The Irony of Simplicity

In my most recent class I taught on Restoration History, I looked at the tradition of valuing simplicity.

While encouraging the church to dispense with clergy/laity distinctions, Thomas Campbell in his Declaration and Address called upon all Christians to “unite with us in the common cause of simple evangelical christianity.” (p14)  This was by no means an isolated instance of finding simplicity in the Christian faith.

Similarly, when Alexander Campbell addressed the issue of clergy/laity in his article “On the Rights of Laymen” (published in the Christian Baptist vol 3, no. 6, p209), he concluded that,

“It is, then, in the second place, the inalienable right of all laymen to examine the sacred writings for themselves, and to exercise this faculty with which God has endowed them, and not to believe what the church believes, nor how the church believes, because the the church believes it; but to judge and act for and from themselves.”
.

I certainly agree that faith in the Gospel of Christ is a product of an individual’s understanding and experience, and that individuals will be held responsible for their decision to accept or reject the Gospel.  However, I also believe that the church has a role to play in proclaiming God’s Word and encouraging the growth of individual’s faith.

The irony of these statements is that we have well-educated teachers telling their audience that they don’t need teachers.  If the Campbell’s really believed what they said they would have simply printed and distributed Bibles.  They would not have needed to teach, debate, or publish.  All of which they did extensively.  Alexander’s fundamental explanation of Christian basics, Christian System, was over 350 pages.  Apparently the church isn’t quite so simple to explain as they would have us believe.

In addition, the early years of the Restoration Movement were characterised by the founding of numerous colleges.  According to Holloway & Foster (p68) “from 1840-1866, Disciples began thirty-two colleges.”  Strangely, for a movement that valued simplicity, it also valued higher education.  At least to the first generation of preachers within the movement, the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew was also important.

In the past I’ve heard people say that “if everyone could just clear their mind and read the Bible for itself we’d all come to the same conclusions.”  Never mind the apostle Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:16 where he says of Pauls writings, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  This verse highlights two problems with the preceding statement: 1. We cannot clear our minds.  People come to Scripture with their unique backgrounds and motives.  Whether that be with the purpose of distorting Scripture, or of open inquiry, or something in between.  2. Some parts of Scripture are difficult to understand.  To classify all of Scripture or Christian faith as “simple” is actually overly “simplistic”.

Yet Churches of Christ have continued to perpetuate the idea of simplicity.  I’ve compiled a brief list of simple mottos that I believe are common among Churches of Christ:

  • 5 Acts of Worship
  • 5 Steps of Salvation
  • Command – Example – Necessary Inference
  • No creed but the Bible.
  • Bible words for Bible things.
  • Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.
  • Christians only; not the only Christians.
  • In matters of faith/essentials, unity; In matters of opinion/non-essentials, liberty; In all things, charity/love.
  • Return to the old paths (Jer 6:16)

In a sense these are just summary statements.  One has only to say the motto at the appropriate time and his brother will understand the point.  eg. in a discussion of introducing a praise team in worship someone says, “I just think we need to return to the old paths.”  And the other person understands that they’re appealing to the entire Restoration plea and examining the Scripture to see what the first century church did.  (Never mind what Jeremiah was talking about!)  But they’re also simple statements.  We don’t have to teach justification or sanctification when we have the 5 Steps of Salvation.

Okay, I’ve blabbed a lot.  Do you have any Church of Christ “mottos” to add to this list?  Please comment with your suggestions.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: The True New Testament Church « Peter’s Patter

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