Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Declaration and Address: The beginning of Christian Unity

The primary founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) movement were Thomas Campbell, his son, Alexander and Barton Stone.  The elder founder, Thomas Campbell, was, in my opinion, the wiser and more gracious of the three.  Having served as the Pastor of Ahorey Seceder Presbyterian Church in Rich Hill, Ireland, he was the focus of much criticism for his efforts in trying to unite the various Presbyterian Churches in Northern Ireland.  Eventually, Thomas moved to the United States and settled in the Washington County area of western Pennsylvania.  His continued efforts to unify the Presbyterian Churches in the United States drew severe attacks from other clergy and laity alike.  He ultimately resigned his membership from the Seceder Presbyterian Church and in 1809 drafted what has become one of the most influential documents in modern Christian history.  The Declaration and Address was a radical statement of unity in a divisive season of the Church’s history.  A document of moderate length, the phrase which shook the foundations of American Christendom was: The Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to Him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.”
Thomas had hoped that his declaration might energize those within the Church to work for unity within their respective faith communities.  He was frustrated that many were simply leaving their churches to start like-minded congregations in accord with the Declaration and Address.  Concerned that he was only starting yet another denomination, he applied for membership and standing in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but was denied.  With that, the Campbell movement of Disciples of Christ would ultimately merge with the Stone movement of Christian Churches, ultimately forming the first denomination celebrating non-denominational unity.  Although the Declaration was ignored for the first 100 years, by 1909, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had forged bridges with so many other denominations that the next 100 years would see a renewed vitality in Christian unity.  No longer would Christians deny the authenticity of another denomination’s Baptism or Communion.  An entire culture now asks the Church to ‘give us not your denominational names, but give us Christ.’  Historians, theologians and scholars of all disciplines agree; the call to this radical unity was first heralded 200 years ago by a Scot-Irish preacher named Thomas Campbell.

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