The Stone – Campbell Restoration Movement
A few readers of this blog are aware that I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren assemblies. The Brethren went beyond the Protestant Reformation by attempting to restore primitive Christian practices and the kind of church government outlined in the New Testament. Many more readers are aware that I pastored a church in Florida for ten years which was affiliated with the Stone – Campbell Restoration Movement, the division known as the “Independent (or Unaffiliated) Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.”
The original Stone – Campbell Restoration Movement began with the merger of two main groups of restorationists in 1832, one led by Barton W. Stone and the other led by Thomas and Alexander Campbell. The combined movement had a two-fold goal: restoring primitive Christianity’s doctrines using the Bible alone as its creed, and uniting various sectarian Christians from many denominations in a common fellowship. This movement developed several slogans which defined its core principles, including “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible,” “Call Bible things by Bible names,” “Where the Scriptures speak we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent,” and “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things, love.”
The Stone – Campbell Restoration Movement came out of the Second Great Awakening which had as its defining moment the Cane Ridge Revival, “a large camp meeting that was held in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, from August 6 to August 12 or 13, 1801. It has been described as the ‘[l]argest and most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening.’ This camp meeting was arguably the pioneering event in the history of frontier camp meetings in America.” It is estimated that this series of meetings was attended by between 10,000 and 25,000 people during these eight days. The meeting was organized by Barton W. Stone, minister of the Cane Ridge Presbyterian church.
Stone subsequently abandoned the Presbyterian church in 1804 and led a movement of non-denominational and unaffiliated “Christians” for the next three decades. His movement eventually merged with the Campbell’s restoration movement in 1832. The merger was formalized at the High Street Meeting House in Lexington, Kentucky between Barton W. Stone and “Raccoon” John Smith as the representative for the Campbells.
The rejection of all creeds and acceptance of the Bible alone as binding on Christians involved the rejection of certain doctrines by both Stone and the Campbells who had been previously ordained as Presbyterian ministers. One of the major doctrines rejected by this new movement was Presbyterianism’s Calvinism. This included the rejection of the Baptist’s Calvinism lite, “once saved always saved.” The movement also rejected infant baptism, accepted only immersion by repentant adults, and rejected Zwingli’s version of baptism (which had been accepted by many Baptists) that baptism was subsequent to conversion as merely a testimony. Both the followers of Barton Stone and those of Alexander Campbell stood united on these points and opposed denominationalism and the use of all sectarian names. The followers of Stone were called only “Christians” and the followers of Campbell were called “Disciples of Christ,” both being biblical titles. Eventually, both titles were adopted.
Barton Stone had a non-trinitarian view which held the middle ground between Trinitarianism and Unitarianism. He agreed with Trinitarianism that the Son preexisted and was active in the Old Testament and came down from heaven to become flesh. But he also agreed with Unitarians that the Father alone is the one eternal God. For Stone, the most important principle of Christianity was maintaining unity and fellowship with all those who truly sought to follow Christ. Consequently, Stone had no problem uniting and fellowshipping with Trinitarians, Unitarians, and Arians. However, as the merger between the Stone branch and the Cambell branch was taking place, Alexander Campbell became very uncomfortable with uniting with Unitarians who denied preexistence. Campbell had previously written a strong defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. While Alexander Campbell definitely desired unity with the “Christians” of Stone’s restoration movement, he refused to fellowship with the eastern segment of “Christians” who were primarily Unitarians. In his history of the Restoration Movement, titled “Christians Only,” James DeForest Murch wrote of Campbell’s reluctance and the reason for it — his fear of the stigma by the Trinitarian denominations.
“The eastern Christians, however, were definitely Unitarian in their views of the subject. Campbell was always careful to state that his fellowship with the Christians did not include the eastern brethren. His aversion to the use of the name Christian instead of Disciple was largely grounded in his fear that the general religious community would assume that their views on the Trinity were unorthodox.” (p. 115)
Campbell’s fear of being stigmatized by all of the major denominations which were Trinitarian is understandable. All of the restorationists were already being lambasted by the denominations which were bleeding members to the new movements which were viewed as cults and its leaders called heretics merely for challenging the denominational views of baptism and Calvinism. Back then, as today, any challenge to the Trinity automatically placed one outside of Christianity itself. Rome’s anathemas in the Trinitarian creeds still captivated the minds of most of Christianity. While Stone considered the Unitarians true Christians, for Cambell that was a bridge too far. In the end, the liberty of opinion on this subject which Barton Stone sought to foster was eventually displaced by the reluctance of Alexander Campbell, and Trinitarianism became the dominant opinion of the movement. Stone was faithful to the professed ideals of testing all things by Scripture alone without fear of persecution from the major denominations. Campbell stopped short. Stone maintained and taught his view until his death, but in the end his view simply became a footnote to the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement.
