The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement was founded on the frontiers of the USA during the Second Great Awakening. Its origins lay in frontier reformers who were dissatisfied with Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterian teachings, and by 1832 they had united. The movement in many ways represents the story of dissent within Ulster and Scottish Presbyterianism as it played out on the American frontier.
The core message was to restore non-denominational Christianity to the planet bypassing all forms of Christianity back to the very beginnings. In their eyes, they were planting the same church described in the New Testament. It was their ability to preach that message to the common frontier folk, through the “Five Finger Exercise,” which helped create a potent cultural force still felt today in the Mid-West and South.
The “Five Finger Exercise” acted as a visual, using the five fingers on one hand, while preaching. It began in Ohio in 1827-30, and became a standard by which frontier folk and children could intellectually understand complex concepts and pass that knowledge orally. This simple visual was intended to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” The formula, still in use today, is as follows:
- remission of sins
- gift of the Holy Ghost and eternal life
This simple and rational approach to salvation was appealing as it respected the human mind to make decisions. It spoke to those who could not accept an emotional conversation experience. The message was clear, humans were rational beings, the Bible was a rational book, and could be understood by the common person.
Some congregations would call themselves Christian Church, others Disciples of Christ, others Churches of Christ. Some would wear all three at the same time. Although the Restoration Movement was considered heretical by many evangelical preachers, the message of a restored church and Christian unity would spread like wildfire. By 1860, some have estimated that it was the fourth largest church in the USA, with some 200,000 members.
To further understand Restoration thought, I would suggest the following theological books from the three branches of the movement: Leroy Brownlow, Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ (1945), Position: non-instrumental Church of Christ; Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All: Bible Doctrine for Today (2002), Position: Christian Church/Churches of Christ; Peter Goodwin, ed. Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology (2008), Position: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Ronald E. Osborn, The Faith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs of Disciples of Christ (1979), Position: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Rex A. Turner, Sr. and Don Shackelford, ed. Biblical Theology: Fundamentals of the Faith (2010), Position: non-instrumental Church of Christ.