Contents The Christian System
by Alexander Campbell



I. SCHISMS and heresies are matters strongly reprobated in the Christian Scriptures. That they may be guarded against with due care, they must be contemplated and understood in their true and proper scriptural attributes. We shall therefore first attempt to define them.

II. The term schism is found but eight times in the apostolic writings. When applied to a garment, Matth. ix. 16., Mark ii. 21.,  it is properly translated rent; applied to a concourse of people, John vii. 43., ix., 16., x. 19,  it is translated division; when applied to the church by Paul, 1 Cor. i. 10., xi. 18., xii. 25., it denotes division or alienation-not on account of faith, doctrines, or opinions-but on account of men as leaders or chiefs among the brethren. So the connections in which it is found always indicate. It is a division as respects internal union, or the union of heart and affection, only tending to a breach of visible or outward union, and therefore reprobated by the Apostle. Such are its New Testament acceptations.

III. Schisms may then exist where there is the most perfect agreement in faith, in doctrine, in all religious tenets. Undue attachment to certain persons, to the disparagement of others, partial regards because of personal preferences, are the true elements of schism or division as it appeared in Corinth, and as the word is used in the New Testament. But few persons, now-a-days, can correctly appreciate the force of the word schisms in the apostolic age, because but a very few experimentally know the intimacies, the oneness of heart and soul, that obtained and prevailed in the Christian profession, while all was genuine and uncorrupt. A union formed on Christian principles-a union with Christ and his people, in views, sentiments, feelings, aims, and pursuits-a real copartnery for eternity, almost annihilated individuality itself, and inseparably cemented into one spirit all the genuine members of Christ's body. Kindred drops do not more readily mingle into one mass, than flowed the souls of primitive Christians together in all their aspirations, loves, delights, and interests. Hence arose the jealousy in the Apostle Paul when first he learned that particular persons in Corinth began to attract to themselves notice and attachment for mere personal, individual, and fleshly considerations, as leaders or chiefs in the Christian family.   In these indications he already saw the dissolution of the church. Although yet but one visible community, having one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one table, one ostensible supreme and all-controlling interest; still, in these attachments to particular persons he not only saw a real division or breach in the hearts of the people, but foresaw that it would issue in positive, actual, and visible disunion or heresy. And here we are led to inquire into the scriptural import of the word heresy.

IV. Hairesis, strictly and literally indicative of choice or option, is anglicised heresy, and properly rendered sect or faction, and by implication discord and contention. It is found only nine times in the New Testament. In the Acts of the Apostles, v. 17., we have it rendered "the sect of the Sadducees;"-xv. 5.c 15:, "the sect of the Pharisees;"-xxiv. 5., "the sect of the Nazarenes;"-xxiv. 14., "after the way which they call heresy (sect,) so worship I," says Paul;-xxvi. 5., "after the most strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee;"-xxviii. 22., "as for this sect (of the Christians) we know that it is everywhere spoken against." Besides these six occurrences we find it twice used by Paul in his epistles, and once by Peter. 1 Cor. xi. 19., "For there must be heresies (sects) among you." Gal. v. 20., "Sedition, heresies." 2 Peter ii. 1., "Shall bring in damnable heresies." In the common version it is, then, five times rendered sect, and four times heresy.

V. As the word sect or heresy, found only in the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles, does not always in the former simply mean a party, without any regard to its tenets, the term has nothing in it either reproachful or honourable - nothing virtuous or vicious. Hence it is equally applied to Pharisees, Sadducees, Nazarenes, or Christians, without any insinuation as the character of the party. It is only once rendered heresy in the "Acts," and in that place it ought most obviously to have been sect. Paul had been accused by Tertullus with the crime of being "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." Now in vindicating himself from any censure in this case, he ought to have met the charge under the same title. This he did in the original; for in verse 5th, in the indictment, and in verse 14th, in his defence, we have the same word hairesis. How injudicious, then, was it on the part of our translators and the Vulgate to make Tertullus accuse Paul of a sect, and to make Paul defend himself of a heresy, when both Tertullus and Paul used the same word in their speeches as reported by Luke in the original!

