Restorationism is the theology that the primitive New Testament Church of 2,000 years ago either went underground or morphed into a complete apostasy with the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. This theology historically has been powerful force. It placed how to restore that ancient church in the hands of everyday people. Historically, it affected Protestant Irish and their descendants, beginning on the American Frontier and in Ulster, then spreading far and wide.
Restorationism Saw Something Lacking in Protestantism
Restorationism has taken many forms arising out of Protestantism. Variations of this theme are diverse. Historically, most have seen that the Protestant Reformation neglected important principles. Depending on the group, they either saw themselves as a reformation of the Reformation or bypassing it all together with particular Restoration principles. Thus, some Restorationists do not consider themselves Protestants.
How this played out in the developing United States has been documented in Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen’s work Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 (1988). On the surface, the variations of Restorationism seem unrelated. However, below the surface are many common themes, driving forces, spiritual rebellions and for the time period, radical thinking.
Differences in Restoration groups are usually the emphasis placed on particular concepts. In some cases, the application of the same principle plays out differently among groups.
Baptists and Christians (Disciples) Apply the Restoration Principles
For example, both the Baptist and the Christians (Disciples) see believer’s baptism by full immersion as an essential piece of restoring the primitive New Testament church. However, the application is totally different. In the Baptist tradition, baptism is not linked to salvation, but is a sign of commitment after the salvation experience. Salvation is by faith only. In the Christian (Disciples) tradition, the conservative branches teach baptism is essential to salvation. It is not separate from faith or the salvation experience.
Historically in some areas such as Kentucky and Tennessee, both traditions developed side by side to become very prominent as both competed for converts. If you’ve ever driven through rural Middle Tennessee and you see a church sign for the local Baptist Church of Christ, then do a double take. This is how Restoration principles played out on the local level as it combined elements of both the Baptists and the Christians (Disciples). Then do another double take and realize that you may be surrounded by Baptist congregations and Church of Christ congregations. Then you will see how powerful of a force Restorationism remains to this day in Middle Tennessee.
In Part 2 of this blog, I will discuss some major threads of Restorationism and what they considered needed to be restored. I will also provide at least one reference work for each tradition which will allow you to continue exploring this fascinating topic.
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