– Dec. 12, 1903 –
In “‘Our Position’ Revisited,” from the June 2018 issue, Jerry Harris summarized Isaac Errett’s “Our Position” editorial from 1872. Harris then wrote:
I have always heard the term “Restoration plea,” but outside of this work by Isaac Errett, I couldn’t find any good explanation of its meaning besides the quoting of our mottoes or references to the writings of some of the great pioneers of our movement. As Alexander Campbell’s protégé and the original publisher and editor of Christian Standard, I think it’s important to study Errett’s writings on “Our Position.”
That’s one reason this article “Our Plea Restated” from page 1 of our Dec. 12, 1903, issue interested me. It was written by W.B. Taylor, whom I know nothing about, except to note he wrote quite often for Christian Standard, especially between 1886 and 1919. At the time of this writing, he was living in Ionia, Mich.
Elsewhere in the issue, editor J.A. Lord wrote:
The strong article by W.B. Taylor which occupies the leading position in the STANDARD this week, like every earnest, sincere statement of the New Testament plea by men who are using it effectively to convert sinners and edify saints, will reach inquiring souls and do good. However brethren may differ in the form of their statements, all agree that the supreme and exclusive authority of Christ is to be recognized, and that the true unity of believers is to be secured only by our common submission to our Lord through terms laid down in the gospel. The present statement is a most impressive one.
I’m assuming “Restoration plea” and “New Testament plea” (Lord’s term) are the same things. (As always, I am open to correction.) But now, without further ado, here is Mr. Taylor’s essay.
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OUR PLEA RESTATED
By W.B. Taylor
There are few, if any, expressions used by the disciples of Christ with more frequency than “our plea,” and I am sure that there are none used with more vagueness of meaning. I have interrogated only representative men among us, and herewith present the results of that inquiry.
VARIOUS STATEMENTS.—Some claim that it is a “plea for Christian union;” while others think it is a “plea for union on the apostolic program.” Quite a few have said it is “a plea for apostolic Christianity;” “a plea for the restoration of apostolic Christianity,” or “the Christianity of Jesus.” One preacher said, “It is a plea for the destruction of denominationalism;” one, “for the union of the world’s life in Christ;” and another, “for the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice;” and still another declares, “It is the recognition and proclamation of the Scriptures as the safe, infallible and authoritative setting forth of Jesus Christ as absolute Lord and Saviour.” All of these are incident to and included in our plea, but it seems to me that the generic term has not yet been stated.
STATEMENTS CONSIDERED.—1. Ours is not alone a plea for Christian union. Many have and do plead for this. It is not alone for the union of God’s people, for it must include also the bringing of the world to believe in Christ. Neither can it be “the program,” for then we must stop to discuss details, and here is where sectarian differences have always manifested themselves, each claiming to be nearer right than the other. Indeed, some will claim that we are not apostolic, and lack the elements of “succession.” We are not surely pleading for the restoration, in actual reproduction, of apostolic Christianity. There are few churches that have as glaring faults as did the first churches, just emerging from Judaism and heathenism. The term, “The Christianity of Jesus,” nearly always means the moral teaching of Jesus in his earthly ministry, which was primal to the establishment of his church. Hence, it may mean back of the apostles and back of Christianity itself. It is often vague and sometimes only an echo of the tread of Christendom back to Jerusalem and Antioch. We can not leave out the teaching and acts of the apostles and properly understand Christ and his will. They are his ambassadors and commentators.
2. Of course, a plea that is catholic, as ours must be, will include all these, even the destruction of denominationalism. We must of necessity “recognize the Scriptures as the safe, infallible and authoritative setting forth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour,” for these are they which testify of him. But all Protestants claim the same plea.
THE PLEA STATED.—1. Many of the answers to the one question, “What is our plea?” are stated, in substance at least, as: “A plea for absolute personal loyalty to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This I consider the generic, all-inclusive and catholic statement of “our plea.” This is the only proposition the apostles tried to prove, and to which they demanded submission. Everything else was correlated to it. It was the proof and plea of Peter on the day of Pentecost. This was the logic of Stephen’s discourse which stuck the goad to Saul’s conscience. The apostle to the Gentiles determined to know nothing else.
PLEA IS CHRISTIAN.—1. We do not plead for an infallible church nor an infallible Book, but an infallible Christ revealing himself in both. Hence, we are a peculiar people without peculiarity; neither classed with Protestants nor Catholics and outclassing both. Our plea is simply Christian.
2. This evidently accounts for the growth of this movement, both in numbers and grace; one manifested by the census enumerator, the other by our growth in missions, benevolences and life. It is of God. I admit that some of our denominational brethren may equal, or even excel, us in the latter, but must believe that the Church of Christ is more loyal to the Master than the ones bearing some other name, listening to any other teacher, obeying any other authority, or following any other standard.
