Sunday morning my wife and I made one more stop at my father’s house to say good bye to everyone and take a few pictures. Naturally, there were those who didn’t want their pictures taken, but I insisted as I do every time I come. Truth is considering the distance from where I live and the age of my parents good byes are important to me at this stage of life. This may be the last time I get to see them.
My biological parents split up in 1968. My only full biological brother was only an infant not more than a couple months old and I was 3. My mom’s brother was coming through the area and he had a truck, so they loaded up everything while my father was a work and we were gone before he came back. In spite of my father’s efforts to reconcile, the union was over, and my mother has remained bitter towards my father to this day. I have spent a lifetime trying to piece this together and understand what happened.
Nobody questions that my father screwed up. He had just been released from prison at the beginning of 1967 (just before they were married) and he was back home with his old buddies. He wanted to party. He cheated, he wasn’t financially irresponsible, and he was incredibly selfish and immature. Nobody disputes this, not even my father.
It’s now been almost 50 years. Mom’s been married three times and inspite of her unabated bitterness she still claims that she has never loved anyone like my father. My father remained with his second wife. If I remember right it’s been 47 years that they have stuck together. It’s been a very rocky marriage, everybody in the family expected it to end back in the 70s, but it didn’t. Yet, my father still maintains that he loves my mother and has never stated otherwise. I don’t think I’ve ever visited him when he hasn’t stated his love for her. It is also clear after all the years from Facebook post that there marriage remains on his mind.
This post was written to my brother who has had a number of faltering relationships. I don’t remember the context, but I believe it related to the struggle he was having with a girlfriend. The fact that he remembered his anniversary and was thinking about 50 years later says so much to me.
Now if you are wondering what in the world all this has to do with our road trip, I’m going to get to that now.
I actually think my family story is a proper introduction for the last stop on our trip, because it has to do with what I consider the history of my spiritual family. Now if you haven’t read Part 8 from this series, you probably need to at this point.
At the beginning of the 19th century there was a religious revival taking place in our country known as the Second Great Awakening. Much of this took place near what was called Cane Ridge, KY. One of the big leaders to immerge from this awakening was Barton W. Stone. He became the preacher at the Cane Ridge meeting house the largest one room log cabin in existence. That meeting house was the final stop on our road trip.
The limestone building pictured here was built to preserve and protect the real historic landmark on the inside that was build in 1791.
Above you get a glimpse of the one side of the log building. It was here that Barton W. Stone would begin a religious movement that would unite with the followers of Alexander Campbell (talked about in Part 8) to form what became known as the Restoration Movement or Stone-Campbell Movement which was an effort unite the denominations under the authority of the Bible and the Bible alone.
Stone was actually ordained as a Presbyterian minister, but he and several others came in conflict with church authorities and they broke off and formed the Springfield Presbytery. This group started to grow really fast, but soon afterwards the group realized how such an organization was contradictory to what they really wanted to stand for. They had no intention of starting another denomination. Therefore they wrote a document known as the The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. In this document they stated, “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.”
This principle of rejecting the divisive nature that was ungulfing Christianity was a major foundational principle for Stone and his followers. The purpose was never to form another denomination, even though that’s what inevitably happened.
It sounded like such a great idea. Let’s get rid of all the man-made creeds and sectarian names and just be Christians. The Restoration Movement was intended as a unity movement as attested to by the many plaques found at this sight.
This last picture is a stained glass image representing the union of the followers of Campbell and Stone which took place on New Year’s Eve 1832 in Lexington, KY. Alexander Campbell wasn’t at the meeting nor was he n full support. Nonetheless, the union took place. Barton W. Stone considered it the greatest accomplishment of his life.
The intent was good, but their goal was a whole lot more complicated than anybody anticipated. They were convinced that party names (Presbyterians, Methodist, Episcopalians, etc.) were wrong and should be abandoned in order to just be known as Christians (1 Cor. 1:10-13). They believed if people went back to the Bible instead of depending on various man-made creeds Christianity could be unified.
Early followers considered certain identifiable terms (such as Christians, disciples of Christ, or church of Christ) as interchangeable instead of what they eventually became: separate denominations. The Restoration Movement was one of the first attempts at an ecumenical movement. They realized and accepted that unity would have a certain amount of diversity. The difference between Campbell and Stone are indeed incredible, but both could unite under the authority of Scripture as they sought to understand it. Several mottos were developed that have remained with the movement over the years, but there was a vast difference between how followers understood these mottos which eventually lead to incredible division while at the same time still claiming faithfulness to the mottos.
“Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”
This motto on the service sounds so simple and promising, but it turned out to be quite complicated. To begin with people have never been all that clear on what the Bible actually speaks. Sincere people all go to the Bible, but there are a variety of reasons for them understanding it differently. This is a very complicated subject, so I won’t waste time with it right now, but suffice it to say a person would be very hard pressed to find two people who understand the Bible completely alike. This is in fact why the need for creeds developed in the first place.
