Issue #131 -------
June 28, 2004
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.
The Springfield Presbytery
June 28, 1804 was a day that witnessed a major turning point in the difficult spiritual journey toward freedom in Christ; a quest for liberty of independent thought and practice, free from ecclesiastical control, that burned intensely in the hearts of devoted disciples seeking responsible reform within the One Body. Their desire was to abandon the abuses of sectarianism and credalism, and simply to unite in sweet fellowship with all other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a noble goal; it always has been ... and it has always met with fierce resistance from those whose loyalties are to their sect rather than their Savior. Two hundred years have passed since a few brave souls issued their declaration of intent to dissolve their affiliation with a party and simply embrace a Person. The battle is still being fought today, and the opposition is just as fierce.
On this bicentennial anniversary of the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery I would like for us to pause to pay tribute to the courage of those men who fearlessly and faithfully placed themselves on the frontline of the battle for freedom, and who paved the way for unity among the children of God. I especially want to note our brother in Christ -- Barton W. Stone. Here was a true champion of liberty; a man of vision. We shall briefly examine his life, and then note the circumstances that led to the pivotal document issued on June 28.
Barton W. Stone
On Christmas Eve, in the year 1772, near the little community of Port Tobacco, Maryland, Barton W. Stone was born. His father died while he was still an infant, and in his early years he knew firsthand the pains of great poverty. When just a lad of seven, his mother moved the family to the backwoods of Virginia, near a place called Dan River. From a very early age Stone had a passion for learning, and was often described as being very "grave and studious." In his own writings he would later recall, "From the time I was able to read I took a great delight in books." Although living in poverty, he nevertheless desired an education and hoped to become a lawyer. He wrote, "I determined to qualify myself for a barrister, and, to acquire a liberal education to accomplish this, I stripped myself of every hindrance, denied myself of strong food and lived chiefly on milk and vegetables, and allowed myself but six or seven hours sleep out of the twenty-four." He entered Guilford Academy in North Carolina in the year 1790, where he began his studies in preparation for a career in law. Although he had very few funds, and these quickly ran out, nevertheless "the schoolmaster, recognizing his potential, saw him through, allowing him to pay later" (Dr. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 72).
It was about this time that the early stirrings of a growing religious revival began to spread through that part of the American countryside. "Many of the students of the Academy 'got religion,' but he would have nothing to do with it, believing it would interfere with his studies" (Steven Deaton, "Voices From The Past," Watchman Magazine, January, 1999). "He strongly resisted, resolving at one point to slip away to Hampden-Sidney College in Virginia to escape it. Instead, he associated with those students who made light of divine things, and joined with them in making fun of the pious. But his conscience would allow him no peace" (Leroy Garrett, p. 72). He heard the preaching of James McGready, when he came to the area, but was still unconvinced, although he was becoming increasingly troubled in spirit by some of the truths being proclaimed. He wrote, "For a whole year I was tossed on the billows of doubt, laboring, praying, striving to obtain saving faith, sometimes almost despairing of ever getting it." He was finally brought to the point of conviction and peace when he heard William Hodge speak on "God is Love." The idea of God being a God of love, instead of the God portrayed in much of the "hell fire" preaching of the day, came as a stunning revelation to Stone. "The great truth finally burst upon me. I yielded, and sank at His feet a willing subject. I loved Him; I adored Him; I praised Him aloud in the silent night." This proved to be a personal turning point, and Stone resolved to devote his life to preaching the love of God.
Some time later, after several adventures in the interim, he associated himself with the Orange Presbytery of North Carolina and was assigned to a Presbyterian congregation in the southern part of the state. He never made it there, however; because of self-doubts, and also because of concerns he had with some of the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church, he backed out. "Stone did not really find himself as a preacher until he went to Kentucky, where he accepted two charges in Bourbon county, Concord and Cane Ridge, and resolved to settle down as a pastor and cease his wanderings" (Leroy Garrett, p. 73). He devoted himself to the ministry, and also to a great deal of personal study in the Word. He met with some degree of success, and in the first few months there were about 80 new members added between the two congregations.
