Christian Libertarianism

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was formed by the union of two movements. One headed by the Thomas & Alexander Campbell. The other by Barton W. Stone. (Which was always a cool name to me because I had Grandma & Grandpa Barton and a Grandma & Grandpa Stone.) My last post concerned a story from the Campbells. This one examines a key document to the folks in Stone’s movement–The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. The main body of the document begins with a call for an end to divisions within the Christian Church Universal:

We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.

Of course, I suspect many churches would agree that Christians should be one, which can be easily accomplished if everyone would just shut up and accept the one true theology that the particular church preaches. That was not the path suggested by Stone’s followers. Instead, they hoped,

that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.


that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.


that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.


that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.

There are several other stanzas, although I closed with the final one. There are two basic ideas that one can pull from this document. One, the Bible and not tradition is the authority that should drive our thinking, and, two, each person, church and pastor is empowered and required to decern the meaning of the Bible for themselves.

Driving for unity this way, not by demanding one theology but by empowering all to find their own theology, is what I am call Christian Libertarianism. I think the notion is captured well in the motto, “In essentials unity, in nonessential liberty, in all things charity.”

I believe this Christian Libertarianism in which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is so deeply rooted is yet another reason why it is natural for Disciple churches to open to people who are other than heterosexual and affirming of those same people. One’s sexuality is certainly not an essential to being Christian. It is a topic not mentioned by Jesus. Indeed the notion of being gay or straight or bi, that is the idea that one has a sexuality, must post-dates the Bible.

And, liberty in this nonessential is to allow full participation in the church without regard to it. Those who believe it is a sin to get divorced, to have sex with a member of your own sex, or to have sex for reason other than reproduction, should also be allowed full membership in the church.

And, we should direct charity toward those who disagree with us, whatever our belief.

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