A Plea to Reconsider: Abusing Restoration Movement History

angelharp1.jpgMiller’s concluding paragraph begins,

Over a century ago, many churches of Christ were swept into what was then called “the digression.” The use of musical instruments in worship was one of the divisive issues that caused the breach. History is now repeating itself.

This is entirely true. The a cappella Churches of Christ separated itself from the larger remaining parts of the Restoration Movement over, among other things, the instrument.

It’s important to know and learn from our history. But Miller learned the wrong lesson. You see, the list of “divisive issues” that we split over is much longer than just the fight over the instrument — and we should learn entirely different lessons from why we split.

Lesson 1

dsommer.jpgThe first formal split of the Restoration Movement was announced in the Sand Creek Address and Declaration (1889), written under the leadership of Daniel Sommer. The announced reasons for the division were —

that of the church holding festivals of various kinds in the house of the Lord or elsewhere, demanding sometimes that each participant shall pay a certain sum for an admittance fee; the select choir to the virtual, if not the real, abandonment of congregational singing; likewise the manmade society for missionary work, and the one man, imported preacher-pastor to take the oversight of the church.

Now, the so-called “one man, imported preacher-pastor” was a reference to hiring a preacher. The language seems to imply a “pastor” in the Baptist sense, but that’s not what they were really protesting. They were against hiring any preacher on staff. In fact, Sommer’s disciples were arguing that it’s unscriptural to hire a preacher as late as the 1950’s!

But that argument is long-forgotten, and the reason is simple: most of those congregations that refused to hire a preacher no longer exist. It’s not that the argument was won or lost so much as one side died out.

Nowadays, even the most conservative Churches of Christ hire a preacher if they can afford one. But they divided over that issue nearly 120 years ago. Indeed, the preacher issue was just as prominent in their teaching as the instrument. And the very same reasoning was used by Sommer

In the entire Book of God there is not one fragment of TESTIMONY in favor of the imported, one-man, preacher-pastor as the feeder and watcher over the flock after it had been gathered and established. Therefore, there is no one on earth who BELIEVES that such an arrangement is according to the divine will. That arrangement originated with apostate Rome, and from Rome was borrowed by the Protestant denominations, and from them has been borrowed by a certain class of disciples who are determined to be like other folks and be in the fashion.

Did you notice? This is an argument from silence. And it’s an argument from history. It’s not an argument from scripture — and we no longer consider these arguments valid as applied to hiring a preacher.

And yet, when we make the identical arguments with regard to something else — such as the instrument — we claim that the argument is proven, and we’re so confident of our conclusions that we damn those who disagree.

History proves us fallible and inclined to confuse our distaste for change with doctrine. History proves our willingness to use the arguments from silence and from history to oppose perfectly legitimate practices. We do need to learn from history.

Lesson 2

pandora.jpgSurely the 20th Century Churches of Christ set some kind of record for divisions! You see, once Sommer demanded that we divide over questions of silence and uninspired church history, well, he’d opened Pandora’s Box. All manner of theories and speculations became grounds for separating and judging and damning. And it’s still true today.

Just recently, the Churches of Christ in Memphis have been torn up because one man believes it sin for elders to ask the congregation to periodically affirm them in office! See here. Oh, and it’ s not just wrong — it damns the entire congregation for elders to humbly step aside if the church no longer supports them. And it damns those who remain in fellowship with them!

I could list scores of issues over which we’ve damned each other — all justified by silence and some justified by uninspired history. It just goes on and on.

You see, the argument from silence is such a good argument that nearly anything can be shown damnable. I mean, suppose you’re upset that the church is going to buy a bus for the teen program. Can you make an argument from silence on this one? Sure.

  • The Bible is entirely silent on vans. And the Bible describes countless examples of people traveling for church purposes — always at their own expense. Not once does the church pay passage for anyone or buy them a boat or a horse. And when they do travel on church business, it’s for missions — not to go roller skating.
  • And the early church never did such a thing. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that Baptist Churches and other digressive denominations began catering to their children in this sinful way. Nearly 2,000 years of church history should surely teach us something!