My opinion of the Restoration Movement today is that (just like the Protestant Reformation 250 years earlier) it did not finish the task of weeding out the doctrines of men and restoring primitive Christianity. It has left several stones unturned and certain sacred cows untouched. It has been side-tracked by liberalism (Disciples of Christ), legalism (Churches of Christ), and trying to be “relevant” to the modern culture (Independent Christian Churches). There is little to no interest in continuing to reexamine sacred cows such as the Trinity. The Restoration Movement lost its pioneering vision and Berean spirit long ago, not willing to move too far off from the major denominations.
I have come to admire the Plymouth Brethren’s desire to restore primitive Christian practice and church government structure. I also greatly appreciated the Restoration Movement’s additional progress in doctrine, their opposition to Calvinism, a more biblical view of baptism. The original overriding concept which both Stone and Campbell pursued, uniting with all Christians based on the Bible alone, has been displaced by division and sectarianism within the Stone — Campbell Restoration Movement. As a pastor in that movement, I became disillusioned with the failure to progress further. While pastoring a Restoration local church, I continued moving forward in my personal journey (despite no cooperation from other pastors in the movement) in the direction of restoration of the pristine Apostolic Faith. I have continued to reexamine doctrines I once held and taught. This journey has led me to reject immortality of the soul, eternal torment, and eventually Trinitarianism, and to bring along the local church I pastored with me on this journey.
Since 2015, I have taught that there is one eternal God, the Father, and that Jesus is the Son of God who had an origin out of God at the beginning of the creation week, and was the Agent of God through whom He created all things and through whom He communicated with mankind and established His covenants. Afterward, He “became flesh” having “emptied Himself” of the uniquely divine nature, thus all of His miracles were done by the Father working through Him. I formed these views exclusively from my study of the Scriptures and considering the opinions of the earliest Christian apologists.
I retired from pastoring at the end of 2017 and have instead focused on this online ministry. I have also continued to research and write a great deal on the topic of God and His Son, both against Trinitarianism and Unitarianism. Only recently I became aware of the fact that one of the two main founders of the Stone – Campbell Restoration Movement, Barton W. Stone, held virtually the identical view that I have taught regarding God and His Son. Unfortunately, Stone’s view does not seem to have survived anywhere within the modern Restoration Movement. To my knowledge the entire Restoration Movement still holds to Trinitarianism.
Prior to the “Christians” of the Stone restoration movement merging with the “Disciples” of the Campbell movement in 1832, Barton Stone wrote a defense of his personal doctrinal positions, called: “An Address To the Christian Churches in Kentucky, Tennessee & Ohio on Several Important Doctrines of Religion,” 75 pages in length. The entire document can be read at the following link:
Stone wanted the brethren in the restoration churches to “test” these points of doctrine by the simple and plain sense of the Scriptures without presuppositions. The first topic he addressed was the issue of one eternal God being the Father alone in opposition to the Trinitarian idea of three co-equal and co-eternal persons. The second topic concerned the nature of the Son of God. According to Stone, there were three different views regarding the Son current at the time among the “Christians” which he defined as follows:
“There are three general opinions respecting the Son of God. One is, that he is the eternal Son of God – eternally begotten of the Father. Another is, that the Son of God never existed until he was born of Mary 1820 years ago. The third is that the Son of God did not begin to exist 1820 years ago; nor was he eternally begotten; but that he was the first begotten of the Father, the first born of every creature; brought forth before all worlds; and in the fullness of time was united with a body prepared for him; and in whom dwelt all the fullness of Godhead bodily. This last opinion I profess to be mine.”
Stone then offered his reasoning over several pages as to why he must reject the Trinitarian view of the Son as “eternally begotten” and having two natures as being not only unbiblical but also illogical. He also outlined briefly why he rejected Unitarianism’s denial of the pre-human existence of the Son. For those wishing to read those arguments, please see the document linked above in its entirety.
Stone then outlined his view and provided ten separate arguments in its favor. Those familiar with this ministry will immediately recognize that there is virtually no difference between Stone’s view and that of this ministry. Stone writes as follows:
“My own views of the Son of God, are, that he did not begin to exist 1820 years ago [Unitarianism]; nor did he exist from eternity [Trinitarianism]; but was the first begotten of the Father before time or creation began – that he was sent by the Father 1820 years ago into the world, and united with a body, prepared for him; and that in him dwelt all the fullness of Godhead bodily. These propositions I will endeavor to establish by arguments drawn from the oracles of truth.