It soon came time for him to be officially ordained by the Presbytery overseeing that part of Kentucky. To be ordained, however, the Presbyterian Church required their pastors to publicly subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which was heavily Calvinistic in its teaching, and with which Stone struggled greatly. He was not sure he could affirm this Confession of Faith if he did not truly believe it. He decided, therefore, not to accept ordination. At the urging of some of the leaders within the Presbytery, however, he chose to go ahead with the ordination service. When the critical moment came, and he was asked if he accepted the Confession of Faith, he answered loudly so all could hear, "I do, as far as I see it consistent with the Word of God." Although this was not the normal answer expected, nevertheless it was accepted, and Stone became fully ordained and officially recognized as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. (NOTE: For those who would like to read this Confession of Faith with which Stone struggled, a copy of the 1646 version can be found at the below web site):
On July 2, 1801 (at the age of 28) Stone married Elizabeth Campbell, who was from Virginia, and then immediately came back to Kentucky where he had purchased 100 acres of land about five miles north of Cane Ridge. In his autobiography he stated, "My companion was pious, and much engaged in religion." They were married for nine years, and she bore him four daughters. However, in giving birth to their son, Barton W. Stone, Jr., both she and the baby died. "Stone later married Celia Wilson Bowen, who bore him six more children. He had a total of 49 grandchildren, two of whom were playmates of Mark Twain in the streets of Hannibal, Missouri. One of Stone's sons was an officer in the Confederate army" (Leroy Garrett, p. 74).
The Cane Ridge Revival
Perhaps the event that impacted Barton W. Stone the most, however, was the great revival that took place at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in the late summer of 1801. This was a local part of a greater revival that was sweeping that part of the nation, and which was known as the Great Western Revival or the Second Awakening (which had its roots in the Great Awakening in the New England states in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards). Some have characterized this growing revival as "America's Pentecost," for there were many unexpected and sometimes bizarre "manifestations of the Holy Spirit," called "exercises," that occurred at these meetings. Not a few of those who "got the Spirit" would demonstrate such by falling to the ground, jerking, dancing and even barking or grunting. There was an infusion of spirituality into the area that had a tremendous impact upon the churches. Some groups actually gained hundreds of new members.
Another extremely vital aspect of this revival, especially with regard to the unity of believers, was its obvious ecumenical nature. Tens of thousands of people attended these meetings, and pastors from various groups joined hands in doing the preaching. "Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist clergy, perhaps as many as 30 or 40, not only worked together 'with more harmony than could be expected,' but they forgot their confessions and creeds and preached the gospel. It was a suitable climate for the emergence of a unity movement" (Leroy Garrett, p. 74). Some of the preachers who participated were so determined to move away from credalism, and to promote the unity of all believers, that their growing desire for freedom and oneness soon got them in major trouble with their church officials. In fact, formal charges were brought against Richard McNemar, and a trial was begun in Lexington, Kentucky in 1803 to examine his "liberal doctrines" that did not seem to agree with the Confession embraced by the Presbyterians.
Before any action could be taken by the Synod, however, five Presbyterian ministers wrote and delivered a document of protest against this inquisition by the Synod. In this written "protest" these five respected ministers withdrew themselves from the authority and jurisdiction of the Synod of Kentucky. It was titled The Apology of the Springfield Presbytery. It was dated September 10, 1803 and was signed by Richard McNemar, John Thompson, Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, and Barton W. Stone. It was a declaration of freedom from ecclesiastical control, and "proclaims the right of free men to interpret the Scriptures for themselves and to base their faith upon the Bible alone, apart from the opinions of men" (Leroy Garrett, p. 76).
As was to be expected, this move by these five influential Presbyterian ministers caused quite an uproar. Stone would later write, "The presses were employed, and teemed forth pamphlets against us, full of misrepresentation and invective, and the pulpits everywhere echoed their contents." The Methodist Church in the state of Virginia republished their Apology (since it was not flattering to the Presbyterians), although they left out the portions that were equally unflattering to themselves! Nevertheless, the free publicity from the pulpits and pamphlets created a curiosity in the minds of the populace, and these proclaimers of liberty began to attract people to their cause. This was furthered when another well-respected Presbyterian minister, David Purviance, joined them.
