Replanting a Denomination: The Original Restoration Plea

A reader posted a comment, suggesting that the original Restoration Plea was not as I characterized it in the last post of this series, asserting —

In actuallity, the concept of teaching “the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines” was in place well before the movement even got off the ground.

In his book “Reviving The Ancient Faith,” Richard Hughes noted that Alexander Campbell himself “could not avoid defining ‘New Testament Chrsitianity’ in concrete terms, laying out its terms of admission, its organizational structure, and its order of worship.” Hughes further noted, “And when he (A.C.) did this, many of his followers inevitably identified nondenominational Christianity with the particular movement that, in the early days, they called ‘Churches of Christ’ or ‘Disciples of Christ.’ More than anything else, Campbell’s insistence on immersion for the forgiveness of sins and salvation encouraged that identifiction.” p.7.

If Hughes is correct, then the teaching of “the correct doctrines” was more responsible for the growth of the Churches of Christ than any demise.

Thomas Campbell, in his “Declaration and Address,” stated the aims of the Restoration Movement before Alexander traveled to the US. And it says nothing of baptism.

8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge: but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice; and of the way of salvation thro’ Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in, and obedience to him, in all things according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his church.

Barton W. Stone’s wing of the Movement is actually quite a bit older than the Campbells’. And until he came under the influence of Campbell’s teachings, he did not normally baptize his converts by immersion. But I find no evidence that he went back and re-baptized his converts later.

Barton W. Stone always — until his death — considered penitent believers saved, regardless of baptism or adherence the “the ancient order.” In his autobiography, in speaking of those converted in the Cane Ridge Revival, he declares those converted (without immersion for the remission of sins, as they were converted by Presbyterian and Methodist preachers) saved.

In The Christian System, Alexander Campbell made it clear that faith in Jesus and submission to baptism was enough to give anyone a place in the church — regardless of their views on Calvinism, consubstantiation, etc.

But the grandeur, sublimity, and beauty of the foundation of hope, and of ecclesiastical or social union, established by the author and founder of Christianity consisted in this, – that THE BELIEF OF ONE FACT, and that upon the best evidence in the world, is all that is requisite, as far as faith goes, to salvation. The belief of this ONE FACT, and submission to ONE INSTITUTION expressive of it, is all that is required of Heaven to admission into the church. A Christian, as defined, not by Dr. Johnson, nor any creed-maker, but by one taught from Heaven, is one that believes this one fact, and has submitted to one institution, and whose deportment accords with the morality and virtue of the great Prophet. The one fact is expressed in a single proposition – that Jesus the Nazarene is the Messiah.

In the Richmond letter correspondence, Alexander Campbell declared Baptist baptism not only sufficient, but decried re-baptism of Baptists.

If every one that does not clearly understand the meaning of baptism at the time of his immersion, or afterwards, is, on that account, an alien and “in his sins;” then were the Apostles very remiss in not preaching re-immersion to the church of God in Rome: for Paul had to explain to them the meaning of baptism, chapter vi.–then was Paul very negligent in not constraining “the carnal” Corinthians, the ignorant and superstitious Corinthians, whose consciences were not healed from all the imbecilities of idolatry, to be re-immersed. And ought he not to have re-immersed the Galatians, of whom he “stood in doubt,” and for whom “he travailed again in birth till Christ should be formed in them,” and to whom he expounded the meaning of baptism? (ch. iii. 27.) On this point much could, and, perhaps, much ought to be said; but we will not enter with spirit into it, believing it to be unnecessary. Suffice it here to say, that the notion of re-baptism is wholly out of the Record, and is only an inference drawn from our own conclusions on the present state of christianity, and the inadequate conception of many professors on the import of the Christian Institution. …

Instead of this, much better they had gone and brought forth fruits worthy of reformation–confessed their errors, and asked forgiveness through that Mediator whom they had publicly acknowledged, and who has never made the clearness of any person’s conceptions the condition of the benefits of his death, resurrection, and high priesthood in heaven. Then, indeed, they would have had better and more valid proofs of genuine discipleship than in having been twice immersed.

