The Restoration Movement

The Restoration Movement (also known as the American Restoration Movement or the Stone-Campbell Movement, Campbellites, and Campbellism) is a Christian movement that began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening (1790–1870) of the early 19th century. The movement sought to restore the church and "the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament." Members do not identify as Protestant but simply as Christian.

The Restoration Movement developed from several independent efforts to return to apostolic Christianity, but two groups, which independently developed similar approaches to the Christian faith, were particularly important to the development of the movement. The first, led by Barton W. Stone, began at Cane Ridge, Kentucky and called themselves simply "Christians." The second began in western Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia) and was led by Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander Campbell; they used the name "Disciples of Christ." Both groups sought to restore the whole Christian church on the pattern set forth in the New Testament, and both believed that creeds kept Christianity divided. In 1832 they joined in fellowship with a handshake.

During the First Great Awakening, a movement developed among those Baptists known asSeparate Baptists. Two themes of this movement were the rejection of creeds and "freedom in the Spirit." The Separate Baptists saw Scripture as the "perfect rule" for the church. However, while they turned to the Bible for a structural pattern for the church, they did not insist on complete agreement on the details of that pattern. This group originated in New England, but was especially strong in the South where the emphasis on a biblical pattern for the church grew stronger. In the last half of the 18th century, Separate Baptists became more numerous on the western frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee, where the Stone and Campbell movements would later take root. The development of the Separate Baptists in the southern frontier helped prepare the ground for the Restoration Movement. The membership of both the Stone and Campbell groups drew heavily from among the ranks of the Separate Baptists.

The ideal of restoring a "primitive" form of Christianity grew in popularity in the U.S. after the American Revolution. This desire to restore a purer form of Christianity played a role in the development of many groups during this period, known as the Second Great Awakening, including the Mormons, Baptists and Shakers. The Restoration Movement began during, and was greatly influenced by, this second Awakening. While the Campbells resisted what they saw as the spiritual manipulation of the camp meetings, the Southern phase of the Awakening "was an important matrix of Barton Stone's reform movement" and shaped the evangelistic techniques used by both Stone and the Campbells.

James O'Kelly was an early advocate of seeking unity through a return to New Testament Christianity. In 1792, dissatisfied with the role of bishops in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he separated from that body. O'Kelly's movement, centering in Virginia and North Carolina, was originally called Republican Methodists. In 1794 they adopted the name Christian Church.

During the same period, Elias Smith of Vermont and Abner Jones of New Hampshire led a movement espousing views similar to those of O’Kelly. They believed that members could, by looking to scripture alone, simply be Christians without being bound to human traditions and the denominations that had been brought over from Europe.

The Campbell wing of the movement was launched when Thomas Campbell published theDeclaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington in 1809. The Presbyterian Synod had suspended his ministerial credentials. In The Declaration and Address he set forth some of his convictions about the church of Jesus Christ, as he organized the Christian Association of Washington, in Washington County, Pennsylvania, not as a church but as an association of persons seeking to grow in faith. On May 4, 1811, the Christian Association constituted itself as a congregationally governed church. With the building it constructed at Brush Run, Pennsylvania, it became known as Brush Run Church. When their study of the New Testament led the reformers to begin to practice baptism by immersion, the nearby Redstone Baptist Association invited Brush Run Church to join with them for the purpose of fellowship. The reformers agreed, provided that they would be "allowed to preach and to teach whatever they learned from the Scriptures."

Alexander Campbell

Thomas' son Alexander immigrated to the US to join him in 1809, and before long assumed the leading role in the movement.

The Campbells worked within the Redstone Baptist Association during the period 1815 through 1824. While both the Campbells and the Baptists shared practices of baptism by immersion and congregational polity, it was soon clear that he and his associates were not traditional Baptists. Within the Redstone Association, some of the Baptist leaders considered the differences intolerable when Alexander Campbell began publishing a journal, The Christian Baptist, which promoted reform. Campbell anticipated the conflict and moved his membership to a congregation of the Mahoning Baptist Association in 1824.

