Today we feature another item from a series that appeared throughout 1909, a year Christian Standard was celebrating “One Hundred Years—A Century of Progress in America’s Greatest Christian Union Movement.” The magazine devoted an issue each month that year to articles explaining our movement, its history, and our beliefs.
The item we shared Jan. 10 was J. W. McGarvey’s personal reminiscences of Thomas Campbell (printed in the Jan. 9, 1909, issue).
This month we focus on a portion of correspondence written by Christian Standard founding editor Isaac Errett. In January 1909, the magazine published—republished, actually—part one of “Historico-Doctrinal Sketch of the Disciples.” Today, we share a portion of part two of that article/correspondence, which appeared Feb. 13, 1909.
The preface to the “sketch” helps set the scene:
Early in 1871 the following sketch was prepared by Isaac Errett in response to an invitation from the editor of the Liberal Christian, a Unitarian publication in Boston. It was printed in that journal and also in the Christian Standard during the year. The five hundred thousand communicants of 1871 have grown to twelve hundred thousand in 1909, and, since the secret of this vital energy is well told in the sketch, we commend it as worthy of a rereading on this Centennial of the movement it describes!
We’re not going to reprint the entire “Historico-Doctrinal Sketch,” but I will share a small portion of it, though I suspect some may find it a tad too “basic” for this feature. Then again, I believe a straightforward “God and Bible 101” approach holds great appeal to many, especially in a world virtually drowning in religions and religious interpretations.
And so, here are the final few paragraphs of part two of Errett’s sketch.
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February 13, 1909
Historico-Doctrinal Sketch of the Disciples
By Isaac Errett
. . . We are now prepared to present a statement of the positions held and taught by the Disciples, in their separate character as a distinct religious people. It is, of course, not offered in the shape of a creed, subscription to which would be insisted on in order to membership in their churches; but as a statement for general information, of what may be deemed their peculiarities. It is not claimed that every one in their ranks would accept this as the best statement that could be made; yet the writer is confident that the great mass of his brethren will agree, in the main, to the correctness of his statements.
The Bible they regard as containing the only authoritative revelation of the will of God to man. But while they admit the inspiration and indispensable value of the Old Testament, they regard the New Testament as alone the book of authority under the Christian dispensation. In the progressive development of the plan of redemption, the Patriarchal and Jewish dispensations had, in turn, authority and efficacy—in the former, the head of the family being, under God, the lawgiver to those under his charge, while in the latter—the national form of religious development—Moses was the appointed lawgiver. But now in the ecumenical character that religion has assumed under the gospel dispensation, Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King—the fountain of life and of authority; and as his teachings and laws are contained in the New Testament, this alone is a book of authority. We go to the Old Testament for history, biography, prophecy, poetry and devotion; but when we inquire what to do to be saved, or what is the will of God to us in any particular, we seek the answer in the New Testament.
But the New Testament is made up of different books, written for different purposes. The first four books are books of testimony—the sources of faith (which must rest on testimony) in Christ Jesus. Here we gain the knowledge of Jesus and his work of redemption, and learn to trust in him as our Lord and Saviour. “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20).
But the Jewish law was in force all through the life of Jesus—he had not yet obtained authority to reign. The next book—Acts of the Apostles—announces his exaltation to kingly power, the proclamation of his gospel of salvation, the law of pardon which was to obtain in all nations and to the end of the Christian age, the planting of the first church of Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 2), and the preaching of his gospel to Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, showing what that gospel is, how it is to be preached, how sinners may be converted and pardoned, and how churches were established and fostered.
Then, the Epistles, written to Christians, teach all who are thus converted to Christ how they are to live as Christians—their duties in all the relations of life, their trials, their dangers, their sources of comfort, strength and victory.
Finally, the Apocalypse reveals the fortunes of the church through the ages, and the final destiny of men.
It thus becomes a plain book, in the main easily understood, and all-sufficient to make the sinner wise unto salvation, and to furnish the man of God unto all good works.
They regard God, in the full revelation of the gospel, as made known in the threefold manifestation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While they discard the creed language respecting the Trinity as unauthorized and often absurd, and insist, on this transcendently awful and glorious theme, that we shall be satisfied with the language of inspiration, they do not doubt the divinity of the Son or the personality of the Holy Spirit. Yet, determined not to be wise above what is written, they offer no separate worship to the Spirit, as there are no examples of it in the Scriptures; but worship the Father through the Son, by the aid of the Spirit. The Father they regard as the fountain of wisdom, grace and love, from whom all the blessings of salvation flow. The Son is the “Word made flesh”—Son of Mary, Son of God—Immanuel, God manifest in the flesh. While in his person he is the anointed Prophet, Priest and King, to enlighten, redeem and govern apostate man. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and he is made unto us “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” Our faith rests on a person, not on doctrines. Who he is, what he has done for us, and what we are to do for him, are the great questions of the Christian religion. The Holy Spirit is the great Revealer, Advocate and Comforter—making known, through apostles, the whole counsel of God concerning Jesus, to convict the world of sin, sustaining his claims by demonstrations of power, and dwelling in the hearts of God’s children as a divine comforter, the earnest of the heavenly inheritance.
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Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard