders like Tolbert Fanning (1810-1874)—who as a young man had been mentored by Alexander Campbell—and especially Fanning’s protégé, David Lipscomb (1831-1917). Both Fanning and Lipscomb resided in Middle Tennessee. The Churches of Christ were characterized by their commitment to the earlier Alexander Campbell’s emphasis on biblical primitivism and strict doctrine. For them, this specifically meant opposition to instrumental music in worship, and to all para-church institutions like the Disciples’ American Christian Missionary Society, which members of the Churches of Christ insisted were not authorized by Scripture. Unlike the Disciples of Christ, who prized Christian unity, the Churches of Christ more often saw the restoration of the faith and practice of the New Testament church not as a means, but as an end.[4]

With two fellowships of autonomous congregations having gone their separate ways and having begun to grow apart from one another, it fell to the federal Census Bureau in 1906 to enquire, call attention to the fact of division, and finally provide, at least for their purposes, distinct names for the groups. Nowadays, three discrete church bodies trace their roots back to Stone and Campbell: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which embraces its denominational identity, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (sometimes referred to as Independents), and the acappella Churches of Christ.[5]

Beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century, historians referred to this tradition as the American Restoration Movement, or simply the Restoration Movement.[6] The more recent moniker, Stone-Campbell Movement, first appeared more as a descriptor than as a title per se, in Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker’s 1975 history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) titled Journey in Faith.[7] The newer name has had some success in replacing the older one, especially among scholars, ever since 1981, when Leroy Garrett published the first edition of his interpretive survey, The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches.[8]


[1] Although the Restoration Movement, sometimes called the Stone-Campbell Movement, is often considered an American phenomenon, it is significant that three of the four founders mentioned here were not born in America. Both Thomas and Alexander Campbell were born in Northern Ireland, and Walter Scott was born in Scotland. More to the point, as James L. Gorman has recently argued, "The influences of the evangelical missionary movement that emerged throughout the transatlantic region in the 1790s was the clearest and most comprehensive context that produced the earliest manifestation of the Campbell Movement in 1809." See Gorman, Among the Early Evangelicals: The Transatlantic Origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2017), 15. For a summary of Gorman's work, see my review in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 70, no. 1 (January 2019), 203-04.

[2] See Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), esp. 3-46 and 67-80. For an explanation of the Puritan roots of the Stone-Campbell Movement, especially its Bible-centered primitivism, see Theodore Dwight Bozeman, To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension of Puritanism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988). A good overview of the basic theological outlook of American restorationist leaders can be found E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), ch. 14. Paul M. Blowers, Douglas A. Foster, and D. Newell Williams provide a fine review of the historiography, “Stone-Campbell History Over Three Centuries: A Survey and Analysis,” in the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, xxi-xxxv For a good historical summary of the worldwide Restoration Movement, see Douglas A. Foster, "Disciples of Christ," Encyclopedia of Protestantism, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand (New York: Routledge, 2004), 2:593-97.

[3] The unity of the church is a prominent theme in the two great “charter documents” of the Stone-Campbell Movement. The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, signed by, among others, Barton W. Stone in 1804, quotes from “the seven ones” passage found in Paul’s Epistle of the Ephesians, chapter 4. The “Imprimis” of The Last Will and Testament reads: “We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.” Similarly, Thomas Campbell’s 1809 Declaration and Address cites or alludes to Christ’s prayer for the unity of his followers, recorded in John 17, as well as to “the seven ones” passage several times. See Christopher R. Hutson, “Scripture Index to the Declaration and Address,” in The Quest for Christian Unity, Peace, and Purity in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address: Text and Studies, eds. Thomas H. Olbricht and Hans Rollmann (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 129-47.

[4] On the earlier versus later Alexander Campbell as a key to understanding some of the difference between Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, see Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 32-44. For some of his insights, Hughes credits an unpublished manuscript by Don Haymes, “A Battle of Giants: Alexander Campbell and Bishop John Baptist Purcell in Cincinnati, 1837.” For restoration as the means to unity versus restoration serving the goal of purity and, thus, salvation, see Jay Smith, “Notes on Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address,” Restoration Quarterly 5, no. 3 (Third Quarter, 1961): 113-18.

