The Stone-Campbell Movement to restore the ancient faith, worship, and practice to the church grew to over 200,000 Christians within a half-century. The idea people could read the Bible for themselves and simply follow what the Spirit revealed, appealed to independent-minded Americans. Its common-sense approach to interpretation and rejection of denominational creeds and names let the light of the gospel shine through in its full glory. A church; unified by standing on a mutual, reasoned reading of the Bible seemed within reach.
It is impossible to tell the story of this movement without a mention of some key slogans or maxims that still guide us today. Thomas Campbell’s vow to, “Speak where the Scriptures speak.” called Christians to return to the word of God and reject man-made creeds, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it.”-Deuteronomy 4:2. This reverence for God’s authority in the church restricted Christian teaching and church practice to what was revealed in Scripture by command, apostolic example, or necessary inference. A series of concise ideas encouraged people to imitate Christians in the New Testament: “If we do what they did, we will be what they were.” “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” “Call Bible things by Bible names.” “Do Bible things in Bible ways.” “In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things love.” To this day, Christians who follow these ideas demand, “book, chapter, and verse” for any teaching.
1849: The movement based on unity began to divide just before the Civil War. Alexander Campbell had condemned missionary societies, in the pages of The Christian Baptist, because they, “represented denominationalism, confusion, and pretension.” But by 1849, he was elected the first president of the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati, Ohio. This signaled a divide in the movement between those who sought to do “only what was authorized in Scripture;” versus those who would engage in “anything not strictly condemned in Scripture.” These two attitudes toward the Bible persist today.
1906: Christians who had unified on the Bible and the idea that nothing should enter the church, “but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God.”-Thomas Campbell, began to divide over things unknown to Scripture. Just after the Civil War, the Christian Church in Midway, Kentucky, began using a melodeon in their worship. Instrumental music and an acceptance of missionary societies led to a separation between the groups. David Lipscomb, the editor of the Gospel Advocate, gave voice to what had been apparent for some time. Churches of Christ were separate from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.
1954: At the middle of the 20th century, Churches of Christ were one of the fastest growing religious groups in America. But controversy over church support of colleges and sponsoring-church arrangements would lead to division. Gospel Advocate editor B.C. Goodpasture encouraged churches to “quarantine” preachers and members (Anti’s) who spoke out against using church funds to operate institutions not found in the Bible. Over the past sixty-years, churches of Christ have identified as institutional or non-institutional groups. Since the 1960’s, institutional (or mainline) churches have divided into conservative and progressive factions. Non-institutional groups are in danger of stagnation after an initial burst of enthusiastic growth.
Moving Forward: If pure, biblical Christianity is to remain, we must continually dedicate ourselves to restoring the faith worship, and practice found in the New Testament. It is a journey with heaven as the destination. The Holy Spirit tells us through Paul, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”-II Thessalonians 2:15. By Peter the Spirit says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God;”-I Peter 4:11 (KJV). Let these words be our polar star.
Sources: Renewing God’s People by Gary Holloway & Douglas Foster and The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century by Ed Harrell