Reflecting on “Restoration”: Barton W. Stone

restorationI have been a part of the Restoration Movement (RM, hereafter) for most of my life. As far back as I can remember, my family attended a Christian Church or Church of Christ. Although I never attended many (if any) of the RM’s annual conventions (the North American Christian Convention, a.k.a. NACC), I grew up reading the popular weekly publications Christian Standard and the Lookout. I went to some revivals and attended as much church camp every summer as I could. I heard the stories about the glory days of the burgeoning RM that began in the early nineteenth century–about how many came to the same conclusion in early America that the shackles of “denominationalism” needed to be cast aside and how the Cane Ridge Revival set a fire in people’s hearts to pursue “New Testament Christianity.” My youthful mind was enamored with the “plea” (as it came to be known) to restore the church’s faith and practice of the first century as revealed in the New Testament. I was a dyed-in-the wool RM kind of guy.

I continued to be starry-eyed about the RM as I grew older and went off to college. It was not until the mid to late ’90s that I came across The Restoration Herald and began to become somewhat familiar with the Christian Restoration Association. I eventually went off to one of the RM’s very well known seminaries and graduated with an MDiv. As I went on to pursue my PhD I even wrote my dissertation on the RM’s “founder,” Alexander Campbell.

I mention all this basically to make one point: I owe a lot to the RM. I first heard the Gospel in a Christian Church and eventually came to faith in Christ and was baptized in a Christian Church. I have  many wonderful and very good friends in this fellowship of churches. My experience at church camp was especially influential. I know for certain that if it had not been for camp I would not be where I am today. There have been and still are some good things about the RM.

That the RM has had and still has some good aspects to it, however, does not discount the fact that it is not perfect. This is probably an obvious statement, considering there is probably no Christian fellowship or denomination that is perfect. But when are these more unpleasant parts ever openly discussed? Probably not as often as they could or ought to be.

My aim for this and subsequent posts can be summarized in a nutshell: I want to discuss some of the conclusions I have arrived at concerning the Restoration Movement. These conclusions have not been made lightly or simply from browsing magazines or other publications. My conclusions have come from years of deep, reflective, and researched thought–you could call it a “journey” if you wish–from the last fifteen years.

I know that many will take what I write as just another diatribe (i.e., being “negative”), but this is not my intention. Rather, I believe there are some things about the RM that should concern us all: where the RM has been and where it is today (in fact, as I will discuss later, the RM’s history has much to blame for where it is today). Perhaps I will not make anyone happy–the more progressive or the more conservative. The more liberal leaning will possibly view this series as a traditional fundamentalist rant while the more conservative may view it as “another good man gone liberal.” Be that as it may. This is the risk one takes when writing.

My hope, however, is to challenge the current RM in what it believes and practices by considering my personal thought journey. No one should fear honestly critiquing one’s owns views, denomination, fellowship, or past. Truth is what is to be sought and found. Is this not to be the desire of all Bible-believing Christians? Ultimately, I hope that my critique will lead to something better and more biblical. Without further delay, then, I turn to my first post: Barton W. Stone.

Barton W. Stone, Barking Dogs, and an Old Heresy

BWStoneI went to Seminary in 2000. By then I had spent approximately twenty years in the RM, and so I was quite excited to take a course in Restoration history. I had heard all about the Cane Ridge Revival and how it was one of the most significant contributions to the history of the RM. I had seen pictures of the little church house that Barton W. Stone had preached in where this revival had taken place. One always got the impression that some kind of heavenly light was shining in that picture of the old church house.

But as with anyone who picks up a book learns a lot more than just listening to hear-say, I began to learn that the history of the RM was not as glorious as the visions that had been planted in my mind as a youth. This is probably the case with any historical movement, whether Christian or otherwise. The one thing that disturbed me the most as I began to learn about the history of the RM was how some of its “stains” (shall we call them “skeletons in the closet?”) were never disclosed during my childhood. Its history had always been painted as God’s handiwork–God bringing together several groups of Christians from four corners of early America (the North, South, East, and western frontier) to bring Christians “back to the Bible.” What I found, however, was something very different, especially in the case of Barton W. Stone. It seemed to me that Stone ran away from the Bible rather than embracing it.

