This is part two of the Five Forces series. I suggest first watching the video below and then reading the accompanying article. 

Unfunded movements tend to die.

This statement generates an emotional reaction. I personally don’t like it; it isn’t romantic to think that good ideas are still beholden to the affluent and powerful. Unfortunately, the fact that we dislike it doesn’t make it any less true. While we might counter this with a list of grassroots movements that have succeeded, they almost always relied upon robust funding—whether media outlets projected their cause to a broader audience or benefactors supported key leaders.

We’re no different. One of the reasons that the Restoration Movement exists today is because there were individuals and groups who invested in it during those earliest years. This is why finance is a force behind our Movement.

We see this force on full display in the lives of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, the namesakes of our movement. When it comes to financial freedom, they were ships in the night. Campbell started from the bottom and ended up wealthy, while Stone was born into affluence but passed away in poverty.

Stone came from a family that was part of the Southern aristocracy; one of his ancestors was a governor of Maryland. His father died when he was young, which forced his mother to make some challenging financial decisions. One such move was to spend a portion of the family inheritance on Barton’s education so he could pursue a career in law. Unfortunately for the family’s fortunes (but fortunately for us), Stone chose the path of ministry. Obedience to this calling did not make Stone rich.

Campbell was the son of an immigrant preacher, so he already knew what it was like to scrape by. Even though he too pursued a ministry calling, he married the daughter of a wealthy farmer and benefited mightily from that relationship. Access to resources through his in-laws permitted Campbell the freedom to fully devote himself to the work of restoration. 

While Campbell was comfortable, Stone felt financial stress throughout his career. One of the detriments of an autonomous church structure is insufficient clergy support. Stone was bivocational and would work at his Kentucky farm late into the evening to provide for his family. He preached for decades, all while toiling in hard labor, a regimen that contributed to his poor health.

I find this notable because our Movement’s historians consistently mention that Stone wasn’t as intellectual as Campbell. While this seems true, their financial picture forces us to ask:

  • Would the ideals of the Movement have spread if Campbell had to operate bivocationally?
  • And could Stone have been just as prolific if he had the opportunity to fully devote himself to the work of restoration like Campbell?

While analyzing Stone and Campbell’s bank statements, we should also examine their theological views of wealth and poverty, as those perspectives influenced our Movement’s formative years.

Later in his ministry, Barton Stone articulated a more primitive approach to financial issues. His frontier attitude impacted his perspective, and he preached a path to biblical obedience that emphasized modest living. In The Christian Messenger, Stone wrote that “the eternal happiness or misery of the human family . . . brought Jesus from heaven to earth, brought him to poverty; this led him to the cross; to the grave.” Stone endorsed a more humble view of stewardship as it matched his lifestyle.

Campbell, however, was seemingly influenced by his access to wealth. He did not think that Christ’s path of poverty was an attribute to be emulated. For example, in an issue of the Millennial Harbinger, Campbell attacked the monastic habits of Catholic priests, specifically that they forsake “all the business and enjoyment of society.”

The myriad of theological issues from our Movement’s early years kept finance from becoming a central issue. Years later, however, as the rift between the non-instrumental Churches of Christ widened, finance was an understated cause. I’ll dive deeper into the 1906 split in an upcoming installment, but I want to highlight the position of David Lipscomb, a key leader in the southern churches during and after the Civil War. He was influenced by Stone’s perspective on stewardship and, when articulating why the southern churches were more biblical, he insisted that they were following the financially humble way of Christ. Of course, southern churches were still reeling in the aftermath of the war and had little choice but to live in poverty, yet it was still an argument Lipscomb presented.

Interestingly enough, Lipscomb was reared in affluence—much like Stone and Campbell, his theological perspective seems to be heavily influenced by his experiences.

Since the conclusion of World War II, there has been little conversation in our Movement about biblical views of wealth and poverty. Churches in all streams of the Movement began to seek congregational growth opportunities in affluent communities. In line with the rest of American evangelicalism, our churches abandoned impoverished American cities and expanded toward the suburbs.

So examine the key moments of our Movement and you’ll see that many of them are somehow connected to cash flow. One such issue is how to keep parachurch ministries in line with the Scriptures.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of the Movement’s parachurch organizations grew significantly. Benefitting from the financial support of faithful believers, these missionary societies and ministry schools were able to build robust reserves and large endowments. At the same time, liberal theology began to gradually infiltrate some of these institutions. Many churches and ministers criticized these organizations for their eroding biblical beliefs and demanded they change course. Yet the parachurch organizations had money in the bank and, without financial consequence, continued operations unabated. This led to a wave of new colleges and ministries started to counter these theologically liberal ministries.

