PO Box 3425
May/June Issue 2011 - Volume 30 Number 3
Rekindling the Restoration Spirit
is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your
calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who
is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
In October 1985 while living in
El Dorado, Arkansas I received an offer in the mail one day regarding a
book. This book was to be sent to me free of charge with only this
stipulation: You are to read this book within six months of receipt. I
quote here from the letter I received from the author of the book and sent
out by the publisher:
Through the good graces of a
Christian physician in California this special edition has been prepared
especially for ministers within the Stone-Campbell heritage. The publisher
has mailed an invitation to thousands of preachers, offering those who
have not yet read this history a free copy of this special edition. The
doctor’s only stipulation is a promise to read the book.
This in itself is history-making,
for it is unusual for one to have such a love for a heritage and such a
desire that its story be appreciated by those who are its heirs as to
underwrite the publication of thousands of books. The physician believes
that the story told in this book, with its tragedies and triumphs, will
serve to bring our fragmented Movement closer together. He believes we
might find healing in our common roots and rediscover principles that will
recapture the dream we once had for the unity of all Christians.
The book was over 700-pages long,
but I was happy to dig into the book because it was on the history of the
churches of Christ in America. According to information I received, this
book had been paid for by a doctor and he had the copies sent to
Restoration preachers. The book was published by College Press of Joplin,
Missouri in 1981, and it was in its third printing in 1985. The book is
Stone-Campbell Movement, and the author is Leroy Garret. Brother
Garret was a doctor of Philosophy and Religion. At the time of the mailing
of the book Brother Garret had not yet met the doctor who graciously sent
the free books. I have been pleased to have a copy and it is still in good
shape and sitting on my desk as I write today.
Even before that time I had read
other books on what is often referred to as Restoration History. This is
not the story of one movement but of several movements that took place in
America in the 19th Century involving Alexander Campbell and
his father, Thomas Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott and Raccoon
John Smith, to name just a few of those who pioneered the movements.
I have a book in my library by
Clifton E Olmstead who was a Professor of Religion at The George
Washington University entitled History
of Religion in the United States. This book traces the history of
churches in the United States from their European roots on through the
Colonial Period and up into the 1950’s. In chapter 15, Conflicts in
Religious Thought and Practice, Olmstead writes regarding the Campbellites
or Disciples of Christ:
At the same time that the
followers of Stone were promoting their cause in Ohio and Kentucky, there
was evolving father to the East a similar movement with which they would
eventually merge. The pioneer of this nascent entity was Thomas Campbell
(1763-1854), a Scotch-Irish Seceder Presbyterian minister who arrived in
the United States in 1807. After receiving his education in Glasgow, he
conducted a school in County Armagh and pastured a church which was
affiliated with the hyper-conservative Anti-Burgher division of the
Seceder Presbyterians, a group which opposed the appointment of ministers
to their parishes by lay landlords and rejected oaths of allegiance to the
established church. Despite his strict environment, Campbell became a
scholar with broad interests and learned to despise the trivialities which
rent asunder the Christian community. In this he was influenced
considerably by the congregational principles of the Independent Church of
Rich Hill, by the warm evangelicalism of Rowland Hill and J. A. Haldane,
and by John Locke’s Letters
Concerning Toleration. Upon arrival in America he affiliated with
the Associate (Seceder) Synod of North America and was assigned to a
circuit in southwestern Pennsylvania which fell under the jurisdiction of
the Prebytery of Chartiers.
It was not long before Campbell
was in difficulty with his presbytery. Refusing to abide by what amounted
to a close communion rule, he invited all Christians to participate in the
communion, regardless of their denominational connection. Charges were
filed against him in presbytery and he was adjudged worthy of censure. He
appealed to the Associate Synod basing his argument upon the Scriptures.