Cane RidgeBarking Dogs. One of the most popular events in the history of the RM was the Cane Ridge Revival. It took place on the grounds of Barton Stone’s church which was located in Bourbon county, Kentucky. This revival is celebrated very much among Restorationists, so much so that the NACC frequently organizes bus trips from the convention to the old church house which is now preserved in Paris, KY. Even individual RM churches frequently schedule field trips to this old Cane Ridge church house.

What was it about this revival that makes it so popular with the RM? Evidently, it was the largest revival meeting to ever take place on the American frontier that brought together Christians from a number of different denominations. James North, in his book Union In Truth, records that it is estimated to have drawn anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people.[1] These folks were Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and many others. It was presumably the largest gathering of bitter theological enemies that Christianity had ever seen. It was ecumenical to the core. Denominational barriers were being torn down as the “simple Gospel” was preached and lives were changed and souls saved. Moreover, the Gospel was being preached in a very non-Calvinistic manner, a manner which assumed that the hearers of the Word could actually respond through repentance and faith in Christ.

Although the Cane Ridge Revival should be commended for its ecumenicism and (evidently) preaching that led to the salvation of some, it is difficult to fathom that very many in the RM today would actually have attended the revival, especially the more conservative Restorationists (and perhaps the more liberal, considering they may possibly think that many of the attendees had lost their minds). Why do I say this? Precisely because of what erupted at Cane Ridge: “religious exercises.” People barked like dogs, fell to the ground in fits of non-stop laughter, sang songs that came from their chest, and danced and ran in such a manner that caused many to fall to the ground and cease in the ability to get up. Some people went into jerking motions, keeping both feet flat on the ground while their forehead would hit the ground in one motion and then the back of their head hitting the ground when jerking in the the opposite direction. Others would cry out in loud screams and fall to the ground unconscious. Oddly, it was even said that women got pregnant. (If there is any doubt that these “exercises” occurred, one need to look no further than Stone’s autobiography in which he testifies to them.)[2]

When I first learned that these “exercises” occurred at Cane Ridge, I was quite shocked. My initial response was, “What happened to the ‘great Cane Ridge Revival’ that I had learned about growing up? Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” My next reaction was one of horror. What was supposed to have been a kind of “founding” revival of my beloved RM resembled, in my view, a gathering of people demonically possessed. In fact, it was not much later that I learned that such “exercises” are very common among those who are demon possessed. It was very disappointing to me to have been given a very partial picture of Cane Ridge while I was growing up.

I have come to the conclusion that it is highly questionable whether such a revival should be celebrated and put in one’s trophy case. Why does the RM celebrate such a chaotic, unbiblical, and quite possibly demonic event? I would not have been there, and I certainly cannot honor such a revival today. Sure, a field trip to the old church house may be beneficial for historical study, but not for reminiscing about the “good old Restoration days.” It seems to me that the whole story of Cane Ridge ought to be told, and just maybe we ought to disown it through repentance, dust cloth and ashes–the whole nine yards.

AriusAn Old HeresyBesides barking dogs, Stone had another issue which concerned me–a more serious and theological one. I came across this particular issue when I took the Restoration history course. For whatever reason, it did not leave much of an impression on me until several years later when I began studying early church history more thoroughly. (Perhaps it was because, traditionally, the RM has despised church history? I will speak more to this later.) What was this concern? The fact that Stone affirmed the third and fourth century heresy of Arianism.

Arianism was a heresy named after Arius (ca. 250-336), bishop of Alexandria. Arius taught that Jesus was not God. One of his famous dictums was “there once was as a time when the Son was not,” i.e., there was a time when Jesus did not exist. The Council of Nicea convened specifically to condemn this heresy (the result of this council was the Nicene Creed of AD 325 which affirmed the deity of Christ).

Although Stone denied being an Arian, it was clear that he affirmed the heresy.[3] In a logic chopping manner, very much like Arius, Stone spoke of Jesus as “divine” but not actually “God.” For Stone, Jesus is “divine” in the sense that the “Father dwells in him” and that the “fullness of God was in him.” This is similar to how water fills a bucket–the bucket itself is not water, but is filled with water. Only the “divinity in him . . . was eternal” according to Stone.[4] More plainly, Stone expressed his view thus:

My own views of the Son of God, are, that he did not begin to exist 1820 years ago; nor did he exist from eternity; but was the first begotten of the Father before time or creation began–that he was sent by the Father 1820 years ago into the world, and united with a body, prepared for him; and that in him dwelt all the fullness of Godhead bodily.[5]

For Stone, Jesus was not “equal in essence, being or eternity” with the Father. As the quote above clearly implies, there was a time when the Son was not. Despite Stone’s denials, this is Arianism. But how would Stone know? He never read Arius’ position, as he even admits! “I know not what the real sentiments of Arius were,” commented Stone, “having never seen his writings; nor have I seen his sentiments, but through the coloring of his enemies.”[6] If Stone had ever read Arius, he would have seen how closely all his arguments resembled Arius’ very own views.

