From time to time on this blog, I post things that are directed to my church family as part of events that are happening within our church. This is one of those times. On Sunday, I started a new sermon series that dives into our history within the Restoration Movement and makes connections to current events. Below is a great summary of the American Restoration Movement that appears on the website of the Goshen Christian Church in Goshen, Indiana, if you are interested in reading about this history.
The Restoration Movement
Goshen Christian Church is part of a large group of churches that were founded in what was called The Restoration Movement in the 1800s. What follows is a history of this movement and will give you a background on why we say we’re not the only Christians, but Christians only.
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 English 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 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.
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 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
Barton W. Stone was born to John and Mary Stone in 1772 in Port Tobacco, Maryland. 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 Carolina in 1790. While there, Stone heard James McGready (a Presbyterian minister) speak. A few years later, he became a Presbyterian minister. 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
In 1801, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky planted the seed for a movement in Kentucky 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.
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 States. 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.
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, 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 1855 the Gospel Advocate, emanating from Nashville, began publication under the editorship of Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb. Suspended by the American Civil War in 1861, the Gospel Advocate re-emerged in 1866 under the editorship of Tolbert Fanning together with William Lipscomb’s younger brother, David Lipscomb. In the segueing decades the Gospel Advocate consistently opposed missionary societies and instrumental music in worship as innovations incompatible with the original Stone-Campbell objective of restoring the New Testament character of the church. Just prior to a religious census of the United States in 1906, David Lipscomb, who earlier had opposed segmenting the Stone-Campbell Movement, indicated to the United States Census Bureau that the differences among the congregations over the two aforementioned innovations had become so widely acknowledged that the census should enumerate the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ separately, the latter group having become identified with the Gospel Advocate.
A fourth 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 Mountains 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.
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. While there was no disagreement over the need for evangelism, many believed that missionary societies were not authorized by scripture and would compromise the autonomy of local congregations. 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 early 19th century Restoration Movement also encompassed very different views concerning the role of clergy: the Campbell branch was strongly anti-clergy, believing there was no justification for a clergy/lay distinction, while the Stone branch had a higher view of clergy, believing that only an ordained minister could officiate at communion.
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
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 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. 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. Disagreement over organizations such as missionary societies became one important factor leading to the separation of the Churches of Christ from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
About a decade later, L. L. Pinkerton, who was a member of the Midway, Kentucky church brought a melodeon (pump organ) 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 19th century progressed, a division gradually developed between those whose primary commitment was to unity, and those whose primary commitment was to the restoration of 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.”
The rise of women leaders in the temperance and missionary movements played an important role in separating the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. In the Christian Churches, many women spoke in public on behalf of the new Christian Woman’s Board of Missions (CWBM) and Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In contrast, the Churches of Christ largely discouraged women from speaking in public and joining activist women’s organizations such as the WCTU. The Erie (IL) Christian Church ordained Clara Celestia Hale Babcock as the first known woman Disciple preacher in 1889. Cultural factors arising from the American Civil War also contributed to the division.
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 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.
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.
Generally speaking, the Disciples of Christ tended to be predominately urban and Northern, while the Churches of Christ were predominately rural and Southern. The Disciples favored college-educated clergy, while the Churches of Christ discouraged formal theological education because they opposed the creation of a professional clergy. Disciples congregations tended to be wealthier and constructed larger, more expensive church buildings; Churches of Christ built more modest structures, and criticized the wearing of expensive clothing in worship. One commentator has described the Disciples “ideal” as reflecting the “businessman” and the Church of Christ “ideal” as reflecting “the simple and austere yeoman farmer.”
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 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 Christian churches and churches of Christ resolving the tension by stressing restoration while the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) resolved the tension by stressing ecumenism.
Subsequent development of the Christian Churches
Following the 1906 separation of the Churches of Christ (Non-Instrumental), 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 20th 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 Christian churches and 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.
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, 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 (Disciples of Christ). Those congregations that chose not to be associated with the new denominational organization went their own way as the Christian churches and churches of Christ, completing a separation that had begun decades before.
Restructuring and development of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
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).” The restructuring was implemented in 1969 by the first General Assembly, and the name officially changed to the “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)”. This restructuring has been described as an “overt recognition of the body’s denominational status,” and the modern Disciples have been described as “a Reformed North American Mainstream Moderate Denomination.”
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 Christian churches and Churches of Christ.
Separation of the Christian churches and Churches of Christ
Independent Christian churches and 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).
The development of the Christian churches and churches of Christ as a separately identifiable religious body from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (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.
The Disciples of Christ were, in 1910, a united, growing community with common goals. 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 City and a 1926 convention in Memphis, Tennessee. 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. By this time the division between liberals and conservatives was well established.
The official separation between the independent Christian churches and 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 and 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. 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 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 (non-institutional). 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 20th 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.
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 Christian churches and 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 Christian churches and 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 (Disciples of Christ). 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 University (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 (Disciples of Christ).
Names for the Movement
Because the Restoration Movement lacks any centralized structure, having originated in a variety of places with different leaders, there is no consistent nomenclature for the movement as a whole. When the Stone and Campbell movements united in 1832, Barton Stone advocated using the name “Christians” based on its use in Acts 11:26, while Campbell preferred the term “disciples” because he saw it as both a more humble and an older designation. After 1832, use of term “Reformation” became frequent among leaders of the movement. The Campbells had designated themselves as “Reformers,” and other early leaders also saw themselves as reformers seeking Christian unity and restoring apostolic Christianity. The movement’s language at the time included phrases such as “religious reformation,” the “present reformation,” the “current reformation” and “the cause of reformation.”
The term “Restoration Movement” became popular as the 19th century progressed. It appears to have been inspired by Alexander Campbell’s essays on “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things” in the Christian Baptist. This name has remained popular among the Churches of Christ and the Christian churches and churches of Christ. Because of the emphasis it places on the theme of restoration, it has been a less comfortable fit for those whose primary focus has been on the theme of unity. Historically, the term “Disciples of Christ” has also been used by some as a collective designation for the movement. It has evolved, however, into a designation for a particular branch of the movement – the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – as a result of the divisions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The term “Stone-Campbell Movement” emerged towards the end of the 20th century as a way to avoid the difficulties associated with some of the other names that have been used, and to maintain a sense of the collective history of the movement. Other names that have been used include “the Brotherhood”, “the Cause” and “the churches.” While the use of the word “movement” is supported by a fairly broad consensus, no single terminology is generally accepted or has official status.
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”.