Alexander Campbell and The Spirit of Ecumenicalism

Alexander Campbell circa 1830

Alexander Campbell circa 1830


Today would have been Alexander Campbell’s 226th birthday.  He was born September 12, 1788. Sadly, one will not see many, if any, references to this on newscasts, blogs or websites.  There are those who claim that Alexander Campbell was an ecumenical preacher.  This would depend on how one is using the term “ecumenical” though.

According to, the definition of “ecumenical” is:  adjective  1. general; universal.  2. pertaining to the whole Christian church.  3.  promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world.  4. of or pertaining to a movement (ecumenical movement) especially among Protestant groups since the 1800s, aimed at achieving universal Christian unity and church union through international interdenominational organizations that cooperate on matters of mutual concern.  5. interreligious or interdenominational: an ecumenical marriage. 6. including or containing a mixture of diverse elements or styles; mixed:an ecumenical meal of German, Italian, and Chinese dishes.” (“ecumenical.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 12 Sep. 2014. <>.)

Some use this term in a way that various religious groups may cooperate provided they agree on certain facts such as:  there is a God, Jesus is God’s Son, the Bible is God’s Word and some other fundamental points of agreement.  But, there are some doctrines that must be marginalized in the spirit of ecumenicalism.  So, these tend to dismiss other matters of New Testament doctrine as “differences of opinion” and such like.  These state they believe one can maintain their denominational organizations, retain their creeds, and yet be a part of the universal church.

Now, contrast this view of ecumenicalism with this statement by Alexander Campbell and see if it squares with those of the ecumenical persuasion of this generation:

“It is not uncommon for us to mistake living characters, and not less uncommon to mistake the characters of the dead. The Pauls of the Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Methodist. and Baptist churches are very unlike Paul the Apostle. The Presbyterian Paul sprinkled infants and consecrated meeting-houses; the Episcopalian Paul was an Archbishop with a mitre and a surplice; the Catholic Paul always had a vial of holy water in his pocket, and a walking-cane made of the wood of the cross, and was always repeating prayers to the immaculate Virgin; the Methodist Paul was President of a Conference of Clergy, and much addicted to sneezing and shouting, a great lover of camp-meetings, and excessively eccentric in his apparel; the Baptist Paul was a Bishop of four churches, and a friend of Saturday monthly meetings, and extremely fond of annual associations and advisory councils. I cannot enumerate how many Pauls nor how many peculiarities each possess; but one thing I know, that most of them differ as much from the Apostle Paul, as the statue of the Holy Virgin in St. Peter’s Church, differs from the daughter of Eli, the wife of Joseph” (Alexander Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 1, No. 2, February 1, 1830.)

Alexander Campbell advocated the abandonment of creeds, opinions, traditions of men and such.  He pleaded for men and women to come out of sectarianism and unite on the Bible alone.  Unity on God’s Word, the Bible, is what God desires and demands.  Any position that seeks union at the expense of truth would not be embraced by Alexander Campbell and those who hold these truths.