Probably no one in the Churches of Christ today (or any other part of our restoration movement) shares Campbell’s four basic views. The great disappointments of the nineteenth century burst many an optimistic bubble – particularly the bloody Civil War which divided most denominations as well as the country. Campbell’s postmillennial hope was but one form of utopianism that dashed against the rocks of history.
The Restoration Movement has a small premillennial segment still, centering in strength around Louisville, Kentucky, but it derives from the later teaching of R. H. Boll, not from the original pioneers (some of whom, unlike Campbell, held pre-millennial expectations of the future). A recent book entitled Until, by Churches of Christ author Robert Shank, also argues for Christ’s millennial reign on earth, but its author knows he is representing a minority view within this brotherhood. The movement has cut its root of millennialism, which may have been the mainspring of its inception.
The original dream of practical Christian unity also quickly tarnished, as the Restoration Movement itself fragmented in its disagreements over what to restore. Unity is still a key word in public relations and mass media outreach, although it is disassociated entirely today from Campbell’s postmillennial hope.
Those attracted by the unity ideal soon find that they must rationalize the iron bars and solid steel walls within the movement itself, which divide it first into three major divisions, then into sub-groups and sub-sub groups.
Where Campbell felt called to “unite the Christians in all the sects,” many of his modern successors deny that there are any true Christians in “the sects,” which they define as all groups except their own. For these, “unity” means leaving the “sects” to identify with the “true church,” once restored but in constant danger of apostasy. There are wonderful exceptions to this, of course, and an increasing number of preachers and other leaders now openly express views to the contrary. Still, “unity” as Campbell envisioned it, has long since been a lost ideal among most of his descendants.
Campbell’s restoration goal has also encountered hard times. The problem with restoration seems to have come in the way the ideal was implemented. Because the most obvious differences among professing Christian bodies are external – names, organization, liturgy, ordinances, etc. – these became the primary subjects for restoration efforts. The attempt to restore the New Testament church was limited almost entirely to these externals, as the nineteenth and twentieth century restorationists read the Bible and tried to discern the proper “pattern.”
When that happened, the “restoration” goal almost inevitably became a source of friction and an occasion for division among those who professed to seek it. Most important of all, without a strong foundation stone of the Jesus-centered gospel of salvation by grace through faith, many people scattered throughout the movement came to view restoration itself as the means to salvation and the basis for fellowship with each other.