If someone wants to restore an old car, they have to decide if they are going to take a modified approach or they will try to return their hot rod to stock. If you choose to modify the car, anything goes. Put a 350 in your Ford. Slap a ’69 Daytona wing on your Chevy. You can change anything you want. It’s your car, make it in your image.
A person restoring his ride to stock condition will look for the original carburetor, transmission, engine, dash, or even the factory ash tray. The mark of a true stock hot rod is getting everything from the original manufacturer and finishing with a car that looks and performs like the day it rolled off the assembly line.
These two approaches define much of the religious world today. I am convinced we must explain the need to teach and practice Christianity according the manufacturers specifications. Much like a car builder, God designed the church to function best using the owner’s manual. This is God’s church and our Lord’s day services are when we worship God. We are not at liberty to do what pleases us. We must seek to restore the church of Christ to stock. This was the goal of men who started what is called the “Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.”
As Americans living in the 21st century, it is impossible to imagine the spiritual, political, and intellectual conditions of this country in the late 1700’s. The Roman Catholic Church reigned supreme over Western Europe for nearly a thousand years until Martin Luther broke away. In the period between 1517 and 1776, every nation in Europe picked a side in religion and demanded membership in the state religion. Between 10 and 15-million people were killed in the “Wars of Religion.”
So, when the 13-colonies that would make up the United States decided their new country would not have a “state religion” it was a revolutionary concept. It gave free men, free access to the newly available Bibles translated into English. Add to that an age of reason ushered in by Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke; and you have the perfect breeding ground for Christians to restore their churches to stock.
Men like Barton Stone in Kentucky and Alexander Campbell and his father Thomas in Pennsylvania, and what is now West Virginia, were mortified by what the elder Campbell called “the bitter jarrings and janglings of a party spirit” among the literally warring denominations. Under the brand new United States Constitution, they were free to preach and worship as they read about in the Bible. If reason and the scientific method could unify people around elementary truths about nature, surely a common-sense approach to God’s word would unify all Christians around the truths of Scripture.
I recommend reading two documents from the period. Stone and a group of believers decided to be known as “Christians only.” They literally put to death their ties to denominationalism and issued “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” in 1804. In 1809, Thomas Campbell issued “The Declaration and Address.” He laid out his plan for a united church he thought could be a reality if men would throw away their distinctive names and man-made teaching, “we would also desire to adopt and recommend such measures as would give rest to our brethren throughout all the churches: as would restore unity, peace, and purity to the whole Church of God.”
That is the backdrop for this evening’s lesson which starts in 1827 with a man named Walter Scott.