by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)


  • Introduction
  • The Causes of the Restoration
  • Other Factors Which Brought It About
  • The Principles Behind the Restoration
  • History of the Movement
  • The Restoration Movement Suffers Division
  • Expressions of Attitudes by the Reformers and the Restorers Compared
  • Student Instructions

  • The Great Return finds its application today among men who are seeking to restore New Testament Christianity by going back to the Bible.


    "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are 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 all." (Eph. 4:4-6)


    The concept of "restoration" extends back to Old Testament times. We hear the Lord saying, "...ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). The concept is clearly implied in the New Testament by repeated commands to Christians to hold fast to the faith. See II Tim. 1:13; 3:14; Titus 1:9; Heb. 10:23. Thus, the need for constant "restoration" exists because of the prevailing tendency of sinful men to say as they did to the Lord in Jer. 6:16, "We will not walk therein."

    "The concept of Restoration, which means to 'go back to' and restore, or 'follow the pattern of' the original is to be found in the thinking of some of the early reformers. For example, John Smyth, of the Baptist Church "believed that the Apostolic Church model was lost, and determined on its recovery" (Cox p. 69). This idea unfortunately was not widespread, or perhaps the Reformation would have been more successful in going back to New Testament authority. Later, we will notice how the influence of some independent groups in Scotland no doubt played a great part in the plea for a restoration of New Testament Christianity carried out in America.

    "The Restoration (in America) began at the closing of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century. It was the finished product of four preliminary movements which began in widely-separated areas of America, at almost the same time, each independent of, and unknown to, the leaders of the other, at least until the year 1806 (Crawford p. 29, 30).

    Consider The main effort of the Reformation Movement was as the title suggests to reform the Catholic Church, but as history reveals, reformation is never completely successful. The reforming of corrupt bodies is only possible to a limited degree.

    It will be the purpose of this study to survey the facts concerning the cause, history and results of the Restoration Movement -- an effort to restore the New Testament pattern of worship and service to God.

    The Causes of the Restoration

    Some of the same things which prompted the Reformation also brought on the Restoration Movement.

    Changed the Bible pattern of government into a hierarchical system.

    Changed the creed of the church, introducing human creeds.

    Changed the name of the church.

    Changed subjects of baptism from immersion to sprinkling.

    Changed the form of worship, introducing instrumental music.
    Also adopted non-Biblical forms of church government.

    Also wrote and accepted human creeds.

    Many denominations have changed subjects of baptism from believers to children (infants).

    Many denominations have also changed the form of baptism.

    Also added instruments of music to the worship.

    Other Factors Which Brought It About

    The increased circulation of the Bible produced greater knowledge of it. Many began to wonder why creeds were needed if we all had the Bible to follow.

    The efforts of the Reformers soon began to shatter -- denomination after denomination sprang up -- new creed books and articles of faith were introduced and accepted. Thus, it became more evident that reformation was impossible, and only led to rampant division -- denominationalism.

    Religious division is condemned in the Scriptures. As men began to learn of this truth, they could also see that denominationalism was preventing a complete unity of believers. Division was a hindering factor in trying to take the gospel to the world.

    Another factor was the general attitude of the clergy after the Reform had settled down. Hardeman says, "History reveals the fact that about one hundred years ago (said in 1928) the most arrogant clergy of all the ages led the religious element" ( P. 112). Sometimes the more ignorant men are, the more arrogant they are, and this seemed to be the blight of the age. Thus, people were opening their eyes to the need for a change.

    Calvin's doctrine of total hereditary depravity also brought its reactions. The idea that a little baby died and was punished in hell was repulsive to logical minds. Some rebelled all the way to infidelity, but others were searching for more truth from the Bible -- on this and other subjects. (Summarized from Cox, pp. 75-76).

    The Principles Behind the Restoration

    Christ is the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23).
    The New Testament is the only rule of faith and practice (Phil. 3:16).
    Rightly dividing the Word of truth -- making a proper distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament (II Tim. 2:15).
    Recognition of the New Testament pattern of work and worship for the church.
    Restoration of the local autonomy of the church.
    The unity of all believers by following the above principles.
    Believers are "Christians" only.

    IT DID NOT -- try to simply correct existing errors as did the Reformation Movement, but sought to lay aside existing errors and return to Bible truth.

    IT DID NOT -- seek to add another denomination to those already in existence, but sought to eliminate denominationalism by returning to the New Testament order for the church.

