Adult Bible Class Myths: Restoration history isn’t important

TeacherMyth #8. Restoration history isn’t important enough to teach. One of the peculiarities of the Churches of Christ is our insistence on denying our indebtedness to the 19th Century Restoration Movement (also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement). I grew up in the Church and graduated from Lipscomb and never had a single class on the Restoration Movement.

I had no idea why we talked about “Campbellites” or where all these slogans came from: “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent,” for example. I received these slogans as though written on stone tablets by the finger of God, and yet they are nowhere in the Bible. Why are we so very influenced by them?
Fortunately, in the last 20 years, several excellent histories on the Restoration Movement have been written. It would have been nearly impossible to teach a decent class before then, but now the material is easily available and much is very well written.

And here’s why it’s important–

  • We treat the slogans of the Movement as Holy Writ. We need to know what these slogans meant when they were first coined, and we need to reflect on whether these are truly Biblical principles or just accidents of human history. Even if we conclude the slogans are true, we’ll better understand the truth they contain if we know where they come from.
  • We split from the independent Christian Churches over instruments and missionary societies. Because we are so emotionally invested in this split, we refuse to consider the possibility that we may have been wrong to divide, even if we were right that the instrument and the society are wrong. We need to gain some perspective on these events–as they shape our spiritual psyches at a very deep level.
  • For that matter, we need to ask whether we were right at all. Every generation is entitled to revisit these issues and make its own decisions. A refusal to study our history would mean we are doomed to follow decisions made by other people shaped by very different concerns. I can’t think of any reason why my conscience should be bound by uninspired men long dead.
  • The theology of the Restoration Movement changed over the decades, as it continues to do. Seeing how men dedicated to God and his word came to different conclusions at different times helps us see how our own views are shaped by our times and culture. History will help us be a bit less temporally and culturally bound.
  • Many of today’s battles were fought in the past. Unless we think we have a monopoly on wisdom, we just might learn from those who’ve been in the trenches before. As we debate the necessity of baptism today, we can learn from Alexander Campbell and his opponents. As we debate the authority for instrumental music, we can learn from a century’s worth of research and thought–and we can study the practical consequences of positions that were taken.
  • History gives us a chance to honestly critique the work of others, and in so doing, to develop the analytical tools to understand ourselves better.
  • And understanding ourselves better is the most important reason of all.

Here are what I consider the best books–

  • James DeForest Murch, Christians Only. This is out of print. Buy it used at several places easily found on the internet. Because it’s written from the perspective of the instrumental churches, it covers events ignored in most books from the a cappella churches.
  • Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement. The best, most comprehensive book out there. Get the revised edition. Well written, very insightful. Very true to the original documents.
  • C. Leonard Allen, Distant Voices. Designed for Sunday school class teaching. A truly delightful book, but best read after first gaining a general background of the Movement.
  • C. Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes, Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of the Churches of Christ. Another just plain delicious book, also designed for Sunday school teaching. This one goes back much further in time, going all the way back to Reformation times.

There are many other books. Most are of inferior quality. Some are even dishonest. Be careful.

Also, you’ll do well to spend some time in the primary documents, the actual writings of the men who so shaped how we think, for good or ill. Spend a few hours at Dr. Hans Rollmann’s web site, where he republishes many of these works in full text. I learn something every time I click over there. Even the writers I vehemently disagree with teach me better how we came to be who we are–and so who we are.

Elders, preachers, teachers, and college administrators–teach your church members about our history. It’s who we are. We can no more deny it than we can deny our parents. We’ve been profoundly shaped by our community’s past. Like every family tree, it has some mighty, wondrous branches and some rotting, dying branches. But it’s all our family, and we’ll never really understand who we are until we understand who we were.

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 Adult Bible Class Myths: Restoration history isn’t important

  1. Doug Key says:

    Thank you for Dr. Rollman’s website. Fascinating reading.