My, how attitudes and beliefs change when enough time is allowed to pass! It was surprising for me to learn the perspectives of the men who were instrumental in the early days of the Restoration Movement.
Does ignorance of the full significance of one’s immersion invalidate it and require the person to be rebaptized? [Alexander] Campbell’s answer to this question was also clear. If a person had been baptized upon a simple confession of faith in Jesus Christ, he or she was a citizen of God’s kingdom. The only thing that could justify someone’s rebaptism was if the candidate confessed that he or she did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God , at the time of the first immersion. Campbell certainly believed that it was in baptism that one’s sins were forgiven. Yet the knowledge of this at the time of one’s baptism was not an essential component of the necessary faith. Trust in a person, not comprehension of a list of facts, was the essential.
Baptism does not save because of one’s perfect understanding of baptism. It saves because of God’s promise. To insist that a person’s baptism was invalid because he or she did not know that in baptism their sins were forgiven was to negate Jesus’ own statement in Mark 16:16, “The one who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, pages 59, 60)
It is normally taught and accepted that unless a person has been specifically baptized for the remission of sins, understanding that such is the purpose for baptism, that his baptism is invalid. In other words, people who are immersed and do not understand or acknowledge that baptism is done in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins have not been properly baptized and therefore are not Christians.
[Barton W.] Stone, while defending the doctrine of immersion for forgiveness of sins, did not exclude the unimmersed from membership in the churches that were part of his movement. “We therefore teach the doctrine, believe, repent, and be immersed for the remission of sins; and we endeavor to convince our hearers of its truth; but we exercise patience and forbearance towards such pious persons who cannot be convinced.”
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 61)
No ultra-conservative congregation that I have ever known of would normally accept into membership one who was immersed in a “denomination”. Certainly no “pious unimmersed persons” who cannot be convinced that baptism is for the remission of sins would ever be accepted as “members” of a local congregation!
While admitting that the [Restoration] Movement itself constituted a denomination, Alexander Campbell and other early leaders consistently urged Christians to abandon loyalty to denominational structures and creeds and come together to work and worship simply as Christians or disciples of Christ.
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 268)
Since a denomination by definition has a name, Campbell and Stone debated what name they should wear. Using Acts 11:26 as a proof text, Stone argued that they should call themselves “Christians” since it was a divinely given name, and that their congregations should be called Christian Churches or Churches of Christ. Campbell disputed Stone’s claim that the name “Christian” had been divinely appointed. He stated that he had “no objection to the name Christians if we only deserve it.” He preferred simply “disciples of Christ” because of its greater antiquity and modesty. The problem was resolved, by happenstance rather than by decree, by wearing all three names – Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ.
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 125)
It is vehemently denied that the Churches of Christ compose a denomination. Much effort is exerted to explain to anyone who will listen why the Church of Christ isn’t a denomination while ignoring the simple definition of what a denomination is.
…[Alexander Campbell] was never sectarian in the sense that he saw his movement as exclusively the body of Christ and his people as the only true Christians.
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 122)
While accepting denominational status, Campbell was adamant about not being a sect. “Denomination” meant that they were a distinct religious body with clearly defined marks of identification, such as a particular name or names. A sect claims to be within itself the entirety of the body of Christ to the exclusion of all other Christians.
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 125)
…Robert Richardson called on him [Campbell] shortly before his death. He [Richardson] told him that the Reformers – meaning their people – and the Baptists were meeting in hopes of effecting a union between the two groups. “There was never any sufficient reason for a separation between us and the Baptists,” Campbell responded. …Campbell openly wept with joy over the prospects of such a union.
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 134)
It is rare indeed to find leaders in the right wing Churches of Christ who acknowledge that Christians exist in any other denomination. We have become exactly what Campbell abhorred. Many Churches of Christ today are the exemplification of sectarianism.
[The “Five Finger Exercise” was] a mnemonic developed by Walter Scott (1796-1861) and used through out the churches of the [Restoration] Movement in subsequent generations. …a summary of the plan of salvation used for preaching and teaching purposes. Typically Scott would ride into a village and find a group of children. He would have them hold up their left hands and, beginning with the thumb, point to each finger and repeat the words “faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.” He often paired “and eternal life” with the Holy Spirit, on the little finger.
(The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 338)
The five finger exercise is still alive and well but it has changed a bit since the days of Walter Scott. Today it is “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized.”
Lucky they aren’t alive today!
Both Stone and Campbell were baptized as infants. When they realized later in life that immersion was the Biblical mode of baptism they were both immersed. At the time of their “re-baptism”, neither believed that immersion was necessary in order to obtain salvation. Years later they came to the conclusion that immersion is essential for the forgiveness of sins yet as far as history records neither ever felt compelled to be re-baptized after arriving at their new conclusions. As is quoted above, they never equated ignorance of the true purpose of baptism with an invalidation of the baptism. If Stone or Campbell were living today, leaders in some of our churches would proclaim them to be lost because of their misunderstanding of the purpose of baptism and in need of being re-immersed; this time with the proper understanding of the purpose of baptism.
Today Walter Scott would be labeled a false teacher because his “Five Finger Exercise” left out confession. Anyone who agreed with him would be accused of being Scott’s disciples and also marked as heretics and troublemakers who sow division and false teaching among the brotherhood.
One of the early slogans was, “We are Christians only, but not the only Christians” (The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, page 688). Indeed, all of the early Restoration Movement leaders would be condemned for being “soft” on denominationalism. They did not believe they were the only Christians but that there were Christians in other denominations. They would be accused of promoting and teaching another gospel if they lived today. Yet, I’ve never heard a preacher, elder or deacon among today’s Churches of Christ raise a concern about our forefathers in the Movement. Either we don’t know our own history very well, or we don’t want to draw attention to any skeletons in our closet. After generations of condemning our denominational “friends” for the very things our Restoration Movement forefathers did, it might be a little embarrassing!
Time and space do not allow us to mention so many other things such as the early Restoration leader’s view on the church treasury, order of worship, unity of believers and many other topics. Suffice it to say, their views were very different than ours today. Some may argue that they had just begun to realize their error and did not have sufficient time to shed all of their denominational thinking and that today we have the advantage of several generations that went before us and have had more time to fully embrace the truth. It may also be said that these early pioneers had not yet had sufficient time to fully embrace sectarianism and division. Purity in any movement is usually found in its formative years with corruption developing in latter generations. Which of these views is correct? You must be the judge.