That was easy. And an absurd abuse of God’s Holy Word.

The argument is false and flawed and yet can seemingly justify any teaching. This is why every dispute over methods, taste, or money quickly becomes a dispute over silence and authority and early church history.

History teaches that the argument is invalid because it has supported so many false teachings. Sound reasoning cannot prove error.


And so, yes, we should learn from our Restoration Movement history. We should learn to stop dividing brother from brother over matters like this. We should learn to stop squabbling over the idols of authority and silence.

And maybe we should learn a little humility. We’ve sure been wrong before. Maybe we’re wrong this time, too.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to A Plea to Reconsider: Abusing Restoration Movement History

  1. osipov says:

    So many words . . . so do you believe in instruments in worship like so many are doing these days?

  2. Kris says:

    Awesome article once again, Jay. Ever considered doing a series on church history? The Sommers issue has me curious. Maybe you already have, and I can't find it. 😉

  3. Jay Guin says:


    You might want to check out http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/a….

    This is my series on the Restoration Movement. You'll find Daniel Sommer and many other interesting characters in there. Leroy Garrett's The Stone-Campbell Movement is the book to buy. Also James Deforest Murch's Christians Only (out of print, I think, but often available used).

  4. Jay Guin says:


    I'm not a politician, and so I don't have positions on the issues. I'm a teacher, and so I teach. Read the lessons.

    Start with the series Amazing Grace at http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/a

  5. Kris says:

    Really great!! I read them all, Jay. (Both kids are at school today-time abounds). I'm still a bit unclear when the name changes took place. Was it 1906? DoC/CoC— I'm not sure when things were ''official'' so to speak. I've heard there were lawsuits, etc. to prove this occurred. You see, when I was a child (ultra conservative ''anti'' for lack of a better term) we were taught that Campbell restored the one true church, the CoC as we know it today. It was made clear that he didn't ''start'' the church, but only restored it from apostasy basically. Last year I heard a sermon (a very hateful one actually) at my former ''anti'' church that Campbell had absolutely nothing to do with the restoration of the ''Lord's church". It was said that if we look hard enough we can find CoC's all the way back to the Pentecost. An example of some 500 year old church in Europe that called itself a church of Christ was used as proof of this. I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes I tell you! 😉 The new ''progressive'' church where I am now clearly recognizes Campbell and others as distant fathers of the modern CoC. I believe I sent you a link to a Nadab and Abihu sermon from one of our preaching ministers. Anyway, great work. I learned much.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Stone chose the name "Christian" for individuals and "Christian Church" for the congregation. Campbell preferred "Disciple" and "Disciples of Christ." "Disciple" is an older and more prominent term. He considered "Christian" to have been a term of derision in the First Century!

    However, neither man insisted on their preferred terminology. Many congregations picked "Church of Christ" or "church of Christ" because of the Stone movement's ties to the Christian Connection, a loose affiliation of restorationist churches that preceded Stone and Campbell arising from the work of James O'Kelly, Elias Smith, and others. Some congregations were decades older than Stone's and Campbell's work and threw in the Restoration Movement.

    If you drive along the North Carolina coast, you'll find many ancient church buildings constructed in the 1700s, called "Church of Christ" that predate Stone and Campbell. One our retired elders bought an antique church bulletin from a Boston "Church of Christ" dated in the 1700s.

    Others chose the name because it's found in scripture, and it became the preferred name of the more conservative congregations in the Restoration Movement for that reason.

    The R. Movement began in Western Pa, Kentucky, and Illinois. It moved southward as the population moved that way. Tolbert Fanning, who help found the first Restoration church in most Southern towns, preferred "Church of Christ." Fanning worked out of Nashville, which helped it become the Jerusalem of the Churches of Christ.