ARG. 1. The Son of God is called the first begotten – the first born of every creature – Heb. 1, 6. – “When he bringeth the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Col. 1, 15. “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature.” He is also called the only begotten of the Father – John 1, 14. 3, 16, 18. And God is frequently called the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – Eph. 1, 3. 1 Pet. 1, 3, &c. Now as the one only true God was never begotten nor born – then the expressions, the first begotten – the first born, cannot apply to the Son as very God. As to the flesh he was not the first born, for millions were begotten and born before him: Hence I conclude that the Son of God was begotten before 1820 years ago, and yet not from eternity; but before creation began to be. Humbly would I suggest that Jesus is called the only begotten of the Father, because the Father begat him of and by himself, without the means of any other; but he begat and brought forth all other beings by his Son.
Some have thought that these expressions, first born – first begotten, refer to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, as in Rev. 1, 5. Coll. 1, 18. But Jesus was called the first begotten when he was brought into the world; and this was prior to his resurrection. And the expression, the first born, in Col. 1, 15, evidently refers to a period anterior to creation. Should it be construed to signify his resurrection from the dead, then the Apostle would be chargeable with an uncommon tautology in 18th v.
ARG. 2. The Bible informs us that “God created all things by Jesus Christ” – Eph. 3, 9. – “God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son – by whom also he made the worlds” – Heb. 1, 2. – “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature? For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers, all things were created by him and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” – Col. 1, 15, 17. “All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” – John 1, 3. “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” – 1 Cor. 8, 6. From these texts it is plain, that the one God, whose name is the Father, is the only efficient cause of all things; and that the one Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, is the instrumental cause of all things. This proves that there are two distinct beings; and that the Son, the first born of every creature, existed before all worlds, angels, and men, consequently before he was united with the body prepared for him. To say the Son was very God, and yet that the Father created all things by him, is the same as to say, that one God created by another God. “But to us there is but one God, the Father.”
ARG. 3. “And now, Oh! Father, glorify thou me, with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was,” John 17, 5. The person praying was not very God; for he prays to God. He prays for a glory which he once had, but has not now; for he emptied himself of it – Phil. 2, 8, therefore cannot be very God, for God is unchangeable. The glory for which he prays, he had with the Father before the world was; therefore he must have existed before the world was. Hence it is evident, that a person, which was not very God, existed with the Father before the world was: and this person was the Son of God.
ARG. 4. Prov. 8—22, 23, 24, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths I was brought forth, &c.” This by general consent has been applied to the Son of God. But the ideas of being set up and brought forth cannot apply to him as very God; for God was never set up or brought forth. The period of his being set up and brought forth was from everlasting, which is explained by the subsequent words, from the beginning or ever the earth was. This exactly comports with John 17, 5; and proves the pre-existence of the Son of God.
The learned, by a glance at the Hebrew text, would read it thus: The Lord possessed me, the beginning of his way; the particle in being omitted, as not found in the original. This more exactly agrees with the doctrine of the Son, being the first begotten of the Father. The learned also know the Hebrew word olem, translated from everlasting, is much more frequently used for an indefinite than for infinite time. See Parkhurst’s Heb. Lex. on the word olem. Hence the Latin olim, which every Tyro in Latin knows, refers, not to infinite, but to indefinite time.
Some think that the Son of God is not intended in the text, but wisdom, a perfection of Deity. But upon a moment’s reflection, can any affirm that the wisdom of God was ever brought forth, and therefore not eternal. The Hebrew word helel, translated brought forth, simply signifies a parturition or travailing in birth. To apply this to wisdom, as a perfection, would be unintelligible; but the application to the Son of God, perfectly accords with truth.
ARG. 5. 2d Cor. 8, 9 – “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” The person spoken of in the text cannot be very God, for God is unchangeable. He cannot from being rich, become poor. The fact of Jesus being rich, and becoming poor, never took place in this world; for in the goods of time he never was rich, but always poor. Matt. 8, 9. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” Neither in this world was he rich in grace, and became poor; for though the fullness and riches of grace were in him, yet in grace he never became poor. If then the circumstance of the person being rich, and becoming poor, can neither apply to very God, nor to Jesus when in the world, then it follows that Jesus was rich before he came into the world, and therefore existed before he came into it. But it has been proved that this person was not very God – and it is evident that his body did not exist before the world was; therefore it was the Son of God, who existed in the bosom of the Father, rich in glory; yet for our sakes he emptied himself of it, or became poor.
