Reformation Or Restoration?

By Leon Mauldin

In his book, The Stone-Campbell Movement, Leroy Garrett sets forth in the first chapter the thesis of which he reminds his readers throughout the book, that the I ‘pioneer preachers” were reformers, not restorationists. “It should be noticed that these pioneers referred to their efforts as reformation, not restoration” (p. 6). Mr. Garrett defines the problem of restorationism in this way: “A restorationist rejects existing denominations as in any sense the church, ignores whatever has happened in intervening centuries, and insists upon restoring the primitive church. He assumes that the New Testament provides a fixed pattern for that church, and so there have been literally hundreds of sects, each claiming to be the true church” (p. 7).

According to Mr. Garrett, Campbell did not look to the New Testament as “providing an exact blueprint or pattern for the church, which he sought to ‘restore’ in an age when the church no longer existed” (p. 9). Mr. Garrett’s interpretation of history is that the work of Stone, Campbell, and others was basically that of a continuation of the reforms of such men as Martin Luther, and other reformers of the sixteenth century.

Actually, the beliefs and actions of the pioneer preachers does not establish what is right or wrong. That can only be established by the Word of God. Further, it is not our purpose to “restore” the “Restoration Movement. ” But it does seem that in his effort to prove his theology that Mr. Garrett overstates his case. He says that the concept, “We are out to restore the church, not to reform it” was ” not the view of the pioneers of the Stone-Campbell Movement” (p. 9).

While some of our readers perhaps have access to Lard’s Quarterly, no doubt many do not. Moses E. Lard was well acquainted with Alexander Campbell. His biographer, Van Deusen, said that while a student at Bethany College, Moses Lard and his wife were given the building that housed the printing office of the Millennial Harbinger. It was only about 200 feet from the Campbell home. “Lard was able to have a relationship with Campbell that no other student at Bethany ever enjoyed. After four years of this intimate association, it could be said that nobody understood the mind of Campbell as well as Moses E. Lard” (Moses Lard, That Prince of Preachers, p. 58). Campbell’s own estimation of Lard may be seen in that when the Baptist Jeremiah B. Jeter penned Campbellism Examined, a vicious attack on Campbell and his beliefs, Campbell selected Lard to write the refutation, Review of Campbellism Examined (297 pages).

We mention these matters to show that Moses E. Lard was in a position to speak with some knowledge and authority concerning what he, Campbell, and other such preachers were trying to accomplish. In an article entitled, “Have We Not Become A Sect?”, Lard addresses himself to some of the same issues as does Garrett regarding the goals they were trying to accomplish. Interestingly, Mr. Lard’s perspective is not the same as that which Mr. Garrett attributes to the pioneer preachers.

Lard wrote, “We are sometimes termed Reformers, and the work in which we are engaged the Reformation, and sometimes in an accommodated sense we thus term ourselves and our work. What does the language mean? I have long been convinced that it carries a false import. The word Reformers, as applied to us, means simply a new kind of sectarians, and the word Reformation the work and principles of a new sect. But this is far from the sense in which we use them. In what sense, then, if at all, are we reformers? Certainly not in this, that we propose merely to reform existing so called sects and parties (emphasis mine, LM). When reformed, they would still fall immeasurably below the work we wish to see effected. This work done, and we should have neither sects nor sectarians, but only the church of Christ and Christians. . .”

“I doubt not the word Reformers was first applied to us because it was supposed that we intended merely to reform the Baptist denomination, with which many of our brethren originally stood connected; but we never proposed to reform that denomination. The reformation we proposed looked solely to individual Christians and not to denominations. Many Baptists we then regarded, and still regard as sincere Christians (i.e. Lard did not think they needed to be re-baptized, a view with which I would disagree, LM), but as in error in several things. In these things we proposed a reformation; but at the same time we required an abandonment of all party connections, names, and peculiarities. We proposed that the Baptists should be Christians simply, and should cease to be Baptists; and that they should belong to the church of Christ only, and not to the Baptist denomination. In only a very restricted sense, therefore, can we be termed reformers; and that a sense which in no respect distinguishes us from the simplest and purest type of Christians.”

Lard continued, “But in this sense we are not Reformers, neither is the work in which we are engaged a Reformation. Indeed, our work is strictly a Formation and not a Reformation. We are laboring solely to build up the church of Christ, and neither to build nor, rebuild, form nor reform, any thing different from it” (Lard’s Quarterly; March 1864, pp. 257, 258).

Furthermore, regarding Mr. Garrett’s assertion that Campbell did not view the New Testament “as providing an exact blueprint or pattern for the church” consider Lard’s closing remarks in the same preceding article: “Finally, we accept as the matter of our faith precisely and only what the Bible teaches, rejecting everything else; and in our practice endeavor to conform strictly to what it, and it alone, enjoins either in precept or in precedent. In life and heart we aim to be all and purely what it requires. We wear no name which it does not sanction; and repudiate all sects, parties, and apostasies, as well as any and every conceivable form of connection with them. If, then, we are still a sect, I submit it to the candid reader, whether, upon any ground known to him, he can acquit the apostles and primitive Christians of that offensive charge?” (p. 259) Clearly, Moses Lard would not agree with Mr. Garrett’s assessment of the motives and work of the pioneer preachers.

Another related recurring concept Mr. Garrett proposes is, “History clearly demonstrates that restorationism by its very nature is divisive” (p. 10). Therefore, he views those who regard the New Testament as a pattern for churches today to be responsible for religious division. He especially charges the churches of Christ as being found guilty. He refers to churches of Christ as exclusivists. In pages 601-610, the words “exclusivist” or “exclusivism” are found no less than ten times! While reading the annoying repetitions the question occurred to me as to whether Mr. Garrett either owned or had access to a Thesaurus.

Careful readers can see that words such as “exclusivism” and “legalism” (the use of which also frequently occurs) are used to put in a bad light those who believe in strict adherence to the Word of God. Such language depreciates obedience to Christ. Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). Any problems with “exclusivism” is a problem with Jesus, not with pioneer preachers.

In the New Testament, those, and only those, who obeyed Jesus’ conditions of salvation were regarded as Christians. They were not over wrought because they were “exclusively” Christians. We have not the power to tamper with the gate that leads to life, to adjust it any wider or narrower than Jesus designed it.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 22, pp. 674, 695
November 19, 1987