    When the split came in 1906, nearly all Southern churches were a cappella and nearly all were called "Church of Christ." But up north, the division did not divide along names. Many a "Church of Christ" was instrumental and many a Disciples or Christian congregation was a cappella. Even today, I hear stories of people who visit a northern Church of Christ only to find that it's had a piano for 150 years!

    Hence, the independent Christian Churches are more properly referred to as the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. But they also have some congregations called Disciples of Christ.

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many churches split over the instrument and then got into lawsuits over who got the building. In some states, the law was that the faction that remained truest to the original creed got to keep the building, leading to "expert testimony" from such men as Lipscomb. It was very, very ugly, and the hard feelings helped cause the split — perhaps more so than the doctrinal issues.

  7. Actually your point in lesson 1 “But that argument is long-forgotten, and the reason is simple: most of those congregations that refused to hire a preacher no longer exist. It’s not that the argument was won or lost so much as one side died out” is incorrect. There exists a large and healthy brotherhood of churches who do not accept the practice of hiring “located ministers” to do the preaching work of the church.

    There are numerous congregations in Arkansas, Tenessee, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Old Mexico, and the former Soviet Union in which the male members of the congregation share the responsibility for teaching and exhortation without relying on a “paid minister.”

    We did not “die out” we still exist and are steadily evangelizing and growing. Just thought you’d like to know. 🙂

  8. aBasnar says:

    Sometimes it is interesting when an older post comes to the fore. I was surprized at what I read here, and I see a very different way of thinking and reasoning between you and me, Jay. And maybe this is at the heart of all our disagreements. I try to take out some aspects … and good to hear from Philipp Sparks!

    Did you notice? This is an argument from silence. And it’s an argument from history. It’s not an argument from scripture – and we no longer consider these arguments valid as applied to hiring a preacher.

    But you have positive examples in the scripture, that are on the level of a pattern: The plurality of Elders (e.g. Acts 20:17) and teachers (e.g. Jas 3:1) in a church. Two or three prophets giving a lesson in the assembly (1Co 14:29 – note these prophets are part of the “five-fold ministry”). And the like.

    So there is not only no such thing as a “single hired minister/pastor” who does allor nearl all preaching in the church, it is evident that God wanted to have a plurality of teachers in the church. So I must firmly agree with Sommer that the way the churches of Christ decided on the matter was and is unscriptural. Church history merely underlines and confirms, but scripture settles the matter.

    On the other hand, silence is a strong argument when it comes to the point of showing the opposite: Show me this kind of church leadership that is so common among the churches of Christ in the New Testament. Since no one can do this, because it is simply not there, silence is a valid argument.

    Since I am a believer I was never part of a church with a “single hired minister/pastor”, and at first I thought all evangelical free churches are like that, until I found out that this is not the case. But still in Austria quite a large percentage of churches have a plurality of elders and teachers, and so does the church of Christ. We don’t reduce elders to be merely “business admistrators”, but give them their main task of shepherding and teaching, of exercising spiritual oversight.

    You see, once Sommer demanded that we divide over questions of silence and uninspired church history, well, he’d opened Pandora’s Box.

    You can see this in a completely different light: Ignoring church history led to the divisions. You know, Alexander Campbell was firmly rooted in church history, which was a necessity for restoring the church. His “Ancient Order of Things” frequently quotes church history. It is a necessity to understand scripture, because in (esp.) the early history of the church we see the application of many scriptural commands and many confirmations of examples that clear up a lot of ambiguities.

    Once you start ignoring this, you not only ignore an essential tool for interpreting the scriptures, but you (necessarily) cut yourself off from the understanding and practice of the early church. Thus today the churches of Christ that have ignored church history developed such practices as: A single hired minister/pastor, instrumental music, multiple cups, women praying uncovered, yeah even women becoming preachers and elders in the church! And more like that, even doctrinally …

    This long list of changes in only two or three generations is unprecedented in church history. The churches of Christ started out as a Restoration Movement, seeking the Old Paths, but many have turned into liberal and modern churches that actually scoff at the Old Paths by ignoring or belittling church history. That’s what opened the Pandora’s Box.