ARG. 6. John 1—15, 17. John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus. “He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for he was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John declares that the Son of God was before him. Now as a man, he did not exist before John; for John was the elder. He explains his meaning of his fullness of grace have all we received. Have received is in the past time. Then John confesses that he, and all his contemporary brethren, and all the saints in all former ages received their grace from the fullness of Jesus. Lest any might think they received grace from Moses or from the law, he adds, that grace came by Jesus Christ. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; if Enoch, Abel, and Adam, received grace, from whom did they receive it? Surely out of the fullness of the Son of God. If those ancient saints had the true knowledge of God, by whom was that knowledge made known? By the Son of God; he hath declared him. If then grace, and the knowledge of God, came by Jesus, and this grace and knowledge came to the first saints, then the Son of God was not only before John, but also before Abraham, before Adam; not his body, for this was the seed of Abraham, and that with which the Son was, 1820 years ago, united. If the old saints did not receive their grace and salvation from the Son of God, then, in heaven, they cannot sing the song of the redeemed, which John heard, ascribing their salvation, grace, and glory, to the Lamb.
In this sense the Son of God is called the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last. Between the Alpha and Omega are all the letters, by which are formed words and sentences; and by these words and sentences are conveyed ideas and information. He is therefore called the Alpha and Omega, because from him we have received all the information and revelations, which infinite wisdom saw needful. He is not only the Alpha or beginning of this revelation to Adam, Abel, and the old saints, but he is also the Omega or ending of these revelations to the world – the first and the last, in revealing to a lost world the knowledge and grace of God. To apply this text, as is generally done, to the Being of the Son of God, as the first being, and therefore eternal God, is gloomy in the extreme. For if he is the first being he is also the last; and if the last being there must be an end of all other beings – therefore the life of all the redeemed must come to a perpetual end.
ARG. 7. The scriptures assert that the Son of God “ascended up where he was before.” John 6, 62. But the same scriptures teach us that he ascended up to heaven – to the right hand of God, where Stephen saw him – above all the principalities and powers. Therefore we conclude that he was in heaven – at the right hand of God – far above all principalities and powers, before he ever descended into this world.
ARG. 8. The scriptures speak of the humiliation of the Son of God. “He humbled himself,” Phil. ii: 6. Humiliation is a change from a superior to an inferior state. Now God cannot be humbled – he cannot change. As man, we see no steps of humiliation in Jesus – he was born in a low state – lived and died the same; therefore as man, he never descended from a high state or condition to a low one. But view him as the Son of God, how astonishing the stoop! The Son of God! the first begotten of the Father–born of him in the ages of eternity, before time was born or measured by revolving spheres – before creation lived. – The Son of God! in the bosom of the Father, in immeasurable bliss. – The Son of God! by whom were made the innumerable worlds that bespangle the firmament – by whom were made all the happy orders of angels, principalities and powers, that blaze around the throne of God – that bow and worship at the feet of their maker, and from whose tongues roll ceaseless praise. – The Son of God! at whose smiles his holy creation is transported, at whose frowns his enemies tremble. The Son of God! enthroned at the right hand of the Father – behold the Son of God! a helpless, weeping babe in Bethlehem – wading thro’ seas of distress through life, hated, insulted, persecuted by the poor creatures of his power, and objects of his love; view the Son of God, suffering, bleeding, dying on the cross. All nature shuddered at the sight. It is not a mere man that suffers and dies: it is the Son of God! Under the power of death, he lies in Joseph’s tomb. Here is humiliation! a theme of astonishment and eternal praise.
ARG. 9. It is generally believed that the Father made a covenant with the Son, concerning the redemption of sinners, before the son came into the world; in which covenant the Father promised to hold his hand, help him in the great work, and preserve him till the salvation was accomplished, &c. Isaiah, 42, 6; 49, 8. We cannot see how the one only living and true God could covenant with himself; nor how the Father could make such promises to the Son as very God. But if we conceive the person to whom the promises were made, to be the Son of God, the application is easy, and natural.
ARG. 10. Heb. 10, 5-7. “Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me. Then said I, lo, I come, to do thy will, O God.” The person, for whom the body was prepared, was not God; for he came to do the will of God. So he speaks John 6, 32. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Hence it appears that a person existed in heaven previous to his union with the body prepared for him, and that this person was not very God; therefore it must be the Son of God.