To me, Stone’s Arianism is a problem. (It may be difficult for some to swallow, but Arianism for me is akin to blasphemy.) One of the so-called “founding fathers” of the RM was a heretic, one who rejected the true nature of the Savior. When I finally came to realize this fact, I could no longer hold Stone in high esteem. The very movement which prided itself on being “people of the Book” (i.e., the Bible) respected and honored a man who rejected one of the essential and foundational teachings of “the Book.” “How could this be?” I thought. “Why was this never mentioned in my years growing up in the RM?” More importantly, why does this man continue to be cherished in the RM (I can see why his views would be by the more liberal)? Why are buses being packed to take a field trip to see a church house preserved in Paris, KY to honor a heretic?

Interestingly, Stone denied not only the deity of Christ, but also the substitutionary atonement. The atonement, again, is one the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, stating that Christ took the place of sinners to atone for their sins. Stone was very emphatic that Jesus did not take the place of sinners on the cross. In a very lengthy discussion with Alexander Campbell in the Millennial Harbinger, Stone wrote,

The doctrine of vicarious, or substituted punishment, is the fundamental of orthodox divinity. Where, brother Campbell, shall we find the term substitute with application to Christ? Did he, as such, satisfy the demands of law and justice against the sinner, and reconcile or propitiate God to a sinful world? Does law or justice admit of such substituted punishment? Where is it required, or found in the Bible? [7]

Rather than Jesus’ sacrifice serving as a substitutionary atonement, Stone believed in what is called today “the moral influence theory” of the cross. This theory states that Jesus’ death was simply an expression of divine love, accomplished to “woo” sinners to repentance by observing the kind of sacrifice God’s Son made. It has nothing to do with the punishment of sin as such, but everything to do with just inducing repentance. Alexander Campbell even correctly noted this. He replied to Stone that the “only necessity for the death of Christ to have occurred [in this view], is its superior fitness to produce repentance” [8]. (Unfortunately, Campbell was aware of Stone’s view here as well as others but still decided to extend a hand fellowship to him by uniting his followers with Stone’s. This is an indictment against Campbell, not something to be celebrated.)

The more I thought about Stone’s heresy and denial of the substitutionary atonement, the more I began to see a connection to some other problems that had arisen throughout the history of the RM. Take, for example, the liberal controversy of the early to mid twentieth century. Liberals, who denied many of the essential Christian teachings, had taken over many of the RM Bible colleges and seminaries, and conservatives were outraged (and I would have been also). But surely the least observant reader can detect the irony: on what grounds could the conservatives cry foul when liberals were among them? The RM had been liberal from the beginning with the acceptance of Stone’s Arianism and moral influence theory of the cross (and by implication anti-Trinitarian views)!

Fast forward to today: it seems to me that conservatives in the RM really have no grounds to get upset with liberals who exist among them (or even if some were to choose to practice barking in a worship service for that matter). If Stone was accepted early on with his heretical and unbiblical views and practices, then liberals ought to be accepted today. Of course, this can be avoided by conservatives if they jettison Stone and his views, rejecting him as a man who represents their view of Christ, God, and conversion by acting demon possessed. The best way to get rid of a tumor is to expose it and then remove it. The best way to dispose of theological error is the same. The question is, who has the theological fortitude to do it?

Notes:

[1] James B. North, Union In Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1994), 47.

[2] See Barton Stone’s autobiography. All the info here is summarized and taken from North’s book Union In Truth, 47.

[3]See North, Union In Truth, 163 for a discussion on this. It should be noted that North does not pass judgment on whether Stone affirmed Arianism.

[4] Barton W. Stone, “Section II. Of The Son of God” in An Address to the Christian Churches (1821) from http://www.piney.com/Barton.W.Stone.Address.Christian.Churches.html; emphasis mine.

[5] Stone, “Section II. Of the Son of God.”