    Part II follows suit

  9. aBasnar says:

    Part II

    Just recently, the Churches of Christ in Memphis have been torn up because one man believes it sin for elders to ask the congregation to periodically affirm them in office!

    First of all, I disagree with this damning-thing because of such things. But I do affirm that teachers who teach wrong things will be held accountable by the Lord (Jas 3:1). Now, in a sense the churches were right to point out that this constant reaffirming of Elders cannot be found in scripture. An Elder is an elder until he dies or resigns. If an elder sins, the scripture is very clear on how to deal with this situation (two or three witnesses, public rebuke 1Ti 5:19-20).

    Again it is not about an argument of silence, but the scriptures are clear about the leaders of a church. There is no yearly evaluation, but their life and conduct is under scrutiny each and every day, there teachings should be weighed every Sunday; and – if need be – on the basis of witnesses they shall be rebuked publicly. So why on earth should we invent and install a different and even less effective system. Let’s do first what is written, and then we’ll see there is no need for extras!

    It is a root evil that we add or take away from scripture. And this should be addressed in a fair and brotherly way, not by damning each other and splitting. Yet the other party must (again) learn to trust and obey God’s Word more than their own wisdom that seeks to find a better or more suitable way of doing things.

    again the argument from silence is a valid one, because those who want to set up an order for the church, should be able to point to a book, chapter and verse for that. If they can’t do it, then maybe (or better: for sure) there is a better and more scriptural way, they just haven’t discovered yet.

    You see, the argument from silence is such a good argument that nearly anything can be shown damnable. I mean, suppose you’re upset that the church is going to buy a bus for the teen program. Can you make an argument from silence on this one?

    Of course you try to make the argument from silence appear as an absurdity. But I doubt that you really understood it – maybe because many present or act it out it in a poor way. But this way you cannot answer my objections above. What about a microwave for the church kitchen or trousers for men? None of either is found in the scriptures – but this way of reasoning shows that you simply try to get rid of this “argument from silence” altogether, because … because you cannot prove the “progressive ideas” from scripture, and therefore you must show that it is not necessary that all we do must be backed up by scripture.

    So we can have a single hired pulpit minister – because the Bible is “silent” about it which means: We can do as we please or think fitting. But actually the Bible is not silent on that, because it teaches in a positive way that there should be a plurality of elders and teachers in the church.

    In fact: As far as I see in your two short lessons, Sommer was right after all.


  10. aBasnar says:

    I just thought: The argument from silence is an important safeguard.

    Because you can easily overlook things in the scriptures and think the Bible is silent about this or that – if you take silence as "freedom" to do as you think it to be appropriate, you might transgress a scripture out of ignorance. In fact, quite often when people say, the scripture is silent about it, they do so out of ignorance.

    Therefore I'd say: As long as we don't know what God's Word is on any given matter concernig salvation, the church or the whole counsel of God, we should not run ahead and do it our own way, but stop for a while, pray, fast and study more diligently. The answers are all in the scripture, and we can be guided to these answers by Christians who found them before us and acted accordingly (church history).

    Therefore I'd view silence at least as a "stop sign" if you can't agree with "prohibition".


    P.S.: The vans you mentioned above. Vans, electricity, computers and the like are things of the world. The Roman Roads paul travelled on, the ships he sailed on were things of the world, created for some worldy reasons as war (Roman Roads) and trade (ships). The scriptures are not silent as to how we shall deal with the things of the world:

    1Co 7:31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

    This gives us a general guideline. We may use the things of the world (as long as they are not sinful), but we shall not be attached to them. Cars and computers are things men are easily attached to. So without spelling out all details and possible items of the world we get a guideline that is applyable to all such situations.

