Church of Christ: Part 2

The Restorationist idea is far older than the American Restoration Movement. There is a long, rich history of those who sought to restore the Christian church, going back as far as desert Monasticism. Hundreds of years later, the Waldensians would lift up the torch of Christian primitivism and, shortly after, the Anabaptist—the pinnacle of Restorationism—would emerge. Slightly more recently, the Puritans were added to the family and then in the mid 19th century, the baby of Restorationism was born: the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Any member of the Restorationist family (of which there are many more) can be easily identified by some common traits: Foremost is the desire for simplicity. In fact, these movements often occur in reaction to extravagance in the established church. There is also a strict adherence to Scripture, a belief in the equality of believers, an emphasis on poverty/renouncement of wealth, an emphasis on holy living and purity, and—interestingly enough—there is almost always a call for the separation of church and state.

These beliefs were all found in the Stone-Campbell Movement but not in balance or homogeneously among the early followers. The secret as to this variance among the original members of the Restoration can be found in the name of the movement: Stone-Campbell. In 1832, two groups were joined in Lexington, Kentucky under the common ideals of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell, yet the movements maintained the different emphases of their respective leaders.


Those who had originally been followers of Stone maintained his focus on freedom as they segued into this new joint movement. For Stoneites, freedom meant not being bound by any creed and that our actions through holy living are the ultimate demonstration of our faith. Stone himself was also a premillennialist which brought with it an apocalyptic worldview—i.e. a deeply pessimistic perspective. This pessimism in regards to humanity and the state of the world led most Stoneites to adopt pacifism, avoid participating in civil government, reject violence, abhor materialism, and speak out against slavery.

Campbell, on the other hand, brought to the Restoration Movement his own set of characteristics. His most notable introduction to the fellowship was a Baconian method for interpreting Scripture, which attempted to unbiasedly interpret data with scientific precision. This rigorous hermeneutic lead Campbell to hold similar views as Stone—pacifism, anti-slavery—but admittedly only out of convenience. Also fundamental to understanding Campbell is his postmillennialism. This outlook brought with it a sense of optimism that the Christian denominations could unite under the banner of primitivism without any creeds.

In Campbell’s later years, he experienced a notable shift. While maintaining his hermeneutical style and general optimism, he became increasingly liberal and ecumenical in his efforts, working alongside other denominations. It is clear to see, then, that the split between the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ by the end of the century can be traced back to the differences between Stone and Campbell—particularly the later Campbell.

To me the later legacy of Barton Stone in the Churches of Christ is of particular interest. He directly influenced the great voice of Stoneite Restorationist, David Lipscomb, who in turn influenced James A. Harding, both of which have a fellowship university named after them. These men—particularly Lipscomb—were loud voices for distinctive Christian living based solely on biblical principles. They stood firmly in their pacifism, abstaining from participation in government, and rejection of worldly wealth. However, their way of thinking died out during the premillennial battles (how awesome does that sound?) and attacks from men like Clinton Davidson.

It is strange to think how extreme (and at times, offensive) the doctrines of the Churches of Christ have been. Most of those doctrines—like miracle-working, charismatic gifts, nonviolence, and political anarchism—have been utterly forgotten. I mentioned to Lauren some of the core convictions of the Stone-Campbell movement, and she was visibly shocked. The loss of these radical beliefs is what helped transition the Churches of Christ from a sociological sect to modern denomination.


Add yours →

  1. The separation of church and state seems to be a legalistic approach by many who take this pacifist role. There are similar behaviors portrayed by Christ, but nothing that would carry the weight of a command.

    It all goes to show that groups that label themselves as the church are liable to misinterpretation. You can only try and better understand the scripture for yourself and share the truth you find in scripture with others.

    Good blog, which hopefully directs reads towards unity


  2. Great post. I certainly miss some of those ancient doctrines, namely nonviolence/pacifism. All of those Christians you mentioned who wanted to restore something were committed to Jesus’ teachings in Matt 5:38ff. As the Restoration Churches more more away from restorationism and more toward denominationalism, a new restoration will probably occur.


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