Final Thoughts on Great Communion 2009

Written by Joel on October 2nd, 2009
It's the Great Communion, Charlie Brown

It's the Great Communion, Charlie Brown

thanks Selina B Campbell via twitter for the image idea.

As stated in a previous post, Great Communion will be celebrated this Sunday October 4, 2009 within some Restoration Churches in honor of the bicentennial of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address [paraphrase]. We also recall a similar Great Communion celebration for the 100 year anniversary of its publication in 1909.

The most well remembered portion of the document is the 13 propositions, nearly half-way in. The first of which is often quoted in its entirety:

“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 of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.”

The scope of D&A is the Church universal, the focus is Christ. Thomas Campbell constantly points beyond himself, and beyond any movement he is given credit for founding. The document is by no means a “constitution” for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) nor for any other of the Restoration Churches. Quite explicitly, Campbell again points beyond himself and beyond the present document calling the New Testament, not the Declaration and Address, the constitution for the church (prop 4).

Rev. Ken Collins puts it quite well in a recent email. “Our denominational name contains ‘Christ’ not once, but twice. We have taken His name. Twice. Have we taken it in vain?…We are the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), not the Campbell Church (Disciples of Stone).”

Celebrating The Declaration and Address undoes it; celebrating the man who wrote it dishonors his intent. It is interesting to note that the first Great Communion was celebrated in the context of the schisms which split the Restoration Movement in the first place – in 1906 the United States religious census listed the Churches of Christ as a separate entity. What might be the result of this second Great Communion celebration? Hopefully there will be no desire for a tricentennial celebration for Campbell’s Declaration & Address, that perhaps his hope will be attained – that we will “Sink into the universal church”[Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery]  and Christ’s prayer will be answered “That they may be one.” (John 17:11)

In the meantime, let us avoid the contradiction of celebrating a document that was not meant to establish a new denomination and a man who would rather have us focus on Christ.

[CORRECTION: I wrongly attributed The Declaration and Address to Alexander Campbell. It was written by Thomas Campbell. I made the corrections in this post.]


5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sometimes we need to heal the divisions that exist within the immediate family. I’m sharing in a service that will bring together people from all three traditions. I believe this is in the Spirit of the vision Thomas Campbell enunciated 2 centuries back.

    • Joel says:

      I am all for “starting at home” in the quest for Christian Unity. I question the method however – that is via Great Communion and celebration of a early 19th century document. I think it is a bit anachronistic to say Campbell wrote the D&A to heal the divisions within his own movement, none of three strands existed yet.

      It appears that most of what Campbell was calling for has been achieved. In (many) Protestant Christian communions inter-communion is easily attained. I am a Disciple who has licitly received Eucharist in Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran churches. The ex-communion based on denominational affiliation largely doesn’t exist. It is ironic that some of the biggest offenders of ex-communicating fellow Christians is often among the Restoration Churches themselves. That is why I believe we need to move beyond (behind?) just the Stone-Campbell movement to discover the universal church and our particular place in it, and then our relationship among one another.

      Thanks Bob, please let me know how your Great Communion celebration goes – I do want to be optimistic here and find the benefits of the celebration.

  2. Hey Joel,

    It went great! And we did experience healing/reconciliation. There is, especially among some Church of Christ folk, to build bridges. Not sure why that is a bad thing!

  3. Joel says:

    That’s wonderful news, I’m glad it went well for you.

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