VI. In the new version this word is, as it should be, uniformly rendered sect. In the Epistles, and apparently once in Acts, it is used as though it included an idea of censure or guilt. Paul defends himself from the accusation of Tertullus. Here, then, a question arises-"Why should the term hairesis import blame in its Christian, and none in its Jewish acceptation? We answer, Because among the Jews sects or parties did not terminate as among Christians, in separate communities or communions. They resembled the high and low church parties in the Episcopalian communion; or the different and numerous sects among the Romanists, - viz.: Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, etc. which never terminate in a breach of communion or co-operation as one church. Thus the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, etc. frequented the same temple, altar, priesthood, and united in all the same acts of worship. Not so the Jews and Samaritans: they were real sects in the Christian sense. Again, among the Jews the bond of union was national and fleshly; and, therefore, parties could not destroy it. With us it is spiritual, social, cordial-one faith, one hope, one spirit; and parties are destructive in the superlative degree.

VII. To this view there is but one plausible objection; and that we meet in the answer to the question, Why did Paul defend himself from the accusation of Tertullus as indicating censure, if sects among the Jews were such harmless and inoffensive things? We answer, There is no blame in the simple imputation of a sect, but in the ideas which Tertullus connected with it. The Romans had agreed to protect the Jews in the enjoyment of their religion, and they wished in the presence of Felix to make Paul appear an apostate from that religion-"a pestilent fellow, a mover of sedition, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes"-that he might be from under the protection granted to the Jews' religion. From this view only can we see the wisdom of Paul's defence. He admits the charge of being a sectary, but in no criminal sense-worshipping the same God with them, believing also every word in their law and Prophets, and cherishing the same hope of a future life in the resurrection of the dead; and thus evinces that nothing offensive or criminal could be imputed to him on account of his being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

VIII. In the Christian epistles it is, however, used in a bad sense, and is always connected with censure. This may have been the reason why King James' version changes the translation into heresies, or as in the case of baptism, bishop, etc., anglicises rather than translates the word. It is not, however, a good or sufficient reason, because it necessarily imposes upon the English reader that heresy in the epistles, and sect in the Acts of the Apostles, are two distinct and different things; and this, of course, not only obscures those passages, but also prevents the clear intelligence of a matter essential to our duty and our happiness. The acceptation, however, is not materially different in the epistles, except in the relation of things. When the word sect is connected with a proper name, such as the sect of the Pharisees, the sect of the Sadducees, or the sect of the Christians, it is used in a middle sense, neither as intimating truth or error, good or evil; but if it be applied to a party formed in a community which admits of no division or subdivision in its nature, because necessarily tending to its corruption and destruction; then, in that relation and sense, a sect is a destructive and condemnable thing. Now in the Epistles it is always taken in this sense, and is ranked with factions, as a work of the flesh, carnal and destructive, and doomed to the judgments of Heaven.

IX. Still, in its scriptural application, whether used by Luke, Paul, or Peter and it is found in no other writer, it never relates to doctrine, tenet, opinion, or faith. There is not, in sacred usage, any tenet, or doctrine, which is called heresy or sect. Hence that ecclesiastical definition, viz.-"Heresy denotes some erroneous opinion, tenet, or doctrine obstinately persisted in," is without any countenance from the New Testament. Heresy and heretical, in the lips of Paul and Peter, and in the lips of an ancient or modern schoolman, or churchman, are to very different things.

X. But some allege that any doctrine that makes division is heretical, and therefore condemnable. It may be admitted, for the sake of argument, that any doctrine or action that makes division is heretical or divisive; but on this account it is not condemnable; because in that sense Jesus Christ was a heretic and his gospel heresy: for he came to make divisions on earth,  and did make a sect; and of course, his doctrine is divisive or heretical.