[5] The names used in the Library of Congress subject authority records are: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and Churches of Christ. Catalogers and researchers sometimes refer to these three groups simply as Disciples, 4Cs, and 2Cs. Although restorationist champions of undenominational Christianity would no doubt object to the use of such terms, everyone conversant with the history understands exactly what they mean. The state-of-the-art treatment of the worldwide history of the entire movement can be found in D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds. The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2013), especially chaps. 1-5. The history of the nineteenth-century American Restoration Movement and, after division, the twentieth-century Churches of Christ is best told by Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith.

[6] See, for example, Homer Hailey, Attitudes and Consequences in the Restoration Movement (Los Angeles: Citizen Print Shop, 1945); Enos E. Dowling, The Restoration Movement (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1964); and, more recently, Henry E. Webb, In Search of Christian Unity: A History of the Restoration Movement (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1990).

[7] Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Saint Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), 149, 253, 443.

[8] Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1981).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"The Lord's Supper" in The Christian Messenger, 1831

John Allen Gano (1805-1887, pictured at left) was a protege of Barton W. Stone and served as a prominent leader among the "Stoneite" Christians in Kentucky and nearby states. His career as an evangelist covered the sixty years from 1827 to 1887, during which time Gano baptized more than 10,000 people. [1]

In 1831, Gano wrote two pieces about the Lord's Supper for The Christian Messenger, a monthly that Stone had published from Georgetown, Kentucky beginning in 1826. His second piece, a letter to the editor, was a response to an opponent named John G. Ellis. After Gano published a letter of rejoinder, Ellis then wrote in response to Gano's rejoinder. Thus, in their exchange the two men wrote a total of four pieces.

On occasion, Editor Stone himself would briefly weigh in on the topic and the discussion between Gano and Ellis. This post will review and comment on the entire discussion as it unfolded and on the outcome of the exchange.

1. John Allen Gano on "The Lord's Supper" 

Gano's initial article, titled simply "The Lord's Supper," appeared in the Messenger dated February 1831. He began by raising the question of frequency: "How often," he asked, "is it the privilege and duty of the Christians, to attend to the Lord's Supper?" He noted that when Jesus instituted the Supper in Luke 22:19, he said to his apostles "this do in remembrance of me." But clearly, that command did not address the question of frequency.

Gano assumed that "the gospel system is perfect, that its laws and commands are perfect" and that Christians are thereby "thoroughly furnished." Consequently, he wrote,
we feel disposed to examine farther, and if not from the lips of the Saviour, from the practice of his apostles at least, learn the proper understanding of this command, and the attention due to it.
From there, Gano observed that according to Acts 2:42, "breaking of bread," which he equated with the Lord's Supper, was one of the "acts of public worship" listed in that verse in which the earliest Christians at Jerusalem participated. From Acts 20:7, he concluded that not only did the first-century church assemble "upon the first day of the week," they did so in order "to break bread," that is, to observe the Lord's Supper.

Gano added that Paul's instructions to the church at ancient Corinth reinforces the basic point. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul repeatedly corrects and warns the congregation because of their abuse of the Lord's Supper. But, wrote Gano, "how could they abuse that, which they did not attend to?" In other words, the specific way in which Paul addresses the problem underscores weekly observance of the Lord's Supper as the New Testament pattern:
Let us imagine one thus addresses his congregation, "Friends, when you come together, it is not to hear preaching, for one sleeps, another laughs, and another talks." Would not such a reproof or admonition plainly prove, that they did come, or ought to have come together to hear preaching? If so, the language of the passage just cited, being similar in form, this conclusion irresistibly follows; That [the earliest Christians] met every first day; when they did meet it was to eat the Lord's Supper; therefore [Christians in all times] eat it every first day of the week.  
In fact, he argued, based on the relevant New Testament passages, someone could just as easily deny that the first day of the week is when Christians are to assemble as he could deny that the primary purpose of the assembly is to share in the Lord's Supper.

Gano bolstered his case by referring to "the History of the Christian Church, for the first three centuries of its existence so far as it has come to us." He emphasized that early Christian tradition is "not inspired" and that all believers should establish their faith and practice on "the Bible alone." Nevertheless, for comparison's sake, early Christian history establishes that believers "assembled on the first day of the week, sung hymns, prayed, commemorated the death and resurrection of the Lord."

