It was based primarily upon the writing of Thomas Campbell in his “Declaration and Address” from which the greatest modern plea for religious unity has ever been made. To summarize that document, Campbell states that in order to have religious unity, men must abandon all humanly divided religious organizations, all humanly created creeds and articles of faith, all human innovations and opinions, all human rites for entrance into the church, all human doctrines, teachings, and practices resulting in religious division; and unite upon the truth that the New Testament is the sole authority for organization and practice for Christians living the Christian life; and upon the truth that the New Testament contains the sole constitution that we must follow in regard to the worship, practice, and terms of entrance of the Church; and upon the truth that nothing should be taught or practiced but that which is found within the New Testament as authorized by Jesus or His apostles. This is the basic plea upon which Campbell and many others acted to unite the then divided religious world. The churches of Christ exist today upon this same basic plea for unity.
This plea is not original with Campbell, as many historians in their human wisdom like to divine. Rather, this plea is founded upon the scriptures. It was the prayer of Jesus Christ that his followers be united as He and His Father were united (John 17:21). It was the practice of the apostles to be united in judgment regarding problems that arose within the early church (Acts 15). It was the instruction of Paul the apostle to the church in Corinth that they have the same mind and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). It was also the instruction of the apostle Peter that the followers of Christ would be of one mind (1 Peter 3:8). Additionally we find that strife and faction are strongly condemned in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 11:17-19; Galatians 5:15; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; James 3:14-16) and are listed as works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. Based upon the teaching of the New Testament, therefore, it is with utmost certainty and conviction that we reiterate this plea for unity!
Many today have abandoned this plea for unity. Some have abandoned the standard upon which this plea was given; that standard is only those things authorized by the New Testament (Colossians 3:17). Some have abandoned the plea itself being content with the factions and divisions within the religious world and pleading for “unity in diversity” contrary to the teaching of apostolic tradition (1 Corinthians 1:10). Others have been responsible for creating new divisions and still others foment those divisions by dwelling on the catalyst of the division endlessly and needlessly to the neglect of other areas of Christian work and service. These dote about questions endlessly gendering strife (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23) and fulfill the works of the flesh through their dissention (Galatians 5:20). On the one hand there are those who have lost their love for the truth and on the other hand there are those who have lost their love for the brethren. Our brotherhood today needs a revival in this plea for unity. How do we do this?
As preachers, we must revive this plea in our sermons and our lives. When we preach on areas that involve church doctrine and practice, let us provide scriptural support for our teaching and let us demand of our listeners that we give it (Acts 17:11). Let us make plain the Bible teachings so that the listener understands it is not our own personal thoughts being spoken, but simply what is found within the scriptures. Let us call resoundingly for our denominational friends to leave their humanly devised organizations, names, practices, and doctrines and unite solely upon what is authorized in the New Testament. Let us learn as preachers to keep our studied opinions to ourselves and not to allow these opinions to engage the brotherhood in needless wrangling (1 Timothy 1:4). Let us have the humility not to insert our own personal pride into situations where those who are weaker in the faith need instruction and encouragement so as not to exacerbate their weaknesses (Romans 15:1ff). Let us include within each and every invitation that we make the need for the faithful Christian to remain united upon the firm foundation of the gospel (2 Timothy 2:19). If we do these things in every sermon we preach, we can revive our plea for unity.
Elders should demand preachers who preach scripture filled sermons and who rely upon the Bible and the Bible alone as the sole basis for their preaching (Acts 20:28). Elders should instruct members to expect plain Bible teaching from the pulpit and in Bible classes. Elders should develop programs that encourage all the members of the local congregation to invite their denominational friends to leave the divisive nature of denominationalism and unite upon the one true pattern of doctrine as found within the New Testament (Romans 6:17). Elders should reiterate the message of unity within the church upon every occasion and opportunity that they have and let the local congregation know what its mission is in that regard. These are things that will revive us unto unity.
Will some of these things result in confrontations with other religions today? Indeed they will. As hard as it is for our society to accept confrontation, the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about confrontation. In Thessalonica Christians were known as “These that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). In Ephesus the craftsman who made silver idols of Diana said concerning Paul, “this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands” (Acts 19:26). Indeed the works of Jesus and the apostles were things that “had not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Why should we think that our delivery of the gospel of Jesus Christ should be any less messy today that it was for Paul and the other apostles?
The plea for religious unity among those in the early 19th century was also met with many opponents, yet those brave and courageous men stood forth and heralded the message from the rooftops that we could have religious unity based upon the truth of Jesus Christ. Why should we not want to do the same today?