But it is the second part of this motto that has been the main instigator of the multiple divisions within the movement. The problem being followers understood silence differently. Was silence permissive or was it restrictive? More than anything else, this principle has caused almost all the division in this movement. Disciples of Christ understood silence as permissive. On the other hand Churches of Christ understood the silence as restrictive, and there lies the main division. The early disputes were over issues such as: missionary societies, instrumental music, Bible schools, located preachers, missionary societies, etc. None of which is addressed in Scripture.
It was Churches of Christ, largely under the leadership of people like Daniel Sommer who lead the way to division. There were always differences in the movement without division. But certain editors gained influence and convinced people that differences were intolerable. There had to be a right and a wrong; you can’t have both. The way it was explained to me in college, “Where there are differences in matters of faith, both sides can be wrong, but both sides cannot be right.” Therefore the concept developed–if a person is wrong, he must be instructed; if he doesn’t accept TRUTH, he is not just wrong, he is lost. If such a lost person continues in his lostness and teaches others; he is a heretic that must be stopped.
Of course this thought process spreads like wildfire dividing followers, ruining congregations, and embarrassing our Lord. A number of years ago Rick Atchley, a preacher for the Hills Church of Christ, delivered a sermon using chairs to illustrate how incredibly destructive the principle of silence of the Bible has been particularly for the Churches of Christ who have historically been the primary onstigators of the division.
Click Here To See Rick Atchley Video
If the truth be told, nobody has been able to apply the silence of the scripture as restrictive consistently. But that has been the basis for so much strife and division. It’s ironic to me that I have never met a person who claims to be all-knowing or faultless; I’ve never met the person who claims to understand everything about Scripture, but I have met lots of people who are so certain that they are right on matters of faith that they feel justified in dividing the church and hating other followers of Christ. This is what I call the “Sin of Certainty.”
“In Essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things love.”
This second motto is a bit closer to solving the problem of division. The main problem here though is who gets to decide what is “Essential” and what is “Opinion.” Furthermore, when these couldn’t be agreed upon the phrase “in all things love” was often simply disregarded.
In the midst of all the divisions, all sides held on to the scriptural concept that there was only “one church.” However, the concept of what that “one church” meant changed drastically in the eyes of many. Another early motto: “We are Christians only; not the only Christians,” began to be questions as certain people especially among Churches of Christ began thinking of themselves as the the only Christians and therefore the only church.
Much like my family, my spiritual brothers tried their best to tell me who my real family was. I’ve always beeen a bit closer to my mother and I’ve always related better to Churches of Christ which means I’ve been closer to the initiators of the division. I love both parents. My mother tried her best to remove my father from the picture (sometimes literally), but she doesn’t get to decide who is family and who isn’t. Just like Churches of Christ have often tried to remove Disciples of Christ from the church.
To the left here is a picture I found where my mother had cut herself out of the picture. My mother had destroyed all pictures in her possession after the the divorce. She really didn’t want me knowing my father at all. But when I was sent to Ohio I got to know my father and his family. As an adult, I even found pictures. I’m sure she would have destroyed them if she could, but they are now digitized on several computers. They are here to stay.
Some of these pictures made their way onto a posterboard of memories that my family put together for me on my 50th Birthday. Mom was there for that and when she saw the pictures she became angry and even stated out loud, “That’s like a slap in my face.”
Sorry mom. I don’t mean any disrespect and I love you dearly, but it was you who made him family and you can’t take that back. As for the slap in the face, you should be slapped for holding holding on to the hatred and bitterness all these years. It’s time to let it go and make peace. As my father stated in the Facebook post above, “You don’t have much time left.”
I would say a similar message to strifefilled brothers in Churches of Christ. You don’t get to decide who’s in and who’s out of this family. The “one church” is and always has been whoever Jesus saves. Since you are not all-knowing, it’s time to quit acting like it. We need to get rid of the hatred, division, and self-righteous attitudes. We may not have much time left. It’s time to love and put behind us the pride and division.
The trip to Cane Ridge was a reminder of the church unity the movement was all about inspite of all the incredible differences. Here was a church building with a pump organ next to the pulpit that has been there since the 1880’s. Even though some preferred acapello music.
There’s a communion table with one cup even though some were starting to use multiple cups. There were inscriptions to the “Reverent” Barton W. Stone even though some disagreed with religious titles. There was a slave gallery even though the congregation was mainly comprised of abolishinist.
My point is that there were many issues of disagreement, but the unity remained.
Many of the things we fight over are issues of faith and faith is not certain. I’m very limited on my scope of understanding God even after years of study. But one thing I do know is that I don’t know. God left it that way. He didn’t make me all knowing, and I can see why. I’m simply meant to trust and allow others to trust as well.
Barton W. Stone considered the unity at Lexington, KY between the followers of Cambell and Stone to be his greatest accomplishment even though there were plenty of things he accomplished.
As for me, my greatest accomplishment was to get my mother and father together for a picture of them and their descendants. It has always seemed to be nothing short of a miracle. It wasn’t all roses, but for one brief moment in time there was a family reunion. MY FAMILY. Never picture perfect, but still mine.