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The Restoration Movement (also known as the American Restoration Movement or the Stone-Campbell Movement) is a Christian movement that began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening 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."

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 Ridgemarker, 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.

Among other things, they were united in the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that Christians should celebrate the Lord's Supper on the first day of each week; and that baptism of adult believers by immersion in water is a necessary condition for salvation. Because the founders wanted to abandon all denominational labels, they used the biblical names for the followers of Jesus. Both groups promoted a return to the purposes of the first-century churches as described in the New Testament. One historian of the movement has argued that it was primarily a unity movement, with the restoration motif playing a subordinate role.

The Restoration Movement has since divided into multiple separate groups. There are three main branches in the U.S.: the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church . Some see divisions in the movement as the result of the tension between the goals of restoration and ecumenism, with the Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ resolving the tension by stressing restoration, while the Christian Church resolved the tension by stressing ecumenism. A number of groups outside the U.S. also have historical associations with this movement, such as the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada and the Churches of Christ in Australia.

Background influences

During the late Middle Ages, some early dissenters such as John Wycliff and John Huss called for a restoration of a primitive form of Christianity, but they were driven underground. As a result, some scholars believe it is difficult to find any direct links between such early dissenters and the restoration movement.

Beginning with the Renaissance period, intellectual roots become easier to discern. At the heart of the Reformation was an emphasis on the principle of "Scripture alone" (sola scriptura). This, along with the related insistence on the right of individuals to read and interpret the Bible for themselves and a movement to reduce ritual, formed part of the intellectual background of early Restoration Movement leaders. The branch of the Reformation movement represented by Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin also contributed an emphasis on "restoring biblical forms and patterns."
The rationalism of John Locke provided another influence. Reacting to the deism of Lord Herbert, Locke sought a way to address religious division and persecution without abandoning Scripture. To do this, Locke argued against the right of government to enforce religious orthodoxy and turned to the Bible to supply a set of beliefs that all Christians could agree upon. The core teachings which he viewed as essential were the messiahship of Jesus and Jesus' direct commands. Christians could be devoutly committed to other Biblical teachings but, in Locke's view, they were non-essentials over which Christians should never fight or try to coerce each other. Unlike the Puritans and the later Restoration Movement, Locke did not call for a systematic restoration of the early church.

One of the basic goals of the Englishmarker Puritans was to restore a pure, "primitive" church that would be a true apostolic community. This conception was a critical influence in the development of the Puritans in Colonial America.

During the First Great Awakening, a movement developed among those Baptists known as Separate 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 Englandmarker, 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 Kentuckymarker and Tennesseemarker, 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.

Separate Baptist restorationism also contributed to the development of the Landmark Baptists in the same area as the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement at about the same time. Under the leadership of James Robinson Graves, this group looked for a precise blueprint for the primitive church, believing that any deviation from that blueprint would keep one from being part of the true church.

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 Virginiamarker and North Carolinamarker, was originally called Republican Methodists. In 1794 they adopted the name Christian Church.

During the same period, Elias Smith of Vermontmarker and Abner Jones of New Hampshiremarker 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.

Stone movement

Barton W.

Barton W. Stone was born to John and Mary Stone in Port Tobacco, Marylandmarker. During his childhood, the boy grew up within the Church of England, then had Baptist, Methodist and Episcopal church influences as well. Preachers representing Baptists and Methodists came to the area during the Second Great Awakening, and Baptist and Methodist chapels were founded in the county.

Barton entered the Guilford Academy in North Carolinamarker in 1790. While there, Stone heard James McGready (a Presbyterian minister) speak. A few years later he became a Presbyterian minister himself. But, as Stone looked more deeply into the beliefs of the Presbyterians, especially the Westminster Confession of Faith, he doubted that some of the church beliefs were truly Bible-based. He was unable to accept the Calvinistic doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election and predestination. He also believed that "Calvinism's alleged theological sophistication had . . . been bought at the price of fomenting division" and "blamed it . . . for producing ten different sects within the Presbyterian tradition alone."

