We answer paradoxically. The distinctive about this Christian church is that it has no distinctives. In fact we deliberately seek not to be different, because our goal is unity, no division. Christianity has suffered long enough from deep divisions separating denomination from denomination, Christian from Christian. When Jesus prayed “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21), He had us in mend. In the spirit of His prayer we see unity with all others in Christ.
Obviously that desire is difficult to achieve. Human nature resists oneness. We seem to believe with Robert Frost that “good fences make good neighbors,” even though something within us “doesn’t love a wall, [but] wants it down.” God desires unity, however, so it must be possible.
Christian churches trace their modern origins to the early nineteenth-century American frontier, a period of militancy among denominations. America’s pioneers brought their deeply rooted religious convictions to the new land and perpetuated their old animosities. Presbyterian squared off against Anglican who defended himself against Baptist who had no toleration for Lutheran. A reaction to this mutual animosity was inevitable.
When it came the reaction was spontaneous. A group of New England Christians broke out of denominationalism, announcing their intention to follow the Bible only. Other groups also felt the spirit of unity moving them to stand with and not against, fellow Christians. The early leaders of what later came to be called the Restoration Movement believed unity in Christ was – and is – possible. To achieve it required letting go of human traditions and loyalties to dynamic personalities. Christ alone could be exalted. l the ideal of the church that emerges from the pages of the New Testament must be the standard for today’s congregations.
The Declaration and Address, published by Thomas Campbell in 1809, set forth principles that sound a modern as today to New Testament Christians (Adapted from Leroy Lawson, The Family of God – Standard Publishing, 1980):
- That the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place the profess their faith in Christ and obedience to Him in all things according to the Scriptures …
- That … There ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among local congregations.
- that … 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.
- That … The New Testament is as perfect constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament church, and as perfect a rule of the particular duties of its members; as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline and government of the Old Testament church …
- That … No human authority has power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined.
- there are more propositions but these are enough to show Campbell’s unusual good judgment. From this day until now, millions of others have decided they also wanted to be Christians only, without the complications of denominations.