The Restoration Movement
There are a number of movements that have greatly affected large masses of people and shaped circumstances that would dictate the future, either for the better or worse. A Dark Age in our history was when Catholicism reigned. Catholicism personified the great falling away prophesied in scripture (2 Thes. 2: 1-12; I Tim. 4: 1-3). During a period of about one thousand years, the Catholic Church enjoyed unchallenged domination (Ad 590-1517). However the Renaissance encouraged people to think for themselves (AD 1350-1650). The Renaissance served as impetus, in part, for the great European Reformation Movement (Ad 1517-1648). As a result of people thinking, they began to realize all the atrocities and scripture perversions of Catholicism. Hence, men such as Martin Luther (Germany), John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli (Switzerland) led the way toward the attempted reform of the Catholic Church. During the period between 1517 and 1784, a number of denominations were begun. 1 However, instead of attempting to reform Catholicism or start their own religions, it was realized that the goal should be to re-establish pristine New Testament Christianity.
Many historians point to the time period of 1809-1917 as the time of the Restoration Movement. 2 There were a number of preachers in different religions and sections of America who started to emphasize a return to the pristine Christianity of the New Testament. Often, these men were unacquainted one with the other. These men usually worked hard and made many sacrifices 3 Some of the better known preachers were men such as Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, Jacob Creath, Jr., Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb, Austin McGary, and Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Mottoes such as "Where the Bible speaks; we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent" began to be uniformly heard and became the battle cry of the restoration.
Within established denominations, the beginning of the Restoration was witnessed. James O' Kelley (Methodist) and others whom Kelley influenced resolved to be known as Christians only, to acknowledge no head over the church but Christ, and to have no creed or discipline but the Bible. It was about the same time as Kelley began his efforts that Abner Jones, member of the Baptist Church, became dissatisfied with sectarian names and creeds and began to preach such names and creeds should be abolished.
Jacob Creath, Jr., while perhaps more colorful than the average, is a good example of the many men, in various States, and from different religions who came to the same resolve of speaking only as the scriptures speak and remaining silent where the scriptures are silent. 4 Jacob Creath Jr., was born January 17, 1799 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Creath's father was a Baptist preacher and Creath followed his father's example in pursuing the Baptist religion. Creath waited for an experience, but one did not happen. Hear him:
"I never saw the day when I did not desire to be good and please God, my Maker. I often withdrew to retired places, and prayed to him that I might see a great light shining around me, like Saul of Tarsus; or hear a voice informing me that my sins were pardoned. Under these circumstances nature sometimes gave way and I went to sleep on my knees, overwhelmed with the dreadful consideration that I was forever lost." 5
Jacob was finally voted into the Baptist Church and preached his first sermon in June, 1817. Creath continued his studies and began to denounce human creeds and started teaching that the word of God was the instrumentality and influence through which God draws man and man learns of salvation.
Thomas Campbell was Presbyterian. Thomas and Alexander Campbell were prolific and prodigious in their work of attempting to restore New Testament Christianity. All of these men made great sacrifices and left their religions to simply be Christians and to teach no creed but the Bible. The restorers often struggled to make the necessary doctrinal changes as they learned and applied more of the gospel to their own lives. One recorded incident involved Thomas Campbell. Campbell had just given one of his more famous discourses which concluded with the statement, "Where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent." I now quote what reportedly happened:
"When Mr. Campbell had concluded, opportunity was given for free expression of views, whereupon Andrew Munro, a shrewd Scotch Seceder, arose and said: 'Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.' This remark and the manifest conviction that it carried with it, produced a great sensation, for the whole audience was composed of Pedo-baptists who cherish infant baptism as one of their cardinal doctrines. 'Of course,' said Mr. Campbell, in reply, 'if infant baptism is not found in scripture we can have nothing to do with it.'" 6
Concerned reader, the plea of the Restoration continues today: "No creed but the Bible," "we are to be Christians and Christians only," and "where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent." We do not have to establish an unbroken line of succession of the church to the First Century in order for it to be the New Testament church. The same gospel seed that was sown in the First Century that produced Christians, will produce Christians today (Lk. 8: 11). If we practice New Testament Christianity today, we will be New Testament Christians! (See the following for additional reading: "The Church that Jesus Built," "Unbroken Links of the Church," and "Ancient Christianity, a Trip Back in Time.")
1The Episcopalian church was established in England in 1534; Presbyterian in Switzerland, 1536; Baptist in Holland in 1607; and the Methodist in England in 1739.
21809 may be a good start date, however, the Restoration Movement is still alive. There are men today who are attempting to restore New Testament Christianity.
3The average preacher during the time of 1809-1917 engaged in secular work to help support himself and his family. As a rule $500. 00 a year was the average income. They walked and rode horseback to travel to their preaching appointments.
4The inspired apostle Peter enjoined, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God " (I Pet. 4: 11, cp. Heb. 7: 14).
5Memoirs of Jacob Creath, Jr., by P. Dorvan, 1877, pg. 49.
6The Church, Falling away, and Restoration, pg. 180, by J. W. Shepherd. It is my understanding that while Campbell quoted this famous restoration motto, he himself and not fully applied it as he spoke it.