[6] Barton W. Stone, “Section I. Of the Trinity” in An Address to the Christian Churches (1821) from http://www.piney.com/Barton.W.Stone.Address.Christian.Churches.html#Sec2

[7] See “LETTER V.-To. B. W. STONE” in Alexander Campbell, ed., The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, vol. 5 (Bethany, VA: N.p., 1841), 62-63. Stone expresses it clearly in his An Address to the Christian Churches and shows that he is aware that such a doctrine is viewed to be foundational to the Christian faith: “I am not ignorant that men have attached other ideas to the blood of Jesus besides those I have mentioned; as, that it satisfied law and justice–reconciled and propitiated God to sinners–took away original sin–purchased grace, salvation, and the holy spirit–opened the door of mercy, &c. These doctrines have been of long standing in the church, and for a long time it has been thought blasphemy to call them in question. So long and so constantly have they been proclaimed from the pulpit and from the press, that the real ends of the blood of Jesus have been partially overlooked and neglected. Indeed I have tho’t that people, unacquainted with the bible, by attending to a great part of the preaching and systems of religion in the present day, would almost conclude that Christ died only to satisfy justice–appease the vengeance of God, and purchase grace. These things I do not believe to be contained in the bible; and for not believing them, we are considered as having denied the blood of Christ, and rejected the foundation stone of christianity.” See Stone, “On the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus” from http://www.piney.com/Barton.W.Stone.Address.Christian.Churches.html#Sec3.

[8] “LETTER V.-To. B. W. STONE” in Alexander Campbell, ed., The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, vol. 5 (Bethany, VA: N.p., 1841), 62-63

This entry was posted in Ministry, Theology, Worldview. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Reflecting on “Restoration”: Barton W. Stone

  1. Lee Mason says:

    The importance of Cane Ridge is NOT the Cane Ridge revival. This predated the real importance by about 3 years. The real importance of C R was the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery”, what it meant and what it led to. They abandoned creeds, took the Bible only as their rules of faith and practice, accepted being called just “Christians,” accepted immersion, and renounced denominations.

    So how about that C R revival? It really had nothing to do with the Restoration Movement it just happened to take place on the same land where the “Last Will and Testament of the S. P.” took place.

    Here is a parallel illustration. In 1972 the NACC took place in Cincinnati. The final service was held in Riverfront Stadium where the Reds play baseball. Later that year the Reds won the National League pennant. Did the NACC meeting in that stadium have anything to do with the Reds winning the pennant? Absolutely not! The simple fact is that two unrelated things happened on the same piece of land. So it was at Cane Ridge.

    • prasor says:

      Thanks, Lee, for your response. I see what you are saying. However, if the “real importance” was “The Last Will and Testament,” then why is everyone cramming into buses and “going to Cane Ridge” in Paris, KY? It may be that the “real importance” is “The Last Will and Testament,” but then certainly Cane Ridge is not too far behind. Question: if the Jehovah Witnesses today wrote something like “The Last Will and Testament,” would you extend a hand of fellowship to them and say, “Welcome to the RM!”?

      Also, if Cane Ridge “had nothing to do with the movement” as you say, then why is it in every RM history book and everyone cramming into buses to visit the “old church house” in Paris, KY? Also, I have seen many ministers’ offices donned with the picture of the Cane Ridge church house. Why is this if had nothing to do with the RM?

      More importantly, do you accept Stone’s Arianism and denial of the substitutionary atonement? Why do we need to keep this false theology around?

      Again, thanks for reading and discussing this with me. Grace and peace, my good friend!

      • Lee Mason says:

        I’m talking about the “revival” that took place there. To me it is interesting because of “the last will and testament” not the revival.

        • prasor says:

          Ok, I see your point. I wonder, however, if Stone’s unbiblical theology makes “The Last Will and Testament” void–at least in some sense?

  2. Peter, I’m not sure where you got the idea the RM despised Church History. Alexander Campbell’s writings are peppered with references to church history. You can’t read the Christian Baptist, the Millennial Harbinger, or his debates without seeing numerous references to the history of Christianity. I will be anxious to see your justification for the statement.

    Campbell was fully aware of Stone’s Arian tendencies but because Stone elevated Jesus as the Messiah chose not to make it a test of orthodoxy. Evidently the Presbytery testing Stone for ordination overlooked it too.

    If your only reference for Restoration History comes from Jim’s book, you have a long way to go. This may reflect a problem with unfamiliarity with primary sources in the RM.

