The Ancient Faith

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Jerry Cutter

Much has been said and written concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, and obviously brethren are not in agreement. One brother wrote: “The question of how the Holy Spirit indwells Christians was discussed and differed upon by the restorers a hundred years ago (although some appear to think the issue arose with the new Charismatic movement).” Still others have verbalized the same sentiment before large audiences. However, the statement is basically false; it certainly is misleading. As will be shown, the problem is much more than “how the holy Spirit indwells Christians.” Also, these same restorers, living 150 years ago, would have dealt with “the new Charismatic movement” just like some faithful brethren are dealing with it today.

As for the new Charismatic movement, it is not just something brethren have discussed. This movement divided the Lord’s church in the last 20 years. Why? Did the churches divide over something brethren for 150 years had only previously “discussed”? Hardly. How serious was the division? Well, we lost almost 10% of our full-time preachers to the Charismatic movement, and a number of congregations ceased to exist completely.

Back in the 1950s some of us became concerned at some things that were being preached concerning the Holy Spirit. By the 1960s that concern had changed to alarm, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s the damage was done. (Actually, two errors arose about the same time and were intermingled: one was over fellowship, or unity-in-diversity, and the other over the Holy Spirit.)

Now to the real problem. We will state it as a proposition: “In conversion and sanctification, the Spirit of God operates on persons only through the word of truth.”

When you view this proposition, you will notice the issue is not over whether the Holy Spirit operates in conversion and sanctification. Rather, the proposition says the Holy Spirit always operates by means of the word of truth in conversion and sanctification.

Beginning on November 15, 1843, Alexander Campbell began a discussion with the outstanding Presbyterian preacher, and Calvinist, N.L. Rice at Lexington, Ky. The fourth of six propositions was the one stated above, namely, “In conversion and sanctification, the Spirit of Cod operates on persons only through the word of truth.” Now let’s see how the greatest restoration preacher of all handled this issue. Campbell said, “…and all the arguments ever used by the Holy Spirit, are found written in the book called the word of Truth.” (The Campbell – Rice Debate, p. 613). Calvinist Rice: “We believe and teach, that in conversion and sanctification there is an influence of the Spirit in addition to that of the Word, and distinct from it- …” (p. 628). Further Rice said, “The gospel is equally necessary, though of itself insufficient to renew and sanctify the depraved hearts of men” (p. 636).

The problem in the church today is not simply a difference over the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The problem is, “Does the Holy Spirit operate only through the Word in conversion and sanctification?” Some of us agree with Campbell. Others believe the Holy Spirit operates independent of the Word in sanctification as well as through the Word. Brethren, do you see the issue?

Campbell would never be drawn off the issue. Many today ask: What about Providence? Don’t you believe in Providence? Or, What about prayer? Don’t you believe in prayer? Here’s brother Campbell’s answer: “He is proving a proposition, wide as the breadth of the heavens of the subject before us. I believe that God presides over all the works of his hands. But that is not the point of debate; nor is the question about what God can or cannot do – whether or not he turns the hearts of kings and mortals, as the channels of the rivers or seas are turned. Whether he disposes the hearts of men, without words, is not the question; for were it proved that he can move kings and princes, and men of ranks and degrees, as I believe, without the Bible, and without words, that reaches not this issue at all. The question before us is about sanctification, about conversion. These are but sallies, feints, mock assaults, wholly alien to the issue. The question is, whether God converts men to Christ, or sanctifies Christians, without the truth of the bible.” (p. 641) (In defining his proposition, Campbell said by “only” he meant “always”. In other words, the Holy Spirit always operates through the word of Truth in conversion and sanctification.) (p. 613).

Space will not allow me but one more quote from brother Campbell: “The doctrine which I oppose, so far as it is really believed and acted upon, neutralizes preaching, annuls the Bible, and perfectly annihilates human responsibility. I know of no doctrine more fatal” (p. 644). I would like for someone to produce evidence that shows the restoration movement preachers discussed and differed concerning how the Holy Spirit operates in conversion and sanctification.

Concerning conversion, in 1938 Baptist Ben M. Bogard and brother N.B. Hardeman had a great debate in Little Rock, Ark. Bogard affirmed “that the word of God and the Holy Spirit are both at work along with other influences. My proposition is abundantly proved by the word of God that a power or influence distinct from and in addition to the written or spoken word is used in the conviction and conversion of the sinner.” (Hardeman – Bogard Debate, p. 15).

Brother Hardeman’s reply: “But how does the Spirit operate? That is the question. My answer, first, last and all the time, is that he influences through the gospel, which is God’s power. The word is the medium through which the Spirit accomplishes his work” (p. 21).

Concerning sanctification, and in addition to Campbell’s comments, neo-Pentecostals, such as some of those who went out from us, teach the sanctified (or Christians) need a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, called baptism in the Holy Spirit (The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, pp. 162-163).

Thus, we see, the church today is not divided over what restoration preachers discussed and differed concerning. We are divided over what the church, until 20 years ago, stood firmly for, namely, that the Holy Spirit operates only (“always” – Campbell) through the word of truth in conversion and sanctification.

It is my firm conviction that when this subject arises we should remain with the issue. The issue is neither providence, prayer nor angels. These are but “sallies, feints, mock attacks.” The issue, plain and simple, is concerning how the Holy Spirit operates in conversion and sanctification; and this is always through the word. Campbell was convinced that to believe otherwise “neutralizes preaching, annuls the Bible, and perfectly annihilates human responsibility.” He knew of no doctrine more fatal.  [This was published in the January 1, 1985 issue of the OPA]

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”