The Restoration Movement in the Church

extracted from

The History of the Church
Howard A. White

|The Early Church| |Apostasy in the Early Church| |Development of Papal Power| |Reformation Movement| |Rise of Denominations| |Spread of Denominations| |Restoration Movement| |A Warning|

In our study of the Reformation it was found that chief effort of this movement was to reform the Catholic Church. We now begin the study of another period in the history of the church by observing some facts about a great movement which had its beginning in the latter part of the eighteenth century in America. It is known as the Restoration. As suggested by the title which has been given to this movement, the chief effort was to restore the New Testament pattern in worshipping and serving of God.


A number of causes combined to bring about this movement:

    1. Since the beginning of the Reformation, the Bible had made great gains in circulation year by year. This increase in the circulation of the scriptures, of course, led to increased knowledge of the word of God. As men learned more the word of God they thought less of human creeds. In the hearts of many the question rang, "Why not go back to the Bible and do away with creeds"?
    2. As the number of denominations continued to multiply and new creed books and confessions of faith were constantly being written and adopted, it became more evident that the Reformation Movement was failing to restore New Testament Christianity in its purity and simplicity.
    3. The more men studied the New Testament the more they recognised the sin of religious division. They saw that denominationalism was preventing the answer to Christ’s prayer for unity among his followers. They saw religious division was contrary to the pleadings of the apostle Paul. (1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:4.) They saw that divisions were weakening that forces of God on every hand. They came to realise that each creed was an iron bed and the preacher was made to fit it.
    4. Another condition which caused many honest seekers after the truth to get their eyes open to the need for restoring the ancient order of things was the ignorance and arrogance of the clergy. As in other fields of endeavor, so it is in religion - the more ignorant one is, the more arrogant he is apt to become. So, the clergy of the day was cursed with men who in their ignorance stood upon the stilts of arrogance and expected the world to look up to them. They assumed the right of legislation for those in the pews. Instead of leading their followers back to the New Testament, they stood in the way of reformation and restoration.
    5. The Calvinistic doctrine of hereditary total depravity played its part in paving the way for the great movement to restore New Testament teaching.

The idea that all men are born totally depraved and that if a baby died it would be punished in an eternal hell was repulsive to logical minds. Some reached by losing all interest in religion; others became infidels; while such a doctrine caused many to be filled with a greater desire for Bible doctrine.


The principles of the Restoration Movement may be summarised as follows:

    1. Recognition of Christ as supreme authority in religion and the New Testament as the only rule of faith and practice. This would automatically do away with creeds and human authority.
    2. A proper distinction between the Old and New Testaments.
    3. Recognition of the New Testament pattern of the church.
    4. The autonomy of the local church.
    5. The unity of all Christians.


Let it be clearly understood by all that Alexander Campbell was not the originator of this movement. Historical facts confirm this statement. The following men preceded the Campbells and did much to advance the cause of simple New Testament Christianity.

James O’kelly (1794), a Methodist preacher in Mankintown, North Carolina, began to oppose the Episcopal form of government in the Methodist Church. He insisted upon the autonomy of the local church as is found in the New Testament.

He and those who agreed with him withdrew from the Methodist Church and at a meeting in Surrey County, Virginia in 1794, the following points were emphasised: 1. Use the name "Christian" and no other. 2. Christ as the only head of the church. 3. The Bible as the only creed. 4. The right of private judgement and liberty of conscience.

Dr. Abner Jones (1800), a prominent Baptist preacher of Vermont, became distressed over sectarianism and, desiring to see it cease, broke away from the Baptists about 1800. He led in establishing congregations that endeavored to worship after the New Testament order, wearing the name "Christian" and accepting the Bible only as their rule of faith and practice. Dr. Jones had not heard of O’Kelly and his work, but he had his New Testament and he was seeking to get back to it.

