Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Restoration Movement of Washington County, Pennsylvania

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Restoration Movement of Washington County, Pennsylvania

Article excerpt

In 1808 a group of Christians living in western Pennsylvania formed The Christian Association of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Their purpose was to restore apostolic Christianity and to unite the divided Christians of the new United States. Although their movement subsequently became known as the Restoration Movement, contemporaries also knew it by the name the Campbellites-for its leaders were the longlived Thomas Campbell (1763-1854) and his creative, strong-opinioned son Alexander Campbell (1788-1866).

This "Christian Association" asserted that Scripture was not only "the only guide for Christians" but also the blueprint for restoring true Christianity. This view of the Bible resembled the view which the new American republic took of its Constitution. The Campbellite Movement denned its axiom for reuniting Christians: Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.

Although the Restoration Movement differed from Anglicanism in this ardently sola Scriptura approach, it was strikingly similar in some other ways. It respected the right of private judgment. It affirmed the legitimacy of some diversity among Christians. And it taught the obligation of Holy Communion every Sunday-a teaching which, though seldom followed in the Episcopal churches of the time, did have Anglican resonances. Moreover, like Episcopal evangelicals and latitudinarians, the movement emphasized preaching and opposed any practices or language smacking of priestcraft. Alexander Campbell, in fact, held the Episcopal Church in generally high regard, although he was hostile to trained choirs and "entertainment" in a church service. His friend Henry clay (who viewed the younger Campbell as a religious genius) later became an Episcopalian.

In a young republic that believed that it had cut through the errors of centuries and established true government, the Campbellite movement found a sympathetic hearing. From its Pennsylvania and western Virginia cradle, it spread throughout the upper south and midwest. Alexander Campbell assisted the growth through prolific writings and public debates. In 1830, when the movement of the Campbells formed a cooperative association with the smaller Kentucky-based restoration movement of Barton Warren Stone (1772-1844), it took a second motto from the Stoneite movement: Bible names for Bible things. Because Stone and Campbell disagreed over a name, the merged church (its members preferred terms such as "brotherhood") chose the formal title "The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)."

Speaking only where they believed the scripture spoke and using only what they viewed as Bible names for Bible things, the loosely-united new church sought to adopt apostolic theology, polity, and worship. It taught free will and congregational polity. It recognized two ordinances (not sacraments), adult baptism by immersion, and the Lord's Supper, interpreted as a solemn commemorative meal. It rejected the threefold ordained ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, preferring "elders" (ordained ministers and ruling laity) and lay deacons. Finding the materials for the Trinity but not the doctrine itself in scripture, it remained silent on the internal nature of the Godhead, neither affirming nor denying trinitarianism.

In later decades, this very American attempt to restore true Christianity discovered that all Christians do not interpret scripture the same way. Controversies over such matters as central missionary societies, instrumental music in the churches, the use of the title "the Reverend," the wearing of clerical robes, and the legitimacy of Darwinism and the higher criticism split the movement. By the first decade of the twentieth century, the Campbellite/Stoneite movement had broken into two large groups-the moderate-liberals (the Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches) and the traditionalist-conservatives (the Churches of Christ). In time the movement divided further. …

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