Cane Ridge revival

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In 1801, the Cane Ridge Revivalmarker in Kentuckymarker would plant the seed for a movement in Kentuckymarker and the Ohio River valley to disassociate from denominationalism. In 1803 Stone and others withdrew from the Kentucky Presbytery and formed the Springfield Presbytery. The defining event of the Stone wing of the movement was the publication of Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery, at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1804. The Last Will is a brief document in which Stone and five others announced their withdrawal from Presbyterianism and their intention to be solely part of the body of Christ. The writers appealed for the unity of all who follow Jesus, suggested the value of congregational self-governance, and lifted the Bible as the source for understanding the will of God. They denounced the divisive use of the Augsburg Confession, and adopted the name "Christian" to identify their group.

Christian Connection

Elias Smith had heard of the Stone movement by 1804, and the O'Kelly movement by 1808. The three groups merged by 1810. At that time the combined movement had a membership of approximately 20,000. This loose fellowship of churches was called by the names "Christian Connection/Connexion" or "Christian Church."

Characteristics of the Stone movement

The cornerstone for the Stone movement was Christian freedom, which led them to a rejection of all the historical creeds, traditions and theological systems that had developed over time and a focus on a primitive Christianity based on the Bible.

While restoring primitive Christianity was central to the Stone movement, they saw restoring the lifestyle of the early church as essential, and during the early years "focused more . . . on holy and righteous living than on the forms and structures of the early church. The group did also seek to restore the primitive church. However, due to concern that emphasizing particular practices could undermine Christian freedom, this effort tended to take the form of rejecting tradition rather than an explicit program of reconstructing New Testament practices. The emphasis on freedom was strong enough that the movement avoided developing any ecclesiastical traditions, resulting in a movement that was "largely without dogma, form, or structure." What held "the movement together was a commitment to primitive Christianity."

Another theme was that of hastening the millennium. Many Americans of the period believed that the millennium was near, and based their hopes for the millennium on their new nation, the United Statesmarker. Members of the Stone movement believed that only a unified Christianity based on the apostolic church, rather than a country or any of the existing denominations, could lead to the coming of the millennium. Stone's millennialism has been described as more "apocalyptic" than that of Alexander Campbell, in that he believed people were too flawed to usher in a millennial age through human progress. Rather, he believed that it depended on the power of God, and that while waiting for God to establish His kingdom, one should live as if the rule of God were already fully established.

For the Stone movement, this had less to do with eschatological theories and more about a countercultural commitment to live as if the kingdom of God were already established on earth. This apocalyptic perspective or world view led many in the Stone movement to adopt pacifism, avoid participating in civil government, and reject violence, militarism, greed, materialism and slavery.

Campbell movement

Thomas Campbell
Campbell wing of the movement was launched when Thomas Campbell published the Declaration 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, Pennsylvaniamarker, 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 then constructed at Brush Run, Pennsylvaniamarker, 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 joined him in the U.S. 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 baptism by immersion and congregational polity, it was soon clear that he and his associates were not traditional Baptists. Within the Redstone Association, the differences became intolerable to some of the Baptist leaders when Alexander Campbell began publishing a journal, The Christian Baptist, promoting 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. Part of this should be clearly distinguishing between essential and non-essential aspects of primitive Christianity. Among those things that he identified as essential to apostolic Christianity were "congregational autonomy, a plurality of elders in each congregation, weekly communion and immersion for the remission of sins." Among those things he rejected as non-essential were "the holy kiss, deaconesses, communal living, footwashing and charismatic exercises."

Walter Scott
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 itself came under attack. In 1830, The Mahoning Baptist Association disbanded. Alexander ceased publication of the Christian Baptist, and in January 1831, he began publication of the Millennial Harbinger.

Influence of the Enlightenment

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: "reduce religion to a set of essentials upon which all reasonable persons might agree." The essentials he identified were those things for which the Bible provided "a 'Thus saith the Lord,' either in express terms of 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, as a result, that creeds were unnecessary.

Alexander Campbell was also deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking, in particular the Scottish School of Common Sense of Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart. This group saw the Bible as providing concrete facts rather than abstract truths, and advocated a scientific or Baconian approach to interpreting the Bible that would begin with those facts, arrange the ones applicable to a given topic, and then use them to draw conclusions. Alexander reflected this approach, arguing repeatedly that "the Bible is a book of facts, not of opinions, theories, abstract generalities, nor of verbal definitions." He believed that if Christians would limit themselves to the facts found in the Bible, they would necessarily come to agreement, and he saw those facts as providing a blueprint or constitution for the church.