Thomas and Alexander Campbell were baptized in obedience to God’s command and didn’t conclude that baptism was for remission of sins until years later. They were never rebaptized. The same is true of David Lipscomb.

Campbell repeatedly spoke of those outside the Restoration Movement as Christians. Yes, he wanted to end denominationalism. But that was not in order to save the lost. It was to bring about the unity for which Jesus prayed.

In his teachings on the Ancient Order of Things — dealing with organization and worship — he specifically said these things are not salvation issues or tests of fellowship, as noted recently by John Mark Hicks.

The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?

This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370,

(emphasis Hicks).

You have to realize that the Restoration Movement had been ongoing for years before Campbell taught on worship and organization, and those doctrines did not become tests of fellowship until much later — contrary to his teachings.

But, yes, it’s true, as Hughes writes, that many of Campbell’s disciples took his teachings on baptism, worship, and organization and turned them into salvation issues. But many did not.

Robert Richardson was an associate editor of Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger for 30 years, author of an extensive biography on Campbell, and Campbell’s family physician. He decried exactly that trend, insisting that the Restoration Movement was being hijacked. He writes,

Every one will agree, that the true basis of Christian union is the Christian faith. All the parties assert this, but, unfortunately, each one adds to that faith, or, rather, substitutes for it, human opinions, and matters of doctrinal knowledge not immediately connected with salvation; and they refuse to receive each other, because they do not happen to agree in these opinions and doctrines, while, at the same time, they may hold in common what really constitutes the Christian faith. This Christian faith, as we have seen, is simply belief in Christ, as he is presented in the gospel, and it s concisely engrossed in the great proposition, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.


Isaac Errett, Campbell’s son-in-law who succeeded him as editor of the Millennial Harbinger, also represents the original Restoration thought. In “Our Position,” he writes,

That all who put their trust in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and for His sake left their sins and renounced all other lordships, were at once accepted as worthy to enter this fellowship. FAITH IN THE DIVINE LORD AND SAVIOR WAS THE ONE ESSENTIAL CONDITION OF ENTRANCE. None could enter without faith–infant membership was therefore impossible. None who had faith could be refused admission–no other test was allowed but that of faith in and submission to Jesus, the Christ. We therefore proclaim, in opposition to all big and little creeds of Christendom, THAT THE ORIGINAL CREED HAS BUT ONE ARTICLE OF FAITH IN IT, NAMELY: That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. All doctrinal tests but this must be abandoned.

There was, of course, another strain of thought — found in such men as Benjamin Franklin and Moses Lard — affecting a minority of the churches in the Movement but leading to the division that their teachings made inevitable. They taught that God’s positive commands had to be exactly obeyed as a condition of salvation. And those who followed them divided over and over — exactly contrary to the original purposes of the Movement.

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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6 Responses to Replanting a Denomination: The Original Restoration Plea

  1. Alan says:

    Based on my observation, churches of Christ typically view evangelism as an effort to persuade people of the correct doctrines, and then once they are persuaded, to baptize them. Implicitly, everyone who needs to be persuaded on those doctrines is unsaved until persuaded and baptized.

    In contrast, the original Restoration plea was to unite *believers* on the scriptures only. They were not viewed as lost, but as separated by man-made divisions. The Restoration plea doesn't seem to have been primarily about converting outsiders, but rather about calling believers to discard human inventions for the sake of unity.

  2. Hank says:


    I believe you have missed my point (although it may be that I didn't make it very well?). I was not contesting the "original view" of the Restoration Movement (the initial views of Stone & Campbell). Those men (including Alexander), clearly vacillated when it came to what they believed. I accept all of what you cited above. However, and at the same time, consider the following quote from Hughes:
    "Campbell's sectarian rhetoric often suggested, even to his followers, that he had little sense of the grace of God and conceived the Christian faith principally in legal terms. For example, he labled the doctrine of justification by faith alone as 'nscriptural' and 'unreasonable' and published articles that assailed the notion as 'absurd in theory and false in fact. It is an unwholsome doctrine and very full of misery. It is a doctrine of darkness and doubts!' " p.28

    Also, at least as early as his debate with McCalla in 1842 he (A. Campbell), insisted on immersion for forgiveness of sins and salvation.

