In my last blog I wrote about the new day for the Restoration Movement and began to give observations about the current state of such. I promised to give three observations. The first one was that the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes. The things that seemed rock-solid thirty years ago are reorganizing, teetering, and disappearing. The landscape is changing and the pace of change is accelerating.
My second observation is that the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people.
In the twentieth century, there seemed to be consensus concerning the doctrinal positions of the “Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ,” the third wave of the Restoration Movement (sometimes shorthanded as the 4Cs). This group broke from the Disciples of Christ in a semi-official way in 1927 with the beginning of the North American Christian Convention. One of the leaders of this new direction was P.H. Welshimer, the preacher of the First Christian Church in Canton OH. This church was considered by some to be the largest church in American at the time, surely the largest Christian Church. Welshimer served as the first president of the NACC in 1927 and also was the president in 1929 and 1940, the only person to serve as president of the NACC more than once. His leadership and voice was unquestioned. But perhaps more significant was the tract-writing career of Welshimer. He produced a 20-page tract entitled Facts Concerning the New Testament Church that once was ubiquitous in Christian Church literature racks in a yellow cover version produced by Standard Publishing. Welshimer laid out his case for what many believed to be the necessity of baptism by immersion for salvation, saying, “… we believe baptism is an act of obedience commanded by Christ in order to receive salvation.” The tract also pointed to the scriptural pattern of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. These two things, baptism for salvation and weekly Lord’s Supper, were the distinctives of the 4Cs, and woe to anyone within the ranks who deviated from Welshimer’s clear and logical presentation.
Yet I’m not so sure that the Restoration Movement has ever simply been a movement of ideas. I think it has always been a movement of people, of strong leaders who left their marks in many ways. Welshimer is one example, a man who cast a giant shadow for fifty years. The leaders of the late twentieth century also had their impact. Many of them were my friends: LeRoy Lawson, Allan Dunbar, Sam Stone, Don Wilson, Gene Appel and many others. Yet I don’t know if you got all of them in a room and asked for doctrinal consensus, you would find it. Not even on baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Bible is surely the touchstone for Restoration Movement and for the larger Evangelical Community. But we should admit that sincere students of the Bible have read the same texts and disagreed over their meaning, importance, and application. This has been going on for years. The Naive Realism (Scottish Common Sense Philosophy) of the Campbells did not give us consensus on doctrine.
We have always been followers of people, not doctrinal warriors. We have wanted leaders who upheld our cherished past, but also ones who would lead us to new locations. This will become even more important in the future with the many venues for opinions and critics. We need strong and courageous leaders.
This is also why some of you have heard me say, “I am the Restoration Movement.” This is not because I think I am the king-emperor of the 4Cs (or would ever want to be). It is because a movement is about people and leaders as much or more than it is about ideas.
Nebraska Christian College