    I grant the movement has its problems and, perhaps because of its non-credal nature, tends to drift at times theologically, but I still think it has more to offer than other groups. There is a definite drift in the movement toward to Reformation theology. While I would reject the label as classic Arminian, I have to reject Reformation theology as a perversion of the truth of the Gospel. It is sad to see Christians “returning to the prison” of theological creeds and dogmas. I prefer the liberty of conscience and the freedom to put my confidence in Jesus rather than the writings of Augustine and Calvin.

    • prasor says:

      Thanks, Mike, for your thoughtful reply. In answer to your first question, I said “perhaps” it was due to the RM despising church history with a “?” at the end. I will flesh this statement out more in a later post. For now, I would say that this “perhaps” is based upon Campbell’s and others’ statements that much of the time are negative toward the figures of church history, such as your own statement (although not entirely negative): “I prefer the liberty of conscience and the freedom to put my confidence in Jesus rather than the writings of Augustine and Calvin.” I think this may actually be a false dichotomy embedded in a straw man. Does anyone or did anyone never have the liberty of conscience and the freedom to put confidence in Jesus rather than Augustine and Calvin? It also seems statements like this imply that Augustine and Calvin have absolutely no benefit. I am sure you do not necessarily mean your statement to be taken that way, but it leaves the impression–and Campbell’s statements certainly leave that impression. Take a look at the first page of Christianity Restored and his first The Christian Baptist where he lists every “ism” under the sun and says, in essence, to throw them all out.

      When it comes to “because Stone elevated Jesus as the Messiah chose not to make it a test of orthodoxy,” would you suggest we should accept Jehovah Witnesses into fellowship? They “elevate” Jesus as the Messiah and teach the exact same thing as Stone did.

      You mentioned my reference to Jim’s book as my only RM historical reference and that I “have a long way to go.” Perhaps you have not read my dissertation where my footnote consists of 3/4 of the first page that lists nothing but RM history books, or perhaps you have not considered that I have read every volume of The Christian Baptist, much of the Millennial Harbinger, Christian Baptism: With Its Antecedents and Consequents, The Christian Preacher’s Companion or The Gospel Facts Sustained by the Testimony of Unbelieving Jews and Pagans, Debate on the Evidences of Christianity, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch, Memoirs of Thomas Campbell together with a Brief Memoir of Mrs. Jane Campbell, Popular Lectures and Addresses, and many of Campbell’s own diary entries (which I had copied for a nice sum from Bethany College)? I referred only to Jim’s book because this is a blog.

      When it comes to “returning to the prison” of theological creeds and dogmas, the RM (in my opinion) if FAR from that. In fact, as I will discuss in a later post, the RM has no theological framework whatsoever and I find this to be a problem, not something to be celebrated. You stated, “I grant the movement has its problems, and perhaps because of its non-creedal nature, tends to drift at times theologically…” Question: why does it matter if it “drifts” theologically? Do we prefer “the liberty of conscience” or not?

      Again, thanks for the discussion, my good friend. Stay tuned for more, as I am sure we will have more in the future. Peace, brother!

  3. Steve says:

    Good Info, I must say I don’t think I have ever heard about this part of the RM either. It is interesting and I look forward to more on the topic. We did have an occasion to visit the old church a few years back.

  4. Andy S. Manalastas says:

    Great blog on RM

    God bless Dr. Jack Cottrell

  5. IIrc, Campbell expressed reservations about the “religious exercises,” as something salvageable rather than as any part of a pattern of worship, somewhere in the Millennial Harbinger. This is part of the picture too.

  6. Nick Vipperman says:

    Ouch.

    You dropped a bomb in my RM mind. Though I now vaguely remember some of these disturbing items you mention from Cane Ridge from my Restoration History class back in 1994. I was too young back then to realize their folly.

    As I further read between the lines of this blog post it sounds like you may be advocating for a clearer standard or, theological framework for the Restoration churches. Am I correct? If so, what would that look like? Does that take us down a road that throws out “No creed but Christ?” And, I suppose the next question would be, if so, does it matter, is that a hill worth dying on?

