Looking At Restoration Movement History: Part 1

1625 “If we would but observe unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, charity in all things, our affairs would certainly be in the best possible situation.” (From a Latin treatise in Germany – Anonymous)

Following are excerpts from a talk given by Hans Rolleman at the Christian Scholars Conference in July 1996 at David Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN.

On the 4th of November 1852,in the city of Neuwied, a Roman Catholic Church was being dedicated. The guest of honor was Hoffmann von Fallersleben, a well-known poet laureate who had also written the words to what eventually would become the German national anthem. Now, as he had been asked to write a poem for the church’s dedication, he based it on a famous saying that had become the common possession of Protestants and Catholics. Von Fallersleben wrote:

St. Augustine says:
In necessariis unitas,
In essentials unity,
In dubiis libertas,
In doubtful things liberty,
In omnibus autem caritas,
But in all things love.

The poet then continued by interpreting the famous saying from its very end:

Yet I say: not only in all things,
But before all things
And thus I praise [Christian] love.

The saying “In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity,” has become in one form or another a key motto claimed by the Restoration Movement. It is rivaled perhaps only by that other dictum which asserts that “we speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent.” And yet Hoffmann von Fallersleben, although a contemporary of Stone and Campbell, had probably never heard of the Restoration Movement. What, then, is the tradition history of “our motto,” if it is so widely known that it can also be used at a dedication ceremony of a Roman Catholic church in Germany?

Despite its nearly universal awareness among church members today, there is, to my knowledge, no study of the saying’s reception and spread in the Restoration Movement. To start with Barton W. Stone and the Christians, there is no evidence of any significant use of the saying among Stoneite churches that I am aware of, although there would have been opportunities to become aware of it. The only passing reference to the saying within the wider Stone environment can be found in Rice Haggard’s influential 1804 An Address to the Different Religious Societies, on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name, in which he writes with reference to previous creedal and confessional standards:

“One thing I know, that wherever non essentials are made terms of communion, it will never fail to have a tendency to disunite and scatter the church of Christ. It is certainly making the door of the church narrower than the gate of Heaven, and casting away those whom Jesus received.”

The idea became a slogan for Puritan minister Richard Baxter (1615-1691), who put it this way:

“In fundamentals unity, in non-fundamentals liberty, in all things charity.” Baxter submitted his plan for unity to King Charles II of England

For years the Christian Evangelist (1863-1958), a “Church of Christ” publication, used the slogan:

 “In matters of faith, unity; in opinions and methods, liberty; in all things, charity.” 

Is it possible that much of our “history” is not really our history at all, and that we have appropriated it from others and just assumed it to be our own?

Speaking of history in the 1600’s, the first of my family in this country, Robert Spear – Born in 1611, came to America in 1635 on the Paul of London. A son, also a Robert Spear – Born about 1632, came to America in 1635 with his parent(s). The first of my family born in the USA was also a Robert Spear – Born about 1678 in VA.

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Filed under Church History, Church of Christ, Religion, Restoration Movement

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