The Synod removed the stigma of censure but advised the liberally inclined
clergyman to withdraw lest he find himself in further difficulty. Campbell
accepted their advice and became a free-lance minister in the area which
he had server earlier. For nearly a year he journeyed from one community
to the next, preaching in private homes as opportunity afforded. His
central theme was the sole authority of Scripture and the unity of
Christians. In August, 1809, he and his followers organized the Christian
Association of Washington; the motto of this informal society was “where
the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are
silent.” In no sense did its members regard their organization as a
church. It was rather an independent society which sought to achieve
reform within the Christian community. That others might know of these
purposes, Campbell prepared a Declaration and Address, which the association ordered published
in September, 1809.
The year 1809 also witnessed the
arrival of Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) along with the rest of the
Campbell family. Alexander would eventually emerge as the movement’s
recognized leader. In the year 1823, Alexander Campbell began to publish
the Christian Baptist and that
publication later gave way to the Millennial
Harbinger in January 1830. Alexander Campbell wrote in the
Prospectus of the first edition on Monday, January 4, 1830:
“This work shall be devoted to the destruction of sectarianism,
infidelity, and antichristian doctrine and practice. It shall have for its
object the development and introduction of that political and religious
order of society called THE
MILLENNIM, which will be the consummation of that ultimate
amelioration of society proposed in the Christian Scriptures.” This
first edition also contained an Extract of a Circular Letter, written by
Walter Scott, for the Mahoning Association. Here is a short excerpt from
that letter that Walter Scott wrote:
Brethren, we have a right to
expect great things at the hand of our Father---if we are united and stand
fast, striving together for the faith of the gospel. And be it known to
you, brethren, that individuals, eminently skilled in the word of God, the
history of the world, and the progress of human government, see reason to
expect changes much greater than have yet occurred, and which shall give
to political society, and to the church, a different, a very different
complexion from what many anticipate. The Millennium---the Millennium
described in scriptures, will doubtless be a wonder, a terrible wonder to
The passion of these pioneers for
the word of God is amazing. They had the utmost confidence that if men
would lay aside their creeds and simply take the Scripture as their guide
that a new Millennium would burst on the scene. Alexander Campbell would
meet Barton W. Stone for the first time in 1824 and the Christians
(Campbell) and the Disciples (Stone) merged in 1832. They began with
20,000 to 30,000 communicants and by 1850 they numbered 118,000 (Olmstead,
p. 310). The differences that divided the United States into the North and
the South and resulted in the Civil War, also proved fatal to the unity of
the churches in the North and the South. What had begun with great promise
and hope began to splinter and divide.
One of the greatest shifts we
have witnessed in recent years is our view of the word of God. Perhaps one
of the best ways to characterize this difference is a bit of humor that I
have heard. We must remember that many a truth is said in jest. It has
been observed by some that today instead of the Ten Commandments we have
the Ten Suggestions! That may be a very accurate description of the
approach that many have toward God’s Word today. It is a buffet of many
books and letters and we sail down the line and pick and choose the things
that suit our tastes and fancies. We pile on helpings of promises and
material blessings and abstain from those arduous dishes of
self-sacrifice, doctrine, reproof, correction and obedience. While Jesus
was destined to come to the earth and do things His Father’s way, we are
convinced that he did it so that today we can have it our way.
There is still power in the blood
of Jesus to take away the sins of the world, and there is still power in
the word of God to change the hearts of men when we surrender to its
teachings. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration
of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). May God
rekindle in our minds today the spirit that inspired the old pioneers to
believe that God’s word is quick and powerful and that it can bring the
kingdom of God into our hearts.
...L S Gage
The Last Will
and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery
A presbytery is a court, or body, of church leaders who make and enforce decisions on member congregations. The Washington Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church covered southwest Ohio and the northeast part of Kentucky as the nineteenth century began. Staunchly Calvinistic, the Presbyterian Church grew alarmed by the preaching of Barton Warren Stone and others at the Great Revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801. This was due to Stone’s belief that the gospel was for all men and that faith was a pre-condition for salvation. Both those doctrines are denied by Calvinism, which teaches a limited atonement, unconditional election and irresistible grace.