Characteristics of the Campbell movement

Thomas Campbell's approach combined the Enlightenment approach to unity with the Reformed and Puritan traditions of restoration. The Enlightenment affected the Campbell movement in two ways. First, it provided the idea that Christian unity could be achieved by finding a set of essentials that all reasonable people could agree on. The second was the concept of a rational faith that was formulated and defended on the basis of a set of facts derived from the Bible.

Alexander Campbell's millennialism was more optimistic than Stone's. He had more confidence in the potential for human progress and believed that Christians could unite to transform the world and initiate a millennial age. Alexander's approach was basically postmillennial, anticipating that the progress of the church and society would lead to an age of peace and righteousness before the return of Christ. This optimistic approach meant that, in addition to commitment to primitivism, there was also a progressive strand to his thinking.

Merger of the Stone and Campbell movements

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.
The Stone and Campbell movements merged in 1832. This was formalized at the High Street Meeting House in Lexington, Kentuckymarker 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. A third journal became part of the conversation with the publication in 1884 of The Christian Oracle, later to become The Christian Century, with an interdenominational appeal. In 1914, Garrison’s Christian Publishing company was purchased by R. A. Long, who then established a non-profit corporation, “The Christian Board of Publication” as the Brotherhood publishing house.

When Stone and Alexander Campbell's Reformers (also known as Disciples and Christian Baptists) united in 1832, only a minority of Christians from the Smith/Jones and O'Kelly movements participated. Those that did were from congregations west of the Appalachian Mountainsmarker that had come into contact with the Stone movement. The eastern members had several key differences with the Stone and Campbell group: an emphasis on conversion experience, quarterly observance of communion, and nontrinitarianism. Those who did not unite with Campbell merged with the Congregational Churches in 1931 to form the Congregational Christian Churches. In 1957, the Congregational Christian Church merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to become the United Church of Christ.

Internal strains

In 1849, the first National Convention was held at Cincinnati, Ohio. Alexander Campbell had concerns that holding conventions would lead the movement into divisive denominationalism. 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, urban congregations were more likely to adopt musical instruments, while poorer and more rural congregations tended to see them as "an accommodation to the ways of the world."

The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement notes that Restoration Movement historians have tended to interpret the controversy over the use of musical instruments in worship in ways that "reflect their own attitudes on the issue." Examples are given of historians from different branches of the movement interpreting it in relation to the statements of early Restoration Movement leaders, in terms of social and cultural factors, differing approaches to interpreting scripture, differing approaches to the authority of scripture, and "ecumenical progressivism" versus "sectarian primitivism."

Separation of the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches

David Lipscomb

Factors leading to the separation

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 Cincinnatimarker, Ohiomarker 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. Stone himself 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.

a decade later, L. L. Pinkerton, who was a member of the Midwaymarker, Kentuckymarker 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.

As the nineteenth century progressed, a division gradually developed between those whose primary commitment was to unity, and those whose primary commitment the restoration the primitive church. Those whose primary focus was unity gradually took on "an explicitly ecumenical agenda" and "sloughed off the restorationist vision." This group increasingly used the terms "Disciples of Christ" and "Christian Churches" rather than "Churches of Christ." At the same time, those whose primary focus was restoration of the primitive church increasingly used the term "Churches of Christ" rather than "Disciples of Christ." In the majority of Northern churches, the call for unity prevailed; in the majority of the Southern churches, the calls for restoration prevailed.

Formal recognition in 1906

In 1906, the U.S. Religious Census listed the Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ as 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 organ 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.

After the division Disciples churches used "Christian Church" as the dominant designation for congregations. While music and the approach to missionary work were the most visible issues, there were also some deeper ones. The process that led to the separation had begun prior to the American Civil War.


After the split the Churches of Christ generally became more congregational, while the Disciples of Christ became more denominational. The Churches of Christ remained more literal in biblical interpretation, while the Disciples of Christ became closer to "mainline" Protestant groups. In fact, Disciples of Christ have been very cooperative with other Protestant denominations, dismissing the exclusive quality what was once a part of the entire movement. Churches of Christ have maintained a more exclusive stance, although the lack of a "clearinghouse" for determining acceptable doctrine has led to myriad manifestations that the movement may credit as heresy.

