A little over a week ago, I posted a two-part tale called “Based on a True Story.” If you missed them, here are the links:
Yesterday, I filled in for a friend, and taught his class on Restoration Movement History, and it was all about the same story I blogged on, only in my two posts, I just told the story of what happened, in the class, I took a somewhat more academic approach to the subject, discussing the exact premises, and the ramification they caused, and after the class, an amazing thing happened that I’d like to share at the end of this post.
First, more about the story: The Restoration Movement began as a unity movement led by (among others) a couple of guys named Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Father and son, they began something that was designed to be an attempt at Christian unity, back in the early 19th century, and they had these three main presuppositions (or premises). First, that the church could be united if they followed the model of the first century church as it is revealed in the New Testament. Second, that the Bible is the only source of wisdom or insight (reliable source of information) about God. Finally, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Their thinking was that Christians should unite where the Bible gives commands or guidance, but in other matters, we can have our own opinions, and in this way, we can return to being a united Body of Christ.
As I mentioned previously, this movement spread widely in North America and traveled to Europe and beyond. One of the members of this group, a man named Tolbert Fanning, established Franklin Bible College in 1840 in Franklin, Tennessee. Fanning became a well-respected man and eventually came up with and published an additional presupposition that became rather popular, particularly in the South, and led to the eventual division of the unity movement founded by the Campbells, it read: “Anything not specifically approved by the New Testament is unnecessary, hence sinful.”
Fanning’s presupposition was undoubtedly written with the good intent of curbing some of the more outrageous opinions that people will sometimes hold, but it had consequences that went into an entirely different direction, and the reason I bring it up again, is that presuppositions are the part of a systematic theology that most people come to assume but never really examine. The consequence for the Restoration Movement was discord and division, things about which the New Testament is not silent. The consequences for people were worse, they lost all concept of the freedom that we have in Christ. Following Christ became a burden for many because they came to believe that they were unable to do most things, that the love of Christ was a rule book, and not empowering. Many had to deal with church leaders who used this thought to control and dictate, rather than to disciple… for in the final analysis, it cancelled out Campbell’s presupposition of unity and freedom.
When you are listening to Bible teachers, BEWARE THE UNSPOKEN PRESUPPOSITION! This is how very logical teaching becomes false teaching! By the way, the same thing applies to politicians…
Oh, did I mention that the people in the class I was teaching were largely people who were taught Fanning’s views? They are used to quoting Campbell, they had never heard of Fanning… but their understanding of Campbell was entirely different from Campbell’s intention… thanks to Fanning!
Afterwards, a lady came up to me and said something I wasn’t expecting: “Don, I wanted to thank you for setting me free.” To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement, but she went on to tell me of the kinds of things she had always believed she wasn’t allowed to do, and the toll it had taken in her life, and as she did so, even I could see the joy on her face at being “set free.”
She isn’t the only one who grew up in this kind of atmosphere, and who in many ways were robbed of the joy that we have in relationship with Christ, when made to carry the burden of man’s folly.