Barton W. Stone (1801) was a bewildered young man who wanted to be saved but had failed to undergo any "experience" which, as he had been taught, was to be regarded as proof that he was one of the "elect." He was urged to preach by friends in the Presbyterian Church and did not accept the Westminister Confession of Faith in full. He was assigned to preach at the Concord and Cane Ridge Churches in Kentucky in 1798. He preached that God loved men and that Jesus died for all. He preached the Great Commission of Christ as it is revealed in the New Testament. In 1803, he attended the trial of Richard McNemar who was brought before the Presbytery of Ohio for preaching contrary to the Confession of Faith. He and five other preachers present knew they were guilty of the same offence so they withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and formed the "Springfield Presbytery." However, it was destined to be short-lived, for a year after it was formed they concluded that it was unnecessary and unscriptual. On June 28, 1804, they drew up and published an unique religious document entitled, "The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Perbytery."2 The following statement are contained in this document:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. We will that each particular church as a body, actuated by the same spirit, choose her own preacher, and support him by a freewill 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.
    5. We will that 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."

What is there in these statements to which anyone could object who believes the Bible to be the complete and final revelation of the will of God?

The work of these men, James O’Kelly, Dr. Abner Jones, and Barton W. Stone, in pleading for a return to the New Testament order of things was done each without the knowledge of what the others were doing. All of these men began their efforts in this direction a number of years before Alexander Campbell came to America. Before discussing Alexander Campbell it is in order that we give attention to the work of his father.

Thomas Campbell was born in County Down, Ireland, February 1, 1763, and died at Bethany, Virginia, in January 1854. He was highly educated both for the ministry and for school work. He is described by those who knew him as a man of culture and learning; having a strong mind and a kind heart. He loved peace and hated religious division. He was filled with deep reverence for the word of God. He possessed the courage to stand for his convictions. He came to America because of ill health, arriving in this country May 27, 1807.

He was received by the Philadelphia Synod of the Presbyterian Church and was assigned to work in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Contrary to the rules of the church, he communed with members of other divisions of the Presbytery. He appealed to the Synod of North America, the highest governing body in his communion, but his position was not sustained." "Being persecuted, he withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and preached as an independent." "He and a number of friends who stood for the same principles met at the home of Abraham Altars. In a speech upon that occasion, Mr. Campbell declared: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." On August 17, 1809, he and his followers formed the "Christian Association of Washington" and proceeded to draw up a statement of purpose which they called "Declaration and Address."3 This famous document contains more than 30,000 words.

The principal points of the "Declaration and Address" may be summarised as follows: 1. The Unity of the Church "That the church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, constitutionally one." 2. Christian Fellowship, That, although there must be separate local congregations, yet they should be one with no schisms and discord. 3. Terms of Communion. That nothing be required of Christians as articles of faith but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God. 4. "That the New Testament is supreme authority for Christians in all matters of faith and practice."

When Thomas Campbell and his associates renounced their allegiance to a creed and announced their purpose to be guided by the New Testament alone, they were unaware of what had been done by others already referred to, but they were taking steps in the same direction. Until this time, the renowned Alexander Campbell was still a school-boy in Scotland. We have to investigate historical facts to learn whether Alexander Campbell was the founder of a denomination.

The latter part of the Eighteenth Century saw the beginning of a great movement to restore the New Testament pattern of the church upon the earth. This movement had its beginning when preachers of various denominations and in different parts of the U.S.A. recognised this sinful division existing among those who claimed to follow Christ and sought to unite all professed believers by renouncing denominational creeds and pleading for the New Testament as the only guide of faith and practice. In our study thus far we have found the names of James O’kelly, Abner Jones, Barton Stone and Thomas Campbell prominently connected with this movement. Keep in mind that these men started their work while Alexander Campbell was still young man in school in Scotland. He was not, therefore, the originator of the movement.

After more than two years in America, Thomas Campbell was joined by his family September 29, 1809. The family, during this time, had been in the charge of his son, Alexander.

Alexander Campbell, was born near Shane’s Castle, Country Antrim, Ireland, September 12, 1788. He died in Bethany, Virginia, now West Virginia, March 4, 1866. Before going to America, Alexander Campbell attended the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and was greatly influence by the Haldane brothers who preached Christian unity. Soon after his arrival in America he and his father spent much time in discussing religious subjects. His father showed him the proof sheets of the "Declaration and Address" to which reference has already been made. They were overjoyed to find that they had been giving thought to the same issues and that there was agreement between them.