The Disciples of Christ today are still not totally devoid of the conservative-liberal tension. A movement of conservative congregations and individuals among the Disciples formed the "Disciple Renewal" in 1985. They were motivated by concern about what they perceived as increasingly liberal views among the Disciples fellowship on issues such as the lordship of Christ, the authority of the Bible and homosexuality. In the wake of the rejection in 1985 by the Disciples General Assembly of a resolution on the inspiration of scripture, the Disciple Renewal planned to encourage renewal of the fellowship from within through a journal that was also entitled Disciple Renewal. There was also a concern that the Disciples had abandoned the fundamental principles of the Restoration Movement. The Disciple Heritage Fellowship ( website) was established in 1995. It is a fellowship of autonomous congregations, about half of which are formally associated with the Disciples of Christ. As of 2002 the Disciples Heritage Fellowship included 60 congregations and 100 "supporting" churches. It is closely related to the Confessing Movement found in several other mainline denominations.

Some see divisions in the movement as the result of the tension between the goals of restoration and ecumenism, with the Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ resolving the tension by stressing restoration while the Christian Church resolved the tension by stressing ecumenism.

Subsequent development of the Christian Churches

Following the 1906 separation of the Churches of Christ (a cappella), controversy still existed within the movement over whether the missionary efforts should be cooperative or independently sponsored by congregations. Questions on the role of the methods of Biblical Criticism to the study and interpretation of the Bible were also among the issues in conflict. By the 1920s the question of "open membership," or "admission of the pious unimmersed to membership" had arisen as an additional source of tension.

During the first half of the twentieth century the opposing factions among the Christian Churches coexisted, but with discomfort. The three Missionary Societies were merged into the United Christian Missionary Society in 1920. Human service ministries grew through the National Benevolent Association providing assistance to orphans, the elderly and the disabled. By mid century, the cooperative Christian Churches and the independent Christian Churches were following different paths.

By 1926 a split began to form within the Disciples over the future direction of the church. Conservatives within the group began to have problems with the perceived liberalism of the leadership, upon the same grounds described earlier in the accepting of instrumental music in worship. In 1927 they held the first North American Christian Convention, and the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ began to emerge as a distinct group from the Disciples, although the break was not totally formalized until the late 1960s. By this time the decennial religious census was a thing of the past and it is impossible to use it as a delineation as it was in 1906.

In 1968, at the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), those Christian Churches that favored cooperative mission work adopted a new "provisional design" for their work together, becoming the Christian Church . Those congregations that chose not to be associated with the new denominational organization went their own way as the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, completing a separation that had begun decades before. Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have both organizational and hermeneutic differences with the churches of Christ. For example, they have a loosely organized convention, and they view scriptural silence on an issue more permissively. Nonetheless, they are much more closely related to the churches of Christ in their theology and ecclesiology than they are with the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).

Restructuring and development of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Following World War II, it was believed that the organizations that had been developed in previous decades no longer effectively met the needs of the postwar era. After a number discussions throughout the 1950s, the 1960 International Convention of Christian Churches adopted a process to plan the "restructure" of the entire organization. The Commission on Restructure, chaired by Granville T. Walker, held its first meeting October 30 & November 1, 1962. In 1968, the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) adopted the Commission's proposed “Provisional Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).” Soon the Provisional Design became “The Design.”

Under the Design, all churches in the 1968 yearbook of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) were automatically recognized as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In the years that followed, many of the Independent Christian Church Congregations requested formal withdrawal from the yearbook. Many of those congregations became part of the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

Separation of the Independent Christian Churches / Churches of Christ

The development of the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ as a separately identifiable religious body from the Christian Church (DoC) was a lengthy process. The roots of the separation can be found in the polarization resulting from three major controversies that arose during the early 20th century. One, which was a source of division in other religious groups, was "the theological development of modernism and liberalism." The early stages of the ecumenical movement, which led in 1908 to the Federal Council of Churches, provide a second source of controversy. The third was the practice of open membership, in which individuals who had not been baptized by immersion were granted full membership in the church. Those who supported one of these points of view tended to support the others as well.

