Starting from Cane Ridge I

[Note: I have written of my journey to Antioch, still very much under way. But my account of my attraction to and movement toward Orthodoxy is only the last of a trilogy, which includes an account of my childhood and early adulthood in the Restoration Movement church (this present series), and an account of my attraction to the Anglican tradition and my confirmation in the Episcopal Church. These three sets of autobiographical essays were originally conceived during the summer of 2000. I was then extremely disillusioned with the Episcopal Church, after having had one term at seminary, was looking into Orthodoxy, and wanted to come to some sense of assessment in all this. I wanted to understand whence I had come, what then preoccupied me, and reflect on where I might find myself. The three separate essays were written within several months, and they’ve seen many revisions since then. This is the first part of the account of my Restoration Movement heritage.]

Early Childhood

I was born at 11:09 am, Thursday morning, 21 September 1967 in Wichita, Kansas. I was born a few weeks premature. My dad was working out in the field on my grandpa’s farm when my mom went into labor, and they had to race to get him in a world before cellphones. At birth I had some breathing problems, so I remained in the hospital for several days. But soon I was brought to a loving Christian home.

Much of my early childhood I remember only in fragments. I have memories of church and Sunday school, of Vacation Bible School, and listening to my parents or one of my relatives reading the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s Gospel every Christmas Eve. I remember prayers over dinner and memorizing Bible verses. From things my aunts and uncles tell me, I was an avid reader of the Bible. But I don’t remember much of this, except for a children’s New Testament I received from my maternal grandparents. But it wasn’t till I was about seven years old that I had any real conscious memories of prayer and relating to God personally.

When I was seven, over the Christmas school holidays, I one night lay awake waiting to go to sleep. I’m not sure what prompted the thought, but I distinctly recall the words “You should be baptized” coming to my attention. I lay there thinking about them a little further. I thought that God had spoken to me, so I shortly thereafter went into my parents’ bedroom and told them I wanted to be baptized. My grandfather, who was then a minister, came to visit and questioned me to make sure I understood, as much as a seven year old could, what I was doing. I must have satisfied him, so in January 1975 during a Sunday morning worship service at Countryside Christian Church, Grandpa baptized me in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the remission of my sins and that I might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

My life after baptism was the same as any other Midwestern kid raised in the mid- to late-seventies. I prayed. I went to church most Sundays. I tried to live within the moral framework my parents and church had set for me. There were summers at church camp, Little League baseball. I read the Bible and other Christian books. I memorized Bible verses. I was taught what our churches believed.

The Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement churches

I was raised in, and spent most of my adult life in the Stone-Campbell movement churches, sometimes called the Restoration Movement churches. Historically, these churches arose out of primitivist and revivalist Christian movements in the early nineteenth century. These revivalist happenings are known as the Second Awakening (following on the first Great Awakening in New England in the eighteenth century), and one of the greatest of these revivals occurred at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, home to Barton W. Stone, a one-time Presbyterian minister, one of the early founders of the movement. At that revival a great ecumenical work was done as Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian ministers, some thirty or forty or so, ministered in unity to the thousands that came to the revival. Cane Ridge is considered, by many Restorationists, to be the incipient event launching the Restoration movement.

The other family involved in the founding of the Stone-Campbell movement was Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, from Scotland, also Presbyterians. Barton W. Stone has often been noted as being the great catalyst toward unity in the movement. The more philosophically inclined Campbells, Alexander in particular, lent the movement its other emphasis on purity of doctrine based on Scripture alone.

For the first three decades or so of the movement, it was much more a loose association of various groups who agreed on the twin foci of unity and sola scriptura. Something more like a parachurch organization, the association soon found themselves unwanted as they pressed their home churches to forego creeds and confessions, perceiving them to be instruments of division, for the simplicity and purity of doctrine arising from a singular consideration of Scripture. Seemingly unable to work this “second reformation” from within the existing churches, the association eventually formed their own group of churches and called themselves the Disciples of Christ.

The balance of emphases on unity and doctrinal purity was a hard one to maintain. Soon even within the Disciples there was a major hermeneutical difference that centered on the use of instrumental music in worship. The more Southern branch of the movement asserted that since the New Testament didn’t explicitly command or allow the use of instruments in worship, then their use was forbidden. The other northern churches in the movement asserted that silence was not prohibition, but rather could be seen in this instance as freedom. If instrumental music were not explicitly condemned, then as it did not violate any other clear command of Scripture, musical instruments could well be used. In the years following the Civil War, these more conservative a capella churches split from their northern neighbors and became known as the a capella churches of Christ. Though ostensibly about worship practices and biblical interpretive methods, clearly sociological differences exacerbated the tensions as well. The non-a capella group continued to call themselves the Disciples of Christ.

In the twentieth century, the Disciples of Christ were not immune to the battles over theological liberalism that raged through most American denominations. The more conservative group resisted this trend by establishing Bible colleges and eschewing many of the institutions of higher learning. But when some of the Disciples wanted to form their own denomination, the more conservative group utilized it as a catalyst for the enjoined struggle. Eventually, the more conservative group split away as the Disciples formed their own denomination. The conservative churches generally called themselves the independent (as in non-denominational) Christian churches and churches of Christ. These, together with the a capella churches are what are generally referred to when use is made of the phrase “Restoration Movement churches.”

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