  11. Price says:

    Jay, wow !! Great church history article..Looking forward to more of these…Couldn't help but notice that Sommer, after making his argument from his personal interpretation from silence, then does what every good ultra-conservative CoC member does today….State unequivocally state that any "true Believer" will see it as WE do; That the whole heretical activity was started by the Catholics and; the obvious reason you wouldn't agree with this activity is that the Denominations are involved…LOL I guess it's in the CoC DNA….

    Alexander, the main problem that the argument from silence causes from my viewpoint is that is requires almost total interpretation by uninspired persons. Then we, as the great uninspired, segregate our interpretations into various doctrines that good believers and non-denominational people would agree with…I prefer "specificity" as a regulative principal…It requires little if any interpretation and is FAR less divisive.

    Also, I noticed your fondness for Alexander Campbell…Seems like a man of God to me as well…Although certainly imperfect, one must appreciate his search for the truth and his willingness to tell others about Jesus….I know that you are probably vastly familiar with his writings than I his writings seem critical of the APPLICATION by the arguments from silence or CENI… He seemed to think that there were certain absolutes and clearly stated mandates that one would be compelled to follow but if the mandate was based on an unclear or disputed interpretation to that person, that they were NOT compelled to obey the traditions of men to be included in the church… So, I guess that however you prefer to do your study of the word is up to you…How you impose it on others however, is a matter of Christian unity and that IS discussed in detail…

    Phillip ….WE ? You said WE …are you creating a separate "brotherhood" within the church ??

  12. Alabama John says:

    Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also. Doesn't matter where or in a "church" building or not.
    There are far more "churches" meeting each day or week than those that have a full time preacher on Sunday. No one is required to 'place membership." Gives autonomous a new meaning.

    We have been called Cambellites around here for well oven 100 years.

    Zwinglyites (sp) would probably be more accurate.

  13. aBasnar says:

    My problem is: I don't understand the word "specificity" – could you explain it to me?

  14. Price says:

    Specificity….as in a detailed instruction…no interpretation… Be baptized…Don't steal…"Do this in remembrance of me"…that sort of thing….as opposed to nothing being said about it at all… It would eliminate an argument from silence…example…back to Nadab and Abihu…some argue that they used an incense that wasn't appropriate but since God didn't specifically exclude the spice that angered God then silence on this issue is prohibitive…However, when one looks at God's instructions to them, He was VERY specific on what to use…they violated SPECIFIC instructions…Same with the Lords supper…unleavened bread and wine would prohibit the use of peanut and jelly not because of silence on peanut butter and jelly but on the specific instruction regarding unleavened bread and wine… Not sure how they worked in Welch's grape juice here but that's not for this discussion…Seems like that violates silence and specificity…LOL

  15. Alabama John says:

    God also allows exceptions to obedience when He wants to. Unusual circumstances are recognized. Consider Nadab and Abihus brother that disobeyed too. Never hear much about him.
    Churches? Look at how many meet in old folks homes, hospitals, orphans homes, prisons, jails, drug centers, etc. and they are churches as much and sometimes more as those with buildings and full time preachers. In any major city, there are far more of these small preacherless churches than those listed in the yellow pages with full time preachers. Gives real meaning to autonomous doesn't it.

  16. Price says:

    A.J….it reminds me of what the true definition of CHURCH is… We the people. Where we are…the church is…

  17. aBasnar says:

    But Price: You know what we do with detailed instructions, don't you?
    We always find ways not to do as we are told and make that sound very "theologically" and "scholarly".

    But my point was different: I don't believe there are many (if any at all) silences. I blieve we stop studying and asking too soon – and some of us actually seek for silences that they can fill with theire self-will.

    On the other hand: Ifthere are no (significant) silences, then all we do as Christians should be based on specific commands, examples or general guidelines. I don't trust our inferences too much …


  18. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for setting the record straight! I didn't know that position was still held as a doctrinal matter. I'm not aware of any churches in these parts that take that view.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I'm not aware of any church that reduces "elders to be merely 'business administrators.'” That's certainly not true of the church where I am an elder. And I'm familiar with the workings of many, many elderships.

