A Child’s View of the Churches of ChristSome 200 years ago a Presbyterian minister by the name of Thomas Campbell sat meditating on the regulative principle of worship. Picture him in your mind's eye if you will, sitting on a borrowed chair, in his cotton clothes, a Bible open on his lap mulling over the simple truth that we are to do what the Bible commands and no more.
Suddenly he bolts upright as if bitten by a snake—the regulative principle means paedo-baptism is wrong, and the only people who should be baptized are adult professors of faith. Musical instruments too, must go since their use is not recorded in the pages of Scripture. He pauses, unsure of whether he’s willing to put his hand to the plow; this is a massive shift for him, a renunciation of the oath he took upon entering the ministry. But it also opens the door to greater Christian unity. Dare he to take the next step?
He must, a man must be faithful to follow the truth where it leads. And so he does. He tells his fellow Presbyterian ministers about his conclusion, but their dismissive retort is, "That's not what the confessions say."
So he re-reads the confessions with an open heart and begins to see that, like the traditions of the Pharisees, the confessions had gone too far. People were being taught to believe in a system and not in the Bible itself. My goodness just look how their own system made everything covenantal. There was an overarching covenant of salvation, a covenant with Adam, a covenant between the Father and Son, a covenant for covenanting, all not mentioned in the text.
"From now on,” he says, “the Bible is our only creed and confession. If the other Presbyterian congregations won't go along then we’ll find other like-minded Christians and go ahead without them."
And thus the Restoration movement was born.
Some Personal HistoryThis is of course an ideal reconstruction, seen through my childish eyes. As an adult I find it possible that Thomas wasn’t someone purely pursuing the truths of Scripture, or was perhaps hiding his disagreement from the Doctrines of Grace under the banner of Christian liberty. Nonetheless the good thing he was trying to communicate was clear to me from my youngest days: follow the teachings of Scripture fearlessly, even when it’s unpopular or dangerous to do so. And because of that, his guiding principle is now permanently, inseparably, and forever a part of me.
You can imagine both my horror and theirs, when upon taking their advice as an adult I came to the conclusion that "once saved always saved" is the Biblical position.
Rather than staying and causing division or making my church family uncomfortable by pushing them, I left and settled into attending the closest thing to our heritage where we could find theological agreement—the local Baptist church. There some sense of healing in being a Baptist, I’m happy to say. I’d been comfortable around them since my college days, and after a few years I no longer acutely felt the sting of being uprooted. Much later the church we were a part of jumped sideways into Willow Creek and, being Baptists, we needed to go where people still believed those key tenets of faith we'd left the Churches of Christ for.
It was at the new Baptist church that I continued to study until, quite unexpectedly, I fell into the Reformation. And after assuring myself their views were more biblical than what I was holding, I resigned my membership there, being at that point substantially out of phase with their confession of faith. (As a side note, because I've personally seen how unity is only achieved through orthodoxy, I'm not only convinced they are right to police such boundaries, but I love them much more for it. Unity is not achieved when we pretend creeds don’t matter, it happens when we cling as hard as we can to Scripture, argue, and hug at the end of the day as workers for the Lord. Baptists may be wrong on baptism (read: they're wrong) but they are fellow servants of Christ, and are pursuing Him as best they know how. They are working to keep out error in their church, and may their tribe increase for it.)
Now I write all that to say this: the strangest thing happened to me when I finally put down my studies on baptism and sided with the paedos: I felt peace. Surprisingly, finally, I no longer felt like I needed to push away my upbringing or heritage nor be ashamed of it. The sorrow of leaving, the sour longing of not growing up evangelical, feeling like a man in exile, it was all gone in an instant. Why? I don’t know. But when I accepted Presbyterianism I somehow became able to let go of my pain. And now that I'm placing membership at a Reformed church, unlike when I did this at the Baptist churches, I have a sense of coming home, a sense of finally accepting who I am.
I am the true child of the Restoration, the man Campbell set out to make. Yes, I know he would promptly despair to see what I am, and would lament that I’ve embraced the Presbyterianism he fled. But that's okay, being in glory now he's already corrected his own mistake.
Let me pause to say a word to those of you who happen to be reading at this point, those of you thinking something like, "You're a Presbyterian now? You think it's Biblical to baptize babies and you still call yourself a son of the restoration?"
Wait. Wait. Hold on. I know what you’re thinking because it’s what I used to think. And before you go any further let me ask you the question that plagued me the entire time I've been studying this issue: what if it's true? What if there really is a singular plan of salvation which God purposed in eternity past? Does it matter all that much if we call it the covenant of grace? What if those ancient creeds we rejected represent the most Biblical framework available? What if Campbell was substantially wrong and his point about being careful with creeds was only a minor one?
Please don't make the mistake of just writing me off as someone who's fallen into a simple and obvious error or has been taken captive by a man made system of beliefs. Consider for a moment that I too, like Campbell, see the speculation of some of it, particularly during the early 1800's. Some of my friends fell into accepting an interpretive grid imposed on the text, I’ll not deny that. It however was never a problem for me because I only accept what the Bible puts forward. It just so happened that one day I came face to face with the truth that this was Biblical.
It sounds strange, I know. It caught me off guard, frankly. But in the final analysis I can only fold my hands and become what I am. I am a son of the Restoration. Therefore I am today a Presbyterian. All that we left, all that we fled from the creeds, the predestination, the infant baptism, all of it. It was all simply what the Bible said. It was true.
You may, after reading this, be so shocked that you'll begin praying for my salvation and the souls of my children who will grow up memorizing the three forms of unity. That's okay, I welcome all the prayers and help I can get, this parenting thing is tough. Or, if you're one of my Baptist friends tempted to shake your head and say "Reformed... really?" I would recommend with a hearty laugh that you look away, lest you be swept away by the flood too. Regardless of how you see it, I close with the words of Martin Luther, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen."