Throughout history the church that was established upon the guidelines of Christ’s word has existed. By surviving and overcoming continued persecution and error, the church reconfirmed the prophecies made about it, a kingdom which “cannot be moved,”Hebrews 12:28. It was not until the early 1800s, however, that the New Testament pattern was successfully implemented in the religiously divided United States. Several men made determined stands for truth during the restoration of the Christian system in our nation.
Although not widely known, Barton W. Stone, through his courageous efforts, did much for the furtherance of the faith. Stone, at one time a Presbyterian preacher, made an indelible mark on American religious fabric when, in 1801, he began openly opposing Calvinism by preaching that men could “save themselves.” Through independent Bible study Stone came to believe that infant baptism and sprinkling were not in God’s plan for redeeming man. Stone’s influence also freed many religious people from the shackles of denominationalism. In 1804, he and others published “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” which urged all to “sink into union with the body of Christ, and “read their Bibles carefully.”
Thomas Campbell, once a Seceder Presbyterian cleric, was also influential. After immigrating to the U.S. from Ireland, Campbell became concerned about the absence of Bible authority for many of the religious practices of his day. He worded a unique and very important statement about the use of God’s word, “Where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent.” In forcefully joining these words together Campbell not only recognized that the Bible’s express commands are authoritative, but also that the Bible’s silence takes precedence over man’s speculation. These same thoughts fueled the “Declaration and Address,” a collection of truths Campbell believed to be fundamental. Included in this list were points emphasizing the unity and oneness of the church and the danger of human creeds.
Thomas Campbell’s son, Alexander, also added to our common heritage. By using his talents as a speaker, writer, debater and educator, the young Campbell broadcast many of the truths earlier proclaimed by Stone, his father and others. Among Alexander Campbell’s most notable accomplishments were the successful unity movement with the Stone group in 1831-32, and the sermon he preached to the U.S. Congress in 1850. Campbell passed from this life in 1866 but his great faith touches many even today.
Space does not allow us to address the contributions of other men such as “Raccoon” John Smith and J.W. McGarvey. We pause, however, to make a distinction between our origin and this heritage. “Our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death, hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” II Timothy 1:10. The men here mentioned we recognize simply as brethren who, like ourselves, have believed that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Not one doctrine or one principle has been accepted simply upon the word of these or any other men. We respect them for their diligent efforts to restore the church for which Jesus died, but we follow Christ, not Stone or Campbell or McGarvey.