Finally, Gano responded to the possible objection that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper would make it all too common, and that its repeated practice would descend into cold formalism. Gano replied that this danger is connected to anything that Christians do repeatedly, since "every act of religious worship not attended to in the Spirit of Christ, is mere form." On the other hand, if the Lord, by the inspired teaching of this apostles, has taught us to break bread upon the first day of the week, then "assuredly it becomes us humbly to obey."

2. Barton W. Stone's Remarks

Immediately following Gano's article, Stone added a few of his own "Remarks." As if he anticipated a negative response from some who read the Messenger, Stone commented that Gano's arguments were "plausible, if not convincing to all." Further, he invited those who "may think differently" to "communicate for the C. Messenger the result of their investigation," yet always in "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." He also encouraged Gano "to continue for the Messenger his exhibitions of truth."

3. A Response from John G. Ellis

The very next issue of The Christian Messenger, dated March, 1831, included a letter sent from Dry Creek in Campbell County, Kentucky. The writer, a certain John G. Ellis, asserted that Gano's position on the Lord's Supper was "dangerous to Christian liberty." [2] What was the problem?

Ellis noted that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:26, "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death until he come." This language, he insisted, denies any restriction of the Supper to the first day of the week.

Furthermore, while Acts 20:7 indicates that "the disciples came together to break bread," these words should not be understood as a reference to "communion" since "neither wine nor cup is once named." Instead, here the breaking of bread should be understood in the same sense as it appears in Acts 27:35. According to that verse, Paul "took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat." Ellis pointed out that both passages include breaking bread, while neither passage mentions cup or wine. If one verse refers to the Lord's Supper, why not the other?

Ellis asserted that Acts 2 presents the same ambiguity. According to Gano's interpretation, the "breaking of bread" in verse 42 supposedly refers to the Lord's Supper, while "breaking bread from house to house" in verse 46 supposedly means the regular sharing of common meals among the earliest Christians.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11, Ellis pointed out that the chapter nowhere specifies that the church at Corinth typically gathered "on the first day of the week." It is certainly true, wrote Ellis, "that Paul in these verses specially refers to the Lord's supper." Yet, Paul does not specifically mention "a special day." Moreover, none of stories of institution in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke indicate that the disciples did or should eat the Lord's Supper every Sunday. Ellis concluded,
Seeing this is the fact my Christian brethren, let us be careful not to take the suppositions of poor erring man, though he may possess all the acquired knowledge of the world. . . . I assure my Christian brethren, that I am firm in the belief, that if I were honestly and conscientiously to celebrate the Lord's supper every day in the week, there is not a passage in the good word of God, that forbids it. On the contrary, it tells me "as often as you do this . . . "  . . . I am certain that [the] Lawgiver, and his law will ultimately prevail over human wisdom, self aggrandizement, and tradition of fallible man. 
4. Gano's Rejoinder

As one might expect, the very next issue of the Messenger, dated April 1831, contains a rejoinder to Ellis.

By way of review, Gano observes that his original piece set out to show "that the Holy Scriptures do authorize and require the breaking of bread, or celebration of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week."  Contrary to Ellis's suggestion, he denies that his article endangers Christian liberty. It is true the gospel means freedom from many things, including sin, condemnation, Jewish ritual, etc. Nevertheless, the gospel does not mean freedom "from Christ, his laws, authority and service." Although free, Christians "are bound to obey" their Lord.

With that, Gano sets out to answer the particulars of Ellis's letter. He begins with Ellis's contention that Acts 20:7 does not refer to the Lord's Supper. This is supposedly true "because the cup and wine are not mentioned." Yet Ellis assumes that 1 Corinthians 11:30 does refer to the Supper even though "the words drink, cup and wine" are likewise missing, an obvious inconsistency in the argument.

Next, Gano argues, contra Ellis, that if the language of "breaking bread" in Acts 27:35 does not refer to the Lord's Supper, this is no reason to conclude that all such language never refers to the Supper. Gano asserts that the differences "can only be understood by attending particularly to the context." Do not the various contexts of Acts 2:42, 20:7, and 27:35 reveal different meanings? Are there not clear differences between giving thanks at one's dinner table at home, compared to giving thanks at the Lord's table in the Christian assembly?