Support by the United Christian Missionary Society of missionaries who advocated open membership became a source of contention in 1920. Efforts to recall support for these missionaries failed in a 1925 convention in Oklahoma Citymarker and a 1926 convention in Memphis, Tennesseemarker. Many congregations withdrew from the missionary society as a result.

A new convention, the North American Christian Convention, was organized by the more conservative congregations in 1927. An existing brotherhood journal, the Christian Standard, also served as a source of cohesion for these congregations.

The official separation between the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is difficult to date. Suggestions range from 1926 to 1971 based on the events outlined below:

  • 1926: The first North American Christian Convention (NACC) in 1927 was the result of disillusionment at the DoC Memphis Convention.
  • 1930s - 1940s: Symbolic differences and disagreements flourished.
  • 1944: International Convention of Disciples elects as president a proponent of open membership
  • 1948: The Commission on Restudy, appointed to help avoid a split, disbands
  • 1955: The Directory of the Ministry was first published listing only the "Independents" on a voluntary basis.
  • 1968: Final redaction of the Disciples Year Book removing Independent churches
  • 1971: Independent churches listed separately in the Yearbook of American Churches.

Because of this separation, many independent Christian Churches/churches of Christ are not only non-denominational, they can be anti-denominational, avoiding even the appearance or language associated with denominationalism holding true to their Restoration roots.

Subsequent development of the Churches of Christ

One of the issues leading to the 1906 separation was the question of organizational structures above the level of the local congregation. Since then, Churches of Christ have maintained an ongoing commitment to church governance that is congregational only, rather than denominational. Churches of Christ purposefully have no central headquarters, councils, or other organizational structure above the local church level. Rather, the independent congregations are a network with each congregation participating at its own discretion in various means of service and fellowship with other congregations (see Sponsoring church ). Churches of Christ are linked by their shared commitment to restoration principles.

Since Churches of Christ are autonomous and purposefully do not maintain an ecclesiastical hierarchy or doctrinal council, it is not unusual to find variations from congregation to congregation. The approach taken to restoring the New Testament church has focused on "methods and procedures" such as church organization, the form of worship, and how the church should function. As a result, most divisions among Churches of Christ have been the result of "methodological" disputes. These are meaningful to members of this movement because of the seriousness with which they take the goal of "restoring the form and structure of the primitive church."

Three quarters of the congregations and 87% of the membership are described by the The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement as "mainstream", sharing a consensus on practice and theology. The remaining congregations may be grouped into four categories, the largest of which is the churches of Christ . Approximately 2,055 congregations fall in this category. The second group does not use separate Bible classes, and consists of approximately 1,100 congregations. A third group does not use multiple communion cups (approximately 550 congregations; this category overlaps somewhat with those congregations that do not use separate Bible classes for children). The fourth group "emphasize[s] mutual edification by various leaders in the churches and oppose[s] one person doing most of the preaching." This group includes roughly 130 congregations. These groups generally differ from the mainstream consensus in specific practices, rather than in theological perspectives, and tend to have smaller congregations on average.

While there are no official membership statistics for the Churches of Christ, growth appears to have been relatively steady through the twentieth century. One source estimates total U.S. membership at 433,714 in 1926, 558,000 in 1936, 682,000 in 1946, 835,000 in 1965 and 1,250,000 in 1994.

Separation of the International Churches of Christ

The International Churches of Christ had their roots in a "discipling" movement that arose among the mainline Churches of Christ during the 1970s. This discipling movement developed in the campus ministry of Chuck Lucas.

In 1967, Chuck Lucas was minister of the 14th Street Church of Christ in Gainesvillemarker, Floridamarker (later renamed the Crossroads Church of Christ). That year he started a new project known as Campus Advance (based on principles borrowed from the Campus Crusade and the Shepherding Movement). Centered on the University of Floridamarker, the program called for a strong evangelical outreach and an intimate religious atmosphere in the form of soul talks and prayer partners. Soul talks were held in student residences and involved prayer and sharing overseen by a leader who delegated authority over group members. Prayer partners referred to the practice of pairing a new Christian with an older guide for personal assistance and direction. Both procedures led to "in-depth involvement of each member in one another's lives", and critics accused Lucas of fostering cultism.

