What was the position of on fellowship and opinions in the Restoration Movement? Here Alexander Campbell in his paper the “Millennial Harbinger” (Vol. 2, PG. 101-104) presents the past and the present position regarding fellowship. The principles are complete and Scriptural though the Scriptures are quoted though not revealed by source. Readers will probably find this incomplete in specifics of every Christian practice, but this is line of fellowship presented here by Brother Campbell.
Mr. Campbell addresses the position of another Editor if the “Christian Messenger”, who will not consider baptism by immersion a line of Christian fellowship claiming it be an “opinion”. I have again put in bold many key passages, but this whole essay is gold and worthy of reading twice.
UNDER this head we have just read an article in the Christian Messenger for January last. The charitable Editor seems to use this term, “opinion,” in such a latitude as to cover almost all the laws, ordinances and worship of the christian institution. This would not be a matter so much to he regretted, if he did not make this his opinion of opinions a principle of action; and, in fact, give it the sanction of a law. Does any person ask how this can be? I answer, by stating his own case and his own decision of it. He says, “My opinion is that immersion is the only baptism. But shall I, therefore, make my opinion a term of christian fellowship. If in this case I thus act, where shall I cease from making my opinions terms of fellowship? I confess I see no end. But you may say that immersion is so plainly the meaning of christian baptism, you know not how any honest man can be ignorant of it. This is the very language of all opinionists: says one, ‘The doctrine of Trinity is so plainly taught that I cannot think any honest man can deny it.’ So speak all sectarians respecting their opinions. Shall we reason with them on the impropriety of making their opinions tests of christianity and terms of fellowship, and do the same? Is this consistency? Is this the spirit of reformation? You may say my idea of baptism, as meaning immersion, is not an opinion, but a fact. So say the orthodox respecting many of their unscriptural opinions, and are as firmly persuaded of them as you can be respecting immersion not being an opinion of baptism. Here again a disinterested umpire is needed. The case I shall leave, sub judice, till a satisfactory determination of the matter be made.” This is his case. But unfortunately the benevolent writer does not leave it sub judice, but makes his opinion of opinions a principle of action; and therefore exhorts his brethren to commune with unimmersed persons, because, in his opinion, the Lord has received them, and, in his opinion, we ought to receive them. “Shall we,” says he, ‘”refuse communion with those with whom the Lord communes?”
Here are three opinions asserted, and a course of conduct projected and enforced from them. First–It is his opinion that the Lord has received the Paidobaptists, at least the honest Paidobaptists. It is, in the second place, his opinion that we should receive them into christian fellowship: and, in his opinion, they who do not receive them act inconsistently; and hence comes the exhortation to make expediency, rather than the old apostolic usage, a rule of action. Is this leaving the matter sub judice?
To exhort to receive honest Paidobaptists to all the rights, immunities, and privileges of citizens in the kingdom of Jesus, is, as respects leaving the matter sub judice, or undecided, as inconsistent as to exhort not to receive them. The Editor of the Messenger seems not to regard the exhortation to receive them to be as incompatible with his own reasoning as an exhortation to exclude or refuse them. In one sentence, he who exhorts to receive into christian communion unimmersed persons, however honest, makes his opinion a law of action just as much as he who exhorts to reject them, according to the reasoning of our liberal brother.
But now, as this worthy friend of liberal principles thinks he has left the matter sub judice, or undecided, I will beg his attention to a few remarks on his use of the term “opinion,” and his rule of action. Opinions are always, in strict propriety of speech, doubtful matters, because speculative. If ever the word be applied to matters of testimony, to laws, institutions, or religious worship, we must be confounded in our faith and practice. If, in his style, opinion apply equally to immersion and the doctrine of the Trinity, then it will apply equally to the Messiahship of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, eternal life, and every item of the christian faith and hope. One man may say, ‘I am of opinion that Jesus did not die for our sins; that his death was that of a martyr or witness for the truth of God’s philanthropy, and as an example for us.’ And another is of opinion that immersion, the Lord’s table, and the literal resurrection of the body, are all carnal notions and unworthy of a spiritual man.’ Both appear to be honest and pious men. Shall the christian divide the ground with them, and only say he is of a different opinion? This is not the charity which rejoices in the truth.
I know that baptism means immersion as certainly as I know that manus means a hand, and penna a pen; or as certainly as I know that sprinkling is not pouring, and pouring is not dipping. I know as certainly that eis means into, as I do that inout, nor out, IN. does not mean I believe as certainly the christian facts as I believe any events of the American Revolution. I will not say that he who says he is of opinion that George Washington lived two hundred years ago, and was the same person who is called Oliver Cromwell, is to be regarded as a believer of the American history, but only differing in opinion from me. I cannot regard him as only differing in opinion from one who maintains that we are, from the New Testament, as much bound religiously to observe Easter and Christmas, as we are the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper. He may call me uncharitable, but I will be honest though I hazard his contumely.
But here is the error. We are represented as refusing communion with him with whom God communes, if we do not recognize as a fellow-citizen every one whom God regards as one of his people. Has God any where commanded us to sit down at the Lord’s table with a person who refuses to be immersed because he was sprinkled? Or has he enjoined upon me to treat any person as a brother in the Lord because he has recognized him as such, when he fails to keep the ordinances of the Lord? It is only in obedience to the Lord, not on the principle of expediency, but because the Lord has enjoined it, that we are to associate with any person as a brother in the Lord. Nor do I say that none are christians but those who walk orderly; we only say that we are commanded to associate with those only who do walk orderly. If we can dispense with the neglect or disobedience of one christian, we may with another; and so on till we have in the church all the vices of the world.
We are always safe when we act constitutionally, or according to the law of our Sovereign Lord the King; unsafe when we act from our opinion, or sense of expediency, or the fitness of things. He who is so enlightened as to say that immersion into the name, &c. is the only baptism Jesus Christ appointed, and that none can enter into the kingdom of Jesus but such as are immersed or born of water, and yet takes upon himself to set this institution aside upon his own opinion of expediency, presumes more upon his opinion and upon the pliability of his Lord and Master, than we for the universe dare presume. Of all men, he who knows his Master’s will, and does it not, is most obnoxious to the displeasure of his Lord.
To say that a new state of things has arisen, to which the New Testament laws and usages will not apply, is at once to set aside the perfection and applicability of the books and to weaken the obligation of every christian institute, and our own hands in waging war against error.
Call not this an opinion; or, if you do, call my belief that Jesus is the Son of God, an opinion too; and every thought, volition, and affection of the heart, an opinion. I trust while our much esteemed friend of the “Messenger” holds this matter sub judice, he will not act as if he had decided the matter. Editor”