Reluctant Restorationist: Thomas Campbell's Trial and its Role in his Legacy

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Reluctant Restorationist: Thomas Campbell's Trial and its Role in his Legacy

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Title: Reluctant Restorationist: Thomas Campbell's Trial and its Role in his Legacy
Author: Brazell, Charles Franklin
Abstract: In 1809, Thomas Campbell, with his son Alexander, founded an American religious movement that proposed the union of all Christians based upon the restoration of the New Testament church. The merging of this movement in 1832 with that of Barton W. Stone resulted in the formation of the Stone-Campbell Movement - a movement whose ideas for Christian unity were expressed by Thomas Campbell in his Declaration and Address, and which had the fundamental objective of achieving Christian unity based upon the teachings of the New Testament. Today, the Stone-Campbell Movement consists of three major American Protestant religious groups. The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, and the Church of Christ had a combined membership in 2006 of approximately three million members; these three denominations all trace their roots to Campbell and the Restoration Movement of the nineteenth century that he was instrumental in launching. This study of Thomas Campbell's legacy is significant in that it not only examines the ideas he championed in America but traces them back to his earlier ministry in Ireland. I argue that while Campbell was an activist in his quest for unity, he became a restorationist reluctantly. His decisions to write The Declaration and Address and to leave the Presbyterian Church were, I believe, forced on him, the result of his experience of being brought to trial by the Chartiers Presbytery. In 1951 Minton Batten, Professor of Church History at Vanderbilt University School of Religion, referred to the Disciples of Christ at that time as "the largest religious body of American origin." More recently, when Nathan Hatch speaks of "that most American of denominations," he is referring to the Disciples of Christ. Hatch observes there is a lack of "serious biographies of Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone." If that is true about the son, it is even more accurate concerning the father. Perhaps no major religious figure has been more ignored by church historians. Especially lacking has been any focused examination of one critical incident in the life of the man credited with authoring the document that guided the Restoration Movement. That pivotal incident was the trial conducted against Thomas Campbell by the Chartiers Presbytery. I argue it was the trial that triggered a reaction which thrust him to the forefront of a major movement to restore New Testament Christianity in America. In reaction to the trial, Campbell formed the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania; wrote The Declaration and Address; left the Presbyterian Church; and initiated a legacy that today touches three million parishioners in three major American Protestant groups.
Date: 2008-04-22
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