Besides, if in the Scriptures all instances of "breaking bread" are the same, then how can we resist the conclusion that the Lord has no say, and that mere humans have the authority "to decide the whole matter" regarding frequency? Does not Ellis's position "at once introduce confusion and disorder?"

Gano suggests that 1 Corinthians 16:2 further clarifies the matter: "On the first day of every week, let each of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it in the treasury." He regards this the best translation of the verse, which "proves they met every first day at Corinth." This verse, when combined with Paul's instructions about the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, and with Acts 20:7, points to an established order, an order that prevailed during the time when "Jesus alone reigned among his professed followers." Gano concludes his response to Ellis by asking:
Is there a single passage of scripture, that speaks of monthly meetings by name? Is there any authority in the word of God for communing only every three months, or once a year? Is not this remembering a crucified Saviour in his institution very seldom? who is to determine, when we shall eat the supper, if the apostles have not? If a majority of each church are to determine, do the minority eat oftener or seldomer, without being considered disorderly? My object is information from the Bible, for the truth's sake, under the humbling sense I feel of my limited abilities, and information.
5. Ellis's Response to Gano's Rejoinder

The June 1831 issue of The Christian Messenger contains a second letter from John G. Ellis. Apparently, he was not persuaded by what Gano had written in defense of his article on "The Lord's Supper." And Ellis wanted to publish a follow-up statement of his own.

Ellis maintained that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper is not a scriptural precept, making the words of 1 Corinthians 11:26--"for as often as ye eat this bread"--the centerpiece of his argument.

He ridiculed Gano's distinction between public and private acts of worship by again referring to Acts 27:37 and commenting: "Here [Gano] wishes to hold out an idea that Paul did not perform an act of public worship on board of the ship, in giving thanks in the presence of 276 people." (What Ellis does not acknowledge is that Gano's distinction was between worship at home and in other private settings, compared to worship in the presence of the gathered church. The story in Acts 27 describes a scene that hardly fits either of Gano's categories).

Ellis denied that Acts 20:7 carried the force of "a command of Christ and his Apostles." He asserted that "if there is a command in all the New Testament to meet every first day of the week, to celebrate the Lord's Supper, I cannot find it."

Not even when using "Campbell's translation" of 1 Corinthians 16:2 can Gano provide "even the shadow of a command to meet every first day of the week, to celebrate the Lord's Supper." All such argument amounts to human "law-making or legislating for the church of Christ." Ellis is quick to note that he believed it was "the duty of christians to meet often together, and to commune or celebrate the Lord's Supper often." What he objected to was the idea that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper should be regarded a matter of following Scripture. Ellis closed with the following:
I can assure my christian brethren that I do not intend to write another sentence for the C.M. nor any other paper on the subject of weekly communion, as I am fully of the opinion that the scriptures authorise no such thing. I wish to invite my C. Brethren to examine minutely what bro. G. and myself have written, and compare it with the word of God. My prayer is that all christians may closely adhere to the word of God, that we may all grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
6. Barton W. Stone's Final "Remarks"

By way of wrapping up the exchange between Gano and Ellis, Editor Stone penned a few concluding remarks. He noted that both men, in private correspondence with Stone, indicated they would not be sending anything more on the subject. Both men were willing to end the discussion, "to rest it with the public to examine, and to decide its claims to truth." Then Stone added,
It must be acknowledged that but little is said in scripture with reference to the weekly communion, but all must acknowledge, that it was the practice in the first centuries of the church. Let us never make this subject a cause of debate and contention amongst us. My mind has been long in the belief that weekly communion was according to truth, yet I could never find sufficient scriptural reasons to convince my brethren that it was a positive command. What satisfied me, could not satisfy them. We are all free, nor would I willingly take away the liberty of one christian.
Two Observations

The exchange between Gano and Ellis in the pages of The Christian Messenger is remarkable on at least two different counts. First, anyone who reads Alexander Campbell's series "On the Breaking of Bread," which appeared in several issues of The Christian Baptist during 1825, will immediately conclude that Gano's 1831 article, "The Lord's Supper," is essentially a digest of Campbell's series. The similarities between the two are striking.

