"Churches of Christ: Heritage and Destiny"
THE ROOTS OF THE MOVEMENT
by Dr. Douglas Foster
I. Sectarianism Among Presbyterians in Europe and America
C. Extreme Competition among religious groups in America
II. Efforts Toward Christian Unity
III. Union With the Baptists
IV. Union of Campbell and Stone Movements 1832--Differences Between the Men andMovements at three levels
Few if any early members of the Stone-Campbell Movement held the traditional Protestant "invisible church" idea of spiritual unity because of its inherent justification of denominationalism. Scattered statements allude to a spiritual unity of Christians, but most in the nineteenth-century understood this "unity" to have strict limits, referring to a faithful remnant scattered throughout "the sects" whom they called to come out.
Early leaders like Barton W. Stone and Thomas Campbell put almost total emphasis on individual responsibility for effecting Christian unity. Each person must first be united to Christ; all those thus united to Christ in a locality will be united with each other forming a church of Christ, inherently one with all other such groups.
The earliest unity impulse in the Movement, then, was a modification--a hybrid perhaps--of the spiritual and organic unity ideas. The idea was not that unity was already perfect in some intangible spiritual plane but rather that all true spiritual Christians should and must leave the sectarian/ denominational organizations and come together to be visibly/organically united in congregations of Christians. The unity was envisioned not as organic in the sense of mergers of corporate structures but rather in terms of individual Christians uniting with other individual Christians in congregations without any features that would denominate them from other such Christians. These disciples would fully recognize all who professed to believe in Christ and demonstrated that belief in their conduct.
At first the proponents of this vision believed that most Christians in denominational churches would see the rightness of their plea and join them. When other ecumenical opportunities came available in the late nineteenth century, however, this position was gradually supplanted in the minds of many (those who became the Disciples of Christ) by the idea of organic union in the sense of organizational merger.
As early as 1895 J. H. Garrison described his idea of an evolution toward unity that would begin with unity within Protestant families, progress to a federation of all the churches for cooperation in benevolence and missions, finally ending with the dropping of sectarian names and creeds so that all would be united in one church. For Disciples to participate in this process they needed to design ways to speak for the entire Movement, a difficult proposition, and maintain the body's internal unity. Though it is an over-simplification, one may say that the group that would be officially named the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the 1960s took the route of creating structures through which to work for unity. The more conservative parts of the Movement (Churches of Christ and later the independent Christian Churches) have generally embodied the earlier individualistic unity emphasis.
The scriptures will never keep together in union and fellowship members not in the spirit of the scriptures, which spirit is love, peace, unity, forbearance, and cheerful obedience. This is the spirit of the great Head of the body. I blush for my fellows, who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship; who plead for union of all Christians; yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Vain men! Their zeal is not according to knowledge, nor is their spirit that of Christ. There is a day not far ahead that will declare it. Such anti-sectarian sectarians are doing more mischief to the cause, and advancement of truth, the unity of Christians, and the salvation of the world than all the skeptics in the world. In fact, they create skeptics.(1)
I have no idea of seeing, nor one wish to see the sects unite in one grand army. This would be dangerous to our liberties and laws. For this the Savior did not pray. It is only the disciples of Christ dispersed among them, that reason and benevolence would call out of them. Let them unite who love the Lord, and then we shall soon see the hierling [sic] priesthood and their worldly establishments prostrate in the dust.(2)
If the Christians in all sects could be drawn together, then would the only real, desirable, and permanent union, worthy of the name of the union of Christians, be achieved. How to affect this has long been a question with us and with many others. To us, it appears, the only practicable way to accomplish this desirable object, is to propound the ancient gospel and the ancient order of things in the words and sentences found in the apostolic writings--to abandon all traditions and usages not found in the Record, and to make no human terms of communion. But on this theme much must yet be said before the honest will understand it. One thing, however, is already sufficiently plain to all, that a union amongst Christians can be obtained only upon scriptural grounds, and not upon any sectarian platform in existence.(3)
...as pioneers in the cause of Christian union we cannot afford to assume a merely passive attitude toward these union efforts. We should suggest, encourage, and promote them in every practicable way, and show ourselves ready to make any concessions as to method which may be done without surrendering truth or principle.(4)
Reject from the service of God anything not required by the Scriptures, and all serve only as the Scriptures require. This will unite Christians, save men and honor God.(5)
[H]e who maintains this position is the true and only true advocate of union [even] if he separates from every living being and stands alone in maintaining it.(6)
It requires no negotiation or arrangements among men to unite them as one in Christ. If we are in Christ, we cannot help being one with all who are in Christ."(7)
I. Written by members of Churches of Christ
Earl I. West, The Search for the Ancient Order: A History of the Restoration Movement. Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, 1949- . 4 vols. (Vol. 1 1800-1865; vol. 2 1866-1906; vol. 3 1900-1918; vol. 4 1919-1950.)
Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches. Joplin: College Press, 1981; revised ed., The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement. 1994.
Richard Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.
II. Written by members of independent Christian Churches
James Deforest Murch, Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1962.
Henry E. Webb, In Search of Christian Unity: A History of the Restoration Movement. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1990.
James B. North, Union in Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1994.
III. Written by members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Winfred Ernest Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History. St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1958.
William E. Tucker and Lester G. McAllister, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1975.
Mark G. Toulouse, Joined in Discipleship: The Maturing of an American Religious Movement. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1992; revised ed., 1996.
"An Address to the Different Religious Societies on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name." Lexington: Joseph Charless, 1804. Reprint ed., The Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1954.
Foster, Douglas A. "The Springfield and Cumberland Presbyteries: Conflict and Secession in the Old Southwest." Restoration Quarterly 32 (Third Quarter 1990):165-178.
Dunnavant, Anthony L., ed. Cane Ridge in Context: Perspectives on Barton W. Stone and the Revival. Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1992.
4. 4"Truths Needing Special Emphasis: Steps Toward Christian Union," The Christian-Evangelist 30 (2 February 1893):66; J. H. Garrison, "Prospect for Christian Union Today," The Christian-Evangelist 28 (6 August 1891):498. RETURN TO TEXT