    • prasor says:

      Nick, thanks so much for joining the discussion. You are correct to a degree when you say “it sounds like you may be advocating for a clearer standard or, theological framework for the Restoration churches.” It has bothered me for a quite some time that no theological framework exists whatsoever. I realize that the traditional response would be something like “we don’t need a theological framework because we have the Bible as a standard.” Unfortunately, this so-called standard has resulted in horrible consequences, namely, bad theology and theological confusion throughout the entire history of the RM (with some exceptions of course). The reason why, in my opinion, is because many have approached and do approach Scripture through a modern, postmodern, or existential lens. In short, their philosophical presuppositions taint their hermeneutics and thus results in a confused theology. In my opinion, there must be some kind of theology that informs our hermeneutics to some degree. Interestingly, every one has a theological lens by which they interpret Scripture. In the RM, since there is no “official” theological lens (or parameters) in which Scripture is interpreted, the effect is that everyone has his own personal theology in which he interprets Scripture, and hence the numerous theologies, many which are unbiblical. I am essentially referring here to the idea of the “hermeneutical spiral.”

      That all being said, I am not sure exactly what this theological framework would look like. I would say this: I think a place to begin would be to agree upon at least some basic laws of hermeneutics. I believe Alexander Campbell was on to something in his Christianity Restored. This book was Campbell’s foundational work for uniting Christians on biblical authority. He correctly saw that if unity in Christian doctrine was to be achieved, then there would need to be at least an agreed upon hermeneutics. This is why the entire book focused on all the rules of hermeneutics and how language works. I have some reservations about whether this is actually achievable, but it seems to me to be going in the right direction.

      I know my response here is rather lengthy, but I would like to address your question about “no creed but Christ.” For me, I honestly have no idea what that means, and I don’t think anyone else does either, except to say “we don’t use creeds.” But that is a creed in itself. The RM creed is to not use creeds. That’s all fine to a certain degree, but then the question has to be asked, “why?” The usual answer is “because Scripture is our authority, not creeds.” Ok. But who (at least today) uses creeds this way? I don’t know any conservative evangelicals who use creeds say, “My authority is the Westminster Confession; the Bible is secondary.” No. Rather these evangelicals clearly state that their creed(s) is simply a statement that clearly articulates what they take Scripture to be teaching. I find this to be helpful in a modern/postmodern age when biblical interpretation has become individualized to the point of making the objective meaning of words null and void.

      Finally, I would say, the hill worth dying on is sound theology.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Nick Vipperman says:

    Peter,

    Thank you for your reply.

    Believe you me, I see the need for a RM framework that we could all unite more clearly around. I agree with all your conclusions above. I’ve seen a lot of “wiggle” in our churches and I wish we could do more to bring a healthy “sameness” back to our movement. We’ve tried to do some of this in our church through teaching and “position papers” on hot button theological issues; i.e. baptism; once saved always saved; predestination, etc. – But our efforts are obviously far from complete. I think too that many in our church would welcome this as I think most people do not set out to mess with our theology but arrive there none the less through error or because of previous poor teaching.

    Thanks for your writing and by the way…

    I’ll gladly die on that hill with you.

  8. Erik Neilson says:

    I like your article as a whole and relate to your sentiment. My kids are now fifth generation RM members but I have no strong sense of attachment to our movement’s history. I refuse to be called a Campbelite and I don’t teach our church people about the RM or it’s history. I think it’s a contradiction of the RM’s core values to champion certain men, certain documents, or certain historical events. The whole point of our movement (as you alluded to) was to get people away from those things and get them back to Jesus and the Scripture. Having said that, I’m not much bothered by the “heresy” or the charismatic/demonic episode at Cane Ridge. I am, however, thankful for the result. In spite of its founder’s flaws people have found saving faith in Jesus “and for this I rejoice.” (Php 1:18) Five generations of my family have found saving faith and been baptized in Christian churches; it wasn’t a complete loss!

    On a secondary note, I do wonder if Barton Stone ever changed his Arian beliefs? One of the problems with reading old documents is that they only paint a picture of the person at the time when they were writing. I’m assuming he lived beyond the date of his writing…any evidence that he may have changed his tune later in life?

    • prasor says:

      Erik, if I remember correctly, Stone nuanced his Arian views somewhat, perhaps even understood the Son as uncreated. However, my point (and perhaps I did not make this clear enough) is that Stone was accepted as a leader from the beginning while he held Arian views and denied the substitutionary atonement (which he never recanted).