  20. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Alexander wrote,

    "This long list of changes in only two or three generations is unprecedented in church history."

    Actually, it's not. For example, the Churches of Christ left the principles taught by Barton W. Stone and the Campbells in two or three generations — becoming the very thing they spent their careers to reverse!

    The Churches of Christ would do well to re-study the work of these scholars.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I'm a third generation elder in the Churches of Christ. My best friends growing up were the sons of local institutional and non-institutional preachers. I went to college at Lipscomb. I've read countless books and articles advocating the law of silence. I understand the "law of silence" as taught in the 20th Century Churches of Christ very well. And I'm firmly convinced that it's a wrong as can be.

  22. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    This is an old series — from 2008, no less. Here's the link to the index of the series —

  23. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Alabama John,

    You're right. Zwingli has had a huge influence on the Churches of Christ.

  24. aBasnar says:

    One of our teachers is a fifth generation elder in the churches of Christ, and his dad resigned being an elder in order to be able to do the work of an elder and not be bothered with issues like the color of the carpet-floor.

    As I see it: As soon as there is the one singled hired pulpit minister, the elders are in a back row, because all teaching becomes dependent on this one minister. The elders mainly retain the "power" of hiring and firing. Of course that's not true in all churches, but it is that way in many churches.

    Be it as it may: This structure is not scriptural.


  25. aBasnar says:

    Yozu are right if you look at a different list ofthings; but I looked at a list of things that is more or less eroding scriptural authority.

    The churches of Christ lost their zeal or vision for unity very soon, and they stopped short in the work of the "Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things". When I translated the "Last Will" and the "Declaration and Address" (the 13 proposals) into German, I rejoiced because of the clarity and clear direction these documents show. But instead of understanding this as a pointer to a direction to go, I see many churches of Christ who misunderstand themselves as "fully restored".

    It is quite easy to falsify such claims by pointing to a handful of verses in a five-minute conversation. Yet the way the progressive churches of Christ are heading is the opposite direction of restoration, because they don't come closer to the NT patterns but abandon scriptural teachings such as the role of women in the church, which to me is a lot worse than introducing IM.

    So the call for restudying the work of Stoen and Campbel appies to both groups. But then we must strive for an objective reading, not a biased one. Even the Disciples of Christ claim to build on the works of Campbell, and you can twist historical document the same way we can twist the scriptures.


  26. aBasnar says:

    Yes, this law of silence as it is understood nd taught ihn the churches of Christ IS wrong. But for the awkward reason that – in reality – there are but few if any silences in the scriptures. What appears to us as silence is just a sign that we haven#t found the answer yet, so we need to do further digging.

    And because of this, we shall not run ahead of God's will by using a supposed "silence" as a justification to act upon our own wisdom. So in the end, this comes close to the "Law of silence", but from a very different angle.


    P.S. I came out of the world, was an Evangelical for 20 years before I joined the churches of Christ, am well versed in the Lutheran, Catholic, Dispensational, Pre Nicene and Anabaptist theologies and never attended a seminary. I know the struggles for discerning what is binding and what I not from quite different perspectives, thus my way of reasoning is quite different that that of mainline churches of Christ.Although many things sound similar, they are backed up by quite different reasons.

  27. Lindell says:

    One thing I think is often overlooked – many of the preachers and teachers in the mid to late 1800’s stopped believing that the Bible was the inspired word of God. This tendency led to the fall of the College of the Bible and the development of the Lexington Theological Seminary, which in turn was large a part of the division in the churches. When you don’t believe the Bible in more, while be concerned that you are following it?

  28. I find it of little use to divide all the various interpretations of Scripture and views of the nature of that Scripture into two neat categories: those who believe the Bible (people who think like me) and those who do NOT believe the Bible (everybody else). In fact, it is this very sort of sinful and slanderous Sommeresque sheep-sorting that contributed more to the splintering of the RM movement than anything else.

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