The Campbells and their associates were not alone in pursuing simple Christianity. Although their restoration movement now seems easy to identify, it sprang from many different currents which sometimes mingled and sometimes crossed. Yet today’s Churches of Christ represent the heritage of Alexander Campbell above that of his fellows, and his own early progression of thought is easy to summarize. His plan went something like this.
- The millennium is surely coming soon.
- The world must be converted first.
- Christians must unite if the world is to convert.
- The way to this unity is restoration of the ancient order.
1. The millennium is surely coming soon. Alexander Campbell was a post-millennialist. He would be almost an oddity today but his view had enjoyed great popularity for 1500 years when he came along. Campbell believed that the millennium was at hand, and that Jesus would return at its conclusion. But this utopia could result only from the success of the gospel, and this meant that
2. The world must be converted first. Such an understanding of God’s victory necessarily required that the world be converted. All nations would soon accept Jesus Christ, Campbell believed, and the United States of America would probably lead the way. But division among Christians hindered the world’s conversion, Campbell observed. He therefore reasoned that
3. Christians must unite if the world is to believe. Jesus’ words rang heavy in Campbell’s ears: ” . . . that all of them may be one . . . so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Neither Campbell nor any of the first generation pioneers seemed to have thought that the true church had vanished from the earth, or that all those rightly related to God would be found in special association with their own preaching or work. God’s people were scattered over the mountains, Campbell affirmed, and were divided by many denominational walls. How could the world believe in face of suchshameful division? Victory, Campbell said, depended on unity among Christians. And, he concluded,
4. The way to this unity is “restoration.” Thomas Campbell’s seminal Declaration and address set forth the principles, and Alexander Campbell pressed them hard upon a fragmented Christendom. The way to come together, he insisted, is through a restoration of New Testament Christianity, a pristine state he like to refer to as “the ancient order.”
Campbell was consumed with passion for what he imagined as the primitive purity of the church. He gazed fondly at a distant past and dreamed of an imminent future. For him, restoration was the path to that future.
These, then, were Campbell’s themes: the coming millennium, the world’s conversion, the unity of Christians, and the restoration of the ancient order. The first was his starting-point: the rest evolved one by one as means to that end. By such an arrangement the pioneer father wove his threads into a coat of many colors.