Other arguments I might advance to establish the proposition of the pre-existence of the Son of God; but I think those already adduced are sufficient. I now proceed to establish the doctrine of his divinity, as I find it revealed in the scriptures.
Some have thought that the divinity of Christ is sufficiently established by proving as I have done, that he is the only begotten Son of God – begotten by and of the Father himself, and therefore he must be divine, as proceeding immediately from the divine nature. So the son of Adam was human, as proceeding from human nature. But waving this point, for the present, I shall come to the unequivocal language of inspiration.
Jesus taught his disciples the doctrine of his divinity very particularly at the close of his ministry on earth. He had collected his little family together – had informed them of his exit from this world to his Father, and the persecutions and afflictions they should endure for his name. At this intelligence they were sorrowful – Jesus then to comfort them, drew aside the veil of futurity, and pointed to them the glory which should follow their suffering. In the view of this, they appeared to forget the troubles of time; their sorrows were partially turned into joy – John 14, 8, 10. “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus answered and said unto him, have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then, shew us the Father? believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself; but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. – If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also; and from henceforth, ye know him and have seen him” – John 10, 38. What delightful astonishment must have seized Philip’s mind! He had been always before looking for a God out of Christ! Happy for the world, had Philip’s ignorance died that day; but it has been revived and has floated down the current of time to our day.
Coll. 2, 9. “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” 2 Cor. 5, 19. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” 1 Tim. 3, 16. “God was manifest in the flesh.” From these and many other texts of the same import, the divinity of Jesus is undeniably established. In him dwelleth, not a part, but all the fullness of Godhead or divinity bodily. Hence is Jesus called the mighty God – the everlasting Father – the great God – the true God, and even Jehovah. We know, we acknowledge, we worship no other God, but the God in Christ, for this is the true God, and eternal life – 1 John 5, 20. In him centres all the glory of God and man – of heaven and earth – all the perfections of God, for all are included in the Father, that dwelleth in him, and in the fullness of Godhead.
Should any ask how it is that the Father in all his fullness dwelleth in the Son? I reply in Paul’s words “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifested in the flesh.” – Matters of fact are stubborn things, and these prove the doctrine true. Read the history of his life, and see the astonishing works of Almighty power. With a word the diseased were instantly restored to health – the dead raised to life – tempests calmed – the devils subjected. All nature was obedient to his word, that very word, which first gave nature birth. Yet he attributes these very works to the divinity in him. “It is not I that speak, but the Father that dwelleth in me. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very work’s sake” – John 14, 10, 11. If the Son, as Son, was God independent, why did he attribute these works to the Father in him, and not to his own Almighty, independent power?
Should any ask, how can God be seen in Christ when the scriptures declare that, “No man hath seen God any time?” – 1 John 4, 12. I answer; We see not his being or essence, for that is invisible; but we see his glory shining in the face of Jesus. 2 Cor. 4, 6. Hence is Jesus called the image of God – the image of the invisible God – the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, or more literally the character of his substance. – Were I sitting before a looking glass, and a person standing behind me, the person is invisible to me; but his image is seen by me in the glass. I know him as well by the image as if I saw his very person. So we behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord – and this glass is the face of Jesus. 2 Cor. 3, 18, & 4, 6.
Some are offended with us, infering from these remarks, that we deny the equality of the Son with the Father. I have always thought this doctrine very obscure; as equality implies plurality; and one is not equal to itself. If God be one infinite spirit without parts, and if there be but one infinite and true God, then there cannot be another equal to him. This is the language of consistent reason; but if revelation speaks differently, reason must humbly submit. There are but two texts of scripture that I recollect, which directly speak of the equality of the Son with the Father. These I will notice.
John 5, 18. – “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he had not only broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” The Jews concluded, because Jesus said that God was his Father, that he was making himself equal with God. So they at another time concluded, that he had a devil and was mad. Their conclusions respecting him are not to be received as true, because they were blind and knew him not. This of his making himself equal with God was undoubtedly wrong; for Jesus labors in the following verses to convince them of it: — “Then answered Jesus and said, verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do,” &c. Surely if Jesus had been equal to the Father, he would not have used such language as this, directly calculated to mislead the people. In 20 v. Jesus speaks of the Father shewing him all things that himself doeth – 26 v. As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself – v. 27. And hath given him authority to execute judgment – 30. v. “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just: because I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” These things surely do not look like equality.