    IT DID NOT -- come from the thinking and planning of one person, but rather from scores of people who were just as unhappy with sectarian dogma and denominational errors as the reformers had been with Roman Catholic corruption and tyranny.

    IT DID NOT -- seek to unify existing denominations on the basis of cooperative concession and compromise, but rather it sought to unify brethren by strict adherence to the Word of God, believing that the only basis for true unity is the acceptance of the truth of the Bible. Someone has said, "Unity is the by-product of the acceptance of truth -- when men accept truth there is unity." If this is true (and it is) men are divided because some accept and some reject the gospel. (Some ideas from Miller, pp. 31-32).

    History of the Movement


    Haldane Brothers They were workers in Scotland who put forth great efforts to eliminate human denominations and return to the apostolic order of New Testament Christianity. They organized churches independent of the Church of Scotland.

    Thomas Campbell As a member of the Seceder Church in Scotland he tried to bring about unity among the four branches of the Presbyterian Church.

    John Glas and Robert Sanderman These men were the leaders of another movement in Scotland. They were opposed to creeds and confessions of faith. They taught:

    That there were two classes of officers in the New Testament church -- elders and deacons.
    That faith was the simple assent to the testimony of Christ.
    Weekly observance of the Lord's Supper.
    The need for a plurality of elders in each local congregation.

    Although their efforts were not far-reaching, they had a part in planting the seed which had an effect not only in Europe but also in America. (Ferm, pp. 418).

    IN AMERICA -- Four Separate Movements in Different Areas.

    James O'Kelly in Virginia He was a Methodist-Episcopal minister, who in 1792, separated himself from that group. His leaving Methodism was finalized in 1793 when he influenced a small group to withdraw themselves. At first, they called themselves Republican Methodists, but later they changed it to the Christian Church. O'Kelly had become increasingly dissatisfied with the episcopal government of the Methodist Church prior to his departure from it.

    The points which this group stressed were:

    We will use the name "Christian" only.
    Christ is the only head of the church.
    The Bible is the only creed.
    We reserve the right of private judgment and freedom of conscience.
    We believe that Christian character is the only test of church fellowship and membership. (Summarized from Ferm, p. 419.)

    Abner Jones in Vermont He was a prominent Baptist preacher who left the denomination in 1802. He was particularly distressed over sectarian names, creeds and church government. He discarded the "Baptist" name for "Christian", condemned the catechism as an invention of men, and declared that the clergy opposed him because they had a system of their own construction which opposed New Testament teaching. He and Elias Smith established churches after the New Testament pattern throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. He also started a religious paper called The Herald of Gospel Liberty which advocated the following principles:

    No head over the church but Christ.
    No confessions of faith, articles of religion, rubrics, canons, creeds, etc. except the New Testament.
    No religious name but "Christian". (Summarized from Ferm, p. 419.)

    Barton W. Stone in Kentucky He was a Presbyterian preacher who, along with four other preachers, found themselves out of harmony with the Calvinistic dogma to which most denominations adhered. They made a formal separation from their denomination in 1803. Stone and his friends were condemned by the Ohio Presbytery for preaching contrary to the Confession of Faith and were suspended. They formed a group called the "Springfield Presbytery" which lasted ten months before it was dissolved on June 28, 1804. The religious document which they drew up and published "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery" was a unique piece of literature. It sets forth in a vivid way the principles for which they stood as well as the spiritual insight of the men who wrote it. "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... 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... 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... We will that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven... 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 time, look up and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh" (Stewart, p. 66).

    Stone and his followers established many congregations throughout Kentucky.

    Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott in Pennsylvania and Ohio All of these men were of the Scotch Presbyterian faith. Thomas Campbell was born in Ireland and educated in Scotland. He went to America in 1807 and settled down to preaching for the Presbyterian Church. However, he soon found himself in conflict with certain of their teachings and began preaching as an "independent". In1809, he was one of a group called "The Christian Association of Washington" (not a church), which set forth their aims in a report called "Declaration and Address".

    In this document he emphasized the following facts: that the church of the New Testament is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; that although there must be separate local congregations, they should be one, without faction or discord; that nothing should be required of Christians as articles of faith but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the Word of God; that the New Testament is the supreme authority for Christians in all matters of faith and practice (Hardeman, p. 117). Thus, they severed themselves from allegiance to any creed and announced their purpose of being guided by the New Testament only.

