Alexander Campbell: “New Testamentism”

Alexander Campbell - New Testamentism

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) is likely the most recognized figure among those associated with the Restoration Movement. The widespread influence he had from such an early period has led some to mistakenly conclude or falsely charge that Campbell was the founder of the church. It is not uncommon to hear the term “Campbellite” used to refer to members of the Lord’s church. However, Campbell did not institute a new religious system for people to follow. He simply wanted to point people back to the standard found in God’s word. Notice the following quote from Alexander Campbell:

“We have no system of our own, nor of others to substitute in lieu of the reigning systems. We only aim at substituting the New Testament in lieu of every creed in existence; whether Mohammedan, Pagan, Jewish or Presbyterian. We wish to call Christians to consider that Jesus Christ has made them kings and priests to God. We neither advocate Calvinism, Arminianism, Arianism, Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Deism or Sectarianism, but New Testamentism. We wish, we cordially wish, to take the New Testament out of the abuses of the clergy, and put it into the hands of the people” (Men of Yesterday, p. 78).

People like labels because they allow them to easily identify, side with, or condemn a group. However, no Christian should want to be identified as a “Campbellite.” Alexander Campbell would not want others identified as such, either. He did not establish a system of “Cambellism”; rather, he argued for “New Testamentism.” He endeavored to follow the standard found in the New Testament and wanted to be known for this.

The New Testament contains the standard we are to follow today. Paul told Timothy, “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). Those words that Timothy heard from Paul were the words that came from the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Thessalonians 4:2). The apostle said he was thankful for the brethren in Thessalonica because when they “received the word of God” from Paul, they “accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

We do not need to accept or reject, practice or repudiate, teach or refute anything based on a label. The label of “Calvinism” was created by man. The set of beliefs labeled as “Calvinism” must either be accepted or rejected based upon what the Scriptures teach. The same is true for each of the labels mentioned by Campbell in the quote above along with every other label, including “Campbellism.” Rather than focusing on labels, we need to spend more time focusing on what the Bible says.

Alexander Campbell’s father – Thomas Campbell – famously said, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Let us seek to simply “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, KJV) and follow what the Lord has revealed in His word, regardless of how others might label us.

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