The other text is Phil. 2, 6, 7. “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation (emptied himself, Gr.), and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death – even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him,” &c. To me it is evident, that the person spoken of in the text cannot be the one only living and true God; for God cannot be emptied, humbled and exalted without a change. They who are acquainted with the Greek, are well assured that our translation of this text is not the best. Dr. Doddridge is much better, and certainly the most literal. “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be as God.” Dr. Whitby confirms this reading by abundant quotations from the Septuagint, where the same Greek word isa is translated as instead of equal. See Whitby in loco. That form of God, which he had, was the glory he had with the Father before the world was. In this glory he thought it not robbery to be as God. Yet so great was his love to sinners that be emptied himself of this glory, put off the form of God, and took on him the form of a servant, and died for our redemption. But God hath highly exalted him to that same glory, for which to be restored Jesus prayed – John 17, 5.
But Dr. Scott says, that “the learned bishop Pearson has shown that isa, especially used with einai, may express equality as well as ison, the proper Greek term for equal. Thus in Rev. 21, 16. “The length, and the breadth, and the height of it (esti isa) are equal.” This may pass with the unlearned. But every man of but a small degree of learning must wonder at the learned bishop, and Doctor for this remark. Every Tyro in Greek knows that isa in Rev. 21, 16, is an adjective in the neuter plural, agreeing with the three neuter nouns before it, and properly signifies equal. But isa in Phil. 2, 6, is not an adjective, and has no subject with which it can agree. Every subject in the verse is in the singular number; but isa, as an adjective, is not found in the singular.
There is a sense in which Jesus may be said to be equal with God, as in 1 Cor. 15, 24, 28 – “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule, authority and power. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him, that put all things (God excepted, v. 7,) under him, that God may be all in all.” – If in the end, the Son is to be subject to God, it implies that now, or till the end come, he is not subject: but he is not superior, for God himself is not put under him: therefore he must be equal. He is not equal in essence, being or eternity; else he could never be subject to the Father – and such an equality would destroy the unity of God. But he is equal in the great work of redemption; all power in heaven and earth being delivered to him, and all things in heaven, as principalities, powers, &c. being put under him, to accomplish the work, for which he was sent.
The divinity of Jesus I have before proved. If this is what people mean by the equality of the Son with the Father, I am satisfied with the idea, but not with the expression. We have an abundance of scripture to establish the divinity of Jesus, without torturing such texts as those by which I have endeavored to prove his pre-existence as the Son of God. By pressing such texts to prove his divinity, has greatly darkened the truth, and added many to the number of its enemies.
We are severely beaten by our brethren for believing that the Son of God is the instrumental cause of creation. If the scriptures convey not this idea as plainly as any other in the Bible, I must acknowledge that words cannot be the signs of ideas. For instance, “God created all things by Jesus Christ” – “With us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him, and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things, and we by him.” These and such like texts, have convinced my mind of the truth contested by our brethren. Let our brethren affix some more consistent idea to such texts, before they use such severity as they have done. Let them inform us how God will judge the world by Jesus Christ – how he reconciles the world by Jesus – How he justifies by faith, &c. – then we shall understand, how he made the world by Jesus Christ.
Our brethren also accuse us of idolatry for worshipping the Son of God. They surely do the same; and for this they have the example of the primitive christians, who “all call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” – 1 Cor. 1, 2. They have the example of the redeemed in glory, for they all worship God and the Lamb. They have also the example of angels, for said the Father concerning the first-begotten, “Let all the angels of God worship him” – Heb. 1, 6. With such examples as these, none should blush nor refuse to worship him. If it be idolatry in us, who is clear of it? The scripture says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord, thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Our brethren worship the Son as the only true God; we worship the same only true God in and through the Son. Our brethren do not believe that the Son is another eternal, distinct God from the Father; nor do we. When the redeemed in heaven worship God and the Lamb, do they worship two beings, or but one? When the angels were commanded by the Father to worship the Son, must they not worship the Father also? For my part, I feel free to give praise and thanksgiving to Jesus for what he has done and suffered for me – to love him for his perfection and goodness – to ask him for the grace that is treasured in him for sinners. But the same Jesus has taught me that the origin and fountain of all these things, is God. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son – and with him freely gave us all things.” Till it can be proved that God and the Lamb are one being, I will imitate heaven in worshipping the Lamb, without the fear of being guilty of idolatry. But if they are two distinct beings, they cannot be supreme Gods; let those who worship both as supreme Gods, take heed lest they be guilty of what they so unblushingly impute to others.