  9. Rod says:

    This helps clarify a very important topic. Mainly, that it’s easy to overlook theological error, when what we seem to judge is results. The so called, “Toronto Blessing” comes to mind. A wild and wacky post modern revival, with a lot of similarities to Cane Ridge in fact. Perhaps some of the underlying theological views were different, but on the surface , there are a lot of similarities. Growth, at least initially seemed to result, so inside both circles, a strong tendency to dismiss what may be some of the ramifications if you will of what was actually being believed and taught and subsequently thought to be truth. And as for Cane Ridge leading to the “Last Will and Testament ..”, as I recall, several of those who signed, later got swept up in “Shakerism” when they came to town. So, I think there was a vulnerability to emotional appeals of many kinds without clear Biblical adherence being practiced.
    But what I really like about your article, and what makes it sound, is that this teaching that Jesus is not really fully divine in the full sense of the term (“Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” Heb) is an aberration from classic Christianity and leads to all sorts of error. Especially so if he cannot procure our salvation due to insufficient qualifications in going to the cross. Thanks for helping bring this to light, as we need to carefully examine underlying teaching, to see if it adds up or not, and Barton Stone, as revered as he was, should be able to stand up under scrutiny such as you provide. Thank you.

  10. The Cane Ridge Meeting, as I see it, marked the last of the great frontier revivals. There were other revivals and “camp meetings” but none quite so large as Cane Ridge. Our of Cane Ridge came the following:

    1. A desire for freedom from extra-congregational structures, creeds, and the oppression of an often self-righteous clergy. The leaders who formed the Springfield Presbytery did so because of accusations leveled against them–primarily Richard McNemar–that they had abandoned the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Presbyterian Church.
    2. The publication of “An Apology for the Renunciation of the Synod Kentucky,” which is often ignored or relegated to unimportance by most historians in the Restoration Movement. This document is extremely important because it details the charges brought against Richard McNemar. In the document Barton Stone explains the differences where the “Springfielders” differed from the bulk of Presbyterianism and the major denominations. Among those is Stone’s assertion that “Faith is the belief of testimony” rather than some miraculous gift given as a result of God regenerating an elect (predestined) individual.
    3. The “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” which I see as far less important than “The Apology” because it is a reactive document. It does, however, express the view of those in the Springfield Presbytery that Christians should not be hampered by unscriptural creeds, organizations designed to protect the creeds (denominations), and a professional clergy who protects both of the previous.

    Sadly, the events following the dissolution of the Springfield Presbytery indicate a fundamental disagreement between those who comprised the organization. McNemar and Dunlavy wanted to continue the excesses (exercises) seen in the Revival. The others did not. Marshall and Thompson, in my view, returned to the Presbyterians because, in spite of Marshall’s conviction that immersion was the only biblical form of baptism, they recognized the dangers inherent in absolute freedom. Their concern was well founded because McNemar and Dunlavy ultimately led their congregations into Shakerism. Of the original organizers of the Springfield Presbytery, only Stone and David Purviance continued in their quest of a united church based solely on the authority of God’s Word.

  11. Duane Schwingel says:

    I feel like Tonto, when reminded by the Lone Ranger that they were surrounded by hostile Apaches. “What do you mean ‘we’ white man?”

    If we are true to the “RM” principles, than there are as many “we’s” as there are New Testament congregations. This boils down to the elders of each congregation. They are the ones who will provide the theological “framework” for the congregation.

    “The Movement, as we all know, has suffered unspeakable damage because so many of us have been more than ready to stand strong on the clear commands of Scripture, but less than ready to allow the freedom that the Plea also demands. It takes courage to stand for the Ancient Order when so many are ready to abandon it, but it takes even more courage to allow our brothers liberty in deduction, opinion, and method. Small-mindedness has been and is the scourge of the Movement. Who can deny that most of the division we have sustained, so humiliating for a unity movement, has been over
    nonessentials, not over Faith? This certainly has been true of the parts of the Movement that did not join the great Disciple abandonment of biblical Christianity. The plague in most of our local congregations is not apostasy; it is the bigotry of Christians who have only half-learned the Restoration Plea.
    Seldom is the denominational believer offended by our message; often is he offended by our manner, or by our unwavering stand on what the Bible almost says and we think should say and concerning which we have graciously filled in the missing revelation. To restore movement to the Movement, we must be clear what we mean by Restoration. It is the plan of salvation and the order of the Church that is to be restored–nothing less. But nothing more! We are not in the business of “restoring” our own narrow notions of what’s best for the Church. ” Roger Chambers, “Restoring Movement to the Restoration Movement”

