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What is the Restoration Movement?

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The Restoration Movement, part of the broader movement called “restorationism” in the Second Great Awakening, began in the early 19th century when various members from different Christian groups and denominations decided they had drifted away from the basics of Christianity. Several Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others abandoned their formal denominations with hopes of establishing a church based solely on the Christianity taught in the New Testament. With their belief in Jesus as the only model and the Bible as the only sacred book, they endeavored to “restore” the church to its original focus during the time of the apostles. The Restoration Movement rejected rules and practices that did not come explicitly from the Bible as causing unnecessary divisions in the church. The goal was for all Christians to dissolve denominational boundaries and become united as one church under God’s rule alone.

Among the most influential leaders of the Restoration Movement were three ministers: Thomas Campbell, his son Alexander Campbell, and Barton W. Stone. Sometimes their reformation efforts are called the Stone-Campbell Movement. Followers of Campbell and Stone called themselves simply “Christians” or “Disciples.” Despite the goal of Christian unity, over time, several schisms occurred. Currently, there are three major groups, called “streams,” that trace their roots back to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Churches of Christ, and the Independent Christian Churches.

Among the key principles of the Restoration Movement are the following:

– Recognition of the New Testament pattern of the church. Overall, those in the Restoration Movement attempt to conform their practices as closely as possible to those of the New Testament. Of particular importance is the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which they believe should be open to all. Some churches within the movement disallow musical instruments in their services, as the New Testament contains no example of a church using an instrument.

– Names, creeds, and ecclesiastical traditions divide believers from one another, and denominational exclusivity is renounced. Creeds and doctrinal statements are seen as unnecessary and divisive, and individual congregations task themselves with studying and interpreting the Bible for themselves. External authority over the local church is resisted.

– Names of human origin divide. Those in the Restoration Movement decry the use of denominational names, claiming to be “Christians only.”

When examining the Restoration Movement, of particular concern is the doctrine of salvation. Some churches in the Restoration Movement teach that water baptism is required for salvation. This directly contradicts the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, without the added condition of works (Ephesians 2:8–9). Scripture presents baptism not as a requirement for salvation, but rather evidence of it.

Other issues that require discernment include the prohibition of musical instruments (in some churches), the emphasis on ecumenism, the rejection of the biblical doctrine of election, and the lack of a clear doctrinal stance.

Wanting to get back to the basics of Christianity is laudable, as is a desire for unity among believers. But the Restoration Movement has not been able to produce the unity it originally sought, being itself subject to division and splintering. And dispensing with creeds and doctrinal statements is counterproductive to knowing and living the truth (see Titus 1:9; 2:1).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022