Yesterday, I received an email from a friend who shared a copy of “The Stone-Campbell Reformation: Its Roots and Ideals” from July 1994 with an article by Leroy Garrett. Typically, I keep posts to 400 words or less. However, I have immense respect for Leroy and his works; and so, I have broken my rule. I have recorded only half of the article and condensed what is below. You can read the full article by following the link (Click Here).
Restoration or Reformation?... What Kind of Movement was it?
Those who read the writings of all three of the churches emanating from the Stone-Campbell heritage, as I do, will notice that we are using the term "Restoration Movement" less and the Stone-Campbell Movement more... I have argued both in this journal and in my history text that our pioneers were reformers more than restorers, and what they launched was a unity movement more than a restoration movement.
There has been considerable controversy over the thesis I set forth in my history book that restorationism is by its nature divisive, and is largely responsible for our proclivity to divide, over and over again…
I will seek first to give a clearer definition of restorationism, sometimes called primitivism, and practiced by such sects as Plymouth Brethren and the Mormons as well as some of our own people. It usually has these beliefs: (1) the true church apostatized and ceased to exist; (2) the many denominations that emerged are false churches that in no way represent the true church; (3) the New Testament provides an exact pattern, a kind of blueprint, for the makeup of the church; (4) the true church has been restored in its pristine purity, and we are that church "in name, organization, worship and practice" or some such attending claim…
It was something of a shock when I was forced to recognize that the New Testament is not the kind of book that my teachers had led me to believe. There is far too much diversity in the New Testament to make it into a rule book or an exact pattern… If it were all as simple as a… manual, with all the details spelled out, there would be no disagreements such as we have in the church today. Since the New Testament is not all that simple and lends itself to varying interpretations, it is understandable that we do not see everything alike.
But restorationism demands conformity, with each restorationist arrogating to himself the role of an infallible interpreter. Restorationism thus has a hermeneutics [i.e., systems of interpretation] all its own, making the New Testament a collection of documents they were never intended to be. It claims what the New Testament never claims for itself: that we are to do today precisely as the primitive church did. It might be better argued that we are to do for our time what the earliest Christians did for theirs, drawing upon living principles found in the New Testament that are more descriptive than prescriptive.
It is necessary to make some changes as the church progresses through the centuries. Common sense and experience alike show us that there is no way to be a first century church in the twentieth century. And yet the basics of the Christian faith never change, transcending all time and all cultures. But methods and secondary doctrine will change in order to meet the challenge of our kind of world. But restorationism allows for no such diversity. Each restorationist party has its own list of "issues" that cannot change, and these are the reason for its existence as a separate "loyal church."
Restorationist hermeneutics thus assumes what cannot be proven: that the pattern for "the true church" is spelled out with such clarity that there is little place for diversity, so that a plea for unity when coupled with restoration is hardly more than a demand for conformity. In that it promotes the "loyal church" fallacy restorationism fosters more and more divisions, with each faction convinced that it is the only true church and the only faithful Christians. This is because each faction has a different interpretation on what the New Testament pattern describes.
The reformation tradition, however, holds that the church has always been in need of reform, including the New Testament churches. The church upon earth never has and never will be perfect, so renewal is an ongoing process. But that imperfect church as the Body of Christ has always existed. Just as a sick person is still a person, so the church, however ill it may become, is still the Church of Christ upon earth. The gates of Hades will never prevail against it, just as Jesus promised. Reformers are hesitant to judge a "corrupt" church as no longer Christ’s church, just as Paul spoke of the Corinthians as the Body of Christ in spite of their imperfections. The reformer thus calls for repentance and renewal, not for a "restored church" to displace the erring one.
While restorationism has been the dominant motif in the recent history of the Churches of Christ/Christian Churches, it was the reformation motif that dominated our earlier history. The Stone-Campbell Movement, as our heritage may properly be described, was an effort to unite Christians by an appeal to certain renewal and reformatory principles and ideals. It was therefore a unity movement rather than a "Restoration Movement," a term of more recent vintage, for it was not called this in its early history.
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Our mission is to promote and pray for unity within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement through the development of local groups that gather routinely over a shared meal. We aspire "to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3) in recognition of Jesus' prayer that we "may all be one" (John 17:21).
We are seeing God at work in local relationships and we ask you to share our dream! What we have in common is greater than our differences. We encourage you to join a group or start a group. If you wish to start a group please contact us and we will help you.
Contact: John Teal at email@example.com.