The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement

The "Christian Church", The "Church of Christ", and the "Disciples of Christ"

These three Christian sects form what is commonly referred to in theological history as the Campbellite or Restoration Movement1.  As denominations2, they trace their roots to a number of nineteenth century, dissident Presbyterian and Baptist clergy -- e.g. Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander.

At their core, all three are representative of modern-day theistic humanismNearly all embrace evangelical Arminianism and are non-dispensational in their interpretation of Scripture.  Consequently, none are completely free of first century Judaism, and thus they struggle with various forms of legalism.  For most part, the Apostle Paul's message of sovereign grace is "anathema."  A small minority are universalists who reject the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the Deity of Christ, thus qualifying for 'cult' status.  The Campbellite 'progressives' are leading ecumenicists3 -- e.g. Max Lucado.

Their non-dispensational view of Scripture causes them to emphasis the early ministry of Peter, and the Kingdom Gospel, in the Book of Acts4.  Their banner Bible verse is Acts 2:38.  They are unable to grasp why the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul placed different emphasis on the act of water baptism, and are baffled why the Holy Spirit would allow Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 1:17:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

Consequently, these groups have traditionally and erroneously made water baptism an integral part of salvation.  Many teach a baptismal regeneration--i.e., that the new birth occurs during water baptism and does not occur without it.  Similar to Pentecostals and Seventh-Day Adventists, they have worked to build acceptance within mainline evangelicalism by being furtive with their views,--in specific the role of water baptism.  If pressed or exposed, they easily become belligerent.  (For extensive documentation regarding the water baptism issue, see the Wikipedia reference link below.)

The Campbellite concept of Christianity is largely the form of religion found in the Synoptic Gospels and the transitional period of the early chapters of the Acts before the displacement of Peter and his message of the Kingdom.  However, unlike the early Apostles, they reject the sovereignty of God in favor of the so-called free-will of man -- theistic humanism.  It is their failure to understand the Pauline revelation that accounts for the spiritual poverty [not numbers] of their fellowships and associations.  Except for a few, they are unfamiliar with the Gospel of Grace given by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ via the Apostle Paul.

Also read the Wikipedia entry:  Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ

1  "This religious tradition is known by a number of different names, of which the Restoration Movement is the most common. Other names include the Stone-Campbell Movement (derived from the names of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, pivotal figures in the history of the movement), the American Reformation and sometimes the Reformation Movement, although this name is easily confused with the Reformation of the 16th century. Modern segments of the Restoration Movement include the Noninstrumental Churches of Christ, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the International Church of Christ (Boston and London), an off-shoot of the Noninstrumental Churches of Christ. The New England Christian Connexion (or Christian Denomination) and the Christian Church in the South, both of which later joined the United Church of Christ share some of the same history, as do the Christadelphians."  This description was written by Jim McMillan [see below].  Mr. McMillan is an Ordained Minister of the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ for 26 years. Present position: part-time minister of the Newman Christian Church, Newman, Illinois.

2 Campbellites strongly reject the term "denomination", since their churches operate with a large degree of local independence.  Some prefer to refer to themselves as a "fellowship" of churches, some absolutely independent.  However, the similarities for each of the three groups far outweigh any differences, and the distinction is lost on the average visitor.

3 Historically, a central goal for the Campbellites was to reduce division in the "body of Christ."  However, they have had a long tradition of being highly argumentative and spoiling for theological "debate."  In recent decades, they often hold week or longer conventions in hopes of cultivating unity among themselves.  What success they achieve is largely of the non-doctrinal variety.  One of their ploys is to "corporately take upon ourselves no names but those for which there is a Biblical precedent."

4 "THE GOSPEL OF THE CIRCUMCISION -- It is necessary to draw the line concerning Peter's preaching on this occasion [Acts 2].  At Pentecost he was speaking to Israel [Jews] only.   This was before the Gentiles were brought into the Church, as recorded in Acts 10:34-38.  As we read in Acts 2:14-40, Peter witnessed to them of the risen Lord Jesus Christ whom they had crucified, and the Holy Spirit brought them under conviction of sin. Then he instructed them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  There was no waiting or agonizing, praying or fasting, or tongues-speaking.

"The conditions upon which the Jews received the gift of the Spirit at that time were: belief in Christ, repentance for sin, and water baptism.  This was the Gospel of the circumcision, and involved water baptism before receiving the gift of the Spirit.  They were to repent of having (representatively) slain their Messiah, and in a figurative way to wash their hands of the crime by being baptized (water).  Then the Spirit would indwell them. Paul was saved on the basis of this Gospel of the circumcision (Acts 9:18; 22:16).