3. This plea is liberal, but not lax. It is positive without being repulsive. Everything moves by a positive impulse. It is simple enough for the child, yet profound enough for the sage. The good confession will never have to be revised. It is as high as heaven, as broad as God’s love, and as deep as his mercy.
IT ENDS ALL CONTROVERSY.—This plea for absolute personal loyalty to Jesus Christ will settle the question of Christian union. When all are won to him, all will be one in him. It will settle the question of the name his people shall wear, and the perplexing question of baptism. Absolute loyalty will seek to know the mind of Him who is Head of the church, to obey him and to wear his name alone. It will decide the question of missions, because no loyal soldier can refuse to carry out the final order of his great Captain. It will direct the disciple’s life, pleasures and daily walk, because absolute personal loyalty to Jesus Christ will constrain him to do only that which will honor His name. When the individual members of His church are directed by its head, then and not until then, will the church present a united effort for the overthrow of Satan’s power in the world, and its final redemption.
Whether conscious of it or not, this plea has unified the message of the ministry of the Churches of Christ as no other ministry is unified. We have no theological mould through which to run preachers, and yet all practically present the same message.
CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH.—In this divine plea Christ is Head of his church. (Col. i. 18.) Hence the church is His, or the Father’s. The possessive is never used in regard to the church as referring to any other name. In Christ’s plan there is no place for churches with human names. There is but one church, and if men and women are saved at all, it is because they are members of Christ’s body. Christ is the creed of his church, and because of loyalty to him we reject man-made creeds and human confessions of faith. Upon the eternal fact that he is the Son of God is his church established, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. It is belief in Christ that makes men Christians, not the belief of some doctrine about him. No man can knowingly believe in Jesus Christ without striving to obey him who is Head over all things to the church.
TERMS OF ADMISSION.—Since it is Christ’s church, he alone has the right to state the terms of admission to it.
1. Faith. It is personal, loving, loyal faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that saves, not philosophy or ritual (John iii. 16; Acts viii. 37; xvi. 31-33, et al.)
2. Repentance, beginning in godly sorrow and ending in a change of conduct, is the second demand of the “absolute Lord” (Acts ii. 38; II. Cor. vii. 9, 10).
3. The Good Confession. A public declaration of faith and allegiance is demanded by Jesus Christ, no less than by any other king, in order to become a member of His kingdom. This is a part of the plan of salvation given by the Lord. (Matt. x. 32-37; Rom. x. 10; I. Cor. vii. 9, 10.)
4. Baptism. This is, as designed by Jesus Christ, a burial in water and a resurrection to a new life. Here, in this act of loyal obedience, God has promised to meet us in the forgiveness of sins and in this we recognize every one fulfilling all righteousness as his child. (Matt. iii. 15-17; Acts xxii. 16; I. Pet. iii. 21.) By all authority in heaven and earth Christ commanded it, and nothing less can change it. Our insistence on this grows only out of an honest desire to be personally loyal to Jesus Christ. (Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 26; Acts ii. 38.) The only question for the honest inquirer is, “What did Jesus Christ mean?” (Rom. vi. 4, 5; Col. ii. 12; Acts viii. 38, 39; Matt. iii. 16.) This we will preach and do until he releases us.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.—When the disciple has been baptized, his life of loyal obedience has just begun. He has been born an heir of God, into the kingdom of God.
1. Loving Service. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” is the law of abiding in His presence. “As the Father hath sent me into the world, so send I you into the world,” are the words of our Christ to us. The life of the loyal church is the reincarnation of the Spirit of the Christ. (Matt. x. 25.)
2. The Ordinances. Personal loyalty to the Christ will bring together his church on the Lord’s Day to remember his death until he comes again. The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day, like baptism, show forth our faith in his death and resurrection which are pivotal facts of his gospel. (I. Cor. xv.) The only two ordinances that Christ left to his church speak in silent eloquence of his humiliation and exhaltation, and testify to the loyalty of his disciples.
3. Church Discipline. To do the will of Christ as revealed to us in God’s word is the only rule of discipline in the Church of Christ. (II. Tim. iii. 16, 17.) “What would Jesus have me do?” is the supreme question for each member of his church.
4. Church Government. Christ is Head of his body, the church; King of his church; Shepherd of his flock. He is to govern each loyal life. Each congregation is to select (not elect) holy men—men filled with the Holy Spirit—as elders, undershepherds of Christ; deacons, fellow-servants of Christ to minister to the church in his name. Evangelists, pastors and teachers are set apart for the work of the ministry in planting and building up churches as directed by the Holy Spirit through the Word.
SUMMARY.—In essentials, as revealed by Jesus Christ, we plead for unity; in matters of opinion and expediency, personal liberty; in all things, love and loyalty. Hence, “our plea,” which is not ours, but that of every true Christian, should be absolute personal loyalty to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in name, ordinances and life; the supremacy of his word; the consequent union of all his people; the speedy evangelization of the world and the manifestation of the Christ life and spirit in all his disciples. In fact, we plead for a realization of the ideals of the apostolic Christian Church.
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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard