Thomas Campbell: “Where the Bible Speaks, We Speak; Where the Bible Is Silent, We Are Silent”

Thomas Campbell: "Where the Bible Speaks, We Speak"

Thomas Campbell (1763-1854) was one of the leading figures of the Restoration Movement that began in this country in the 19th century. He, along with men like Alexander Campbell (his son), Barton W. Stone, and Walter Scott, sought to unite believers by abandoning the creeds and denominations of men. In a speech delivered in 1808, Thomas Campbell set forth an idea that became a motto for the movement.

“His voice was heard in Maple Groves where open air services were held. In due time it became evident that many of these hearers were in sympathy with Campbell’s views. He proposed to some of the principal ones among them to have a meeting at some home to give more definite form to the movement. The House of Abraham Altars between Mt. Pleasant and Washington, Pennsylvania was chosen, and here, one of the most famous meetings of the restoration was held. Campbell’s speech closed with the famous motto: ‘Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent’” (The Search for the Ancient Order: Volume 1, p. 47).

Campbell saw the creeds of the denominations as the reason for the divisions that existed in the religious world. His statement – “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” – encapsulated the attitude that Christians ought to have toward the Scriptures that would necessarily lead them to reject the creeds and churches of men.

The reason why this was a fitting motto was not because of who said it, but because it articulated the proper approach toward Scripture that is commended to us in the word of God. Notice a few passages:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9).

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God…” (1 Peter 4:11).

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).

This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).

The reason why we must strive to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent is not because Thomas Campbell came up with an idea that we like. We must do this because it is what the Lord expects of His people. We need to be content with His word as our only rule of faith and practice. We must teach and practice all that He has instructed and only what He has instructed in His word. If everyone who claimed to be followers of Christ would diligently strive to do this, we could please the Lord and have unity with one another.

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