The Crossroads Movement later spread into some other Churches of Christ. One of Lucas' converts, Kip McKean, moved to the Boston area in 1979 and began working with "would-be disciples" in the Lexington Church of Christ. He asked them to "redefine their commitment to Christ," and introduced the use of discipling partners. The congregation grew rapidly, and was renamed the Boston Church of Christ. In the early 1980s, the focus of the movement moved to Boston, Massachusetts where Kip McKean and the Boston Church of Christ became prominently associated with the trend.

With the national leadership located in Boston, during the 1980s it commonly became known as the "Boston movement." A formal break was made from the mainline Churches of Christ in 1993 with the organization of the International Churches of Christ. This new designation formalized a division that was already in existence between those involved with the Crossroads/Boston Movement and "mainline" Churches of Christ. Much of the outside literature during this period refers to it as the "Boston Movement" or occasionally the "Discipling Movement", after the practice of assigning each new church member a mentor who was to "disciple" the newer member through prayer and advice about a wide range of day-to-day decisions.

In November 2002, the McKeans announced their resignations from their roles as World Mission Evangelist, Women's Ministry Leader and Leader of the World Sector Leaders. What followed was a period of increased sovereignty among local churches, what McKean calls a "reactionary 'new vision' of autonomous congregations, consensus leadership with no lead evangelists, the elimination of structured outreach (Bible Talks) and the elimination of discipleship partners." Many in leadership positions issued public apologies for their participation in authoritative abuses, and some resigned or were asked to leave. By 2004, Boston, Atlantamarker, and New York had lost over 30% of their members, and some entire congregations severed their ties with the ICOC. Local fellowships varied in their reactions to the power vacuum. ICOC Chronicler Chris Lee asserts that three factions emerged, still extant today: a conservative group which seeks a return to the former, authoritarian structure; a moderate group that, "while they recognize that reform is necessary, feel that the current rate of reform is sufficient"; and a reformist group which advocates radical restructuring.

Reunion efforts

Efforts have been made to restore unity among the various branches of the Restoration Movement. In 1984 a "Restoration Summit" was held at the Ozark Christian College, with fifty representatives of both the Churches of Christ and the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. Later meetings were open to all, and were known as "Restoration Forums." Beginning in 1986 they have been held annually, generally in October or November, with the hosting venue alternating between the Churches of Christ and the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. Topics discussed have included issues such as instrumental music, the nature of the church, and practical steps for promoting unity. Efforts have been made in the early 21st century to include representatives of the Christian Church . These efforts followed the "Stone-Campbell Dialogue," which was a series of meetings beginning in 1999 that included representatives of all three major U.S. branches of the Restoration Movement. The first full meeting in 1999 included six representatives from each of the three traditions. Meetings were held twice annually, and in 2001 were expanded to include anyone associated with the Restoration Movement who was interested in attending. Also, special efforts were made in 2006 to create more intentional fellowship between the various branches of the Movement. This was in conjunction with the one hundredth anniversary of the "official" recognition of the split between the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ by the U.S. Census in 1906. One example of this was the hosting, by Abilene Christian Universitymarker (also founded in 1906), of the annual Restoration Unity Forum for 2006, as part of ACU's annual Bible Lectureship. During the program Don Jeanes, president of Milligan College and Royce Money, president of ACU, jointly gave a presentation on the first chapter of the Gospel of John.

Additionally, the compilation and publication of The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement is evidence that scholars in the three wings still work together on common projects. Collaboration on the Encyclopedia also included representatives of the Christian Church .

Time line

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) instead of on the opinions of people about the Bible.
  • 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.). It is in this vein that conservative members of the Churches of Christ object to the phrase "Stone-Campbell Movement."

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".

Churches outside North America

Restoration Movement churches are found around the world and the World Convention of Churches of Christ provides a link for them.

Their genealogies are representative of developments in North America. Their theological orientation ranges from fundamentalist to liberal to ecumenical. In some places they have joined with churches of other traditions to form united churches at local, regional or national level.

