Is there really such a thing? Don’t we trace our beginnings all the way back to the Day of Pentecost? After all, the Church of Christ wasn’t founded by Barton W. Stone or Alexander Campbell. It was founded by Jesus! It started with the book of Acts, not the American Restoration Movement! Or as some say, “I could care less about what Stone and Campbell said. I only care about the Bible says.”
I’ve heard those pleas before and I like what Gary Holloway and Douglas Foster say in response: “At least one reason you only care for what the Bible says is that Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell influenced you.” In other words, one of the reasons you deny your history is precisely because of your history. You simply can’t escape the influences of the past. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we have a history. [Check out this old post for more from Holloway/Foster.]
This issue recently re-surfaced for me. A few months ago, I was asked to present a historical lecture at First Presbyterian on the topic of the Church and Slavery. Since I’m a preacher and not a historian, I decided to limit the scope of the talk to the American Restoration Movement (that’s the history I know best). Turned out that someone with the Polk home was there and they asked me to repeat the talk at the Polk’s America Lecture series. They asked for a title and synopsis so here’s what I sent them.
A Unity Movement Divided: The American Restoration Movement birthed the Churches of Christ, Christian Church and Disciples of Christ. It was essentially a unity movement designed to bring Christians together. However, just as the movement was gaining steam it ran headlong into the most divisive issue in our country’s history…slavery. Russ Adcox will talk about some of the principal leaders of the movement and how they sought to respond to the growing division.
Apparently, a few folks saw the press release and emailed to the Polk home to take issue with the notion that the Churches of Christ we’re birthed by the Restoration Movement. I didn’t see any of the emails but I wasn’t too surprised. We actually have a history of denying our history. Sounds confusing but let me explain.
The Restoration Movement was a unity movement that focused on calling Christians out of denominations and into simple, nondenominational Christianity. They sought to restore the church of the New Testament and reestablish the “ancient order of things.” Thus, there was a strong emphasis on the first century church and it’s beginnings on the Day of Pentecost. These restoration ideals carried with them the idea that our fellowship (unlike others) could actually trace its history all the way back to the book of Acts. Therefore, many members insist that the Church of Christ was established in the first century not the 19th century. And they are right…to an extent.
If we’re talking about the church universal or the church as established by Jesus, they are right. It started around A.D. 33. But if we’re talking about the church as a specific sect, fellowship or group, then it started around the early 1800s. That’s clear to any student of history. The current beliefs and practices of the Church of Christ were heavily influenced by the Stone, Campbell and other leaders of the Restoration Movement. To admit that doesn’t diminish the role of the Bible. It simply recognizes that these men were the voices that called us back to the Bible. It’s a fascinating history that we should embrace rather than deny.