Alexander used The Christian Baptist to address what he saw as the key issue of reconstructing the apostolic Christian community in a systematic and rational manner. He wanted to clearly distinguish between essential and non-essential aspects of primitive Christianity.  Among what he identified as essential were "congregational autonomy, aplurality of elders in each congregation, weekly communion and immersion for the remission of sins."  Among practices he rejected as non-essential were "the holy kiss, deaconesses, communal living, footwashing and charismatic exercises."

In 1827, the Mahoning Association appointed Walter Scott as an evangelist. Through Scott’s efforts, the Mahoning Association grew rapidly. In 1828, Thomas Campbell visited several of the congregations formed by Scott and heard him preach. Campbell believed that Scott was bringing an important new dimension to the movement with his approach to evangelism.

Several Baptist associations began disassociating congregations that refused to subscribe to the Philadelphia Confession.  The Mahoning Association came under attack. In 1830, The Mahoning Baptist Association disbanded. The younger Campbell ceased publication of the Christian Baptist. In January 1831, he began publication of the Millennial Harbinger.

The Age of Enlightenment had a significant influence on the Campbell movement. Thomas Campbell was a student of the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke.  While he did not explicitly use the term "essentials," in the Declaration and Address, Campbell proposed the same solution to religious division as had been advanced earlier by Herbert and Locke: "[R]educe religion to a set of essentials upon which all reasonable persons might agree."  The essentials he identified were those practices for which the Bible provided "a 'Thus saith the Lord,' either in express terms or by approved precedent."  Unlike Locke, who saw the earlier efforts by Puritans as inherently divisive, Campbell argued for "a complete restoration of apostolic Christianity."  Thomas believed that creeds served to divide Christians. He also believed that the Bible was clear enough that anyone could understand it and, thus, creeds were unnecessary.

The Campbell movement was characterized by a "systematic and rational reconstruction" of the early church, in contrast to the Stone movement which was characterized by radical freedom and lack of dogma.  Despite their differences, the two movements agreed on several critical issues.  Both saw restoring apostolic Christianity as a means of hastening the millennium.  Both also saw restoring the early church as a route to Christian freedom.  And, both believed that unity among Christians could be achieved by using apostolic Christianity as a model.  The commitment of both movements to restoring the early church and to uniting Christians was enough to motivate a union between many in the two movements.

"Raccoon" John Smith

The Stone and Campbell movements merged in 1832.  This was formalized at the High Street Meeting House in Lexington, Kentucky with a handshake between Barton W. Stone and "Raccoon" John Smith.  Smith had been chosen, by those present, to speak in behalf of the followers of the Campbells.  A preliminary meeting of the two groups was held in late December 1831, culminating with the merger on January 1, 1832.

Two representatives of those assembled were appointed to carry the news of the union to all the churches: John Rogers, for the Christians and "Raccoon" John Smith for the reformers. Despite some challenges, the merger succeeded.  Many believed the union held great promise for the future success of the combined movement, and greeted the news enthusiastically.

With the merger, there was the challenge of what to call the new movement. Clearly, finding a Biblical, non-sectarian name was important. Stone wanted to continue to use the name "Christians." Alexander Campbell insisted upon "Disciples of Christ". As a result, both names were used.  The confusion over names has been present ever since.

From the beginning of the movement, the free exchange of ideas among the people was fostered by the journals published by its leaders. Alexander Campbell published The Christian Baptist and The Millennial Harbinger. Stone published The Christian Messenger.  In a respectful way, both men routinely published the contributions of others whose positions were radically different from their own.

Following Campbell’s death in 1866, journals continued to keep the discussion and conversation alive. Between 1870 and 1900, two journals emerged as the most prominent. The Christian Standard was edited and published by Isaac Errett of Cincinnati. The Christian Evangelist was edited and published by J. H. Garrison from St. Louis. The two men enjoyed a friendly rivalry, and kept the dialog going within the movement.

