THE RESTORATION LEADERS AND THE LIMITS OF THEIR INFLUENCE
The men who down through the ages have pled for the original ground of the New Testament are certainly deserving of our respect and appreciation. Their insights into biblical teaching are worthy of our reading and study, and from them we may learn much concerning the will of God. But we must remember that they were fallible men, capable of erring with reference to various matters. Neither Stone, Campbell, Scott, Smith, McGarvey, Lard, Lipscomb, Harding, Boles, Brewer, Hardeman, Wallace, Nichol, Nichols, Cogdill, Woods, nor any other mortal man is our authority in religion. That right belongs to Christ and to Him alone (Matthew 17:5; Matthew 28:18; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 1:1-2).
The fact that men like those mentioned above may have been right in the majority of their views, does not mean that they were correct in all of their views. Fortunately, our being able to learn from them does not necessitate our accepting their views on all matters. We should never quote the leaders and preachers of the past to “prove” anything pertaining to the will of God. We may study their writings to get their viewpoint on various subjects, and we may even quote them on various points, but the final arbiter in all religious matters is the word of God. By it all doctrines and practices, all viewpoints and positions must be carefully weighed (II Timothy 3:16-17).
Nothing is right because Alexander Campbell taught it. My faith does not rest on the writings of David Lipscomb. I am not obligated to believe everything that Foy E. Wallace, Jr. may have believed. C. R. Nichol does not determine the practice of the Lord’s church. Neither Guy N. Woods nor Roy Cogdill is the standard of authority in religion. From all of the preceding men (and a host of others) I have learned many great truths. But those truths were in the Bible all along, and those men only helped me to see (or to see more clearly) what the Bible teaches on various subjects. The fact that they were right on a whole host of subjects does not mean that they were right on everything. They, too, were susceptible to wrong views. Wherein I find them to be in conflict with what the Bible teaches, I am not compelled to accept their conclusions. The influence of all of them should be restricted to what can pass the test of diligent study and a thorough investigation of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11; I Thessalonians 5:21). Our faith and practice must be in harmony with the revealed will of God, not the views of those of the past.
All of the men I have mentioned had obeyed the gospel and all of them were members of the one church of which we read in the New Testament. Not a one of them was (or had remained) a member of a denomination! They understood the gospel plan of salvation, they understood the undenominational nature of the church, they understood what constituted acceptable worship, they all believed the Bible to be the final authority in religion, and they all encouraged people to not accept their conclusions, but the conclusions of scripture. In all of this I find them much more reliable in their religious views than I do those who are denominationalists and who are often far afield regarding even the most basic matters. The great leaders and preachers of the plea to return to pure apostolic Christianity recognized their fallibility, and they urged people to hold only to the word of God.
One of the great students of the Bible and a great leader of the past was F. B. Srygley. He wrote: “Some, no doubt, have thought that the [Gospel] Advocate had its influence because of the ability of its founders, but not so; but its founders had an influence because they stood for the simple New Testament teaching” (The Gospel Advocate of January 18, 1929, as cited by Earl Kimbrough in My Way of Thinking: Wit and Wisdom of F. B. Srygley, p. 83).
That is so very true! The only influence that the leaders of the restoration movement and the great preachers of the past have wielded has come from the word of God and their adherence to it. Wherein they were amiss of the word their views are to be rejected. Srygley also noted: “We may as weak human beings wobble some in our efforts to follow the teaching of the Bible, but with all our weaknesses we have a fixed star, God’s word, which is complete, and it changes not” (The Gospel Advocate of November 17, 1938, as cited by Kimbrough, p. 89).
“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11a).
Hugh Fulford, December 3, 2019