Redrawing the "blueprints" for the early Church: historical ecclesiology in and around the Stone-Campbell Movement

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University of Alabama Libraries

Members of the Stone-Campbell Movement, a loosely organized collective of restorationist Christians which arose alongside the fervor of the Second Great Awakening, are often criticized for a purported apathy or even antipathy toward the past. These believers, it is often supposed, jettisoned the broad sweep of history in favor of a return to an idealized, mythologized, even Eliadean or otherworldly vision of the earliest followers of Jesus. Yet as this study shows, these restorationist Christians actually participated in a distinctly historical project, because their efforts necessarily involved reading sources from and about the past and drawing conclusions about those readings in their own day and age. This is not to say that all restorationism is historically sound by modern professional standards, only that it is historically driven. Drawing on a variety of books, newspaper articles, graduate projects, blog posts, podcasts, sermons, and pamphlets from three SCM-affiliated fellowships (the Christadelphians, the non-institutional Churches of Christ, and the International Churches of Christ) as well as a modern movement with striking parallels to the SCM (the Emerging Church Movement), this dissertation illustrates that restorationist groups remain united in the pursuit of the historical early church even as they diverge in the paths they take to reach that goal. Restorationist conceptions of the early church—“historical ecclesiologies,” or group members’ mental pictures of the early church—are multifaceted and vary across time, space, and denominational lines in a number of respects. Restorationists frequently differ in their hermeneutical and philosophical approaches to divining the proper “blueprints” for the early church out of the revelation of Scripture. On a related note, they come to widely varying conclusions regarding how fully the early church experience—its beliefs, practices, and structures—can and should be replicated in the present. Restorationists also differ in their underlying assumptions about which era of the Christian past is normative for modern believers; they have at times both consciously chosen to recalibrate that era to include a longer or shorter portion of the church’s history and unconsciously adopted their own movement’s origins as the normative baseline for an unwitting “recursive restoration.”

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
History, Religious history, Theology