XI. Now if we say Jesus was a heretic, and his gospel heresy, and his followers sectaries, does not this divest the word of any bad or culpable significance, and make both heretics, heresies, and sects innocent things! It does, so far as all without Christ's kingdom or institution are concerned. But this is the all-important difference in this place; Christians, contradistinguished from Jews, Mussulmans, Pagans, Infidels, are lawfully, righteously, and innocently a sect, a heresy: but a sect among these is corrupt, treasonable, and most reprehensible, according to every precept, doctrine, and saying of the New Institution. Thus a man may be a Christian, or of the sect of the NAZARENE, but not a Lutheran, a Calvinist, an Arminian, without blame.

XII. The words schisms and heresy so far explained, may we not regard schism as the cause, and heresy as the effect? or, in other words, must we not regard sects as the effects of schisms? The philosophy of the whole matter, then, is, that separation is the effect of alienation of heart, alienation the fruit of rival attachments, which in the church generally begin in personal sympathies or personal antipathies, and end in detaching the subjects of them from the body of Christ. In this view of the matter Paul seems to reason, 1 Cor. xi. 18, 19.-"There are schisms among you-for there must be sects among you, that the approved may be made manifest." The schisms in Corinth began in particular predilections for great teachers; such as Paul, Apollos, Cephas. These preferences violated that unity of spirit, that oneness of heart essential to one body in Christ; and that led to parties in the church, displayed in the manner they celebrated the supper. The same spirit in other communities ultimately led to visible separations and distinct sects, as among the professed members of Christ's body at the present day.

XIII. Paul, in commenting on this most ancient schism, further observes, that there must, of necessity, be sects in such a state of things, that "the approved may be made manifest." So true it is that all strifes, contentions, parties, and sects grow out of corruption. Sects are the egress of corruptions. The approved hold to Christ, and thus become manifest; the disapproved follow human leaders, and are also made manifest. There appears no other cure for a corrupt and mixed community than heresies or sects. It is as wise and benevolent a provision in a remedial system, that incurable corruption should work out in this way, as that law in the animal kingdom which forces to the surface all unfriendly humours, and congregates into swellings and biles those vicious particles which would otherwise vitiate the whole system, and fatally terminate in the ruin of the body.

XIV. Men, indeed, do not fall in love with Paul, Peter, and Cephas, in the partizan sense, till they have lost some of their love for Christ. Hence the first indication of personal regards, or of sectarian attachment, is the first proof of declension, backsliding, or apostasy. The partizan attachment is of the essence of the first sin, and carries deeply concealed in its core the first element of hatred. Thus we observe that he loves that Wesley for any sectarian attribute, hates Calvin just in ratio of his attachment to his leader; as he who loves Calvin for his humanisms hates Wesley for opposing them. While he that loves only what is Christian in the two, in no sense hates either; but grieves for the errors and delinquencies of both. If for no other reason, we ought most devoutly and ardently to eschew partyism; for this it ought to be abjured, viz.-that our hatred of one party will always be in the ratio of our love for its antagonist; and in all such cases both our love and our hatred are obnoxious to the reprobation of God, and lie, indeed, under the doom of his express condemnation.

XV. On this account we presume it is that the next place we find this word hairesis, and the only time it is again found in Paul's epistles, it stands immediately after "factions" and before "envyings" and "murders," in Paul's enumeration and classification of the works of the flesh, Gal. v. 20,  the perpetrators of which Paul strongly and repeatedly affirmed, shall not "enter into the kingdom of God." He says, "The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these-fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, sorcery, enmities, strifes, emulations, wraths, brawlings, factions, sects, envyings, murders, intoxication," etc. etc. Every sectary is, then, Paul being in the chair of judgment, a fleshly man, and without the precincts of the kingdom of God. A severe judgment, truly! How shall we understand it?-!

