I Visited Cane Ridge and Midway (2)
What a thrill it was for me to walk among the scenes of the early restoration activities. Much of early American history transpired in and around Lexington, Kentucky. One of the most significant phases of this history was religious. About the beginning of the nineteenth century, Barton W. Stone and some of his associates became deeply concerned about the contradictions between their religious doctrines and practices on the one hand and the teaching of the Bible on the other. At the time (1803-1804), Stone was preaching for the Presbyterians at Cane Ridge near Paris, Kentucky. In the last article, attention was given to the dissolution of the Springfield Presbytery (June 28, 1804), and the effort to restore New Testament Christianity. That article closed with the observation that men now claim that the birth of "a faith" at Cane Ridge which is not what Stone and his fellow-laborers intended. They were interested in living by "the faith," the New Testament, and were determined to leave every "faith" established by men. With the passing of 155 years, the great purpose of Stone's work is obscured by denominational language and concepts. Such causes grief to the hearts of those still interested in the restoration of the New Testament doctrine.
I have already referred to the Stone and Campbell meeting in Lexington on Jan. 1, 1832. This meeting was attended by many, among whom were John T. Johnson, Samuel Rogers, G. W. Elley, Jacob Creath, and "Raccoon" John Smith. The house was crowded sometime before the service was scheduled to begin. It was agreed that Stone and Smith should be the spokesmen and that Sinith should address the assembly first. He arose and in part said: "God has but one people on the earth. He has given them but one Book, and therein exhorts and commands them to be one family. A union such as we plead for-a union of God's people on that one Book-must, then, be practicable. Every Christian desires to stand in the whole will of God. The prayer of the Saviour, and the whole tenor of his teaching, clearly show that it is God's will that his children should be united. To the Christian, then, such a union must be desirable. Therefore, the only union practicable or desirable must be based on the word of God as the only rule of faith and practice.
". . . While there is but one faith, there may be ten thousand opinions; and hence, if Christians are ever to be one, they must be one in faith, and not in opinion.
"For several years past I have stood pledged to meet the religious world, or any part of it, on the ancient gospel and order of things as presented in the Book. This is the foundation on which Christians once stood, and on it they can, and ought, to stand again. From this I cannot depart to meet any man in the wide world. While, for the sake of peace and Christian union, I have long since waived the public maintenance of any speculation I may hold, yet not one gospel fact, commandment, or promise, I will surrender for the world.
"Let us then, brethren, be no longer Campbellites, or Stoneites, or New Lights, or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights, but let us all come to the Bible, and the Bible alone, as the only Book in the world that can give us all the light we need (Davis, How The Disciples Began and Grew, pp. 117-119).
Stone responded in part as follows: "I have not one objection to the ground laid down by him as the true Scriptural basis of union among the people of God; and I am willing to give him, now and here, my hand" (Ibid., p. 119). Thereupon they shook one another's hand and the audience likewise indicated their willingness to unite on the same ground and by the same sign. Such was the meeting on January 1, 1832, and the following Sunday they all met together and partook of the Lord's Supper as the Lord has appointed.
But, there were to come to the front some basic differences relative to attitude toward the word of God. The motto of the Restoration Movement has been "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak, and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." This slogan was put to the test in 1849 when the first missionary society was formed amid tremendous opposition, for the brethren believed that whatever the Lord intended the church to do must be done by the local congregation. However, during this year, Alexander Campbell had a series of five articles in the Millennial Harbinger advocating some sort of general organization through which the church might work. Accordingly, he urged that representatives from all sections of the country assemble in a "general convention" in Cincinnati, Ohio, which convention did assemble October 24-28, 1849, (Millennial Harbinger, 1849, pp. 476, 690). John T. Johnson proposed the following, resolution which was adopted by the convention: "Resolved, That the 'Missionary Society,' as a means to concentrate and dispense the wealth and benevolence of the brethren of this Reformation in an effort to convert the world, is both scriptural and expedient.
"Resolved, That a committee of seven be appointed to prepare a constitution for such a society" (Millennial Harbinger, p. 690). The society was designated the American Christian Missionary Society, and its object was stated as follows in the constitution adopted: "The object of this Society shall be to promote the spread of the Gospel in destitute places of our own and foreign lands" (Ibid.). Alexander Campbell was elected the first president; he was absent from the meeting because he was ill, but later wrote commending the action of the convention in forming the society. Campbell said the society would be a grand auxiliary to the churches in destitute places "in dispensing the blessings of the gospel amongst many that otherwise would never have heard it" (Millennial Harbinger, pp. 694-695).
Jacob Creath and others opposed the formation of the society, and took Campbell to task for his endorsement of the organization. His (Campbell's) opposition to societies in the early days of the Restoration was appealed to by Creath to show Campbell his two positions were in conflict. Campbell responded by saying they were harmonious (Millennial Harbinger, 1850, pp. 202-203, 638-639). Campbell argued that the differences of view on society were caused by differences of judgment as to ways and means of evangelizing the world (see his arguments in Millennial Harbinger, 1850, pp. 282-287). Here are two conflicting views: Campbell believed God had left the church free to use whatever means she might devise to spread the gospel; Creath and others of the same persuasion believed that God authorized the formation of no organization through which the church was to do her work. Other opposition to the society appeared, not on the grounds of its scripturalness, but on the ground that it had left its original position of service.
The introduction of the Missionary Society made a breach in the ranks of the great Restoration Movement that was destined to it asunder to the point that the divergent views were never reconciled. Basically the problem was an attitude toward the authority of Christ and the word of God. The nature of the New Testament revelation was viewed by Campbell and his associates as a book of principles, leaving to human judgment the ways and means of discharging God's command to preach the gospel to the world. Those who in conscience opposed the Missionary Society did so believing that God charged the church with a responsibility which she had no right to delegate to another organization or institution. Thus the great division came about relative to the human missionary society. The American Christian Missionary Society was dissolved in 1869, but a new organization took its place.
Visiting Cane Ridge and Midway, scenes of many Restoration events, cause me to reflect on the differences of attitude. (More to follow).
Truth Magazine IV:10, pp. 1-2