"THE GOSPEL OF THE UNCIRCUMCISION -- When we come to Cornelius and the Gentiles being brought into the Church through receiving the gift of the Spirit, we shall see the Gospel of the uncircumcision in action -- the very Gospel by which we were born again and baptized into the Body of Christ. "But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me [Paul], as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter" (Galatians 2:7).  In the Gospel of the uncircumcision the order is: belief in Christ, repentance for sin, reception of the Spirit, and then water baptism -- the public confession of identification with Christ in His death and resurrection."

excerpts from THE LINE DRAWN -- Miles J. Stanford

Letters of Interest

Dear DanS:

I was reading your page on the Churches of Christ and wanted to let you know a few thoughts I had on the subject since my Christian heritage is from the Restoration Movement of Stone/Campbell.  In my opinion, your web page would be accurate up until about the 1950's or so with the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ and up until 1975 or so with the Churches of Christ.  It is true the movement was started by some disenchanted Baptist and Presbyterian ministers who grew tired of the futile denominational arguing etc. etc. etc.  The original goal was to have a church that just followed the bible and reflected that of the first century.  Well, as you state, the result was of course the group of churches you talked about, with the Churches of Christ being the most legalistic of the bunch and a very "fundamental" view of the scriptures.

To make the story short, these churches have all found out about Grace.  And to be quite frank, the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ are no more "Arminian" than most Southern Baptists [oops!  Most SB's are Arminian].  Even the Churches of Christ are becoming that way in mass.  Of course, there are a few "hold outs" who have dug in their legalistic heels and who are a bit nasty.  I will grant you that they are not Calvinists, but to label these groups as a "cult" and as being "radical Arminians" just isn't fair.  That really doesn't fit anymore.  Some I know personally are what I term "quasi-Calvinists"...they just don't know it!  LOL [laughing out loud]

As for baptismal regeneration, it is true that it has been taught in Churches of Christ and it probably is still being taught in some today.   However, (and believe me) I have researched the matter, I am unable to find one contemporary Church of Christ scholar who holds to that theological position.  It is my opinion that the people still teaching it do so out of tradition or a lack of education.  Today, it is usually preached as an ordinance or part of our faith response to the Gospel.

I am a part of these groups, and in my lifetime I have seen the switch from legalism to grace and it is very exciting. And (please don't take this the wrong way) I have told this to other Calvinist teachers on the WWW and for some reason they don't want to believe me. They simply point me to books (many I have already read) that theologically dissect the orthodoxy and legalism of some of the groups in this movement.  Anyway, your prayers and support are appreciated as we try to move forward in grace.

Grace and Peace to You and your family!

Brian a.k.a. MaxPotato

Dear Max!

Thank you for your critique of my critique.  I'm always willing to learn and pay particular attention to the views of 'insiders'.  My observations are, of course, limited to what I read and my personal contact over the years both with church members and those who have left the movement.

I will grant you that these denominations have changed over the past several decades; however, your and my view of the nature of that change appears to differ widely.  First, while I have never met a single one of your so-called "quasi-Calvinists", I have encountered numerous former members who are now either half-blown or full-blown charismatics.  As typically the case, these folks are in the process of exchanging the deadness of their legalism for the wildfire of religious subjectivism.

Brian, even if these denominations were successful in making the journey to "Calvinism", their new 'calvinistic' position would still fall far short of the grace found in the Apostle Paul's Gospel of Grace.  I have yet to meet, or hear of secondhand, a Campbellite or ex-Campbellite who understands or embraces the identificational truths as expounded by the Apostle Paul.

What your denominational leaders may have "found" is not Pauline grace, but the ability to craft their message in such a way as to effectively shroud their historical doctrinal distinctives, emphasize "evangelical" commonalties, and appearing more mainstream -- all the while moving closer to the original ecumenical vision of the movements founders.  A prime example is Max Lucado, who recently signed the Covenant/Calvinistic statement of faith -- "Evangelical Celebration".

It is heartening to see you and others willing to explore outside the walls of your "denomination."  Rest assured, our prayers and support are with YOU as well, as you strive to move forward in search of the truth.

We look forward to hearing from you again.

By His sovereign love, grace, and mercy,

Dan R. Smedra

Sites of Interest

Hans Rollmann's RESTORATION MOVEMENT mega-site.

Stone Campbell Restoration Movement Resources - This site belongs to the Rev. Jim McMillan hosted from the Abilene Christian (Church of Christ) University website.

The Boston Church of Christ [Boston Movement] - by The WATCHMAN Expositor.

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