Campbells on “Campbellites”

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Members of the churches of Christ are often referred to as “Campbellites,” because two of the leaders in the Restoration Movement were Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander.1. It is possible that there are those who claim to be Campbellites, but over my years of meeting fellow members of the churches of Christ, I have never met such a person. Nor has my father. Many members of the church have never heard of Thomas and Alexander Campbell. This regrettable fact indicates that those of us in the churches of Christ are not actively teaching that anyone should follow the Campbells. I have heard some unfortunate sermons, but never one telling me to become a follower of Campbell.

Why do we choose not to claim religious allegiance (i.e., allegiance beyond the general sentiment of respect for great men) to the Campbells? One obvious reason is that it would be unbiblical to do so, because the apostle Paul strictly forbad religious allegiances to men (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). But just as obvious is that claiming religious allegiance to the Campbells would be for all practical purposes vain, because of what the Campbells themselves taught. Alexander Campbell was concerned that he not be understood as starting a religious body of his own: “I have no idea of adding to the catalogue of new sects. I labor to see the sectarianism abolished and all Christians of every name united upon the one foundation upon which the apostolic church was founded.”2

Alexander Campbell said in a sermon,

“The constitution of the kingdom of the Savior is the New Testament, and this alone is adapted to the existence of his kingdom in the world. To restore the ancient order of things, this must be recognized as the only constitution of this kingdom. And in receiving citizens they must be received into the kingdom just as they were received by the apostles into it, when they were setting it up. When any act of devotion or item of religious practice presented itself to my view, of which I could learn nothing from my Master’s last will and testament, I simply gave it up, and if I found anything there not exhibited by my fellow Christians, I went into the practice of it, if it was the practice of an individual; and if it was a social act, I attempted to invite others to unite with me on it. Thus I went on correcting my views, and returning to his institutes until I became so speckled a bird that scarce one of my species would cordially consociate with me. Suppose all would abandon every word and sentence not found in the Bible on the subject, and quote with equal readiness every word and sentence found in the volume, how long would divisions on this subject exist? It would be impossible to perpetuate them on this plan.”3

The spirit of the Restoration Movement is that the seed of the word of God (Luke 8:11) produces only Christians—true followers of Jesus and not followers of any man or extrabiblical creed.

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  1. E.g., “Campbellites” 

  2. “Alexander Campbell” 

  3. Quoted in David Lipscomb, Jesse L. Sewell, Life and Sermons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1891), 77-78. 

  • Michael Summers

    Sadly, because they confuse respecting spiritual heritage with the divisive spirit in the Corinthian church, many in churches of Christ have lost awareness of the restoration concept. While restoration can become an “idol,” and one must be aware of what we should restore versus what we cannot, I fail to understand how a church can be “of Christ” without being the body of believers Christ intended and the apostles (and later the Campbells, Stone, and Dasher) advocated.

- 2017