XVI. It is now still more evident that heresies are not mere opinions, tenets, doctrines, or theories; for who will affirm that opinions, tenets, or theories, as such, are works of the flesh? Or who will say that fleshly principles are the roots or reasons of mere opinions, tenets, or theories, etc.? Corrupt opinions, indeed, may be more naturally propagated or received by corrupt men; but to make opinions or tenets, even those sectarian opinions on which some parties are founded, works of the flesh, is to confound mental imbecility or a defective education, with depravity of heart; for nothing can be called a work of the flesh that partakes not of the corruptions of the heart. Hairesis in this place, then, means sects, as it always does in the New Testament.

XVII. Still the question recurs, Are all religious sects works of the flesh? Paul makes no exceptions. We dare not. He speaks not of philosophic, political, or foreign factions and sects; but of those appertaining to the Christian institution. Among the Jews Paul himself was a Pharisee; among the political castes he was a Roman; but in religion he was a Christian; not a Calvinist, Arminian, or Methodist; but a Christian. Indeed, Paul himself, in his history of sectaries, or of the founders and makers of religious parties, traces all their zeal and effort to the stomach, rather than to the conscience, or love of truth. "Mark them," says he, "who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have received, and avoid them; for such persons do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by flattery and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." Surely such sectaries and sects are "the works of the flesh."

XVIII. But here we ought to define a factionist and a sectary, since now a days we have some sectarians that are not factionists, and some factionists and factions that are more than mere sectaries. The factionist, or as Paul calls him, the "heretic," makes the faction. The faction are those who take part with him. While the ordinary sectaries are those who are simply led by the heretic, beguiled by his flatteries and fair speeches, without any sinister motive impelling their course. There are many sectarians who, in the simplicity of their hearts, imagine their party to be the true and only church of Christ, and therefore conscientiously adhere to it. There are others who think that no party is the church of Christ, but that he has a church in all parties-an invisible church-to which they think themselves to belong, and therefore fraternize with all of a similar stamp in all parties so far as known to them. These differ much from the schismatics, heretics, and factionists of Paul. Those either made, or laboured to keep up, a party or a sect; and all such persons are corrupt fleshly men; because, from pride of their own opinion, from emulation, ambition, or the love of money, they are prompted to create or to keep up a faction or sect favourable to their views and interests. These serve their own appetites and mind earthly things. But a great mass of sectaries are following, as they imagine, Jesus Christ and his Apostles, under the name and tenets of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc. They are, without knowing it, the mere followers of men: for they examine nothing for themselves by a constant and habitual reference to the Bible.

XIX. Now, what may be the amount of carnality and fleshly or worldly influence that keeps them there, and what may be the amount of long-suffering and forgiveness exercised towards them from heaven, I presume not to dogmatize; but that the factionist - the person who makes a party, and he who labours to keep it up, are certainly earthly, sensual, and demoniacal; and, as such, not of the kingdom of God, we cannot but assert as a conviction deep and rational, derived from the most impartial examination of the sacred scriptures - from the clearest and most ample testimony of the Holy Spirit, speaking to us in the words of Prophets and Apostles.

XX. The Christian party are "built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, and on Jesus the Messiah, himself the chief corner stone," and therefore on the Christian Scriptures alone; not, indeed, as contradistinguished from the Jewish, but as the development and full revelation of all that concerns Christ and his kingdom contained in those scriptures. Now, all other parties that are in any way diverse from the Christian party are built upon some alloy-some creed, formula, or human institution supplementary to the apostolic laws and customs. This alloy is what makes the party. So many items of the Apostles' doctrine and so many notions of Calvin combined produce the compound called Calvinism. So many items of Luther's opinions, compounded with the Apostles' teaching, make Lutheranism. And so many portions of Wesley's speculations, compounded with certain portions of the New Testament, make the compound called Methodism. The Christian ingredients in these compounds, so far as they are not neutralized by the human alloy, make the Christians among them; while the alloy makes the sectary. Take away all that belongs to the founder of the sect in all these parties, and they would certainly coalesce and form one community.