Our brethren think they sufficiently confute us when they prove the divinity of the Son of God by the divine names, titles, attributes, and worship ascribed to him. In this they are egregiously mistaken. For, these we ascribe to him as well as they. The difference is this. They ascribe these attributes and names to the Son, as in him from eternity. But we ascribe them to him because the Father dwells in him. For our authority, we have already produced the scriptures. Let our brethren prove that the Son was eternal and independent; then we will acknowledge that he was eternally divine. The divinity in him we acknowledge was eternal, because all the fullness of Godhead was in him. But we cannot acknowledge two eternal, distinct beings, possessed of infinite power, wisdom, &c. Nor can they without contradicting the first article of their faith.
The common prejudice of education may bear hard against some of these sentiments. Some may make their own notions the rule by which to judge them; but whether those notions may be correct, there may be no enquiry. Others, afraid of thinking wrong, and therefore never thinking for themselves at all, may fix upon the opinions of their party, as the standard of judgment. But the honest inquirer will bring these things to the bible, & judge according to this rule: this, dear brethren, I hope you will do.
It is noteworthy that in this address, Stone repeatedly referred to both Trinitarians and Unitarians as “our brethren,” all the while enduring ridicule and slander as a heretic. His irenic spirit is an excellent example for all of us.
 The other two divisions are the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ.
 Any organized hierarchy above the independent local congregation
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4 thoughts on “The Stone – Campbell Restoration Movement”
Loved this article! This past weekend I was talking with some local CoC’s about the Stone-Campbell pioneering movement and how the torch bearers after them decided to not only set up camp but to make permanent settlements on their work instead of continuing to move forward in the same spirit to remove from themselves every doctrine, commandment, traditions, philosophies, and ideologies of men.
Over the years I have gotten to know many of their preachers, and even presidents and founders of some of their seminaries. They have had great respect towards me even commenting how my exposition of the Scriptures exceeds that of their own preachers. I have taught in many of their places, yet after I establish common ground and gain their respect and try to help them to leave their settlement and become pioneers once again, they will eventually cast me away.
Some reject immediately anything that is different than their classic creeds, which of course are not creeds. 😉 Others will diligently study and acknowledge that what I present to them to study is difficult to mentally grasp because it is contrary to the doctrine they were taught to believe. Thought they will admit, that what I am sharing with them is probably correct, because when they search these things through I had shared with them previously, they had found them to be Scripturally sound. Yet, they eventually despise me and will have nothing to do with me. I assume because they share these things with their peers, and they persuade them to drop these notions contrary to what they have been taught.
Like I’ve told you many times. I sit here alone. Not because I want to be, but rather because others see me as a threat to turn people away from their doctrines. Like I’ve said. Many of the preacher are clueless as how to answer me and will just spout their “parties lines” that don’t hold water. They ask their peers and they encourage them to not have me associate with them.
Also, I didn’t realize that Barton Stone held that view. I can also see why the RM keeps it from the people.
Again, many thanks Tim!
Unfortunately, all reform movements have ended up in the same ditch, abandoning their original vision and falling into the same traps as those they are protesting against or seeking to reform. Look at the ideals of the Protestant Reformation, Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, etc. They rebelled against Rome’s dogmatic authority, and ended up replacing it with their own, their own creeds, etc. “Sola Scriptura” didn’t work out very well, because there was no objective standard for how one interprets the Scriptures. The Protestant Reformation ended up with a multitude of groups who could not agree with each other, and who anathematize each other. The Plymouth Brethren, who had a vision to restore the simple ancient practice and Church government ended up fractured as well, the “open brethren” and the “closed brethren,” dividing over instrumental music and who can participate in communion. The Stone Campbell Restoration Movement splintered over various things as well, including instrumental music and the names on their churches. Even the non-instrumental Churches of Christ have split into factions over things as silly as one-cup vs. multiple cups. Yet, other reformation movements that came out of the second great awakening also have splintered over many things. The Christadelphians also in part came from the Stone Campbell movement. The Unitarian denominations and churches have also splintered over non-essentials such as the personality of Satan, and even over whether to use wine or grape juice in communion. The casualty in all of this is THE single most important aspect of Christianity:
John 17 (LGV) 18 Just as you sent Me into the world, I also sent them into the world, 19 and for their sakes I sanctify Myself so that they also may be having been sanctified in truth. 20 Yet I am not asking concerning these alone, but also concerning those who will believe unto Me through their word, 21 so that they all may be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, so that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Eph. 4 (LGV) 1 Therefore, I the prisoner in the Master, plead with you to walk worthy of the invitation with which you were called 2 with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to preserve the unity of the Breath in the bond of peace: 4 a common Body and a common Breath, just as you were [originally] called in a common Hope of your calling, 5 a common Master, a common Faith, a common immersion, 6 a common God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. … 11 And He indeed gave the emissaries, also the prophets, also the evangelists, also the shepherds and teachers 12 for the equipping of the saints for the performance of service, for building the Body of the Anointed, 13 until we might all attain to the unity of the Faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of maturity of the fullness of the Anointed; 14 so that we may no longer remain children, tossed about and carried off with every wind of teaching by the slight of men through cunning craftiness into the deception of heresy. 15 But, speaking truth in love, [we] may grow toward Him in every way who is the head — the Anointed, 16 from whom the whole Body being assembled and assimilated together through the contribution of every joint according to the proportion of efficiency of each part, growth of the Body is self-perpetuating to the building of itself in love.”