In fact, reading Gano after reading Campbell on this topic is a bit like reading the Gospel of Mark after the Gospel of Matthew. Campbell's series of four articles is significantly longer than Gano's article. But the general correspondence between the two is undeniable. Not only does Gano cite the same passages (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11), which is predictable, he also makes the same kind of inferential arguments. Finally, Gano bolsters his case for every-Sunday observance of the Lord's Supper by citing early Christian history, exactly as Campbell did, including the very same caveats. Even the order of the material is virtually the same. In short, the correspondence between Campbell and Gano is unmistakable. The conclusion that Gano had read Campbell's series, and that his article is essentially a synopsis of Campbell, is irresistible.

Second, anyone who reads the entire exchange between Gano and Ellis is likely to sympathize with Gano, as I do, in his inability to nail down anything in the debate over specific New Testament texts. It appears that two unspoken issues stand behind this frustration. First, unlike Gano, Ellis does not believe that the New Testament contains an implicit outline of worship for Christians, one that specifies a certain day for the assembly as well as specific activities. Second, Gano accepted an approved example in Scripture as carrying the same force of a positive command. Ellis did not. As one might expect, on both of these questions Gano's view corresponds to that of Campbell.


[1] Jerry B. Rushford, "Gano, John Allen (1805-1887)" in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 347. Rushford "wrote the book" on Gano, a 1972 master's thesis completed at Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas, titled "The Apollos of the West": The Life of John Allen Gano.

[2] John G. Ellis was not as well-known as John Allen Gano. For example, while Gano merits his own article in the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Ellis's name does not appear in the Index of that work. Still, Ellis does seem to have had an important ministry in Campbell County, Kentucky. For example, in an 1839 issue of The Millennial Harbinger, Ellis apparently responded to a request from Campbell for a status report on the congregations with which Ellis was familiar. His brief description of congregations near Dry Creek in Campbell County, Kentucky, indicates that Ellis had conducted an active ministry among those churches.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Campbell on "Communion" and the Lord's Supper

Alexander Campbell argued that a simple definition of communion and the specific usage of that word in translations of the New Testament preclude its identification with the Lord's Supper. He defined communion as "union in that which is common" and pointed out there are several ways in which the Lord's people have experienced this in both Old and New Testament eras:
Wherever there is union in common, there is communion. As the glory of the Lord equally filled all the tabernacle and the temple, so the Spirit of God animates, consoles, and refreshes the whole body of Christ.
It was in this general sense of the word that Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." Here, Paul uses the Greek word koinonia, which carries the meaning of "fellowship" or "joint participation."[1] Clearly, replacing communion with Lord's Supper would cause that verse to no longer make perfect sense.

To be sure, wrote Campbell, "in the Lord's supper especially does God commune with his sons and daughters, and they with him." [2] The breaking of bread is a special time in the lives of Christians. Nevertheless, it is most unscriptural, he insisted, for "sectarian Christendom" to identify a "single ordinance," namely, the Lord's Supper, as communion.
Hence sectarians, or professors of most creeds will occasionally invite those of another creed to lead in prayer, in praise, in family worship, and afterwards debar them from the Lord's table, merely, too, in most cases, because of doctrinal or political differences. [3]
In this way, Campbell explained his rationale for not referring to the Lord's Supper, or the breaking of bread, as communion. Not only was that identification inexact and misleading, it was also the basis upon which some Protestant sects were guilty of a gross inconsistency. For while they were perfectly willing for visitors to sing, pray, and even contribute of their means, those same visitors were debarred from participating in what the sects called "Communion."


[1] Millennial Harbinger, 1834, pp. 568-69.

[2] MH, 1864, p. 152.

