Stone-Campbell Dialogue

This from my friend Clint Holloway:

Area Worship Service for Churches of Stone-Campbell Traditions

At 5 pm on June 11 there will be an area worship service for congregations of the Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement and as part of the 2006 Stone-Campbell Dialogue hosted by Lipscomb University. Participants in the worship service will include Churches of Christ – Christian Churches – Disciples of Christ. The highlight of the service will be a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which Thomas Campbell called “that great sacrament of Unity and Love.” The Lord’s Supper will be led by Jeff Weston Australian-born director of the World Convention. The service will also include worship in song, responsive readings, Scripture and prayer (no preaching). The service is being hosted by several local congregations, World Convention, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society and others. It will be held in the Great Hall of the Family of God at Woodmont Hills (Church of Christ), 3710 Franklin Road, Nashville, TN 37204.

All churches and their members are invited to be a part of this unique and historic worship celebration among the three historic bodies of believers that trace their roots to the 19th century Reformation movement led by Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone.

The Stone-Campbell Dialogue is an annual gathering of Scholars and Ministers from throughout the United States and across the three historic streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement who meet to share and discuss the unity we have as brothers and sisters in Christ and to heal decades of sinful division. It is not, however, a movement to seek merger of the three distinct bodies but a recognition of our heritage.

For more information on the worship service please contact Clinton J. Holloway at
For more information on the Dialogue please contact Robert Welsh at

Clinton J. Holloway
Minister of Involvement, First Christian Church, Nashville, TN
Stone-Campbell Movement Historian
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Laura, the girls, and I hope to see you there. Look for me at or around the DCHS table.


3 thoughts on “Stone-Campbell Dialogue

  1. Welcome back to blogging! We’ve missed you.

    Anyway, I had begun to wonder just what happened to the SC Dialogue. The page on the Disciples website where the documents are housed only goes up through 2002 or so. It’s good to see that things are still progressing and boldly at that.

  2. The Chaos Factor In A Unity Effort

    Disunity, Disharmony, Division, And/or Chaos Factors Within The Restoration Movement And A Search For A Modality For Seeking Unity Among Believers.

    The churches of Christ, the Christian Church, and the Disciples of Christ are three main branches divided off from a unity movement which arose in the early 1800s.

    By 1906 the Restoration Movement (RM) as it was called was clearly divided into these three branches recognized as fully independent bodies. Now after 200 years there has recently been a long awaited (overdue?) but substantial effort at reunification. Praise the Lord! However, that is what any unity movement should do.

    Tragically, this is still only a partial or limited reunification effort. This effort at best unevenly embraces some within its family group and the effort itself is rejected in some quarters by others. Finally almost no one within this family tree has reached out to its original taproot, the Presbyterian Church. It was that denomination from which the founders of the RM had arisen.

    These stumbling efforts seem to raise some questions. Can such a halting effort truly signal any possible future success? Is there something inherently wrong with the way in which the RM attempts to facilitate unity? Or is there a pattern of delay and missteps, which reflects some unfaithfulness or a resistance to the leading of the spirit of God? Finally is there a more effective modality for unity? If so then what might it be?

    The Restoration Movement Arose Over 200 years Ago Seeking Unity Among Believers

    Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell lived and ministered in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries now over 200 years ago. Initially their efforts were independent of each other. Still they were each suddenly successful in calling people to unify.

    Their methods varied but their results were similar enough. Their followers met and intermingled, compared notes and it was their followers that sought to bring their leaders together. After a period of time and delays Stone and Campbell came to combine their efforts as a joint venture. As a result they became conjoint founders of the Restoration Movement (RM), which quickly declared itself a unity movement. They were however very different men and their efforts while in the same direction always suggested different modalities.

    On the one hand, Stone was educated in America. Impacted by frontier revivalism, Stone was himself a key player in the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, which broke-out at his congregation. His life and ministry would bore earmarks of “being led by the Spirit” reminiscent of the later Charismatic Movement. It might be said that he sought a unity of the Spirit. In some ways Stone’s efforts might have foreshadowed the unifying movement that later arose at Azusa Street nearly a hundred years afterwards and has had a much wider impact on Christendom.

