World Bible School Hungary

Restoration Movement
historical background

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Ervin Nemeth

I. Comment

The main idea of the protestant reformation was to protest against Roman Catholic teachings. A reform is always a change from within. Restoration means going behind and beyond the confines of the religious group (both Roman Catholicism & Protestantism). The intention of the restoration movement is going back to the first century practices.

The following tract was originally written in the early 1900. It has been retyped without changes in 1993 because of its value as a brief summary of the restoration movement history. The article shows the viewpoint of The Disciples of Christ right after the split in 1905. Since that time the Disciples had another split and the third group is known as Christian Churches. For only a century, there was unity in the restoration movement; Kershner's call for uniting seems to be a mere utopia as of the present time. It is clear from the new split that if any of the restoration movement churches, it is the Disciples who are not able to cooperate. Those most strictly holding unto the principles laid down by the Campbells are the Churches of Christ--known as the most conservative of the three groups.

Disciples of Christ: "left wing"  (liberal)
Christian Churches: "center"  (middle of the road)
Churches of Christ: "right wing"  (conservative)



Butler University
Indianapolis, Indiana

I. The Origin of the Movement

The Disciples of Christ did not originate as the result of any one leader's efforts or upon the basis of any specific historical or geographical background. Groups standing for substantially the same program have sprung into existence in Russia, Germany, England and different parts of America without any organic relation whatsoever to each other and sometimes even without any knowledge of each other's existence. The basic principles for which the Disciples contend may all be found in the notes of Erasmus' Greek New Testament, published at the very beginning of the sixteenth century. If the great humanist had been able to shape the Reformation according to his own desires, it is doubtful whether there would have been any need for a later reform movement of the nineteenth century. It is quite unnecessary to say that there never was any desire on the part of the Disciples to found a new church. All they wanted to do was to reproduce the spirit and ideals of the original church, and, as the old confessions used to put it, to restore its four marks of unity, apostolicity,Catholicity and holiness.

II. The European Background

In January, 1799, James Haldane organized a church with 310 charter members in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was based upon the general idea of abandoning all human innovations and returning to the Apostolic model. The Haldane family produced many illustrious representatives, but this church, served by James and Robert, never made any special effort to extend its influence to other groups. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly deserves a place in the background history of the Disciples. Alexander Carson, a Baptist minister of Tubemore, Ireland, likewise organized his congregation upon the basis of the same general ideal espoused by the Haldanes with a few differences in detail.Carson preached and taught during the early part of the nineteenth century. The extent of his influence upon the Disciples is more or less problematical but there does not appear to be any doubt concerning its existence. There were other sporadic cases like those of Haldane and Carson where there were more or less successful attempts to reproduce the New Testament church in the simplest possible terms. The men who made incarnate this widespread purpose and desire were two Scotchmen named Thomas and Alexander Campbell.

III. The American Background

Before proceeding to the direct history of the Campbell's efforts it may be well to note certain contemporary and preliminary movements which came into existence on the North American continent. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these were led by Abner Jones in New Hampshire, James O'Kelly in North Carolina and Barton W. Stone in Kentucky. All these men are usually regarded as among the founders of the Christian Connection or "Christian denomination" churches which recently united with the Congregationalists. Nevertheless, they had certain relationship with the Disciplines, especially Stone, who became directly associated with the Campbells, and they should therefore be mentioned in this connection. Dr. Abner Jones of Hartland, Vermont, started a movement during the early nineteenth century which urged the abandonment of human creeds and disciplines and a return to the doctrines and practices of the New Testament church. From 1800 to 1803, he was engaged in organizing congregations, mostly in Vermont and New Hampshire, committed to this program. Later on, many of these congregations became known as Christian Churches and retained this title up until the time of their union with the Congregationalists. Dr. Jones does not appear to have had any direct association with the Disciples, but there can be no question that there were many points of similarity between his propaganda and the Campbell and Stone movements.

