United States Religion the Restoration Movement (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Religious Records - Part 2  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

The Restoration Movement Defined

Very early in the 19th century, a significant indigenous American movement developed in which the chief effort was to restore the New Testament pattern of worship and service to God. This was the origin of the first churches to be founded in the United States as compared to those imported from Europe to North America Yet in one sense the roots of the Restoration Movement go back to the early Protestant Reformation, and then of course, still further, to the New Testament.

The Restoration Movement had its beginning when preachers of various denominations and in different parts of the United States sought to unite all professed believers by renouncing denominational creeds and be guided by the New Testament alone. The early leaders were James O’Kelly, Dr. Abner Jones, Elias Smith, Barton W. Stone, and Thomas Campbell. Campbell’s son Alexander was not one of the originators, but he rapidly became the leading champion of the Restoration Movement.

Groups came out of established denominations including the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. The common concern was that organized denominations had constructed rules and practices that did not come straight out of the Bible. Their goal was to abandon dividing denominations and become united as one church under God’s rule alone, with belief in Jesus as the only model and the Bible as the only sacred book. They wished to do away with creeds and human authority. The autonomy of the local church and the unity of all Christians was to be accomplished by recognizing and following the New Testament pattern of the church. The Bible as a whole was to be the sacred guide, with a proper distinction between the Old and New Testaments.

Three Churches of the Restoration Movement

Churches of the Restoration Movement overlap in their beliefs, resulting in some mergers; yet over the years, differences arose. Three sizable constituencies now exist from this Reformation Movement:

  • Christian Churches and Churches of Christ
  • The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • The Churches of Christ (non-instrumental)

Records

Membership? Yes
Birth? No
Marriage? Yes
Death, Burial, Obituaries Yes
Biographical Sketches for Leaders Yes
Adult Baptisms Yes
Meetings, in Periodical Literature Yes


These records can be accessed through major collections and repositories as well as individual churches listed in Mac Lynn’s Directory and electronic sources and indices:

Timeline, 1794-1971

1794 James O’Kelly, a Methodist preacher, opposed the Episcopal form of government practiced in the Methodist Church. Instead, he insisted upon the autonomy of the local church as is found in the New Testament. He and his followers withdrew from the Methodist Church in a meeting at Surrey County, Virginia, and began using the name “Christian” and no other. Even before the turn of the century, preachers from this movement traveled into the Carolinas and through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee, then later on west to the Ohio River into Ohio and Indiana.
1800 Dr. Abner Jones, a prominent Baptist preacher of Vermont, broke away from the Baptists in about 1800 due to his desire to see sectarianism cease. Although he did not know of O’Kelly’s work, he similarly sought to get back to the New Testament, establishing “Christian” congregations for worship after the New Testament order. Together with Elias Smith, the new churches went by the name “Christian” or “Christian Connexion.” They rejected the Calvinistic features of Puritan theology and championed defeat of tax support for establishment Congregational ministers. Originally in Vermont and New Hampshire, this group migrated westward after 1810 into upper New York and then on to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.
1801 Along the Kentucky and Ohio frontiers, camp meetings sprang up, the largest being one at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, northeast of Lexington. In this period of “The Second Great Awakening,” traditional election theology came into question by some of the Presbyterian ministers, including Barton W. Stone who emerged as their chief spokesman.
1803 Barton W. Stone withdrew from the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky in opposition to Calvinist theology. Stone, with five others, formed the “Springfield Presbytery” because they were not in full agreement with the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. Stone’s followers spread from Kentucky into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
1804 Those who had formed the Springfield Presbytery concluded that it was both unnecessary and unscriptural. They drew up a document, “The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery” in which they stated their beliefs, including statements regarding the autonomy of local churches, and the Bible and Christ Jesus as their only authority.
1807 Thomas Campbell, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, came from Ireland in 1807 and was received by the Philadelphia Synod of the Presbyterian Church. Two years later, he and his followers formed the “Christian Association of Washington” and drew up a statement of purpose. Its principal points: (1) Unity of the Church; (2) Christian Fellowship; (3) Terms of Communion; (4) New Testament as supreme authority.
1809 Alexander Campbell, an Irish-born American clergyman, followed his father Thomas to America.
1811 The Pittsburgh Synod of the Presbyterian Church had invited the Christian Association of Washington to join with them. Thomas Campbell made application but specified they were not to be Presbyterians but would only cooperate with them. Upon the rejection of this application, they formed an independent congregation which they called “Brush Run” and Alexander Campbell became its minister.
1812 Alexander Campbell, having studied the Scriptures, reached the conclusion that only a penitent believer was a subject for baptism, and that the original word for “baptize” meant immersion. He proclaimed also that the only confession to be made was like that of Peter, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
1813 For a brief time, until 1816, Campbell’s group became part of the Redstone Baptist Association; in 1823 they joined the Mahoning Baptist Association, but in time they severed all connection with the Baptists.
1820 The “Christian Connexion” organized in 1820 at the first United General Conference of Christians.
1826 Alexander Campbell broke connection with the Baptists and formed the independent Disciples of Christ, or Reformers. The Disciples were nicknamed “Campbellites.”
1830s Churches from the Stone and Campbell groups began to merge in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. They were joined by some of the New England (Jones-Smith) group and Virginia’s O’Kelly group. Many of Stone’s followers did not join Campbell; instead they reaffirmed their ties with the original “Christian Connexion” founded by O’Kelly, Jones, and Smith. The Christian Connexion churches which did not merge established their own headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, after the Civil War. Then in 1931 they merged with the Congregational Church, and in 1957 with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, to form the United Church of Christ.
1832 Two American frontier religious movements came together. Barton Stone’s group was called simply, “Christians.” Thomas and Alexander Campbell’s group was called “Disciples of Christ.” The churches of the 1832 merger usually went by the name “Christian Churches.” They multiplied rapidly, reaching a million members before 1900.
1906 The Churches of Christ objected to musical instruments in worship and officially withdrew in 1906. Major expansion in the Churches of Christ took place in the 1920s and 1930s, peaked around 1970. The states with the largest number of members are Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, California, and Arkansas. They have no organizational structure larger than local congregations and consequently no official headquarters.
1927 The North American Christian Convention, a conservative faction, pulled away gradually, becoming known as the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These independent Christian Churches first moved toward a separate, more conservative conclave within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1927, and withdrew officially in the late 1960s.
1931 On June 27, 1931, at Seattle Washington, the Christian Church, with a membership of 100,000 (including its Afro-American Convention) joined with the Congregational Churches of nearly a million members.
1968 The mainstream of the Disciples of Christ restructured itself as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with a General Assembly to direct its operations. The General Assembly argues social, political, and moral positions–but with the understanding that no one can be bound by its decisions.
1971 By 1971, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ requested a listing in the Yearbook of American Churches.



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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses US: Religious Records - Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com