The Origin of the Churches of Christ — Barton W. Stone
Note: This entry is an elaboration of history. While the events may be true, the motivations are fiction. This is a mixture of storytelling with Wikipedia and Wikisource entries. Each sentence or sentence fragment quoted from Wikipedia and Wikisource are not necessarily individually sourced, but all source material is included in the References section.
Our story begins toward the end of the 18th century. Barton W. Stone was born to an upper-middle class family with connections into the upper class planters. After his father died and his mother moved,
Barton entered the Guilford Academy in North Carolina in 1790. While there, Stone heard James McGready (an evangelical Presbyterian minister) speak. A few years later, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
Barton was coming of age at an opportune time for a minister. The Second Great Awakening is sweeping across the United States landscape. It was a United States that few of us would recognize. The west coast of the United States wasn’t the West Coast; instead, it was almost to the Mississippi River.
Barton found himself in Kentucky — which was about as far west as you could go and still be in the United States at the time — attending to the crowds during the Cane Ridge Revival. Here, he was in contact with 18 other Presbyterian ministers and several Baptist and Methodist preachers. It was also here, hearing the sermons preached by his own as well as other denominations, that he became more convinced that organized religions were on the wrong path, preaching and teaching things that weren’t biblical. Even as his convictions took root, they wouldn’t blossom for a few more years.
In 1803, the full force of Barton’s displeasure of the Presbyterian church was felt. The Presbyterian church insisted on censuring a minister for deviation from doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith. But Barton, with his connections to upper class Plantation owners as well as government, had no intention of letting any religion run roughshod over the teachings of Jesus Christ. Barton, along with four other ministers, formed the Springfield Presbytery.
Barton’s fiery run-in with the church proved to be both enlightening and disastrous. Within a year, several congregations became associated with the Springfield Presbytery showing that there was, indeed, a desire to break from the stiff traditions and unyielding dogma of the Presbyterian church. However, in light of the rapid growth of the Springfield Presbytery, Barton realized that they were just creating a different flavor of Presbyterian. Barton had no interest in the Springfield Presbytery becoming a sect of the Presbyterian church; instead, he wanted the Church to be completely reformed in the image the followers of Jesus Christ on the Pentecost as depicted in Acts 2.
Barton was perfectly capable of stamping out his own creation. If the Springfield Presbytery wasn’t taking the correct path, then it would have to be destroyed. One year after the formation of the Springfield Presbytery, Barton and the other founders dissolved it, writing its Last Will and Testament to spread the word of its destruction. However, the ideas contained in the Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery gave rise to a loosely organized group calling itself the Christian Church. These ideas included:
Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.
Item. We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
Item. We will, that the church of Christ resume her native right of internal government,—try her candidates for the ministry, as to their soundness in the faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority but Christ speaking in them.
Item. We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.
Barton had finally gotten the church on the right path. Revival was happening in the United States and the people were looking for something that he and his movement could now provide. But there was no time to rest. The real work was only beginning. Now it was time to expand the Restoration Movement and bring the only valid interpretation of the Church of Jesus Christ to all the people that needed saving.