    On the other hand and from another direction, Campbell proved to be the stronger force. He was university educated in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was a disciple of the English philosophers, John Locke and Francis Bacon. Campbell greatly admired Scottish Common Sense philosophy. This worldview he rigorously applied to his study of scripture. A powerful debater and logical mind Campbell’s approach was modernistic. His methods were the equivalent of a type of archaeological mining of scripture not for material artifacts but for an ancient ecclesiology or determining the ancient rules and principles for primitive church practices. It might be said that he sought for a basis of unity in understanding the pertinent doctrines and practices of the unadulterated, primitive church.

    Both men were reformers from the reform heritage proudly touted by Presbyterians. Both were interested in a return to a simple nondenominational New Testament Christianity as broad as the universal body of Christ. Both were influential leaders of men. Each had a substantial following within the same general area of Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia. These followers interacted on numerous occasions finally leading to their colluding to bring their leaders together. They did and eventually a union took place. Their approaches seemed to complement each other but in time Campbell’s surpassed Stone’s.

    This movement was formulated around two key concepts. First was the unity of believers. The second was the discovery, and restoration of the long-lost, unadulterated, primitive, or true church. Pattern theology emerged from Campbell’s researching scripture using Lockean Logic in his attempt to recover the ancient order of things. In this the movement sought to find and reconstitute the body of Christ without divisions and without any of the latter ecclessiological trappings that had led to division and had denominated the church. This latter concept was thought to be the modality by which people might find a reasonable, common sense, common ground for unity.

    It easily seemed to the founders that denominations unnecessarily divided believers. Therefore it reasonably seemed to follow that a return to the true, pure, and primitive church might provide a pathway to unity. That meant that they and their followers would generally embrace a stance that rejected all denominations and all their divisive practices. Some within the movement have been more highly committed and therefore with nobility have more avidly and exactingly pursued doctrinal purity and primitive church practices. This was deemed an essential truth, and a cornerstone or baseline for affecting unity. This view has been held most dear among the right wing elements of the movement. The downside to this dynamic is that it also tends to inhibit diversity.

    The Results Are In

    Today after 200 years the RM’s efforts have led to almost no bridges to unity except in the earliest times. Instead the movement has spun-off some 80 different groups that are both similar and disparate. In addition except for the effort among these main three branches there has been almost no overtures toward reunification among those within the movement let alone with other believers. Besides the main branches of the RM which include the churches of Christ (CofC), The Christian Church (CC), and the Disciple of Christ (DoC) there are also two generally unacknowledged cults with whom there are ties — the International Church of Christ (ICC) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Like a dysfunctional family some members talk with others within the family but refuse to even recognize other members. This record and traits do not support the claim of being a unity movement.

    Ostensibly the Stone-Campbell movement was a unity movement, however, by the time of the American Civil War the movement divided geographically at the Mason Dixon Line and across a continuum from the more fundamentalistic churches of Christ, Christian Churches, to the more liberal the Disciples of Christ. Slavery and musical accompaniment vs. noninstrumental music tended to be among the more obvious issues masking deeper matters. The churches of Christ under the influence of “pattern theology” (as the revival of the ancient order of things came to be known) have resulted in a drive to recreate a pure primitive church. This approach has lead to repeated divisions up to some 80 times..

    Background Strains Affecting Unity

    The background of both founders shows a period in western culture when progress was the watchword and utopia was thought to be just around the corner. Presuming that the spirit of the times was moving mankind toward God and a biblical period of world peace Campbell optimistically published a newsletter he named “The Millennial Harbinger.” Both men were also educated under the tutelage of the Presbyterian Church. Both had previously served as ordained ministers for that church. Revivalism was spreading like wild fire and people everywhere were open to religious discussion. On a darker note, the Presbyterian Church, itself, had been imported from Europe bringing with it baggage reflecting its prior status as a state religion. In a number of ways this meant that the Presbyterianism lacked a certain relevance to the American religious experience. Instead the Presbyterianism of that era was infected with issues that fueled useless, artificial church wars. In addition, theirs was also a time marked by the rise of theological Liberalism, which intensified the deism that had already invaded the American scene. It was also a time of continuing warfare and conflict. The enlightenment was powerfully impacting the culture and these men.

    In late life Campbell personally aligned himself with the Disciples (DoC), which always tended to more deistic and liberal. If Stone’s influence survived it is difficult to trace, albeit the desire for a more Spirit filled experience does continue and, perhaps, at times has facilitated the more nonrational extremes within the movement

    The “True Church” Comes Under Fire from Within

    History has shown that the “true church modality” as a basis of unity has not brought unity but rather division. Some within the RM have already abandoned that modality. In 1968 the DoC restructured and became the first if not only RM church to acknowledge its own denominationality. Otherwise, the movement has been in denial regarding its denominationality.

    Just a few years later the senior preacher in an influential CofC congregation arose and announced from his pulpit in Abilene TX that the CofC “was a big sick denomination.” This, too, sent shock waves through the CofC. A reinvestigation of the CofC’s basic assumptions began to be taken seriously in some quarters.

    The LDS and ICC churches are generally perceived as too extreme and unorthodox. They are generally not thought to be relevant to the others.

    The modern CofC is experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. Elements like the North West Church of Christ within the Seattle area have combined with a nearby Christian Church to create a combo-church or joint venture church. While they are united they are at the same time they strangely two in one. The NWCofC already had a “church within a church” concept at work prior to this new arrangement

    Other CofCs reflect a continuum of responses on the one hand some are continuing from a strict sectarianism stance while others on another hand seem to court other elements within the Restoration Movement including the DoC for the sake of unity. To my knowledge no one from the right wing of the RM has sought to include the original taproot Presbyterian Church back into their unity efforts.

    Meanwhile the DoC seriously had marginalized themselves within the RM heritage. The DoC retained its high call to unity but changed its conceptual modality. Now no longer in pursuit of the one true primitive church as their modality for unity they now pursue followed the Ecumenical Movement. However this was seen as a betrayal of the nondenominationalism. Among the RM churches stylized definitions of words like “denomination” had developed which continue to facilitate “plausible deniability,” in regard to the CofC’s nondenominational façade. This is central both to their identity and their vision of their mission.

    In fact so dedicated are some of the more traditional RM members that they are unwilling to share in common activities with other believers whose church practices not compatible with their own. A pragmatic unity is in their eyes equates with selling out the true church and the importance of restorationism for unity. In their view doctrinal differences must first be addressed before any sharing can take place. To their mind there can be no unity unless the true church is restored and all believers adhere to that one true church. This purist position seems to block the very unity that they claim to seek.

    An Unrecovered or Unrecoverable Model or Pattern

    However, differing opinions continue to exist about whether there is or is not a definitive core model for the early church has never been finally determined. In addition, there are also differing opinions about what are the appropriate protocols for the hermeneutics used to ascertain that model. With the departure of the DoC from the true church modality and the failure of the avid restorationists to affect much more than additional divisiveness then seems that the true church modality is a failed model. It seems to have died never finding its true core. These disputes seem to make the task irresolvable.

    The Ecumenical Modality Has Also Come Under Fire

    The Disciples restructured and became an organized denomination in 1968. Out of their new Ecumenical framework they have resorted to being a part of the Ecumenical Movement. Perhaps as a result they have rejoined with the Presbyterian Church in some quarters for joint ventures. Nevertheless The Ecumenical Movement has itself come under fire for being to rigid and complex a model. While it has facilitated unity in diversity in some quarters it seems unable to reach others.

    The Charismatic Renewal Movement Limitations

    The Azusa Street Revival and subsequent efforts have been wide reaching and enduring but limitations have arisen around issues created by those that require specific signs of the Spirit, which are not uniformly subscribed to by even all Charismatics. The Charismatic renewal which had some resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s has passed on without the hoped for results.


    Each modality discussed has pros and cons. Each has something that may well contribute to a better approach, but that approach has yet to be widely announced and tested.

    A Transdenominational Modality

    Meanwhile from another direction and sources has arisen a newer modality for reunification, which sidesteps the nondenominational and ecumenical modalities after a fashion. Transdenominationalism might see all churches much like scripture speaks of all believers — as earthen vessels. That is they all contain a glorious treasure, i.e., the gospel. This view first of all presumes that God in Christ has created unity and that our mission is not to create unity but rather to maintain the unity God has already created. It would also focus on the body of Christ rather than the church and its ordinances. Further, it does not ignore any doctrinal error but approaches churches and people respectfully, calling them to a more radical discipleship. This modality has not as yet been previously published among those within the RM to my knowledge.

    July 7, 2006 by Ron Exum

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