This is an introduction to the Five Forces of the Restoration Movement series. I suggest first watching the video below and then reading the accompanying article. In this video, I reveal the intersection of the Restoration Movement, baseball, and the KKK.
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.