Great Britain

A group in Nottingham withdrew from the Scotch Baptist church in 1836 to form a Church of Christ. James Wallis, a member of that group, founded a magazine named the British Millennial Harbinger in 1837. In 1842 the first Cooperative Meeting of Churches of Christ in Great Britain was held in Edinburgh. Approximately 50 congregations were involved, representing a membership of 1,600. The name "Churches of Christ" was formally adopted at an annual meeting in 1870. Alexander Campbell influenced the British Restoration Movement indirectly through his writings; he visited the Britain for several months in 1847, and "presided at the Second Cooperative Meeting of the British Churches at Chester." At that time the movement had grown to encompass 80 congregations with a total membership of 2,300. Annual meetings were held after 1847.

The use of instrumental music in worship was not a source of division among the Churches of Christ in Great Britain before World War I. More significant was the issue of pacifism; a national conference was established in 1916 for congregations that opposed the war. A conference for "Old Paths" congregations was first held in 1924. The issues involved included concern that the Christian Association was compromising traditional principles in seeking ecumenical ties with other organizations and a sense that it had abandoned Scripture as "an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice." Two "Old Paths" congregations withdrew from the Association in 1931; an additional two withdrew in 1934, and nineteen more withdrew between 1943 and 1947.

Membership declined rapidly during and after the First World War. The Association of Churches of Christ in Britain disbanded in 1980. Most Association congregations (approximately 40) united with the United Reformed Church in 1981. In the same year, twenty-four other congregations formed a Fellowship of Churches of Christ. The Fellowship developed ties with the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ during the 1980s.

The Fellowship of Churches of Christ and some Australian and New Zealand Churches advocate a "missional" emphasis with an ideal of "Five Fold Leadership." Many people in more traditional Churches of Christ see these groups as having more in common with Pentecostal churches. The main publishing organs of traditional Churches of Christ in Britain are The Christian Worker magazine and the Scripture Standard magazine. A history of the Association of Churches of Christ, Let Sects and Parties Fall, was written by David M Thompson.

Australia and New Zealand

Historically, Restoration Movement groups from Great Britain were more influential than those from the United States in the early development of the movement in Australia. Churches of Christ grew up independently in several locations.

While early Churches of Christ in Australia saw creeds as divisive, towards the end of the nineteenth century they began viewing "summary statements of belief" as useful in tutoring second generation members and converts from other religious groups. The period from 1875 through 1910 also saw debates over the use of musical instruments in worship, Christian Endeavor Societies and Sunday Schools. Ultimately, all three found general acceptance in the movement.

Currently, the Restoration Movement is not as divided in Australia as it is in the United States. There have been strong ties with the Christian Church , but many conservative ministers and congregations associate with the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ instead. Others have sought support from non-instrumental Churches of Christ, particularly those who felt that "conference" congregations had "departed from the restoration ideal."

Key figures

Although Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott were to become the best-known and most influential early leaders of the movement, others preceded them and laid the foundation for their work.



  • North, James B. (1994). Union in Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement. Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7847-0197-0.
  • Flavil R. Yeakley, ed., The Discipling Dilemma: A Study of the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1988).
  • C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes, Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ (Abilene, Texas: ACU Press, 1988)
  • Martin Edward Wooten, "The Boston Movement as a 'Revitalization Movement'" (D.Min. thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1990)
  • Jerry Jones, What Does the Boston Movement Teach? vols. 1-3 (Bridgeton, Missouri: Jerry Jones, 12880 Bittick, 1991-93)
  • United States Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies, 1906 (United States Printing Office, 1910), 236
  • West, Earl Irvin (2002). The Search for the Ancient Order Vol. 1. Gospel Light Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89225-154-9
  • Douglas A. Foster (Editor), Paul M. Blowers (Editor), Anthony L. Dunnavant (Editor), D. Newell Williams (Editor). The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. ISBN 0-8028-3898-7
  • Douglas A. Foster, Jack Reese, Jeff W. Childers, The Crux of the Matter: Crisis, Tradition, and the Future of Churches of Christ. ACU Press. ISBN 0-89112-035-1
  • Murch, James DeForest. Christians Only. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1962.
  • Jennings, Walter Wilson. Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1919.
  • Morrill, Milo True. History of the Christian Denomination in America. Dayton: The Christian Publishing Association, 1912.

See also

External links

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