In 1849, the first National Convention was held at Cincinnati, Ohio.  Alexander Campbell had concerns that holding conventions would lead the movement into divisivedenominationalism. He did not attend the gathering.  Among its actions, the convention elected Alexander Campbell its President and created The American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS).  By the end of the century, The Foreign Christian Missionary Society and the Christian Women's Board of Missions were also engaged in missionary activities. Forming the ACMS clearly did not reflect a consensus of the entire movement, and these para-church organizations became a divisive issue. In the succeeding decades, for some congregations and their leaders, co-operative work through missionary societies and the adoption of instrumental music was straying too far. Division over these issues grew after the American Civil War.

The use of musical instruments in worship was discussed in journal articles as early as 1849, though initial reactions were generally unfavorable.  However, some congregations are known to have been using musical instruments in the 1850s and 1860s.  Both acceptance of instruments and discussion of the issue grew after the American Civil War.  Opponents argued that the New Testament provided no authorization for their use in worship, while supporters argued on the basis of expediency and Christian liberty Affluent, urbancongregations were more likely to adopt musical instruments, while poorer and more ruralcongregations tended to see them as "an accommodation to the ways of the world."

One issue that created tension in the movement was whether the brotherhood should adopt organizational structures, such as missionary societies and conventions, above the local congregational level. On October 23, 1849, a group of individuals met in Cincinnati,Ohio with the intention of creating a "general church organization for the furtherance of the work by the church collectively." This action caused immediate disagreements among the churches, because such organizations had previously been abolished. Barton W. Stonehimself had in fact taken part in the abolition of the Springfield Presbytery, and authored at that time a very influential document, The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, which contained within it the idea that the existence of all such bodies was necessarily divisive and hence sinful.



About a decade later, L. L. Pinkerton, who was a member of the Midway, Kentucky church brought a melodeon into the church building. The poor quality of the congregation's singing had the minister at his "breaking point." The instrument was first used for singing practices held on Saturday night, but was soon used during the worship on Sunday. One of the elders of that assembly removed the first melodeon, but it was soon replaced by another. Generally speaking, the bulk of the urban congregations, particularly in the Northern states, were not totally averse to this development, which was also gaining momentum in the other religious groups around them, while rural congregations, particularly in the Southern United States, tended to oppose this trend.

In 1906, the U.S. Religious Census listed the Christian Churches and the Churches of Christas separate and distinct groups for the first time. This, however, was simply the recognition of a division that had been growing for years, with published reports as early as 1883. The most obvious distinction between the two groups was the rejection of musical instruments in the Churches of Christ. The controversy over musical instruments began in 1860 with the introduction of organs in some churches. More basic were differences in the underlying approach to Biblical interpretation. For the Churches of Christ, any practices not present in accounts of New Testament worship were not permissible in the church, and they could find no New Testament documentation of the use of instrumental music in worship. For the Christian Churches, any practices not expressly forbidden could be considered.

The Restoration Movement was characterized by several key principles:

  • Christianity should not be divided, Christ intended the creation of one church.
  • Creeds divide, but Christians should be able to find agreement by standing on the Bible itself (from which they believe all creeds are but human expansions or constrictions).
  • Ecclesiastical traditions divide, but Christians should be able to find common ground by following the practice (as best as it can be determined) of the early church.
  • Names of human origin divide, but Christians should be able to find common ground by using biblical names for the church (i.e., "Christian Church", "Church of God" or "Church of Christ" as opposed to "Methodist" or "Lutheran", etc.).

A number of slogans have been used in the Restoration Movement, which are intended to express some of the distinctive themes of the Movement. These include:

  • "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." 
  • "The church of Jesus Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one."
  • "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians."
  • "In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things love."
  • "No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine."
  • "Call Bible things by Bible names."

All of the three major U.S. branches of the Movement share the following characteristics:

  • A high view, compared to other Christian traditions, of the office of the elder; and
  • A "commitment to the priesthood of all believers."

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