Vol.XII No.VIII Pg.4
October 1975

Heart Of Restoration

Robert F. Turner

The Methodists were a society in the Church of England, having an episcopal form of government. Their claim to be historic demanded an unbroken line of succession of bishops, so in 1784 John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke as a bishop, who then came to America and consecrated Thomas Asbury. But James OKelley had been attracted to religion by some Wesley tracts that pled for the all-sufficiency of the Bible, saying, We will be downright Christians. Further study convinced him that congregations should be independent, and the developing episcopacy did not please him. On Dec. 25, 1793, OKelley and others separated themselves to form the Republican Methodist party. Further study led them, in 1801, to change their name to the Christian Church.

Barton W. Stone was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry with doubts in his mind concerning Calvinistic doctrine. When asked if he would receive the Confession of Faith he answered, I do, so far as I see it consistent with the Word of God. But as further studies led him to preach the sufficiency of the gospel, confident that sinners were capable of understanding, believing, and coming to Christ for salvation, he found himself at odds with the Presbytery. In September, 1803, he and four others withdrew and formed their own Presbytery. By June, 1804, they had decided to disband their ecclesiasticism, and wrote The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. Item 5: We will, that the Church of Christ resume her native right of internal government.. . Item 6: . . .and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatever. Congregational independence was a cardinal point with Stone. He opposed institutions and unions which he feared would detract from the glory which belonged to the church or if he thought it would promote sectarianism. Independent churches established by Stone were called Christian Churches; and to some extent became one with the OKelley churches.

Thomas Campbell came to America as a Seceder Presbyterian in 1807. Before the year ended he was in trouble with the Presbytery for saying there was nothing but human authority for human creeds and confessions of faith. By September, 1808, he denounced the authority of the Presbytery, the Synod, and all their courts. Many reformers had said as much about Roman Catholic councils and decrees, but Campbell saw that Protestant Confessions of Faith were often just as binding.

A study group which he formed later became an independent congregation. After Alexander Campbell came to this country (1809) and promoted baptism by immersion, this church became part of the Redstone Baptist Association, but freedom and independence in congregational government remained one of its chief characteristics.

We have briefly sketched some Restoration history to point up one fact. When pioneer preachers turned to the Bible alone, the rejection of council domination and a turning to congregational independence was the very heart of their restoration. It is with good reason that we place great stress on those things today.