    Alexander Campbell, son of Thomas Campbell, arrived in America in 1809. Before going there, he was under the influence of the Haldane brothers at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, who preached Christian unity. He also came in contact with the literature of the English philosopher, John Locke, who believed in a tolerant approach in religion. Campbell found himself in accord with the thinking of his father on the matter of going back to New Testament authority and together they studied their way out of denominational error. In 1812, both men and their wives and others were baptized by immersion. In 1811, having been convinced that sprinkling was wrong, they separated from the Presbyterians and began meeting at Brush Run, Pennsylvania. They pleaded for the union of Christendom on the basis of the New Testament. They said: "Nothing ought to be admitted, as of divine obligation, in the constitution and management of the church, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles upon the New Testament church, in express terms or by approved precedent."

    Campbell was a brilliant scholar and from his home in Virginia, where he later moved, he became a great leader for the Restoration Movement. In 1823, he began publishing the Christian Baptist which ran for several years. He dropped it later because of the name "Baptist". In 1829, he started another paper, the Millenial Harbinger which he published until his death. He was also an educator and started Bethany College in order to train young men in the ways of Christian living and thinking.

    As a preacher and a debater, there was none superior. In June, 1850, he preached before both houses of Congress in Washington, D.C. He travelled thousands of miles in America and Europe, lecturing everywhere. Henry Clay and James Madison, and other notables heard him speak. Madison, President of the United States, said once, "I regard him as the ablest and most original expounder of Scripture I have ever heard." (Miller, p. 35).

    Few men wanted to meet him in debate, so great were his abilities, but among his renowned encounters were the ones with the Catholic Bishop Purcell, at Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1837, and with the skeptic, Robert Owen in 1829.

    Campbell met Walter Scott in 1821 and from that time they were deeply attached to each other. He was the equal of Campbell as far as an orator and is said to have convinced entire churches to return to the New Testament pattern.

    The Restoration Movement Suffers Division

    Those mentioned in the previous section are only five of a host of men who joined this great Restoration Movement which spread over the country. As time went by and the news of people supporting the same plea spread, the efforts were gradually united. By 1850, a government census reported it to be the fourth-ranking church in America, and from 1850 to 1860 it grew faster than any religious group in the country. (Miller, p. 37).

    In 1849, disaster struck when one segment of the movement founded the American Christian Missionary Society. From the time that O'Kelly, Stone, Campbell and others had severed connections with the denominations, the only organization recognized by these New Testament Christians had been the church. But now, they were confronted with a missionary society like that of the denominations right in their midst. The cleavage never healed.

    Ten years later (about 1860), the instrumental music issue started -- it was the second great cause of division. After the Civil War in America (in the 1860's), a wave of liberalism swept the country and more and more churches began accepting the missionary society and the instruments of music in worship. The liberal group, being the majority, took control of nearly all church property. Gradually, the ever-widening gap grew until the separation was completed. The liberal group became known as the Christian Church, or Disciples of Christ. The conservative group was known simply as the churches of Christ. The separation was first given recognition in the government census reports in 1906. Statistics compiled at that time, which make no pretense at being complete, show for the churches of Christ -- 2,649 congregations; 159,659 members; 2,100 preachers, and 1,974 church buildings. The Disciples of Christ listed 8,293 churches; 6,641 preachers; and a membership of 982,701 that year.

    Consider: The differences between the Christian Church and the churches of Christ stem from a much deeper source than whether or not it is scriptural to use instruments of music in the worship. The basic difference is in the respective attitudes toward the Scriptures. (See VI. Attitudes of Reformers and Restorers.) Dr. A.W. Fortune in his book, The Disciples of Kentucky, page 383, has clearly pointed to the source of the difference.

    "The controversies through which the Disciples have passed from the beginning to the present time have been the result of two different interpretations of their mission. There have been those who believed that it is the spirit of the New Testament church that should be restored, and in our method of working the church must adapt itself to changing conditions. (Christian Church). There have been those who regarded the New Testament church as a fixed pattern for all time, and our business is to hold rigidly to that pattern regardless of the consequences. (Churches of Christ). Because of these two attitudes, conflicts were inevitable" (Cox, PĚ 89).

    Thus, we see an idea similar to that of Luther which was expressed in the Reformation. The silence of the Scriptures is not respected. With these attitudes, the Disciples have introduced more and more innovations until today the liberal element considers itself to be just another denomination -- the inevitable results of leaving God's Word as the all-sufficient guide for worship in every generation.

