Church History: The Restoration

By Aude McKee


I. For several weeks we have studied the Protestant Reformation.

A. When viewed from its stated purpose – to reform Romanism – it was a failure.

1. Catholicism was too deeply entrenched to be reformed.

2. After 450 years (from the days of Luther), Catholicism remains basically the same.

B. However, the reformers accomplished good along with the evil.

1. Evil came in the establishment of religious organizations unknown to the New Testament.

2. Good came from the increased emphasis placed on Bible authority. The Roman Catholic Church was given a blow from which she has never recovered.

II. The close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries were marked by an intense spiritual fervor and a great revival of interest in religion. This was true both in America and in Europe.

A. Good men were beginning to ask questions and to ponder the seriousness of religious division.

B. A desire began to arise in many areas to “restore the ancient order of things.”

III. The Restoration Movement was launched upon four basic principles.

A. The acknowledgment of the New Testament Scriptures as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice. A positive attempt to obey the “pattern whereunto we have been delivered”; to accept only those things in religion which are specifically prescribed in the New Testament by command, apostolic example or necessary inference.

B. Renunciation of all human creeds and the acceptance of the precepts and examples of Jesus as the only creed binding upon Christians. Human creeds are by their very nature divisive; only the Scriptures furnish a rational basis for unity.

C. The restoration of the apostolic or New Testament concept of the church in the minds of men. Worshiping and patterning our lives after the divine pattern.

D. The union of all Christians upon the basis of the Bible.

IV. In this lesson we will notice the work of some of the men whose names are outstanding in the restoration period.


I. James O’Kelly (17_-1826).

A. O’Kelly was a Methodist preacher – worked in Virginia and North Carolina.

1. On many occasions O’Kelly found himself at odds with Francis Asbury, the Bishop.

a. Asbury laid the rule of “pay, pray and obey” upon his laymen.

b. O’Kelly wanted Methodist preachers to have the right to appeal to the Conference if they did not like their appointment.

2. The Conference upheld Asbury and so O’Kelly, Rice Haggard and three other preachers withdrew from the Conference. This was in 1792.

a. They formed a body known as the “Republican Methodist Church” (1793).

b. In 1794 they held a meeting at Old Lebanon in Surry County, VA, at which they endeavored to devise a plan of church government. Finally Haggard stood up with a Bible in his hand and said, “Brethren, this is a sufficient rule of faith and practice. By it we are told that the disciples were called Christians, and I move that henceforth and forever the followers of Christ be known as Christians simply.”

3. Following Haggard’s suggestion, a man by the name of Haferty stood up and moved that they take the Bible itself as their only creed. From these two motions the O’Kelly movement devised what became known as the “Five Cardinal Principles of the Christian Church.”

a. The Lord Jesus, as the only head of the church.

b. The name Christian to the exclusion of all party and sectarian names.

c. The Holy Bible, or the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the only creed, and a sufficient rule of faith and practice.

d. Christian character, or vital piety, the only test of church fellowship and membership.

e. The right of private judgment and the liberty of conscience, the privilege and duty of all.

B. Weaknesses can be seen in these “Principles” but that these people were on their way back to the ancient order is evident. The significance of O’Kelly and his work lies mainly in the direction he was looking.

II. Elias Smith (Born in 1769 at Lyme, Conn.)

A. Smith was a serious minded young man and in 1789 he became greatly concerned over the subject of baptism. He was then baptized into the Baptist Church.

1. Shortly thereafter, Smith began to preach for the Baptist Church. However, he had some misgivings about certain doctrines held by the Baptists.

2. This motivated an intense investigation of Bible teaching. He then wrote: “When in my 24th year, I believed there would be a people bearing a name different from all the denominations then in this country; but what they would be called, I then could not tell. In the spring of 1802, having rejected the doctrine of Calvin and universalism, to search the scriptures to fmd the truth, I found the name which the followers of Christ ought to wear; which was Christians (Acts 11:26). My mind being fixed upon this as the right name, to the exclusion of all the popular names in the world, in the month of May, at a man’s house in Epping, N.H., by the name of Lawrence, where I held a meeting and spoke upon the text, Acts 11:26, I ventured for the first time, softly to tell the people that the name, Christian was enough for the followers of Christ without addition of the words, Baptist, Methodist, etc.”

B. In October, 1802, the friends of Smith rented a hall in Portsmouth, NH and began holding meetings here every Sunday.

1. On December 26, the hall burned down; they began then to meet in a school house.

2. They started with five members; by March they had grown to ten.

3. Smith writes: “When our number was some short of twenty, we agreed to consider ourselves a church of Christ, owning him as our only Master, Lord, and lawgiver, and we agreed to consider ourselves Christians, without the addition of any unscriptural name.”

