by Michael D. Greene
For some, the mere mention of history stops the mental process. For others, it kindles the realization that history is the story of people set in their place and time. The story of the Restoration Movement has its roots deep in American history. Not just in dates and places, but in ordinary people who struggled with the daily task of living. Yet they had their eyes on the higher, nobler goal of finding the will of God and living it.
The American Restoration Movement was born in the crucible of post-Revolutionary War America. People were moving beyond the boundary of the Appalachian Mountains into the frontiers of the West and South. These were proud, independent Americans, descendants of immigrants as well as some who were first-generation immigrants. Wherever they went, they took their faith with them. Towns sprung up along rivers, streams, and long used Indian trails. Schools, stores, and church buildings were erected to meet the needs of the people who made up the settlements. America was growing into a strong, proud, independent-minded nation.
The Great Awakening of religion was taking place. War fever was subsiding and a new religious fervor was sweeping the nation. Revival was in the air. All over the new nation, the minds of men and women were turning to the vitally important matter of religion.
But one unfortunate thing these pioneers brought with them to this new land and the frontier was the religious division that had characterized the Christian faith in the places from whence they had come.
Not all on the frontier were satisfied with the division that existed. Some sought to unify the believers. The Restoration Movement, especially in its earlier days, was an effort to find a solution to the problem of division, to bring together all those that believed in the Christ. Several men from different religious backgrounds and locales saw the problem and sought a solution.
What was the cause of division? Creeds and denominational loyalties were seen to be the cause of much of the division. These divisions were perpetuated by the authority and power vested in the clergy and the creeds written by them. No creed had been able to unite the believers. No authoritative body had been able to bring unity. What could be the solution? What could bring believers in Christ together?
The solution was seen in the Scriptures and the early church. A careful reading of the Scriptures showed only one church in New Testament days, not many faiths and churches, only one. If one could go back beyond the Protestant Reformation and beyond the Roman church and be what the first Christians were, unity would necessarily follow.
But how could that be accomplished? That could be accomplished by a restoration of New Testament Christianity. Surely unity could be achieved based on the Word of God. Unity based on anything else is not that for which Our Lord prayed. The Restoration Movement was a unity movement based on a return to the New Testament and a restoration of the pure and simple faith of the first century.
As we ponder the meanings, places, times, and people of the Restoration Movement, we must remember that we enjoy the perspective of hindsight. As people on the frontier bought into the notion of a return to the New Testament, they had no idea where that would take them. But that story is one filled with accounts of courage, failure, success, joy and sadness as these pioneers of faith sought unity through the restoration of primitive Christianity and that makes it a story worth hearing and repeating.
by Michael D. Greene