The signature gathering marking the 100th anniversary of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address took place in Pittsburgh in October 1909. It was called the Centennial Convention of the Disciples of Christ.
Here is a summary of the keynote sermon from Oct. 11, opening night of the convention. I. J. Spencer, minister with Central Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., preached on “Centralization in Christ; or, The Sovereignty of Jesus.”
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The Keynote Sermon
By I. J. Spencer;
Oct. 16, 1909; p. 11
I thought at first of love as a fitting theme for a “keynote sermon,” but Christ is greater than love. The reins of all authority are in his hands. By him all things were created and in him all things consist. He is infinitely greater than all the patriarchs and prophets. He is the glory and the life of the Scriptures themselves. He is the Word made flesh, God’s most perfect revelation. To see him, as he declared, was to see the Father. His name is called “the Word of God,” and on his thigh is written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
He was the constant and sufficient theme of apostolic preaching and teaching. He was greater far than all that might be written about him. In his name the apostles met Judaism, paganism, sectarianism, false philosophy, apostasy, licentiousness, worldliness and antichrist, and overcame them.
He is Lord also of the Holy Spirit, whom he promised to send to his disciples. The Spirit would not testify of himself, but of Jesus; would not glorify himself, but Jesus. He would convict the world of sin because it believed not on Jesus, and would take of the things of Christ and show them unto the apostles. No wonder that, after they were endued with power at Pentecost, they preached and taught nothing but Jesus, for they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and could preach and teach of nothing else.
All the ordinances and commandments of the New Testament depend for their meaning and efficacy upon him. The Christian faith terminates upon a person—even the Lord Jesus. The confession is a confession of faith in him. The goodness of God in Christ is the supreme motive in leading men to repentance. Baptism is nothing without Christ. Paul was shocked at the very thought of baptism into any other name than that of Jesus. Without faith in the risen Christ, baptism were nothing more than “the putting away of the filth of the flesh.”
The church, also, is nothing without him, who is its founder, its heart and its head; its foundation, illumination and great reward. The holy Supper depends for its sacredness and value upon the remembrance of Jesus, the discernment of his body and blood, and the showing forth of his death. The solution of the question as to how to observe the first day of the week, is simply to keep it “as unto the Lord.” Our hymnology needs the regenerating and inspirational Spirit of Christ. Prayer, to be successful, requires as its “one thing needful,” that it shall be offered in the name of Christ. The supreme motive in giving one’s substance and self is, that Jesus commands it and sets the example.
All authorized pleading for Christian union is for union, not on human creeds, nor even on the Bible, but for union upon Christ Jesus himself. He is the only foundation of the church and of Christian unity as well. The ground of reconciliation to God is also the ground of the reconciliation among believers, binding them the one to the other. “He is our peace” who hath broken down the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, making of the twain one new man. As he himself, and not the Scriptures, was the basis or bond of union between Jews and Gentiles, so he must be the foundation of union among Christian people forever. As the Christian faith is not doctrinal, but personal, so union must be personal and not doctrinal—founded upon the personal Lord and Saviour.
All creeds, slogans, mottoes and opinions, as well as faith, must be put under the authority of the Lord Jesus. Every thought and imagination should be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. The Scriptures do not teach that if our faith be subject to Christ our opinions may be free from Christ. The only liberty of opinion or faith is found in Christ. Any plea that contains less than Jesus’ plea contains too little. Any plea that contains more contains too much. Any plea that contains the same as his plea, is his plea, and should be confessed.
There is danger in human creeds, human names and likewise in human mottoes, especially when they crystalize into Shibboleths. The motto, “Where the Scriptures speak we speak, and where the Scriptures are silent we are silent,” was a splendid one for the day in which it was born, when human creeds bound men’s consciences more than the word of God bound them. But it now requires careful and constant explanation to prevent its abuse. It would be better to declare that “all authority, in heaven and on earth, is given unto Jesus Christ.”
“We would see Jesus,” said the Greeks that came up to Jerusalem. The world still desire’s the vision. It is hungry for bread, shall we give it a stone? Multitudes are still like sheep going astray, and Jesus in compassion would teach them and lead them. Shall we not bring them to him? The people are still weary and heavy laden. Let us invite them to Jesus for rest. There are those who still search the Scriptures and think that in them they have eternal life, and they will not come to Christ, the Lord of the Bible, that they may have life.
The Bible, apart from Christ, who is its life, is like his garments after the crucifixion. There was no virtue in them. But the Bible with Christ immanent, with Christ the very spirit of its prophecy, is like the garment which the diseased woman touched and straightway was made whole.
We read that upon the Saviour’s head were many crowns. The patriarchs and prophets, apostles and angels, and all the redeemed, will crown him Lord of all. The Father will say, “This is my beloved Son. Hear ye him.” . . .
[Conclusion] Nor do I think the Scriptures then will die. Their words will glow in the glory of the throne, and our cleansed eyes shall see new beauty upon every sacred page. They still will testify of Jesus, and we still will ponder with delight their wondrous depths of wisdom, while our Lord himself still will be their great Interpreter.
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In 1909, of course, clashes and disagreements between conservative and liberal sectors of our churches were occurring. The Centennial Convention appealed for unity. A full-page ad for the event in the Oct. 2, 1909, issue, stated: “Crowning a Century of Consecrated Effort for the Evangelization of the World and a Realization of the Prayer of the Christ, ‘that they may all be one.”
—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard
In 2009, Bob Russell, Marvin Phillips and I spoke in Pittsburgh to a crowd of about 1,000 in commemoration if this historic event.