So, Barton W. Stone, as a Presbyterian preacher, was in hot water with the Washington Presbytery, along with Robert Marshall, Richard McNemar, John Dunlavy and John Thompson. Charges were first brought by the Washington Presbytery against Richard McNemar, and his case came before the Synod of Kentucky in September 1803 for a ruling. The Kentucky Synod sided with the Washington Presbytery. Stone and the others could see the writing on the wall and knew they were next. Thus, with the courage of their convictions, they announced their withdrawal from the Washington Presbytery and that, furthermore, the Presbyterian Confession of Faith was an impediment to the gospel.
On breaking with the Presbyterian Church, these five men established an organization of their own, called the Springfield Presbytery. Their goal was to abandon all manmade creeds and accept only the Bible as their authoritative guide. Soon, fifteen churches belonged to the Springfield Presbytery. However, as the work rapidly grew, Stone and others came to see that they had established the very thing they were seeking to leave behind—a manmade organization not authorized in Scripture.
In an effort toward unity, the Springfield Presbytery was actually fueling division, along with all the other presbyteries and such like. Consequently, they rightly decided their new creation needed to be immediately dissolved for the good of the gospel. To do that, they drafted “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” which was issued June 28, 1804—three years before Thomas Campbell came to America from Ireland, and five years before Alexander Campbell arrived on American shores.
All Christians would do well to acquaint themselves with the history of the Lord’s church during the Restoration of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Earl Irvin West has an outstanding 351 page book, Search For The Ancient Order, Vol. I (published by Gospel Advocate, Nashville). Or, for a brief yet insightful survey of the same history in 111 pages, there is Adron Doran’s book, Restoring New Testament Christianity (published by 21st Century Christian, Nashville).
“The Last Will and Testament” is a thrilling statement of determination to throw off the chains of denominationalism once and for all. It shows what happens when the truth dawns on the minds of men who see clearly for the first time that the gospel of Christ does not need buttressing by presbyteries, synods, catechisms, creeds, and the like. Without their courageous trailblazing, we might be still in the quagmire of men’s doctrines. Here is what they penned from Kentucky, 200 years ago:
The Presbytery of Springfield, sitting at Cane Ridge, in the county of Bourbon, being, through a gracious Providence, in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily; and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die: and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make, and ordain this our last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, viz.
Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.
Item. We will, that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God’s heritage, and his name One.
Item. We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
Item. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
Item. We will, that the church of Christ resume her native right of internal government—try her candidates for the ministry, as to their soundness in the faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority but Christ speaking in them. We will, that the church of Christ look up to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest; and that she resume her primitive right of trying those who say they are apostles, and are not.
Item. We will, that each particular church, as a body, actuated by the same spirit, choose her own preacher, and support him by a free will offering, without a written call or subscription—admit members—remove offences; and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatever.
Item. We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.
Item. We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.
Item. We will, that our weak brethren, who may have been wishing to make the Presbytery of Springfield their king, and wot not what is now become of it, betake themselves to the Rock of Ages, and follow Jesus for the future.
Item. We will, that the Synod of Kentucky examine every member, who may be suspected of having departed from the Confession of Faith, and suspend every such suspected heretic immediately; in order that the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of gospel liberty.
Item. We will, that Ja——, the author of two letters lately published in Lexington, be encouraged in his zeal to destroy partyism. We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined into by all who may have correct information; but let foreigners beware of speaking evil of things which they know not.
Item. Finally, we will, that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.
Springfield Presbytery, June 28th, 1804
Witnesses: Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, Richard M’Nemar, B. W. Stone, John Thompson, David Purviance
Posted on May 10, 2007
- Number 3 -
May/Jun 2011 BC
is published every other month. Send all inquiries, address changes and
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Gage, PO Box 3425, Fayetteville, AR 72702-3425
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