The current judicial exercise in ensuring a hard separation between religion and the federal or state governments has a fairly short history. It really dates to the last century when Justice Hugo Black resurrected a comment that Thomas Jefferson had made in reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association. The Connecticut group had written to congratulate him upon his election to the Presidency in 1804. His use of the phrase â€œa wall of separationâ€ is its first occurrence in text in this land, and in its context it was used as part of his explanation as to why he had chosen not to call for a national day of fasting and thanksgiving as his two predecessors had done upon election. Justice Blackâ€™s appropriation of the remark was much more insidious.
The Cane Ridge Revival
In 1801, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky planted the seed for a movement in Kentucky and the Ohio River valley to disassociate from denominationalism. In 1803 Stone and others withdrew from the Kentucky Presbytery and formed the Springfield Presbytery. The defining event of the Stone wing of the movement was the publication of Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery, at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1804. The Last Will is a brief document in which Stone and five others announced their withdrawal from Presbyterianism and their intention to be solely part of the body of Christ. The writers appealed for the unity of all who follow Jesus, suggested the value of congregational self-governance, and lifted the Bible as the source for understanding the will of God. They denounced the ‘divisive’ use of the Westminster Confession of Faith and adopted the name “Christian” to identify their group.
By 1804 Elias Smith had heard of the Stone movement, and the O’Kelly movement by 1808. The three groups merged by 1810. At that time the combined movement had a membership of approximately 20,000. This loose fellowship of churches was called by the names “Christian Connection/Connexion” or “Christian Church.” The cornerstone for the Stone movement was Christian freedom. This ideal of freedom led them to reject all the historical creeds, traditions and theological systems that had developed over time and to focus instead on a primitive Christianity based on the Bible.
While restoring primitive Christianity was central to the Stone movement, they believed that restoring the lifestyle of members of the early church is essential. During the early years, they “focused more… on holy and righteous living than on the forms and structures of the early church. The group also worked to restore the primitive church. Due to concern that emphasizing particular practices could undermine Christian freedom, this effort tended to take the form of rejecting tradition rather than an explicit program of reconstructing New Testament practices. The emphasis on freedom was so strong that the movement avoided developing any ecclesiastical traditions; it was “largely without dogma, form, or structure.” What held “the movement together was a commitment to primitive Christianity.”
Another theme was that of hastening the millennium. Many Americans of the period believed that the millennium was near and based their hopes for the millennium on their new nation, the United States. Members of the Stone movement believed that only a unified Christianity based on the apostolic church, rather than a country or any of the existing denominations, could lead to the coming of the millennium. Stone’s millennialism has been described as more “apocalyptic” than that of Alexander Campbell, in that he believed people were too flawed to usher in a millennial age through human progress. Rather, he believed that it depended on the power of God, and that while waiting for God to establish His kingdom, one should live as if the rule of God were already fully established. For the Stone movement, this millennial emphasis had less to do with eschatological theories and more about a countercultural commitment to live as if the kingdom of God were already established on earth. This apocalyptic perspective or world view led many in the Stone movement to adopt pacifism, avoid participating in civil government, and reject violence, militarism, greed, materialism and slavery.
The Campbell wing of the movement was launched when Thomas Campbell published the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington in 1809. The Presbyterian Synod had suspended his ministerial credentials. In The Declaration and Address, he set forth some of his convictions about the church of Jesus Christ. He organized the Christian Association of Washington, in Washington County, Pennsylvania on the western frontier of the state, not as a church but as an association of persons seeking to grow in faith. On May 4, 1811, the Christian Association reconstituted itself as a congregationally governed church. With the building it constructed at Brush Run, Pennsylvania, it became known as Brush Run Church. When their study of the New Testament led the reformers to begin to practice baptism by immersion, the nearby Redstone Baptist Association invited Brush Run Church to join with them in fellowship. The reformers agreed, provided that they would be “allowed to preach and to teach whatever they learned from the Scriptures.”
(This series was edited and adapted from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia listing on Christian Restoration. Copies of portraits, photographs, references, sources, and sections on future issues along with some charts are not included. You are encouraged to read the full posting at Wikipedia.com.)