    • prasor says:

      Duane, thanks for reading and giving your input. I see what you are saying and I used to think that the elders of the local congregation would be the safeguard as well. But if I look at what you are saying more closely, it sounds a lot like relativism of some kind to me: “there are as many ‘we’s’ as there are New Testament congregations. This boils down to the elders of each congregation. They are the ones who will provide the theological ‘framework’ for the congregation.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I doubt very much that is what you meant. My question, I suppose, would be “where are these elders getting their theological framework from?” As you are probably aware, the RM today has as many doctrines at the local level as there are RM churches, ranging from feminism to complementarianism, from baptism for salvation to Zwinglian symbolism. Moreover, you are probably aware that many conservatives (like Chambers whom you quote) get rather bent out of shape (and rightly so) when churches and other Christians in the RM disbelieve essential key doctrines. To this I say, “Why get upset? We have no creed or theological framework. Let each other alone. Also, we had Stone who disbelieved Jesus was God and in the substitutionary atonement.” So, I would have asked Chambers, “How far do we give liberty?” It seems that the quote you gave of his is saying only salvation and order of the church (which I assume means church polity). But is that it? And why only those things? The early church seemed very concerned about the nature of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Are not these foundational? Just some things to consider. It just seem really slippery to me.

  12. Bob Wickline says:

    …Suffice it to say, I, too, have shared some similar concerns about the “Carrin’s On” at Cane Ridge and Stone’s Anti-Trinitarian views. However, I believe we must see the import of the concept of “Movement” in the RM. The concerns you express are very valid~ but, we always have to be honest with ourselves about the necessary journey that it takes sometimes to find our way to the Truth. Even Peter & Paul didn’t agree on some major issues of The Faith, until there was a sorting out of Biblical Truth. Often “our people” are quick to judge folks from other groups, because they don’t see it our way as readily as do we… Well, that’s purdy pompous of us who have been raised with a familiarity with the fundamental beliefs of the RM. I mean, just our understanding that THE BIBLE is the only source of ABSOLUTE TRUTH is truly a foreign and ‘radical’ concept to those raised in denominationalism. It’s second nature for you & I to think that way, because that is an essential part of the belief system that has been impressed upon us by men of Faith. But, I dare say~ if you or I had been raised in a Calvinistic/Faith-only tradition, that we might not have come so easily to our foundation of Faith either (and, in my case, my earlier rearing in Christianity was not in the RM). But, Praise The Lord!!! for The Pricetown Church of Christ, where as a teenager, I was led to Salvation in Jesus. But, I still sometimes wonder, if I had not been so blest, if on my own, apart from the faithful witness of True Believers, if I would have known enough to question the false orthodoxy of other churches. In your Restoration History, I’m sure you learned that even Alexander Campbell questioned the essential need of Adult Believers Baptism by immersion for years, until he finally sorted that Truth out in light of a further study of THE WORD. Yes, I agree~ Stone was wrong in his concept of the Deity of Jesus. But, he was part of the movement that eventually united in 1832, and the congregations of his followers ultimately came more fully & rightly under the doctrinal influence of Alexander Campbell’s approach to Biblical Theology (a fact that we should all be thankful for, I’m sure). As for me, I strive to be as literally accurate and compliant with THE BOOK as I possibly can be. And, I’m certain that is the case with you, too. But, Alas~ our fellowship/the RM is still a ‘Movement’, and many of our churches and preachers are moving away from THE BOOK. At least the “movement” back then ultimately led us to a True Destination~ and now, we must keep standing up for The Truth, so that we can keep our ‘Movement’ moving in the right direction.

    • prasor says:

      Thanks for reading, Bob! I understand exactly what you are saying concerning Stone and all. That being said, however, it seems to me that Stone should have known better, especially given the fact that he was confronted by A. Campbell himself. I don’t quite get the concept in early RM history that everything ever known needed to be abandoned and started over, which seems to me to be what Stone was doing and thus resulted in throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in this case he threw out not only the incompatible theology of Scripture but also the compatible theology. Stone knew exactly what he was doing–he was rejecting some of the very foundational doctrines of Christianity. He even admitted this–it wasn’t some baby in the faith attempting to come to a better understanding of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And then for Stone to be viewed as an early leader of the RM with heretical views–well, let’s just let enough alone.