[3] MH, 1862, p. 529.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

"Communion with the 'Sects'": An Answer from George W. Elley

In August 1861, Edmund Ruffin, a Virginia planter and slave owner, wrote: "The excitement of the war, and interest in its incidents, have absorbed everything else." That very same week, Massachusetts Yankee Ralph Waldo Emerson repeated Ruffin's sentiment: "The war . . . has assumed such huge proportions that it threatens to engulf us all--no preoccupation can exclude it, and no hermitage hide us." [1]

But one would hardly guess America's preoccupation with the conflict by reading The Millennial Harbinger of the time. In its pages, writers committed to what Alexander Campbell called "the present reformation" diverted much of their attention away from the war by discussing those things they were convinced would outlast it. [2]

The previous post here at Frankly Speaking surveyed the position of Restoration leaders Isaac Errett, Robert Richardson, and W. K. Pendleton (pictured here) on the topic of "Communing with the 'Sects'." Again, their remarks were occasioned by a question about "open" versus "close" communion. Their responses appeared in the December 1861 issue of The Millennial Harbinger.

It did not take long for a few other writers to take issue with some of what had been published in the Harbinger. One of the first, whose thought is the subject of this post, was George W. Elley. His response to Errett, Richardson, and Pendleton appeared in the issued dated January 1862.

Elley began by suggesting that the position and the practice recommended by the earlier three writers amounted to "open" communion. Was not such a practice, asked Elley, "fully within the meaning of the 'open communion' of the sects, in its worst form?" Furthermore, does this not break down "all of the landmarks separating Christ's from human kingdoms?"

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:28--"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup"--Elley pointed out that this directive was "addressed to the church of God at Corinth, and of course applicable only to the citizens of Christ's kingdom." Paul was writing to Christians, not to everyone who might attend a worship assembly.

But what of the objection that "it is the Lord's table, and not ours"? Elley retorted, in that case, since it is the Lord's table, "what right have we to control it outside of his directions?" Has the Lord not sufficiently taught us who should and should not partake? The church should remember that the Lord has left it to the people of God to serve as stewards of his intentions, executors of his will. Because the Lord's Supper is eaten at the table of the Lord, wrote Elley, "I can only furnish bread and wine to those whom he invites. I have no discretion in the matter." And who has been invited to the Supper of the Lord? Only those who have been "born of water and of the Spirit." Consequently, fellowship and communion should be extended to "all such as are entitled to membership in the house of God, and to none others." This is not a matter of opinion or feelings. It is, instead, a matter of keeping "the law of Christ."

Someone else might object that "we are not to judge others." But, responded Elley, the command not to the judge simply cannot mean "Make no judgments." Otherwise, the church would not be able to follow the command to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned" (Romans 16:17).

Furthermore, Elley denied that the attitude and practice described by Isaac Errett, one according to which the church opens wide "the gate which leads to the altar of Christ's table" was common among Stone-Campbell congregations. "Such may be the his [Errett's] practice, but such is not the common practice of the churches."

Elley concluded with a succinct statement of his position. The church is made up of people who have been "born again." To be born again means to have been immersed in water as a consequence of faith and repentance. Only those who have obeyed in this way are "citizens of Christ's kingdom" and are therefore "lawfully entitled to the ordinances of God's house." If someone has become a Christian but still belongs to a Protestant sect, whenever that person takes the Lord's Supper with us it is not because the church practices "open communion." Rather, this is an example of "communion with that class of God's children who are improperly associated." Whenever the church refuses the bread and wine to unimmersed people, the church is acting "consistently with all our pleadings." Why would the church be "closed" in regard to baptism, but "opened" when it comes to the Lord's Supper? "Where is the consistency in this act? I am unable to see it." Elley's concluding paragraph reads:
When we have clearly stated the law of Christ upon the subject of the right and duty of God's people to the bread and wine, and then some should come who are not included, the responsibility must rest with them, and not with us; but if we allow 'all to come,' then it is with us. If I am wrong, I shall be thankful for correction.
In a brief follow-up titled "Remarks," W. K. Pendleton, co-editor of the Harbinger and one of the three writers challenged by Elley, gave notice to his readers that "Bro. Elley's article came too late" to include a reply. Besides, Pendleton would not have had room to publish both. With that explanation, Pendleton promised "the reply in our next," and called on either Richardson or Errett, or both, to write that reply. [3]


[1] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), viii.

[2] Of course, writers in The Millennial Harbinger referred to the war on occasion. Still, it is remarkable that no more than just a few references appear in the issues published in 1862.

[3] Elley's article, titled "Communion with the 'Sects.' " and W. K. Pendleton's brief "Remarks" appear in The Millennial Harbinger for January 1862, pp. 39-42.