James O'Kelly was a minister in the Methodist church who challenged the leadership of Francis Asbury when the latter advocated an Episcopal type of government for the Wesleyan congregation in this country. At Manakin Town, North Carolina, on Christmas day, 1793, O'Kelly and his associates seceded from the larger body of Methodists and adopted the name "Christian" as the only designation for the church. He asserted that Christ alone should be regarded as the head of his church and that the Bible should be the only rule of faith and practice for Christians. He had many followers in North Carolina and the east and the churches which adhered to his teaching constituted the backbone of the Christian Connection movement to which reference has been made in a previous paragraph.

Barton W. Stone was a minister in the Presbyterian Church who helped to conduct the famous Cane Ridge revival in Kentucky, the opening year of the nineteenth century. It was during the holding of this remarkable series of meetings that young Stone became convinced of the necessity for a more complete return to the Christianity of the New Testament. His contribution to the Disciples was so important that we must give it more especial attention in a separate section.

IV. Thomas Campbell and the Declaration and Address

Thomas Campbell was born in County Down, Ireland, Feb. 1. 1763, and died in Bethany, W. Va,. Jan. 4, 1854. His ancestors came from Western Scotland and his wife, whose maiden name was Jane Corneigle, was of French Huguenot descent. His forebears were of varied religious stock. His father, Archibald, had been born a Roman Catholic but later in life joined the Church of England. Thomas himself, early became a member of the Seceder Presbyterian Church and entered the ministry of that communion. Because of ill health, he emigrated to America in 1807 and located in Western Pennsylvania. It was during his missionary labors in this sparsely settled section that he aroused criticism because he invited the members of other Presbyterian Churches to the Lord's Table and in certain other particulars appeared to go beyond the rigid rules of his faith. The recent biography of the elder Campbell by W. H. Hanna, is based upon the minutes of the Presbytery which brought action against the young minister and also upon the minutes of the North American Synod which finally passed upon the case. Mr. Hanna's volume shows conclusively that the church authorities were not unsympathetic with Mr. Campbell, but that they felt his position to be too liberal for them to accept. They wanted to retain him in their fellowship but they were afraid of the new doctrines. Nothing was left him, therefore, except to withdraw, which he did in the early part of the year 1809. In August of the same year, he organized the Christian Association of Washington County, Pennsylvania, and published his historic Declaration and Address, which is frequently referred to as the Magna Charta of the Disciples. The Declaration and Address, with the appendix which was added later, makes a document of more than a hundred pages and contains a good many repetitions. It was written in the white heat of controversy and never received adequate revision at the hands of its author. The document lays down thirteen major propositions which may be summarized as follows:

  1. The church of Christ is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one.
  2. Although this unity pre-supposes and permits the existence of separate congregations or societies, there should be perfect harmony and unity of spirit among all of them.
  3. The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice for Christians.
  4. The Old and New Testament alone contain the authoritative constitution of the Church of Christ.
  5. No human authority has power to amend or change the original constitution and laws of the church.
  6. Inferences and deductions from the scriptures, however valuable, can not be made binding upon the consciences of Christians.
  7. Differences of opinion with regard to such references shall not be made tests of fellowship or communion.
  8. Faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God is a sufficient profession to entitle a man or woman to become a member of the Church of Christ.
  9. All who have made such a profession and who manifest their sincerity by their conduct should love each other as brethren and as members of the same body and joint heirs of the same inheritance.
  10. Division among Christians is antichristian, antiscriptural, unnatural and to be abhorred.
  11. Neglect of the revealed will of God and the introduction of human innovations are and have been the causes of all the corruptions and divisions that have ever taken place in the church of God.
  12. All that is necessary to secure the highest state of purity and perfection in the church is to restore the original ordinances and constitution as exhibited in the New Testament.
  13. Any additions to the New Testament program which circumstances may seem to require shall be regarded as human expedients and shall not be given a place of higher authority in the church than is permitted by the fallible character of their origin.