Barton W. Stone showed he was a man of both honor as well as conviction when he informed his congregations in Kentucky that he would no longer obligate them to pay his salary, and he then proceeded to rip up his contract with them in their presence. He was unwilling to continue proclaiming Presbyterian doctrine, and instead sought only to preach the Bible. He declared to them, "My labors should henceforth be directed to advance the Redeemer's kingdom, irrespective of party." In only a matter of months, these men who had formed the Springfield Presbytery came to realize that establishing a separate presbytery within the Presbyterian Church itself was not the answer to the reform they sought. In point of fact, they had only succeeded in establishing another party or faction. Thus, they declared, "We had not worn our name for more than a year when we saw it savored of a party spirit. With the man-made creeds we threw it overboard and took the name Christian." Their purpose, then, was NOT to be "a party separate from others," but rather: "We heartily unite with our Christian brethren of every name."
The Last Will and Testament
The decision had been made to terminate the Springfield Presbytery. No longer would these men, or their fellow disciples, be party to partyism. Therefore, they declared their man-made organization to be DEAD. To demonstrate this dramatically, and to make it widely known, they issued a document on June 28, 1804 titled The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. It was signed by the same five men who signed The Apology the year before, but on this later document there was one additional signature -- David Purviance.
The Imprimis of this document (which appears in the quote at the top of this issue of Reflections) "stands as one of the great unity principles in the history of the Movement" (Leroy Garrett, p. 81). It was a public declaration of their personal recognition and conviction of the truth proclaimed in Ephesians 4:4 --- "There is One Body." If they believed this, then they needed to begin living it. They resolved to do so! Even as there is only One Body of Christ on earth, so also is there only one hope of His calling, and only One Spirit who unites us all as His universal family. This was not only a statement for unity, it was a statement against sectarianism. It was a plea for the family of God to cease being dysfunctional, to cast aside its many factions based on human creeds and preferences, and to begin fulfilling the purpose for which it was established by the Lord.
In the subsequent address of the witnesses to this document, they gave the following as their reason for dissolving the Springfield Presbytery: "With deep concern they viewed the division, and party spirit among professing Christians, principally owing to the adoption of human creeds and forms of government. While they were united under the name of a Presbytery, they endeavored to cultivate a spirit of love and unity with all Christians; but found it extremely difficult to suppress the idea that they themselves were a party separate from others." Thus, they "cheerfully consented to retire from the din and fury of conflicting parties." Although they chose to "die the death" to sectarianism, "yet they live and speak in the land of gospel liberty!" They died as a faction so that they might truly live as a family. In one of the items of the document they willed for the people of God to "pray more and dispute less!"
There are many challenging thoughts contained within this Last Will and Testament, and I would strongly encourage those readers not familiar with it to read a copy. It is brief and will only take a few minutes, but it reflects the heart and soul of this young movement, and especially of its leader: Barton W. Stone. A copy of the document may be read on the web site of the Ann Arbor Church of Christ in Ann Arbor, Michigan:
"Beginning in 1823 Alexander Campbell made 14 trips to Kentucky during his long traveling ministry. On his second visit in 1824 he met Stone for the first time, and from then on they saw each other frequently" (Leroy Garrett, p. 82). Although the two reformers differed on several points, nevertheless they worked well together and in time the two movements essentially joined forces. "Though Stone was 15 years older than Campbell and had begun the Movement while Campbell was yet a teenager back in Ireland, he nonetheless relinquished his right of leadership to the man he considered abler than himself. Richardson says that Stone's reformation was 'almost identical' with that of Campbell's, and that the two men formed a warm, personal attachment to each other that lasted through life" (Leroy Garrett, p. 82). Their efforts have come to be known as the Stone-Campbell Movement (sometimes also characterized the Restoration Movement in America). "They grew rapidly and came to be known as the Christian Church or the Church of Christ" (Leroy Garrett, p. 80). The two groups today, also known by those same two names, are the offspring of this movement.
Barton W. Stone died November 9, 1844 in Hannibal, Missouri. He was buried in Cane Ridge, Kentucky. It is only fitting that he would be laid to rest in the very place where he and his fellow reformers issued their plea for the unity of all believers and the liberty to engage in independent thought and practice. Some have fittingly characterized Stone as "an ambassador of the love of God." I could not agree more! May our Father raise up countless more like him! "Remember your leaders who have spoken God's word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7).