C. One of the amazing things about then activities was that the men involved had no contact with or knowledge of the others. O’Kelly was unknown to Smith.

1. In 1803, Smith was visited by a medical doctor and Baptist preacher by the name of Abner Jones. Smith admitted that Jones’ thinking had gone beyond his own in the matter of a return to New Testament authority.

2. In 1801, in Lyndon, Vermont, Jones had broken with the Baptists. He and others rejected human names and contended for the absolute authority of the New Testament.

3. After 1803, Smith and Jones joined forces in establishing churches free of denominational affiliation.

III. Barton W. Stone (1772-1844).

A. Stone was born at Port Tobacco Creek, MD. His father died when he was three and the family moved to North Carolina.

1. When 18, he went to the famous school of David Caldwell near Greensboro in order to be admitted to the bar.

2. While there, he heard James McGready, a popular Presbyterian preacher, and a year or so later he joined the Presbyterian Church and began to preach.

3. Stone later moved to Cane Ridge, KY and was ordained.

a. But even then, Stone had serious doubts about the scripturalness of the Confession of Faith – the creed of the Presbyterian Church.

b. When asked at his ordination if he received the Confession of Faith, he replied, “I do, as far as I see it consistent with the Word of God.”

B. As Stone preached, he made his appeal directly to the Word of God. He soon began urging the universality of the gospel and faith as the condition of salvation.

1. In 1801, plans were made for a great revival at Cane Ridge.

2. On Thursday and Friday before the third Lord’s Day in August, the roads around Cane Ridge were crowded with wagons bringing people to the meeting.

3. It has been estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 attended.

4. At this time, conversion had become almost a convulsion. The converts usually engaged in one of five “exercises.”

a. Falling exercise. The subject would cry out in a piercing scream and then fall flat on the ground and lay for several minutes as though dead.

b. Jerking exercise. Various parts of the body would jerk violently to one side and then the other.

c. Dancing exercise. This began with the jerks and then passed on to dancing. They usually danced until they fell exhausted to the ground. d. Barking exercise. The person’s body jerked suddenly and violently causing a big grunt

e. Laughing and singing exercise.

5. As a result of the revival trouble developed with the Presbyterian Synod. C. Stone and four others then withdrew from the Synod and formed a Presbytery of their own called the Springfield Presbytery.

1. They drew up a document known as the “Apology of the Springfield Presbytery.” In this they expressed their total abandonment of all authoritative creeds except the Bible.

2. Stone called his congregation together and informed them that he could no longer preach for them. He stated that he would continue to preach among them but not as a Presbyterian.

D. Within one year they began to see that they were wrong in forming another Presbytery.

1. On June 28, 1804, they issued the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.”

2. This document contains less than 800 words but it is one of the most important to come out of the Restoration Movement.

3. This “Last Will and Testament” has 12 paragraphs. We quote five:

a. “We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”

b. “We will, that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God’s heritage, and His name one.

c. “We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. “

d . “We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them in to the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, then having many to be cast into hell.”

e. “We will, that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late. “

E. Stone and his group were looking toward New Testament Christianity but they were not allowed to make their journey in peace.

1. Evil reports were circulated about them.

2. Nick-names were attached to them. For years they were referred to as “New Lights,” a name widely used at that time to designate any off-brand religious sect.

3. Stone also gave considerable attention to the subject of baptism and came to the conclusion that immersion was essential to salvation. For this conviction scorn was heaped upon him. On one occasion he wrote: “The floods of earth and hell are let loose against us, but me in particular. I am seriously threatened with imprisonment, and stripes I expect to receive for the testimony of Jesus. Kentucky is turning upside down.” Again he said: “God knows I am not fond of controversy. A sense of duty has impelled me to advance it. In the simplicity of truth is all my delight. To cultivate the benevolent affections of the gospel

shall employ my future life.”

IV. Thomas Campbell (1763-1854).

A. Thomas Campbell was a preacher in the Seceder branch of the Presbyterian Church.

1. He was in poor health and came to America for relief.

2. He arrived in Philadelphia in the spring of 1807. He presented himself to the Synod and was assigned to the Chartires Presbytery in western Pennsylvania.

3. He soon found himself preaching things contrary to Presbyterian doctrine.

4. The Synod had several meetings to consider Campbell’s heresy and finally on September 13, 1808, he was suspended from his ministerial office.

B. Campbell continued topreach in homes of friends, school houses, in the open, etc. In one of these meetings he closed his sermon with these words. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”

1. When he sat down, there was silence. Then Andrew Munro spoke: “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end to infant baptism.” Campbell replied: “If infant baptism be not found in the Scriptures, we can have nothing to do with it.”

2. In 1809, this band of believers formed themselves into the I ‘Christian Association of Washington.” Campbell then wrote the “Declaration and Address” in which he set forth the famous slogan, “In faith, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.”

V. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866).

A. Alexander was born in Northern Ireland and was 20 years old when hisfather sentfor thefamily to come to America. They first tried to make the trip in 1808 but the ship was wrecked. They finally arrived in N. Y. in 1809.

1. Upon being reunited with his father, and having read the Declaration and Address, Alexander resolved to devote his life to studying the word and proclaiming it.

2. In 1810, the Brush Run meetinghouse was built and here he preached his first sermon.

B. Soon the subject of baptism began to trouble Campbell. He made an intense study of it and concluded that infants were not subjects of baptism, that the action was immersion, and that the confession the Eunuch made must precede it rather than the Baptist practice of telling an experience.

1. Campbell found a Baptist preacher, Matthias Luce, who was willing to baptize him.

2- When the day came, June 12, 1812, six others also asked to be baptized.

3. Soon practically the entire Brush Run church had followed suit.

C. Being baptized made the Brush Run church both friends and enemies – enemies among the Presbyterians and friends among the Baptists.

1. They were invited to join the Redstone Association of Baptist Churches. After much consideration they agreed to accept the invitation provided they be “allowed to teach and preach whatever they learned from the Holy Scriptures.”

2. At first Campbell was held in high esteem by the Baptists and he defended their cause (immersion) against two Presbyterians in debate – John Walker and W.L. McCalla. In the Walker debate, Campbell introduced the idea that baptism is for the remission of sins and in the McCalla debate he pressed this truth in order to show that infants cannot be baptized since they have no sin. Shortly thereafter he declared that “baptism was never designed for, nor commanded to be administered to, a member of the church.” This brought him into conflict with the Baptists.

3. The wedge between Campbell and the Baptists was also driven by his famous “Sermon on the Law.”

a. Campbell was tried for heresy by the Redstone Association. He was acquitted but wearied with strife the Brush Run Church withdrew and joined the Mahoning Baptist Association in 1823.

b. By 1830, those who made up the Mahoning Association agreed on its unscripturalness and so they met and dissolved it.

c. When the break between Campbell and the Baptists came, Campbell said: “We have always sought peace, but not peace at war with truth. We are under no necessity to crouch, to beg for favor, friendship or protection. Our progress is is onward, upward and resistless. With the fear of God before our eyes, with the example of the renowned worthies of all ages to stimulate our exertions, with love to God and man working in our bosoms, and immortality in prospect, we have nothing to fear, and nothing to lose that is worth possession.”

d. Campbell was charged with starting another denomination. He wrote: “But a restoration of the ancient order of things is all that is contemplated by the wise disciples of the Lord, as it is agreed that this is all that is wanting to the perfection, happiness, and glory of the Christian community. To contribute to this is our most ardent desire – our daily inquiry and pursuit. Now in attempting this, it must be observed that it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice every thing that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Savior, and to believe and practice whatever is there enjoined. This done, and everything is done which ought to be done.”

VI. Growth and Uniting of Forces.

A. We have dwelt with the problems and opposition that the restorers faced, but the other side of the picture is bright.

1. The truths that were being taught were readily grasped by the average person. People were anxious to discard the creeds of men, ready to abandon the churches of men, and be Christians and Christians only.

2. People began to embrace New Testament Christianity by the thousands. Entire groups of denominational people were baptized for the remission of sins. One preacher reported 550 baptized in six months; another baptized 338 in six weeks; another assisted 222 to obey the gospel in 100 days, Walter Scott baptized 1,000 people in one year.

3. The N. Y. Baptist Register of 1830 said that “one half of the Baptist Churches in Ohio had embraced this sentiment.” One Baptist preacher wrote to Campbell and said that he had traveled 2500 miles and had only found four Baptist preachers who had not been “corrupted.”

B. There were two mighty groups of people who pled for a return to the ancient order of things in the same part of the country.

1. Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell met for the first time in 1824. They discussed their differences and found them to be minor. They held each other in high esteem.

2. In 1831, both groups met in Georgetown, KY for one week. Raccoon John Smith, at this meeting, delivered one of the greatest speeches of his fife. “God has but one people on the earth. He has given to 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 Savior, 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. . . . 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 can not 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, will I 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.”


1. All of this was done by a group of men determined to sow nothing but the pure seed of the kingdom.

2. When pure seed is sown it is bound to reproduce after its own kind.

3. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). When this seed was planted in the hearts of honest men and women in the New Testament period, it produced Christians. By the preaching of the word, churches of Christ were established in every major city of the Roman Empire.

4. And so, by the preaching of the gospel, the church of the Lord was restored to the world.

5. May we realize that the hope of the world in this 20th century, is the same gospel. God help us to believe it, obey it, and then preach it to every creature under heaven.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 23, pp. 718-719, 724-725
December 1, 1988