Not only did this usher in an era of fundamentalism in our Movement, it altered the way we financed parachurch organizations. No longer were individuals and churches willing to invest in their long-term viability. A wealthy college or missions organization was not susceptible to financial leverage. So to maintain accountability, churches and donors invested intermittently in parachurch work; yes, they would continue to give, but would ration out donations monthly or annually. In this way, institutions would be unable to build large endowments and savings. Then, if an institution became liberal, donors could quickly shut off support and force change.

This actually explains one of the reasons we believe our Movement is in decline. While many of our colleges and missions organizations are struggling financially, we believe the blame is solely on poor money management. While I’ll admit this is true in some instances, the organizations also struggle because they operate in a historical system of funding that keeps them constantly beholden to the generosity of donors and churches. Parachurch leaders are forced to structure budgets without the margin of savings and thus have become overtly reliant on charitable gifts.

In recent decades, as Movement donors and churches have developed new ministry priorities, they have reduced support of our parachurch ministries, who in turn are scrambling for survival; the margins just aren’t there. It’s incredibly challenging for them to continue to provide the previous level of services and ministry without the support they expected.

And all this can be traced back to our Movement using finances as a theological safeguard. I’m not judging if it’s right or wrong, but it’s reality.

Thus, as it has in our past, financing issues will continue to impact our Movement in the coming years. We’ll likely witness a wave of contraction of our parachurch organizations, but at the same time we’ll see new organizations started outside of 20th century funding models. How this will impact institutional theologically has yet to be determined.

At the very least, we should consider all of this when thinking about the viability of our Movement. Stewardship is a spiritual discipline, so we shouldn’t feel obligated to continue to support a ministry merely because of our historical roots. Yet we ought to at least grapple with the decision. We must not forget that our thriving churches and institutions today have benefitted from those who came before us. Ultimately, it’s a symbiotic relationship, so we need to give back.

Permit me just one short speech from the soapbox. As someone who has spent his entire professional career in the Movement, I’m contacted weekly by missionaries trying to raise support. I feel like we have more workers than ever eager to enter the field, but with churches reducing (and even eliminating) missions support, it’s difficult to make the finances work. As much as the Lord has blessed our Movement to be leaders in non-denominational Christianity in the United States, we must not forsake our call to support the work of restoration around the globe. Jesus taught that “where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.”

As we get introspective about our Movement, we need to recognize that we, like Campbell, are living in plenty. This demands that we continually reexamine our stewardship.

Where is our heart?

Geek Notes
1. The recollection of Alexander Campbell the postmaster can be found, among other places, in Benjamin Smith’s biography on the man (p161-162). An admission: I struggled to pronounce "franking privilege" in the video.
“In 1828 [Campbell] was able to secure the establishment of a post office at this home, and was himself appointed postmaster. This was of great assistance to him, for the remuneration for a fourth class postmaster in those days was the franking privilege; and as both his publications and his private correspondence were exceedingly heavy, he profited largely by exercise of his stamp. Small wonder that he kept the office of postmaster for more than twenty years, through all the changing administrations at Washington.”

2. The information on the familial affluence David Lipscomb can be found on page 131 of Reviving the Ancient Faith by Richard Hughes: “Yet Lipscomb was not a poor man, having inherited substantial means from a moderately wealthy father.”

3. Some valuable insight on this topic can be gleaned from James Cook’s dissertation entitled, “The Myth of the Stone-Campbell Movement.” Although I disagree with some of his broader assertions, he rightly addresses the friction between the Campbell and Stone positions, especially as it pertains to issues of finance. 

4. In the 20th century, the ideology of the Movement was able to expand due to the investment of people with significant financial means. There are some fascinating stories out there, but of note:

a. D.S. Burnett, the first located minister in our churches, used his family’s wealth to fund the writing of Benjamin Franklin (not that one). 

b. The descendants of Isaac Errett parlayed the success of Standard Publishing into a familial fortune, with its curriculum and magazines functioning as the voice of the Movement.

c. Also, the descendants of T.W. Phillips used their oil earnings to fund numerous ministries and quite a few of our academic institutions. Interestingly, some of these funds were stewarded by institutions to become endowments. To my knowledge, there has been little concern that these endowed institutions will adopt liberal theology.

Money Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


This is part one of the Five Forces series. I suggest first watching the video below and then reading the accompanying article. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Declaration of Independence, 1776

"Driven from every other corner of the earth, freedom of thought and the right of private judgment in matters of conscience direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum." 
Samuel Adams, 1776

“Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away.”
Hamilton: An American Musical, 2015

If you study the history of the Restoration Movement, you’ll notice a locational bias. It’s inescapable that all the major figures and events of the Movement are rooted in the United States. Even though quite a few of the early Movement fathers were immigrants, they did not make significant contributions until they were actually on American soil. There’s a good reason behind this:

Without the United States, the Restoration Movement wouldn’t exist.