    Question: Are members of the church of Christ called "Campbellites" after Alexander Campbell? Christians have had this name thrust upon them in derision by members of denominations who are not in sympathy with non-denominational New Testament Christianity. However, Campbell repeatedly denied that he had founded a sect and never wrote a creed by which to consolidate his forces. His only aim was to perpetuate the name that is above every name, Christ. It is also interesting to note that Campbell did not go to America until 1809, several years after the movement had gotten underway. Christians are no more Campbellites today than the early Christians were Paulites, Cephasites, or Apollosites. They honour their King and His name is not Campbell.

    Expressions of Attitudes by the Reformers and the Restorers Compared

    Luther said, "My conception of the church and the worship of God is this: we are allowed to practice anything unless the Bible specifically forbids it.

    Zwingli's position: He said that what the Bible did not expressly authorize is forbidden in worship. (Miller, p. 29).

    Calvin said, "Let us practice nothing unless the Bible specifically authorizes it" (Hardeman, p. 94).
    "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent."
  • No book but the Bible.
  • No creed but Christ.
  • No name but the divine name.
  • No plea but the gospel.
  • No basis of unity but the Scriptures.
  • In essentials, unity.
  • In opinions, liberty.
  • In all things, charity.

  • Consider: In Lesson 16, we noted the difference in attitude of the early Christians, those who lived before and after the apostacy, and the Reformers toward the Scriptures. From this, we can more easily understand how irrevocably the attitude of people toward the Bible is bound up with what men preach and practice in religion.

    In the expressions of the Reformers (particularly Luther) and the Restorers you will detect a basic difference in attitude toward the Scriptures. Both groups accepted, unreservedly, the authority of the Scriptures, but the difference is over the feeling toward what the Scriptures do not reveal. Luther said -- what God has not forbidden I will feel free to do. His contemporaries, Calvin, and Zwingli, both said -- We will practice nothing which the Bible does not authorize. But it should be stressed that though this was the attitude they expressed, their practice sometimes denied it. Furthermore, their followers apparently forgot it, because in 1643, the Calvinist group in England drew up their creed -- the Westminister Confession of Faith. Therefore, these two men were fore-runners of the Restoration principle. They set the stage for the day when men would affirm -- We will be silent when the Scriptures are silent! Consequently the Reform attitude is more characteristically expressed in Luther's position.

    Let us preach nothing, practice nothing, nor do anything unless the Bible specifically authorizes it.

    Asks: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"

    A positive attitude.

    Respects the authority of God.
    We will practice what we please, anything that suits us, provided God does not say,' "Thou shalt not".

    Asks: "Lord, what hast thou said that I must not do?"

    A negative attitude.

    Takes advantage of God's silence.

    Consider: Roman Catholicism Reformed is Protestant Denominationalism and the fruits of the Reformation attitude toward the Scripture (Luther's statement) are here for the world to see -- all of them (denominations). As someone has expressed it: We are not divided over what the Bible teaches, but over what it does not teach. Thus those who launched the Restoration Movement held that the silence of the Scriptures must be respected equally with what has been revealed. "All matters which are not taught in the Bible are matters of opinion, not of faith, and must be held in silence" (Carrel, p. 142).

    Conclusion: In the first century the church "fell away" as departures from the Scriptures took place. The Reformers tried to reform the Catholic Church only to find themselves in a chaos of additional "departures" from the Bible based on a liberal attitude toward God's Word, not respecting God's silence. Having determined that the silence of the Scriptures should be respected the Restoration Movement led the way back to the Word of God and the New Testament order for the church. They went back to scriptural names and doctrines; back to Biblical patterns for work, worship and organization. They went back to the prescribed teachings for membership and God's plan of salvation.

    Today, churches of Christ around the world are pleading for a continued "return" and "going back" to the Scriptures, believing that we can be united on the Word of God. They believe, further, that though the customs, dress and manner of living may change among men, their hearts remain the same and that God's wisdom as revealed in the Bible is suited to every age.

    Carrell, William, Bible Correspondence Course
    Cox, John D., Church History
    Ferm, Vergilius, The American Church, Philosophical Library, New York, 1953.
    Hardeman, N.B, Hardeman's Tabernacle Sermons
    Stewart, John D. The Living Word Series, A Study of Major Religious Beliefs
    Thompson, L.G., Churches of Today
    Hardeman's Tabernacle Sermons

    Student Instructions
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    I. Put TRUE or FALSE before each of the following statements. (Example: True -- New Testament Christianity Restored has the attitude: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? ")

    1. The idea of restoration originated in one country by a small group of men.

    2. There were no similarities between the causes of Reformation and the Restoration.

    3. The division and shattering of the Reformation movement gave rise to the creed books and confessions of faith among the churches.