Notice in this last passage growing in maturity and the TRUTH comes as a RESULT of our walking worthy of our calling, which is “endeavoring to preserve the unity of the Breath in the bond of peace.” The singular problem in all this is that men place whatever point of doctrine or practice (their own particular sacred cow) which they deem to be critical, as being more important than the above. As a consequence, the world does NOT believe that God sent His Son.
All so very true. It is easy to see the pattern throughout Christendom. I have read that there are over 34,000 “Christian” sects. It’s almost mind blowing when knowing and understanding the oneness and unity Christ called His followers into.
I have found that many haven’t progressed to the “spiritual little children” phase in their walk. They remain as babes, not only unskillful in the Word of truth, but not being taught how to correctly allocate the Scriptures, or being encouraged to do so. The mimic their teachers who are still feeding them breast milk or rather man-made formulas. Many haven’t matured enough to partake of baby food yet.
They are taught man’s precepts, founded in Scripture of course, being blind leaders of the blind, finding themselves in the gutter, yet not having the spiritual enlightenment of their condition. We, like probably all that read your blog were also in the ditch. Have we made our way completely out of the ditch ourselves? History would seem to indicate that we have not, yet as we pull others up out of the ditch, we also try to push them ahead so that they may continue this following pristine doctrine into the next generation. Thus, by God’s grace He gives us understanding and compassion for others that we may demonstrate the message of the gospel by being renewed in the knowledge after the image of Him that created us to be formed into His likeness.
Unfortunately, while preaching NOT to add or subtract from this gospel message, Christendom has added “core beliefs” they believe are what all Christians should have. This “biblical worldview” is more based on the theological biases of men and not sound exegesis of the Scriptures. This has been a great error that has shipwrecked the faith of many, as we can attest to ourselves.
I like how you point readers back to the tenets of the pristine message of the gospel:
1 Corinthians 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Therefore we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; Eph. 1:17-2:10; Php. 2:1-16, etc) to do those things that are welling pleasing to the Father as Jesus, our example, had done (Mt. 3:17; 12:18; Col. 1:10; 1 Jn. 3:22).
To imitate Christ’s, and thus, the Father nature, is to do His commandments, which demonstrate that we truly love Him:
21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. John 14:21-24
What His commandments are were clearly revealed in His answer to the scribe:
28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. Mark 12:28-34
Which brings to remembrance what Jesus told the Pharisees on another occasion:
1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.
2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.
3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;
4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?
5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. Matthew 12:1-8
Yes, doing the royal law (Ja 2:8+; Ro 13:8-9; Ga 5:14; 6:2; 1Th 4:9; Mt 25:34-40) is a key to a true and right relationship and unity with the Father and the Son, and the brethren.
Christendom has become like the Sadducees: And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? (Mk 12:24) Or as the scribes “that handle the law knew me not” (Jer. 2:8) Because we have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:..and are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 T 3:5, 7)
Yet God has given us all things that pertain to godliness through the knowledge of Him:
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. 2 Peter 1:3-12
Yes, we have added more to the tenants of the faith than what the apostle’s doctrine has taught us. Christendom has become like the religious leaders of the first century whom Jesus said: “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Mt 23:13)
We need to earnestly contend for the faith in this nation against the Americanized European form of Christian religion that does seek to walk in the pristine knowledge of God. This is done through a number of things like diligence in prayer and study, yet also walking as He walked with a fervent love of the Father and the brethren.
Thanks for sharing this.
In the midst of living life amongst trinitarian “normal” christians, it is always good to get a reminder why I believe like I do. I feel socially wierd in settings where my convictions are (probably) deemed herecy, but so very much convinced when sitting here reading this.