This statement isn’t meant to detract from the Spirit’s role in the establishment of the Christian Church. But if we’re really to understand the DNA of our tribe, we need to acknowledge freedom as a significant force in the Movement. When the United States achieved independence from British colonial rule, it ushered in an unprecedented era of religious freedom. In this new country, long-held religious constructs were no longer sacred, opening the door for Christian experimentalism.

“Resume that precious, that dear bought liberty, wherewith Christ has made his people free; a liberty from subjection to any authority but his own, in matters of religion.”
Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address

While the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States provided religious freedom, the ideologies behind the liberty were just as influential. The European Enlightenment of the early 18th century led to the American Enlightenment of the late 18th century. This emphasis on natural law, economic liberalism, and religious tolerance was catalytic to the American Revolution. Similarly, the Second Great Awakening, the broader revival from which the Restoration Movement was birthed, was deeply influenced by these philosophies as well. Yes, our early Movement fathers were dedicated to the restoration of biblical Christianity, but they were influenced by Enlightenment thinking—from Scottish Common Sense Philosophy, to Francis Bacon’s new method, to Lockean Empiricism.

Restoration Movement fathers viewed the Scriptures through these philosophical lenses while under the umbrella of American freedom. As the United States triumphed over its European captors, the Restoration Movement would be a spiritual revolution—a fight for liberation from denominational hierarchy and human creeds.

The parallel between American freedom and the biblical freedom of the Restoration Movement is exemplified by the incident surrounding the Springfield Presbytery in central Kentucky. Following the Cane Ridge Revival the state synod censured some of the ministers involved. In response, the churches (employing American freedom) started an independent presbytery. Less than a year later, as those same ministers worked out the implications of their new theological thoughts, they declared independence from their independent presbytery and wrote its last will and testament—a constitution if you will, in order that “the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of Gospel liberty.”

"In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things love."

This slogan of the Restoration Movement—adopted in the latter part of the 19th century but widely embraced during the 20th century—elevates the spiritual value of freedom. It suggests that, while there will be areas of disagreement among those in our Movement, we should permit a latitude of expression, provided that they are not essential doctrines.

Throughout our history, however, the Restoration Movement has wrestled with how to distinguish our faith absolutes and freedom (I’d suggest that far too often we struggle with love, but that's a different story). While we value freedom, we’ve also become skeptical of it. The Movement features over two centuries of history filled with moments when it has turned out poorly. As a result, we’re skeptical of those who ring the bell of liberty.

The story from the video (of Sidney Rigdon and the creation of Mormonism) is just one example of freedom corrupted. Investigate the split with the non-instrumental faction of the Movement and the fight over theological liberalism (two topics I’ll examine in future posts) and you'll see that they are centered on arguments of freedom. And if you go outside our Movement, you’ll see that biblical freedom has often been cited to justify a myriad of unbiblical acts. 

This examination of our past reveals the importance of grappling with the Christian liberty we so deeply embrace. While it created the Movement, it could lead to its undoing.

In our earliest days, liberty meant freedom from denominational involvement. Today, the liberty exercised by those in our tribe is freedom from involvement in the Movement itself.

We’ve been so conditioned toward independence that we no longer realize how much we actually need each other.

"We have neglected to keep ourselves in the love of God, and in the humility and gentleness of Christ."
Barton W. Stone

So how ought we approach freedom today? Our Movement has benefited far too much from freedom to abandon the ideal altogether. Instead, we must view liberty with a mature spirit.

I’m reminded of the words of Paul from 1 Corinthians 8, when he demanded that "the exercise of our freedom should not become a stumbling block to the weak." This theology of the “weaker brother” is often employed to keep people from employing certain freedoms with which we disagree. But we must acknowledge that this command is intended to protect those who are weak-minded theologically. That rarely applies to ministers and theologians disputing methodology. So how should we proceed?

The solution is simple: we need humility.

Much like American history, our Movement tends to recall fondly those who are bold and boisterous. But the exercise of our freedom insists that we “consider others better than ourselves.” Our Movement should first emulate the Jesus who sits with children before the Jesus clearing out the moneychangers from the temple. Remember that submission and surrender are Christ-like traits.

A historical example: when it comes to the exercise of our freedom, we in the Movement ought to be less like Alexander Campbell and more like Barton Stone.

This isn’t to say that Campbell isn’t to be admired, but he was far more lion than lamb. Stone, however, lived a much more humble life of servanthood. It’s likely why he is more anonymous than Campbell outside our Movement. In his biography on Stone, John Rogers noted that he
“was deeply imbued with that humility that disposes us to esteem others better than ourselves.”

Freedom exercised with humility safeguards us from co-opting the Word of God for our personal benefit. Yes, quite often the greatest display of our freedom is to choose not to exercise it. 


Geek Notes:
Campbell critiqued Rigdon in a Millennial Harbinger article entitled Delusions. You can read a scanned version of the document here.