XXI. Now, we do not suppose that there is the same guilt in forming a new Protestant party that there was in first of all forming the Roman Catholic, the Greek, or any of the ancient sects. The modern sects have been got up with the desire of getting back to primitive Christianity; the ancient sects arose directly from the lust of power-from fleshly, selfish, and worldly motives. Now, however, since we have so largely eaten of the gall and wormwood, of the bitter fruits of sects and parties; and have learned the cause, the cure, and the preventive of sectarianism, alas for all that are found keeping up the old landmarks of strife, or laying the foundation for new rivalries, partialities, and antipathies, to arise and pollute many, to retard the progress of the gospel abroad, and to foster the spirit of infidelity at home.

XXII. There remains another occurrence of hairesis (sect) in the writings of Peter, not yet formally examined. We shall now specially consider it. This Apostle says, "There shall be false teachers among you, who will privately introduce destructive sects, denying even the Lord that bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction; and many will follow their bad practices." Paul, in his valedictory to the Ephesians, also speaks of "grievous wolves devouring the flock, and of men rising out of their own society to draw away disciples after them, speaking perverse things." From these intimation we learn that the Apostles Paul and Peter foresaw the rise of sectaries and sects; and both of them, it is worthy of remark, distinctly connected the sects with sectarian teachers: for all sects have been originated by false teachers or by corrupt men. Sectaries, it would appear, occupy the same place under Christ that false Prophets filled under Moses. Need we, then, infer the danger of keeping up religious sects, or go on to prove that every one who builds up a party is a partaker of the crime with him who set it up?

XXIII. It behoves all men, then, who wish to be approved by the Lord at his coming, to be up and doing to purge and cleanse the Christian profession from every root and branch of sectarianism, and to endeavour to destroy those destructive sects that have been a sort of Pandora's box to the human race; that have filled the profession with hypocrites, the world with infidels, and retarded for so many centuries the conversion of both Jews and Gentiles to the Christian faith.

XXIV. Finally, while endeavouring to abolish the old sects, let us be cautious that we form not a new one. This may be done by either adding to, or subtracting from, the apostolic constitution a single item. Our platform must be as long and as broad as the New Testament. Every person that the Apostles would receive, if present, we must receive; and therefore the one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one hope, one body, one Spirit, one God and Father of all, must be made the reason of one, and only one table.

XXV. Factionists, or opinionists, or those who seek to attach men to themselves, because of their opinions or talents, or personal accidents, whatever they may be, are to be regarded as the very roots of bitterness in the Christian church-as seeking their own interests, honours, and profits, and not the things of Jesus Christ. By such spirits as these the ancient schisms and sects began; and by kindred spirits, of which every generation can furnish its proper ratios, they are kept alive. All such persons have not the power of effecting much; but now and then arises and succeeds in drawing away disciples after him. We can suggest no better remedies or preventives than those commanded by the Apostles. Let us hold fast their traditions; contend only for the faith; allow differences of opinion; suffer no dogmatists; countenance none of the disciples of Diotrephes; and walk by love, guided by that wisdom which is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be persuaded, full of mercy and of good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."

XXVI. From the preceding inductions, it will appear, we presume, very evident to all, that we need neither telescopes nor microscopes to detect heresies in the New Testament sense of that word. They are neither more nor less than sects-plain, palpable sects and parties. Every party in Christendom, without respect to any of its tenets, opinions, or practices, is a heresy, a schism-unless there be such a party as stands exactly upon the Apostles' ground. Then, in that case, it is a sect just in the sense of the old sect of the Nazarenes, afterwards called Christians, and all others are guilty before the Lord, and must be condemned for their opposition to Christ's own party; whose party we are, provided we hold fast all, and only all apostolic traditions, and build upon the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.

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