From an Elder in New Mexico:
When reading your response to a "Reader in Oklahoma" -- Baldy, the Brats, and the Bears -- who was having trouble with a 40-year-old adopted son, and citing how the people of Israel "trembled and stood at a distance" (Ex. 20:18) as they beheld the evidence of the awesome presence of their God at Mt. Sinai, I thought about a similar passage in Luke 23:49. These people "stood at a distance" when Jesus was being crucified because they were afraid to get up close. Consequently, they deprived themselves of being close to Jesus during His last hours and hearing His last words before He died on the cross. It's not a big step to go from there to the 21st century and apply this to people today who don't want to get too close to the cross because they are afraid of the commitment and personal sacrifice it requires.
From a Minister in England:
You wrote, "To the readers I would suggest -- if you notice you have not received any issues of Reflections for a considerable period of time, you may have been 'bounced.' Just contact me and I will work with you to try and determine the problem." Al, if they are being "bounced," how will they ever get to read your message and respond to it?
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
A couple of things have happened here recently that I thought were interesting. The preacher for a very legalistic congregation nearby was speaking on why he thought the NIV should not be used. One of his reasons: "The NIV is too easily understood. You need the KJV to make people concentrate on the message." Several of us here have been absolutely amazed at such a statement. Secondly, our "liberal" nearby congregation was host to the local interdenominational Day of Prayer meeting at their building on a Thursday evening. Several pastors participated in prayers, and, although the Church of Christ singers performed without instruments, the denominational groups were allowed to bring in instruments. This, of course, was soundly blasted by the same legalistic congregation. I don't get too excited about this type of thing any more.
From a Reader in Kansas:
Because I value your opinion, I have a question for your consideration. How would you respond to someone who questions the rightness of singing (he's part of an a cappella group) in various churches (other than Church of Christ). He's been doing this in the past, but now has some reservations about it. This is causing the group to have to cancel some reservations. The other members in the group feel like it is an excellent opportunity to be a witness for the Lord and for a cappella music. Your comments would be appreciated.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, You've done it again. Thanks. Several years ago a well-known brother up north passed on and a young man was hired to take his place. I had been receiving the older brother's bulletin and continued to receive those with the new preacher's articles. I made the mistake of writing to help him. I pointed out that although the northern preacher had many things right, he did disagree with an equally well-known brother who had also passed away down south. If some of the things the young brother was writing were correct, then one of these deceased brothers was wrong, and, if wrong, had lost his soul and was in hell. I then asked him which one of them was in hell. He replied by telling me there were two KINDS of error. One was damnable error, which would send the individual who believed it to hell. The other was non-damnable error, which a person could believe and still go to heaven. I wrote back and asked him if he would send me the list of just the damnable kind. That was over twenty years ago ... and I am still waiting.
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
Whew!!! You must have been panting and your computer smoking when you finished Pondering Patternism. Amen and Amen! It was a wonderful expression not only of what we oppose, but, just as importantly, what we propose and promote. Keep up the wonderful work!
From a Minister in Texas:
Pattern theology is defined as the enforcing of examples as if they were patterns of law for all Christians in all ages. For example, we see in Acts 20:8 that the Christians met in an "upper room." From this pattern the "upper room" schism (sect) evolved. We see in Matthew 26:27 where Jesus said, "this cup." Hence the "one cup" sect. From the same passage the term "cup" (not glass) is used, and since glasses don't have handles, and cups do, the "cups with handles" sect emerged. And, as if Satan was not satisfied with so few schisms, he introduced the silence induced schisms. From the "silence pattern" we see a host of schisms. We see the "no bus, no kitchen, no orphanages" sects. And from this pattern we also see the "no Bible class" and the "no musical instruments" sects. Sadly, it appears that the "silence induced patterns" are applied only in connection with particular party positions. Glaring inconsistencies are glibly explained away.
There are patterns that should be observed. The love pattern is the most often neglected. Pattern theologians neglect the love pattern when they become exclusive. They neglect the Lord's love pattern when they draw "silence" or "inference" induced conclusions and enforce them as tests of fellowship. Perhaps a new definition of "pattern theology" would be in order. It should embrace the idea that Jesus is "the" pattern. Our pattern is a person, and that person is the Christ of God. While some men meticulously search the Scriptures for patterns, in order to lay heavy burdens on us, shouldn't we be searching instead for the riches of Christ in His person? Shouldn't we be trying to put on the mind of Christ? He is our unfailing pattern. It is to Him that we should look for our pattern of conduct in every matter. He, and He alone, is the all-sufficient answer. Let us pattern ourselves after Him.
