One Church

TAKE THE QUIZ: “What Do You Know About the Declaration and Address

By Victor Knowles

Thomas Campbell stood at the rail of the ship and breathed deeply of the invigorating ocean breeze. He was leaving his beloved Ireland and setting sail for America. Perhaps there his health would improve. Perhaps there the religious air would be healthier too—free from the strife and division that had troubled him so in the Seceder Presbyterian Church.

Upon his arrival in America in 1807, the 44-year-old minister was appointed to preach in western Pennsylvania by the American counterpart of the anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church. His hopes for a better religious climate were quickly dashed. He found in the new land the same bitter, narrow sectarianism. When he invited Presbyterians who were not part of his church to the Communion table one Sunday, he was expelled from the denomination.

In a cordial meeting of fellow Christians held at Buffalo, Pennsylvania, August 17, 1809, the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania, was formed “for the sole purpose of promoting simple, evangelical Christianity, free from all mixture of human opinions and inventions of men.” They did not see themselves as a church but rather as “voluntary advocates for church reformation.” The Declaration and Address of this Christian Association was written by Thomas Campbell and approved for publication on September 7, 1809.


The document consisted of a brief “declaration” listing nine objectives of the Christian Association and a lengthy “address” that included 13 bold propositions for Christian unity. The “grand design” of Thomas Campbell and the Christian Association was to “reconcile and unite men to God and to each other, in truth and love, to the glory of God.”

Religious division was seen as the great barrier to this grand design. Campbell described these “bitter jarrings and janglings” as “sad,” “accursed,” “woeful,” and “hapless.” Proposition 12 of the Declaration and Address calls division among Christians “a horrid evil, fraught with many evils.” Division, declared Campbell, is anti-Christian, anti-scriptural, and anti-natural.

Christian unity is the clarion call of the Declaration and Address. It called for “a permanent Scriptural unity among the churches, upon the solid basis of universally acknowledged and self-evident truths”—a “visible unity in truth and holiness, in faith and love.”

At the heart of the irenic document is Proposition 1: “THAT 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 none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.”

The Bible and the Bible alone would be the “Divine Standard.” The ob-jective would be “the restoration of a Christian and brotherly intercourse with one another”—“an entire union of all the Churches in faith and practice, according to the word of God.” This effort at reform would be a Christ-centered, Bible-based movement. “Christ alone being the head, the center; his word the rule; an explicit belief of, and manifest conformity to it in all things, the terms.” Furthermore, “nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God.”

Fervent prayer and earnest efforts were expected of all who sought to answer Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. “Are we not all praying for that happy event, when there shall be but one fold, as there is but one chief Shepherd? What! Shall we pray for a thing and not strive to obtain it! Not use the necessary means to have it accomplished!” “Duty then is ours; but events belong to God.”

Perhaps the most poignant words of the Declaration and Address are Campbell’s plea to ministers and members alike. “O! that ministers and people would but consider that there are no divisions in the grave, nor in that world which lives beyond it! There our divisions must come to an end! We must all unite there! Would to God that we could find it in our hearts to put an end to our short-lived divisions here; that so we might leave a blessing behind us; even a happy and united Church!”


Those words still ring in our ears, for 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. This new call for Christian reformation and unity on the occasion of this special anniversary should be welcomed by all in what is sometimes called the Stone-Campbell Movement. It gives us an opportunity to revisit, reexamine, and restudy the deep longing that drove Campbell to write such a remarkable document. The simple principles leading to Christian unity that he espoused in 1809 are still relevant, perhaps even more so, in 2009, to those who are “promoting a pure, evangelical reformation.”

To commemorate this anniversary, and to spotlight these principles for today’s generation, Leafwood Publishers are offering a new book. One Church is subtitled “A Bicentennial Celebration of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address.” You’ll find much to celebrate as you browse its pages.

The reader will surely enjoy Clinton J. Holloway’s anecdotal bicentennial essay “Essentially, Intentionally and Constitutionally One: A Brief History of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address.” The reader will surely marvel at Douglas A. Foster’s eminently readable “Modern Restating of the 13 Propositions of the Declaration and Address of Thomas Campbell.”

But there is more in store. Six thoughtful (and sometimes provocative) essays produced by writers from a wide spectrum of the Stone-Campbell Movement earnestly seek to apply the principles of the Declaration and Address to a modern audience. The essays show just how relevant and timely the Declaration and Address really is. As one writer put it, “We recognize that this document, written in a much earlier time, is anything but antiquated. Perhaps now more than ever the clarion call for unity among God’s people connects with a culture frustrated with division, hatred and war.”

And, in keeping with the proposed “Great Communion” on Sunday, October 4, 2009 (commemorating the 1909 “Great Communion” at the Centennial Convention held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), there are brief but meaningful Communion meditations written by men and women from Africa, Australia, India, Indonesia, and the United States.

Remember that in the Declaration and Address Thomas Campbell called the Lord’s Supper “that great ordinance of unity and love!” Throughout this anniversary publication the reader will also find choice quotations from the original Declaration and Address.

We are indebted to the Disciples of Christ Historical Society for funding this project, to Leafwood Publishers for publishing this important new call in the spirit of the Declaration and Address, to the 2009 Task Force for their excellent contributions to this volume and the larger bicentennial events, and to the general editors for their diligent oversight: Glenn Thomas Carson, Douglas A. Foster, and Clinton J. Holloway.

Victor Knowles is president of Peace on Earth Ministries and editor of One Body, Joplin, Missouri.

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