    And as the post to which I responded had to do with the "Growth Cycle" of the Restoration Movement (not the "Orginal Plea" like this one here)….my point was (and still is) that the by the time the Churches of Christ really took off, the "new vision" was in full effect. Which as you put it, was — "to teach the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines."

    In the same post, you acknowledge that, "The Churches of Christ grew rapidly from 1906 until about 1970."

    All I wanted to clarify was the fact that throughout the period of its greatest growth, the Churches of Christ (as a whole) were quite concerned about teaching the "correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines."

    Finally, (and as you noted):
    "The rate of growth slowed to nearly zero over the next few decades (less than the biological growth rate), and since 2000, the Churches of Christ have been in numerical decline."

    To which I might suggest that since 1970, as a whole, the Churches of Christ have been a lot less concerned about teaching the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization…" And it is true that we have been in decline ever since.

    Having said that, I have a feeling that the numbers would have decreased either way. Especially, when I think about that latest Barna poll which suggests that Christianity as a whole is generally less concerned about actual truth and instead want to reserve the right to believe whatever it is they feel like believing. But, I don't think we should ever give up teaching (at least trying to teach) the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization." Even if to do so would inflate our numbers.

    I hope I have not misunderstood you?


  3. Jay Guin says:


    I agree that rapid growth occurred during times of legalism and contentiousness. I'll offer some theories on why that happened in a bit. I also think rapid growth occurred before legalism took root. The reason for that is obvious, I think.

    I think Hughes is unfair to Campbell. You can read the context of the quote at

    Campbell thought of "faith only" as being the Calvinist doctrine that salvation occurs when God gives faith unconditionally by prevenient grace. At that time, the teaching was that God's gift of faith required some evidence of God's divine intervention in the believer's life.

    Therefore, Campbell saw baptism as giving a simple assurance of salvation, whereas "faith only" required the uncertainty of whether the believer had received the necessary experience.

    Early RM reports speak of people receiving baptism with tears because they'd never had the sort of experience the Calvinists of the day insisted on as assuring one of salvation.

    I think it's fairer to Campbell to note his writings, such as in the Christian System, where he speaks eloquently of God's grace and the sufficiency of faith in Jesus, and in the Lunenburg and Richmond correspondence, where he denies that even a lack of baptism will defeat grace to a believer.

    Sorry for misunderstanding the question. I'm bad to type with a football game on in the background.

  4. Hank says:

    "I think it’s fairer to Campbell to note his writings, such as in the Christian System, where he speaks ecloquently of God’s grace and the sufficiency of faith in Jesus, and in the Lunenburg and Richmond correspondence, where he denies that even a lack of baptism will defeat grace to a believer." — Jay

    Which is why I say that they vacillated in their beliefs. I mean, did Campbell not in fact argue that forgiveness (and therefore salvation), transpired only if and after a sinner by faith was baptised? During his debate with McCalla in 1842?

    And not to be contentious, but — is "teaching the correct doctrines of baptism, worship, and church organization, and to unite all people by persuading them of these doctrines," really a bad idea? Should not all believers be thusly united? If we don't aspire to teach the "correct doctrines," then what are we to teach? Or, are we better off not teaching at all for the sake of unity?

    Don't get me wrong brother, I am quite familiar with the "head-hunting" brethren who believe they are pleasing to God because of how soundly they "worship" when in fact they act nothing like Jesus. I often think that such brethren would actually be fearful should all believers do as they do because they would then have nobody to look down on. And their assurance seemingly comes from simply "knowing" the truth.

    Nevertheless, the book of God does in fact teach on baptism, worship, and the organization of the church. Does it not? And does not God require us to teach what it teaches?

  5. Pingback: Replanting a Denomination: The Empty Church « One In

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