Mr. Campbell and his father were troubled as they could see that the "Christian Association of Washington" was gradually taking shape as another denomination, a thing which was never intended. They were invited to join the Pittsburgh Synod. Mr. Campbell opposed it privately, but gave away to his father’s judgement. On Oct. 4, 1810, Thomas Campbell made application specifying that they were not to be Presbyterians nor would they be governed by the laws of the Synod, but would only co-operate with them in their work. The application was rejected. On May 4, 1811, they formed an independent congregation which they called "Brush Run." It started with a membership of thirty. Most of these had been sprinkled in infancy. Some of them changed their convictions about baptism and requested immersion. However, the Campbell’s were not convinced that infant baptism was unscriptural until the birth of Alexander’s first child brought them face to face with the question. Being a thorough Greek scholar, Mr. Campbell went into the original with his investigations. He was soon convinced that a penitent believer was the only Bible subject for baptism. He was also convinced that the original word for baptise meant immersion. On June 12, 1812, Alexander Campbell and his father, together with other members of the family, were immersed in Buffalo Creek by Matthias Luce of the Baptist Church. However, it was thoroughly understood and agreed by Mr. Luce and those who were to be baptised that they were not to be required to give a "religious experience" as was practiced by the Baptists and that the only confession they were to make was the one made by Peter at Caesarea Philippi, that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Living God."4

The stand which they now took on immersion made for them enemies among the Presbyterians and friends among the Baptists. Upon being urged to do so, they cast their lot with the Redstone Baptist Association in 1813 on the condition that they be "allowed to teach and preach what they learned from the Holy Scriptures." They withdrew from this association in 1816. In 1823 they joined the Mahoning Baptist Association. Later they severed all connection with the Baptists.

Lessons in Church History, by Frank Pack, contains a brief summary of Mr. Campbell’s work:

Alexander Campbell rapidly became the leading champion of the Restoration, advocating the principles his father set forth in the paper, the "Christian Baptist." He became one of the foremost Bible scholars of his day and also distinguished himself as a great debater. Always desiring the truth, he held several discussions with leading religious advocates. His chief debates were: the debate with Robert Owen on the Evidences of Christianity; and the discussion with N.L. Rice and the Design of Baptism, infant Baptism, and the work of the Holy Spirit ... Alexander Campbell was interested in Christian education and founded Bethany College in order to train the young in the ways of Christian thinking and living. He kept the issues of his religious journal before the people to provoke thought and have a better understanding of the Restoration and its ideals brought to their attention. He did not formulate any creed, nor did he erect any organisation. His whole desire was to find out what New Testament Christianity was and to try to bring about the same thing in his day. His life was filled with much useful service and preaching in the interest of undenominational Christianity.

Despite the great work done by the Campbell’s O’Kelly, Jones, Stone and others of their day, they were human beings and were therefore subject to mistakes as are all men. It would be a mistake to seek to defend any of them in all that they did or taught. They were right only in so far as they held to the teaching of the New Testament. When churches of Christ today preach the same things that were advocated by these men, it is not because they taught it, but because it is founded in the word of God.

|The Early Church| |Apostasy in the Early Church| |Development of Papal Power| |Reformation Movement| |Rise of Denominations| |Spread of Denominations| |Restoration Movement| |A Warning|


  1. Materials taken from: Robert Richardson, Memoirs Of Alexander Campbell, 2 Vols., (Cincinnati, 1897); Homer Hailey, Attitudes and Consequences (Los Angeles, 1945); M.M. Davis, How The Disciples Began And Grew (Cincinnati, 1915); Shepherd, The Church, The Falling Away, And The Restoration; Leslie G. Thomas, Restoration Handbook (Nashville 1941); Pack, Lessons in Church History.
  2. F. L. Rowe, Pioneer Sermons And Addresses, Third Edition (Cincinnati, 1925), 7-10.
  3. Ibid., 14-104.
  4. Matt. 16: 17,18

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