Restoring New Testament Christianity: Part 1
Note: this is part 1 of a series of articles on “Restoring New Testament Christianity”
The Restoration Movement, also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement, is one of the more recent Christian movements that sought to restore NT Christianity. It began during the turn of the 19th century and continued for almost 100 years (1790-1870). The goal was to restore “the church” and see to 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. The first, led by Barton Stone, began at Cane Ridge, Kentucky and called themselves simply "Christians". The second began in western Pennsylvania and 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 1801, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky planted the seed for a movement in the Ohio valley region 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 movement was the publication of Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery, at Cane Ridge, in 1804 (a historical site you can still visit today). 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.
The Restoration Movement since divided into multiple separate groups. There are three main branches in the US: the Churches of Christ, the Christian churches (Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Obviously, the Restoration Movement didn’t ultimately unify all self-proclaimed Christians nor did it completely restore N.T. Christianity; however, there were a number of positives that came out of the effort. The concept of restoring 1st century Christianity- both from the standpoint of our formal worship that occurs as a congregation and individual living, through an emphasis on God’s word as our only standard, is incredibly important. While this particular time period in church history has become known as the Restoration Movement, let’s be clear that this wasn’t the first such period of religious restoration (Luther, Wesley, Oxford University, etc) nor has it been or should it be the last! God’s word is clear that restoration MUST be a continuous process, both collectively and individually. God tells us through Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to “test ourselves to see if we are in the faith; examine ourselves!” With this framing in mind, we are going to embark on a series exploring why religious restoration is so frequently needed; but also why it requires some level of caution.