Stated very briefly and directly, the Declaration and Address argues for the New Testament as the only authority in religion and for the elimination of all human confessions and tests of fellowship. The author of the document believes that if people could get back to the Bible and the Bible alone, they would find themselves together in all essential particulars. He was not very clear upon the all important questions as to whose interpretation of the Scriptures is to be accepted as authoritative. It appears certain from numerous passages in his writings that he wanted the Bible to be interpreted in the same way that we attempt to gain the meaning of other forms of literature, to-wit, by the application of the principles of reason and common sense. He did not regard the individual reason as authoritative for the group but only the consensus of intelligent opinion concerning the meaning of the scriptures. His real slogan thus comes down to the Bible as a revelation from God, to be interpreted by right reason and common sense. The program is both scientific and religious without sacrificing the essential features of either side to the other.

V. The Life and Work of Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell, the son of Thomas, is usually regarded as the great protagonist of the Disciple movement. This is true only in a promotional sense. The principles laid down in the Declaration and Address were heralded far and wide through the burning eloquence of this truly great preacher, but there was little of consequence which he added to the program of his father. The abolition of human creeds, the Bible and the Bible alone as the authority in religion, no tests of fellowship in the church except those demanded by the New Testament and the unity of all believers in the bonds of a common fellowship, constitute the original platform of both of the Campbells. Alexander proclaimed these principles, Walter Scott organized those who accept them into congregations and Isaac Errett molded the organized life of the churches which were thus developed into a constantly growing fellowship.

Alexander Campbell was born near Shane's Castle, County Antrim, Ireland, September 12th, 1788. He came to America when he was in his twenty-first year, shortly after his father had written the Declaration and Address. He had previously attended the University of Glasgow and had acted as a teacher in his father's private academy. Upon his arrival in Western Pennsylvania, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the movement to restore the unity, apostolicity, catholicity and holiness of the Church of Christ. He preached his first sermon on July 15, 1810, from Matthew 7:24-27. He was formally ordained to the ministry on January 1, 1812. On June 12th of the same year he and his father were immersed in Buffalo Creek, after a lengthy statement concerning their position with regard to the ordinance. Later on, both of the Campbells joined the Baptists and continued to work with them until the year 1830. At first they were members of the Redstone Association of Virginia, but later transferred to the Mahoning Association of Ohio. In 1830, this organization at its annual meeting voted to dissolve as a Baptist Association and its constituent members to become simply "Churches of Christ" organized after the New Testament pattern. This was the real starting point of the Disciples of Christ as a separate group.

Alexander Campbell was a great debater, platform speaker, magazine editor and educator. Among his famous platform discussions were those with John Walker in 1820, with McCalla in 1823, with Robert Owen, the great social reformer, in 1830, with Bishop Purcell of the Roman Catholic Church in 1837 and with N.L. Rice of Lexington, Ky., in 1843. Mr. Campbell founded The Christian Baptist, a monthly religious journal, in 1823 and merged it in The Millennial Harbinger in 1830. He continued the publication of the latter magazine until the time of his death in 1866. He founded Bethany College, the oldest institution among the Disciples, in 1841. He was largely responsible for the organization of the American Christian Missionary Society, the first of the cooperative missionary enterprises of a permanent character undertaken by the Disciples. The A.C.M.S. came into existence in 1849 in Cincinnati. Mr. Campbell was elected its first president and continued in this position until shortly before his death.

Alexander Campbell, as previously indicated, was the prophetic interpreter of the ideals formulated by his father in the Declaration and Address. More than any other individual, he was responsible for the shaping and direction of the early Disciple program. He changed his views at different times and never claimed any infallibility for his pronouncements. He was an honest, sincere and indefatigable searcher after the truth and insisted that his followers should preserve the same independent outlook.

VI. The Contribution of Barton W. Stone

Barton Warren Stone was born at Port Tobacco, Maryland, December 24, 1772, and died at Hannibal, Missouri, November 19, 1844. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1798, although he refused to accept the Confession of Faith without some qualifications. He took part in the great Cane Ridge revival of 1801 and was one of the organizers of the Independent Springfield Presbytery in 1802. Later on he helped to dissolve this presbytery, putting forth a document by way of apology which is ranked along with the Declaration and Address of Thomas Campbell as one of the outstanding historic statements in the early history of the Disciples.