A simple illustration of the importance of freedom to our Movement is title of Eva Jean Wrather's biography on Alexander Campbell: "Adventurer in Freedom."

The above quote from Stone is found in Barton Stone: A Spiritual Biography by D. Newell Williams (p228).

My Seminary professor Dr Jack Cottrell (who's known me since I was a small child) has some thoughts on the motto concerning unity, liberty and love. Dr Cottrell cites the research of Dr Hans Rollman on the adoption of the motto.


This is an introduction to the Five Forces series. I suggest first watching the video below and then reading the accompanying article. 

A few weeks ago, the church denomination of which I'm member met for our annual convention. 

Except I don't really belong to a denomination. 
And technically, there's no membership.  
And it's actually more of a conference than a convention. 

If you're part of the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, or the Stone-Campbell Movement, or the Restoration Movement, you're likely perpetually confused. We can barely agree on a name for our group of churches, let alone explain who we are. Our Movement, which emerged from America's Second Great Awakening, has often been overlooked in the history of American Christianity; yet it's nearly impossible to deny its influence. In an era of denominational decay, our little fellowship is overachieving. 

  • Our fellowship boasts some of the largest churches in the United States.
  • Our churches have developed ministry models that are globally adopted. 
  • Our ideals—once shunned by outsiders—are now embraced by mainstream evangelicalism.

Yet in the midst of these successes, our tribe is still confused. We are uncertain where this Movement is . . . moving to.

The announcement of the Spire Conference, a revived iteration of the North American Christian Convention, did not create this uneasiness. It's merely the latest evidence of an uncertain future. It isn't entirely clear how we arrived here. Some will suggest that it's because we abandoned biblical fidelity; others might cite an evangelical movement that finally adopted our ideals; still others might blame the influence of the technological innovation of the past decades. 

But I believe there's even something deeper here—a foundational issue that has yet to be discussed.

We don't really know who we are.

The decay of our Movement's institutions has created an identity crisis. We used to define ourselves by our colleges, magazines, and localized gatherings. As those institutions are struggling to survive, we are beginning to recognize that we yielded our existence to these tribes within the tribe. We let our networks define who we were, and now that they're in decline, we're uncertain about what lies ahead.

When our institutions no longer exist, what's left?

This is the topic I've wanted to address for some time but am only now finally taking a stab at it. With this post, I'm embarking on a series entitled The Five Forces of the Restoration Movement. Generally, when we reflect on this Movement's history and identity, we view it linearly. While there's obviously great value in adhering to a timeline, it can occasionally prevent us from fully acknowledging how events intertwine. The Five Forces are themes from across our Movement's history and, in my opinion, define who we really are as a(n) (un)denomination. 

For each force, I'll create an intro video and a more in-depth article. While they're designed to go hand-in-hand, know that only a few people will have the desire to chew on an entire article. Hopefully the video will introduce the concept well enough to tempt people to read.  

So before I begin, three key considerations:

1. This isn't the final word.
While I'm fairly well-read, I'm opening myself up here because this examination spans academic disciplines. I've been blessed to study under and alongside some of our Movement's greatest historians and theologians so I'm offering a view from their shadows. This is not intended to be a comprehensive view of the Movement, and I'm sure that, despite my best efforts, people will find something to disagree with. And I'm very fine with that.

Disagreeing with each other is something that we Restoration Movement folk do best. I hope that staking out some positions at least generates some useful conversation. 

2. We should own our baggage.
One of the reasons I felt motivated to create this series is that we need to cease viewing our Movement with rose-colored glasses. Historians refer to this as hagiography: we create a revisionist's history of events—idolizing the way things used to be (even though it's really the way we imagined things used to be). It would do us well to admit that our forefathers were incredibly flawed. We have the ability to both acknowledge their shortcomings while appreciating their contributions. 

If we can't let our forefathers be flawed, how will we come to address our own need for repentance? Jesus said, "there is only One who is good," so there's no reason not to be honest about our past.

3. I still believe.
In an age of cynicism (and convenient digital platforms), critique is commonplace. But I do not offer these observations to tear down the Movement—rather to highlight the foundation upon which we should build anew. In short, this is a labor of love. I, like some of you, fear that our fellowship may some day cease to be a Movement. So while we've had an enjoyable past, I must hope that our future will be even greater.  

I'm creating this content in my free time, so my goal is to post every 1-2 weeks and wrap it up by the end of August. And I'll leave the comments open as long as possible (unless it becomes unruly) to encourage conversation about these topics. 


The story from the video (of Orval Baylor, the KKK, and the Richmond Street Christian Church) has been featured in sources both inside and outside of Restoration Movement history. James DeForrest Murch, a 20th century leader in our movement, discusses the incident at length in his biography. A web search of KKK and Reds day would provide ample coverage of this unfortunately part of our Movement's history.