    4. Calvin's doctrine of total hereditary depravity was, and is, generally accepted by all.

    5. The attitude of a person toward the Bible has no bearing on what he preaches or practices in religion.

    6. Roman Catholicism Reformed is the same thing as Protestant Denominationalism.

    7. Campbell did not found a denomination.

    8. Religious people are usually divided over what the Bible does not teach.

    9. Members of the church of Christ are properly referred to as "Campbellites"

    10. The adoption of missionary societies was one cause of the split in the Restoration movement.

    11. One result of the liberal wave which swept the Restoration movement in the late 1800's was the acceptance of instruments of music in worship.

    12. The Springfield Presbytery was abolished because the founders wanted to return to the Bible only, which was the sure guide to heaven.

    II. Complete the following statements by choosing the proper word or phrase. (Example: Identify the attitude, "Lord, what has thou said that I must not do?": Roman Catholicism Reformed.)

    13. The major purpose or purposes of the Reformation Movement was to:
    restore New Testament Christianity
    reform Roman Catholicism
    both of these
    neither of these

    14. The changes of Catholicism and denominationalism have been the same in the following way, or ways:
    changed the creed of the church
    changed the name of the church
    changed the subjects of baptism
    all of these

    15. Characteristics of the clergy after the Reformation had been underway for a while included:
    both of these
    neither of these

    16 Of the following principles of the Restoration plea, which one is not right?
    restoration of the church's local autonomy
    the New Testament recognized as the only rule of faith and practice
    believers are Christians only
    reform the denominations

    17. The Restoration plea did not seek to:
    found a new denomination
    restrict itself to the thought and work of a few select people
    seek to draw existing denominations together into a union based on concession and compromise
    all of these

    18. The following person, or persons advocated the "restoration" idea in England and Scotland:
    Robert Sanderman
    Haldane brothers
    Thomas Campbell
    all of these

    19. Alexander Campbell changed the name of his publication, the Christian Baptist, because:
    he liked the name Millenial Harbinger better
    for no reason
    of the name "Baptist"
    none of these

    20. The main difference between churches of Christ and the Christian church (Disciples of Christ) is:
    the use of instruments of music in worship
    the acceptance of a missionary society
    the respect for the silence of the Scriptures
    none of these

    III. Match the principle group below with the correct principle by placing the proper letter in the blank to the left.
    A. Principle of Stone' group
    B. Principle of Jones' group
    C. Principle of O'kelly's group
    D. Principle of Campbell's group
    E. Luther's principle
    F. Zwingli's principle
    G. Calvin's principle
    H. Principle of Disciples of Christ

    21. No religious name but Christian

    22. Allowed to practice anything unless the Bible forbids it.

    23. Practice nothing unless the Bible specifically authorises it

    24. What the Scriptures do not authorize must not be used in worship

    25. No creeds or confession of faith except the New Testament

    26. Christ is the only head of the church

    27. The name of distinction with its Reverend title should be forgotten

    28. Restoration of the spirit of the New Testament church and methods must be adaptable

    IV. Match the person below with the correct facts about him by placing the proper letter in the blank to the left.
    A. John Locke
    B. Robert Owens
    C. James Madison
    D. Elias Smith
    E. Bishop Purce II
    F. Walter Scott
    G. Thomas Campbell
    H. James O'Kelly
    I. Barton W. Stone
    J. Alexander Campbell
    K. Abner Jones
    L. A.W. Fortune

    29. Equal to Alexander Campbell as a speaker

    30. Tried to unite the Presbyterians in Scotland

    31. Influenced Alexander Campbell greatly in England; a philosopher

    32. A former Methodist-Episcopal preacher from Virginia

    33. Left the Baptist Church in 1802 to join the Restoration movement

    34. Worked with Abner Jones in starting new churches in New Hampshire and Vermont

    35. A skeptic who debated Alexander Campbell

    36. A former Presbyterian preacher who broke with that denomination in 1803 over its Calvinistic teachings

    37. American president who spoke highly of Campbell

    38. A Catholic priest who debated Campbell in Ohio

    39. Published the Christian Baptist and Millenial Harbinger; also started a Bible trading college

    40. Wrote The Disciples of Kentucky

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    Your answers will be graded and returned to you through your e-mail address. Thank you for your interest in God's Book. May He bless you in the study of His Word.

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