Stone antedated Campbell slightly and independently reached much the same conclusions. He organized churches on his own initiative throughout Kentucky and the Middle West and these churches were so similar to those which were the product of the Campbell Movement, that the two groups united without much difficulty in 1831. A few of the followers of Stone moved to Jacksonville, Illinois in 1834. Along with John T. Johnson, he published a periodical known as The Christian Messenger. In August of 1841, he was stricken with paralysis and remained a cripple until his death in 1844.

VII. The Contribution of Walter Scott

Walter Scott who ranks as the fourth of the great quartette of early Disciple leaders, was born at Moffatt, Dumfrieshire, Scotland, October 31, 1796. He died in Mayslick, Kentucky, April 23, 1861. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and at the age of 22 emigrated to America. As the result of his own independent study, he came to practically the same religious position occupied by Thomas and Alexander Campbell. In 1827 he was selected as evangelist for the Mahoning, Ohio, Baptist Association of which the Campbells were members. He prepared himself for his work by a careful study of the Greek New Testament, giving special attention to the records of apostolic evangelism which it contains. He determined that he would reproduce as far as possible the spirit, message and methods of the evangelists whose labors are recorded in the Book of Acts. In order to make the message as simple as possible, he formulated his well-known five finger exercise outlining the steps into the fellowship of the church:

  1. Hearing
  2. Believing
  3. Repenting
  4. Baptism
  5. The Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes Confession was added, between the third and fourth mentioned on this list. Scott's ministry was extraordinarily successful and by the year 1830, the Mahoning Association included a number of the most active congregations on the Ohio Western Reserve. It was at this time that, acting under Scott's advice and without the express approval of Alexander Campbell, the Mahoning Association voted to dissolve, and that the congregations which made it up should be known hereafter as only "Churches of Christ" with no human creed and with no rule of faith and practice except the New Testament. This, as previously stated, was the actual beginning of the Disciples of Christ as an historic group.

VIII. Later History

After the dissolution of the Mahoning Association, and the union of the followers of Campbell and Stone, the Disciple of Christ grew rapidly and soon came to occupy an important position in the development of modern Christianity. Isaac Errett, the editor of The Christian Standard, took the place of Alexander Campbell in helping to formulate the organized life of the new movement. He was opposed by more conservative leaders who insisted upon following the earlier views of Alexander Campbell as expressed in The Christian Baptist, instead of the later trend of his development during The Millennial Harbinger period. The great majority of his brethren followed Mr. Errett, although a considerable number refused to cooperate with the more progressive churches. This group styles itself simply "Churches of Christ," and is credited by the Census reports as having more than four hundred thousand members. The main body, entitled "The Disciples of Christ," is listed as having a membership of more than one million, six hundred thousand. Overtures have been made recently looking to closer relations between the two groups and there would seem to be no good reason for any permanent lack of understanding between them. United they would represent a membership of over two million in the United States alone which is certainly a gratifying growth for only a little over a century of active propaganda. The Disciples do not claim, however, that the church to which they belong was in any respect founded by the Campbells or their associates. The movement to restore the New Testament church, its doctrines, its ordinances and its fruits, which arose in the nineteenth century, was started and fostered by these great leaders. This movement did not contemplate the founding of any church but only the restoration of an old church, the oldest of all. The effort to recapture the nature and program of the ancient gospel they are glad to style "The Disciples of Christ," always remembering that this is not the name of the church itself but of a group of people who seek to restore in its simplicity and power the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ.


R. Richardson. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell.
W. H. Hanna. Thomas Campbell.
William Baxter. The Life of Walter Scott.
C. C. Ware. The Life of Barton Warren Stone.
B. A. Abbott. The Disciples.
J. S. Lamor. Memoirs of Isaac Errett.


1994 Ervin Nemeth. All rights reserved.