From a Minister in California:
Your Reflections on patternism reminded me of a time in the 1950's when I had occasion to be involved in extended discussions with brethren of the "Non-Cooperation" persuasion. I finally concluded that there is no such thing as a binding example (in the absence of a command). How could there be? Who would be the arbiter as to which example is binding and which is not? I am convinced that everything the Lord expects of us He made clear through distinct instructions or commands, leaving nothing to speculation or guesswork. So much of the controversy in the church today, it seems to me, is not over what the Lord said, but over people's personal opinions and assumptions. Finally, it has occurred to me that the lesson of Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees is lost on far too many of us. They had taken the law of God and created countless extensions and detailed additions that too often obscured the Lord's real intent. It seems to me that our fellowship has done exactly the same thing, creating rules and regulations far beyond those of the Lord, and in so doing obscuring the true essence of Christianity.
From a Reader in California:
Dear Al, Enclosed is a check for fifty dollars. This is a small token of our appreciation for your work. God bless you, and keep up the good work!
From a Minister in Kentucky:
I have read with interest your latest Reflections on patternism. It seems to me that the problem is over a perception of the nature of the church as an institutional entity which must be reproduced exactly in order to be the true New Testament church. It seems ironic that if you ask a patternist, "What is the church?," that he most likely will say (and correctly) that it consists of the sum total of all saved people, or all the saved people in a given locality, but then turn right around and insist that the church is an organizational entity whose identity and acceptability before God depend upon conformity to a pattern on which no two factions of that entity are able to agree. Being from the Non-Institutional side of the "pattern" controversy, I see the irony of this especially clearly when those of the "ultra conservative" element of the "mainline" churches of today employ the exact same reasoning, arguments and tactics we "anti's" used forty years ago! (At least the patternists are consistent in their methodology, if not in their conclusions!) And isn't it ironic that the so-called Institutional controversy, while supposedly over extra-church institutions, was really over what the institutionally perceived church could and could not do?
But you "hit the nail on the head" when you so effectively pointed out that Jesus is our pattern. That is what I have been telling folks for quite some time now. It seems to me that if people could ever get that fundamental truth into their heads, the controversy over what the "church" should be and do would once for all be settled. It only stands to reason that since the church is people, if you can get the people right, then the "church" will be right! And we will get people right when we teach them "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). For example, if we could only learn to love as Jesus loved, then questions of "church" action would be determined by that criterion rather than by some subjectively determined "pattern."
From an Elder in West Virginia:
Dear Brother Al, Thanks for responding to my question with Reflections #130. You actually answered it! I agree with your "ponderings" on patternism. Any pattern we choose to follow in our walk had better be specified in Scripture and lead back to Christ's teachings, examples, etc. I don't know how or where some of these other "patterns" got started (obviously from men), but they sure have caused a lot of heartache, even within our little church. I will continue to teach the Scriptural patterns God's Word presents and do my best to point out the wrong in the legalistic patterns presented by men. Pray that God gives us the wisdom to tell the difference between the two on all occasions!
From a Minister in British Columbia, Canada:
Dear Al, I recently was forwarded some of your Reflections. Please add me to your mailing list. Thanks!
From a Reader in Virginia:
Is it permitted to print (strictly for personal learning and use) the Reflections articles which appear at your web site? I've read many of them and have found some that I would like to print out. May I do so?
From a New Reader in Swaziland, Africa:
Please include my name on your mailing list for Reflections.
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
Please add me to your email list. I ran across your website when preparing for a Sunday School class on the Lord's Supper. God showed me the importance of grace over legalism many years ago, and it has been central to my belief over the years. I appreciate your in-depth studies on the important issues we face today. In addition, I would like you to add my daughter and son-in-law to your mailing list. He is studying for his Masters in Divinity.
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
I would love to be added to your roster to receive this wonderful subscription. I ran across your Reflections accidentally, and found it enlightening. I love to continue to educate myself about the Word, and this is an excellent tool to reference. Thank you.
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers. A CD
containing these articles may also be purchased. See
The Archives for details & past issues of Reflections: