Saturday, September 25, 2010

Restoration Roots, by Lynn McMillon

McMillon, Lynn A. Restoration Roots: The Scottish Origins of the American Restoration Movement. Henderson, TN: Hester Publications, 1983.

Armchair historians of the American Restoration Movement immediately recognize the names Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. In fact, the religious saga in which they play the two leading roles has more recently been named the Stone-Campbell Movement. Students of this story also know the names of other heroes, especially Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father and mentor, and Walter Scott, one of the movement's great evangelists in the early 1800s.

However, if you were to ask, "Who came before them?" most of their spiritual descendants would look all the way back to the sixteenth century and mention Martin Luther and John Calvin. A gap would separate the reformers of the sixteenth century from the restorers of the nineteenth century. Restoration Roots: The Scottish Origins of the American Restoration Movement was written to fill in part of that gap. It traces some of the lines that tie the Reformation in Scotland to the eventual movement that, under the leadership of Stone and Campbell, sought to restore primitive Christianity on American soil.

Like several other fine works of history, this little book is the revision of a doctoral dissertation. McMillon completed it at Baylor University in 1972 under the guidance of Professors Glenn O. Hilburn, John Davidson, and Robert Reid. The original title was Quest for the Apostolic Church: A Study of the Scottish Origins of American Restorationism. In the early 1980s, the author, a long-time educator and leader among the Churches of Christ, made a few minor changes and republished the book as Restoration Roots.

The "Introduction" in the current edition was written by Earl West. Well known among the Churches of Christ for his multi-volume history of the American Restoration Movement called The Search for the Ancient Order, West offers some penetrating insights about McMillon's topic.

Chapter I sets the stage by reviewing the history of the Reformation in Scotland. Beginning with the influence of Oxford scholar John Wyclif, an Englishman who flourished in the late 1300s, McMillon identifies a strong Scottish attraction to the doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture only), a teaching that was later advanced by men like Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, above all John Knox, and Andrew Melville.

Chapter II, one of the more interesting and significant parts of the book, shows how the Anabaptist branch of the Reformation, though sometimes overlooked or minimized, actually made a vital contribution to what would finally emerge as restorationism. For unlike those who sought merely to reform the Roman Catholic Church of the sixteenth century, Anabaptists used the language of the restitution of the true church, an idea that compares much more closely with the later concept called restoration. Too, the Anabaptist tradition was consistent with English and Scottish Congregationalism in its demand for the autonomy of individual churches, also a hallmark of future restorationism.

Chapter III tells the story of John Glas (1695-1773), who began as a minister of the Church of Scotland. In the 1720s, young Glas argued against the arrangement of the national church of which he was a part. Reminding his hearers that Jesus had said His kingdom was not of this earth, Glas advanced the idea of the separation of church from state. He rejected both presbyterian and episcopal forms of church government insisting on the autonomy of every congregation. After he was deposed by the Church of Scotland, Glas served as an independent church leader and encouraged the practice of congregationalism for the rest of his life. Glas espoused the singular authority of the Bible, the restitution of primitive Christianity, the leadership of a plurality of elders in each congregation, and weekly observance of the Lord's Supper not as a sacrament but as a memorial.

Chapter IV describes the early life and ministry of Robert Sandeman (1718-1771), who became John Glas's son-in-law and his most illustrious protege. In fact, it was the fiery Sandeman who extended the "Glasite" movement from its native Scotland into England and Wales. He did this largely through the publication of Letters on Theron and Aspasio. Sandeman's book was a direct response to an earlier one by minister James Hervey called Theron and Aspasio. Hervey's book breathed the warm, revivalisitic Calvinism which was popular in that day. Sandeman held up an alternate view of salvation, one that began with gospel facts in the mind rather than strange stirrings of the Spirit in the heart. His teaching made sense to many people, and established Sandeman as an important religious thinker of the time. As a result, many people in Great Britain became interested in Christianity as it was taught and practiced among the Glasite churches.

Chapter V continues the story of Robert Sandeman who came to America in 1764 preaching and planting churches in the Northeast. The most prominent of these congregations was at Danbury, Connecticut, where Sandeman died in 1771. His results in America were mixed. He was opposed by several prominent ministers. Also, many people who agreed with him on the basic question of salvation did not go along with the holy kiss, footwashing, and the strict discipline, etc., practiced in the Sandemanian churches. Above all, because of their non-participation in politics, the fledgling congregations appeared to be siding with the Tories and were consequently ostracized and persecuted at the dawn of the American Revolution.

Chapter VI advances to the next generation and the work of Robert and James Haldane. As the author explains, though they were also Scotch independents who learned much from their predecessors, compared to Glas and Sandeman, the Haldane brothers were a different sort of restorationist. They placed much more emphasis on openness, evangelism, Christian unity, and the training of preachers. McMillon writes: "The Haldanes were theological descendants of Glas and Sandeman, but the brothers were more broad-minded in their dealings with persons of differing beliefs. They also exhibited a more dynamic evangelistic zeal than did Glas and Sandeman. While the Haldanes might be characterized as aggressive evangelists, Glas and Sandeman were teachers who tended their flocks" (76). Something else at this point in time is different. By now, Alexander Campbell has been born in Northern Ireland (in 1788) and eventually has direct contact with the Haldanes and their associates like Greville Ewing.

Chapter VII, the last section, takes up "Alexander Campbell and the Restoration Roots." Although he sometimes pointed out the differences between himself and his predecessors, Campbell shared much the same outlook as did the Anabaptists, and Glas, Sandeman and the Haldanes. It seems that two ideas that all of them espoused were a commitment to Bible authority and some concept of the restitution or restoration of primitive Christianity. McMillon ends by telling the story of Campbell's visit to Great Britain in 1847, and his meetings with those who had influenced him, and who he had more recently taught through his journals and books.

So what did I think of this book? One of the first things I noticed is that McMillon writes very much like his former teacher, Earl West, mentioned earlier. He focuses on facts and provides simple description. The subject is religious history. Where he absolutely must, the author takes up political and philosophical contours of the story.

I enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot from it. Because I'm interested in the subject, I would have liked it even more if it had been longer. And what else might have been included? I realize that the decisions of an author never end, and that writers have to make choices about what to include and how far to go with a certain sub-topic. That said, I would have liked more by way of political, social, and religious backgrounds and sidebars, and fuller coverage at certain points. For example, the book barely mentions that a significant part of the growth of Sandemanianism in England was due to the conversion of whole congregations that were originally associated with Methodist preacher Benjamin Ingham. Also, the substance of the theological debate between Hervey and Sandeman is fascinating and deserves, I think, more description than McMillon provides.

That aside, Restoration Roots is nonetheless an important book, one of the few that's been written on its subject. It has been and will remain a significant contribution to the study of the antecedents of the Stone-Campbell Movement and will be enjoyed by those who are interested in this part of the history of Christianity.


Thomas Paulson said...

I'll have to check out this book. Currently I'm reading the History of the Church Through the Ages by Robert Brumback. But I'd like to get into something more specific.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi, Thomas. Thanks for your comment.

"Restoration Roots" throws a good bit of light on the restitution concept that is--for sometimes better, and other times worse--our common heritage.