The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 3

thefutureIn my earlier posts on this topic, I pointed out two trends I see for the future of the Restoration Movement. My observations were:

First: the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes.

Second: the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people. 

My third observation is: the people of the Restoration Movement will be important players in the new movement for a unified church.

What, you say, there is a new movement for a unified church? You hadn’t heard about it?

Let me offer you a parallel from my field, biblical studies. In 1906, a great German scholar, Albert Schweitzer, published a book entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Briefly, this was the culmination of 19th century efforts to sort through the theological formulations about Jesus and recover the story of the man who lived in Galilee in the first century. Schweitzer was a brilliant mind, having the equivalent of doctoral degrees in music, philosophy, theology, and medicine. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. However, many believed that his “Quest” book left many questions unanswered. He lost interest in biblical studies soon after the publication of this important and controversial book. Schweitzer’s work spurred many other books, but little consensus. It marked the end of the first “quest.”

In 1959, James Robinson published A New Quest for the Historical Jesus. Robinson noted that the “quest” had been revived and had shifted from a rigorous historical investigation to one based on the philosophical driver of the day, existentialism. This is not the place to trace the developments of this second quest, but simply to say it quickly reached dead ends (or drove over cliffs, depending on your chosen metaphor).

In 1993, an evangelical British scholar, N.T. Wright, announced that a “Third Quest” had begun, what I remember hearing described as the “New New Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This time, conservative and not-so-conservative scholars plunged headlong into analyzing and debating every piece of evidence about Jesus and his world, both from the Bible and other ancient sources. The results were things like Wright’s colossal series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, now at four volumes out of a projected six. The second volume, Jesus and the Victory of God is a hefty 700 pages and is the epitome of this third quest, exploring every possible avenue to recover the best and most accurate picture of the man, Jesus.

Three quests pursuing the historical Jesus, all having the same goal but different presuppositions and results. Each was a product of its historical context.

The Restoration Movement as envisaged by the Campbells and Barton Stone was a quest for Christian unity. They saw this as possible if Christians would abandon divisive creedalism and look to the Bible as the sole source of doctrine. However, even among the ranks of their immediate followers, complete consensus concerning the doctrines of the Bible was never reached. Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone themselves disagreed over something as central as the nature of God, Stone being semi-Arian and Campbell being clearly Trinitarian. Yet they agreed in principle to cooperate and have their churches be united. After their passing, the movement was split over things that seem almost comic in retrospect. Using pianos in worship? Paying ministers? Observers of the Restoration Movement in the first half of the twentieth century must have been amazed the a unity movement had so many hard-line sectarians.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a second quest for unity. This seemed to be motivated partly out of the dismay that the Restoration Movement had splintered so badly and needed to restore its own unity if it had any hope of being an example to the church at large. Several things happened, including the founding of the Stone Campbell Journal, a publication that had writers from all three branches of the movement. But while on a scholarly level the SCJ was a success, the churches were still separated. Perhaps they had lived apart for too long, a little like childhood friends reunited in old age who have little in common but distant memories.

I think there is now a third quest for Christian unity underway and it has little to do with the Restoration Movement. The sectarianism that has so permeated the church in America for 300 years makes little sense to many today. The megachurch phenomenon has congregated Christians of many backgrounds served by pastors with equally diverse educations and experiences. As I have said for twenty years, it is not about doctrine anymore and certainly not about doctrinal warfare. There are a few essentials: the authority and value of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and the necessity of faith for a saving relationship with God. But no one wants to fight over premillennialism anymore.

There is a growing sense that Christians should be active agents for good in their communities, far beyond just inviting people to Sunday services. If the church is to matter to the next generation, it must do things that matter. Social justice is high on the agenda of the millennial generation, and this will not go away.

I believe the churches and the leaders of the Restoration Movement are poised and able to make a substantial contribution to this new quest for unity. Can we truly be Christians only again? Can we quit drawing lines that divide and find reasons to unite with other Christians?

There are some big issues here, and they are found throughout the evangelical community. Can we quit treating Catholics as sub-Christian enemies? Can we leave our right-wing or left-wing politics at home and no longer let our churches be political tools? Can we finally banish racism from our churches and accept people of all skin colors and ethnicities as brothers and sisters, even as church leaders?

The result of this may be that the Restoration Movement becomes a footnote in church history books. But it may be that its influence will be evident in a more unified church for the next century. That would be a good outcome, I think.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 2

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.Facts concerning NT 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 were 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.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 1

The Restoration Movement Marker (Side A)

The Restoration Movement Marker (Side A)

The beginning of a new year is always an optimistic time for me. Let’s put the past behind us as much as possible and look ahead! The poet of Lamentations, having lived through the most horrific events imaginable with the destruction of Jerusalem, was still able to say:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

For me, each year is like a new morning, a fresh start in many ways. The solar eclipse, the nadir of short days, is now past and hours of increasing sunshine await us.

Having said that, what is the future of my Restoration Movement as I look ahead? For my readers who do not know what I am talking about, the Restoration Movement began in early 19th century America as an attempt to break down denominational barriers in the Christian world. The central idea was that Christian unity could be achieved if the church was “restored” to patterns of the first century church as taught in the New Testament. The movement was, therefore, concerned with both biblical truth and Christian unity. The result, however, was not the uniting of various Christian factions, but the establishment of a new tradition, the churches of the Restoration Movement.  Even these churches divided into three major streams: the non-instrumental churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), and the independent Churches of Christ and Christian Churches (my group), leaving the goal of unity unfulfilled in many ways.

What is the future of this tradition? Will it be dissolved into the larger stew of evangelicalism. Or, as with the Disciples of Christ, will it continue to decline along with most mainline denominations and focus on local congregations rather than national organization?

Let me offer three observations that end with predictions about the Restoration Movement as we move into 2016 and are now ankle-deep in the 21st century.

  1. The institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing dramatic change. 2015 saw the Standard Publishing group reorganized in ways no one would have expected a few years ago. Standard Publishing, including the highly successful Standard Lesson Commentary (the best-selling adult Bible school curriculum in the world) was sold to David C. Cook and is in the process of moving operations from Cincinnati to Colorado Springs. The Christian Standard magazine (recently changed from a weekly to a monthly) was spun off with the Lookout and the VBS curriculum to become Christian Standard Media. Cincinnati Christian University has slashed staff repeatedly and is no longer the powerhouse voice it once was in the Restoration Movement. The idea of the city of Cincinnati as a de facto headquarters for the Christian Churches seems to be imperiled.My own school, Nebraska Christian College, is merging to become a branch campus of Hope International University, something that may be replicated with other schools in the next couple of years. Many of the Christian Church colleges are having a difficult time and may not survive another downturn in the economy. At the same time, churches seem no longer to look to the regional Christian college or Bible college they once supported as a place to send their children to be trained for ministry and missionary work.This is just the beginning, I think. Higher education is changing rapidly and there is no end in sight that will produce anything like the stability of the past. The presidents of the Christian Church colleges, once considered important voices in the Restoration Movement, have become increasingly irrelevant on the national scene.Prediction: The next five years will see massive reordering of institutions that have been seen as the foundation of the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The millennial generation has little loyalty to these decades-old entities, and all colleges/universities, publishing houses, para-church ministries, church-planting organizations, and missionary societies will find themselves increasingly fighting for survival. Old-timers like me will be shocked and saddened at some long-time organizations that will cease to exist.
  2. To be continued …

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College