Archive for category Nature of God

Love Does It My Way

coverThere have been very few instances in my life where someone has shown me a book, I’ve read it, and it significantly changed my life for good or ill. So when, for nearly a year, my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline routinely had quotes from and reviews of Bob Goff’s book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, I had cautioned optimism that perhaps there might be something I was missing out on by not yet having read it myself. So, after finishing a fiction book this summer, I decided to finally give the book a try. My cautiousness was warranted. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Abolition of Man

There are very few things in life that are quite as satisfying as a good answer to a very tough question. Last night I had an opportunity to find one of these answers that had been bothering my thoughts for probably over a year. So for this article I decided to regale you all with the question and the answer I found.

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Where Does This Ocean Go?

There is a reason I haven’t written in the past few months and its not the normal excuse of “I was busy.” The reason I didn’t write anything since February is because I have been spending that time thinking. You may, or may not, remember an article I linked to on here about a show I watched entitled “The Twelve Kingdoms.” Having just read the Code of the Samurai, a book that contained the code by which the warrior class of Japan lived for nearly four centuries, the show invigorated a sense of obligation in me to find out what life was really all about. I had my wanting to understand our purpose in the universe, if any, see what made us us, and what we could do to change it, if at all.

As such, I would like to think I began a small excursion towards “enlightenment” (or really it was more me deciding to stop acting like a jackass and find something more meaningful in my life). Part of this excursion was what has turned out to be a possible end to the logical progression that started several years ago.

As I have explained before, I think that logic is the best way to find truth in anything. You start with something monumental like “Jesus is lord” and break it down into its constituent parts. For this case you would start asking “What is lord?” and “Was Jesus a real person?”. Continuing the example, the latter branch breaks down further into “Was Jesus who he claimed?”, “How do we know?”, “Where the gospels accurate?”, “Why should we believe them?” and so on.

This logical journey started probably eight or so years ago when an event in my life shattered a fairly picturesque view of God and life in general. The details are not important, but what is important is that I lost my faith once almost entirely except for a tiny piece in me that wanted to hold on to a belief in a God. Subjective and insubstantial now that I look back on it, but really, thats all that there was. Since then I have been picking apart not only Christianity, but also the fundamental building blocks of most major religions: spirituality, morality, societal mores, an afterlife, etc.

The purpose ultimately was two-fold. One, I wanted to prove to myself that I was not just blindly following the supposed words of a prophet from two millennia ago whose existence may not even be real. And Two, I wanted to discover the true joy in finding God and maybe share it with others. The first part of this, to me anyway, was essential to the second. Proving God’s existence through logical argument should be possible if God exists as described within the Bible. To quote Galileo, “I do not believe that a God that gave use logic and reason would mean for us to forego their use.” What was essential to me was a picture built, not of stories and lose fitting feel-good messages, but a solid picture of something I could touch and explain.

The second part stems from the first. Over my few years of being on earth, I have discovered one thing: non-Christians who become christians tend to have a fuller and deeper faith then those who had grown up in the church. C.S. Lewis, Saint Augustine, Francis Schaffer, among others, all came from disbelieving backgrounds, sought out to disprove God and ended up finding him instead. Their journey netted them understanding, peace, and what I consider to be a more “real” relationship with God. As such, their writings spell out for the non-believer what our faith means and by extension can help those who would initially reject God outright gain a foothold in the path towards understanding. This is my main goal: to reach an understanding as best I can and then help share my spiritual journey with those who have spent their lives with the same scientific and philosophic backgrounds as myself and who categorically deny God. Maybe I can plant a seed of self-reflection.

But I digress. The end result seems to have netted some logical arguments that are at the root of the God question and other problems as well. I will cover these more in depth in future articles but I will share them with you here as well. If you would like to contribute your thoughts on these I seriously welcome any argument for or against. I currently believe these are indivisible, root arguments but I would like to be proven wrong ( I would hate to have the arrogance of saying “I found it!” when I’m only 23).

1) Q: Given that belief in God requires a certain leap in faith, how large of a leap must there be from total atheism to the start of a journey to God? (i.e.. To start becoming a christian, would you have to accept all of Jesus all at once, or is there something smaller that can be built upon?)

A: The smallest leap of faith required between atheism and the beginning of the belief in God is the belief that humans posses a soul, or something within them that is not material that without the body continues to be human.

2) Q: What is the fundamental difference between atheism and theism?

A: How a person from either persuasion views the concept of death and how they adjust their lives accordingly.

3) Q: Historical trends of relativism can, in part, explain a loosening of societal norms over the last half century and can be argued that they are contributing to a decay of social stability, but can something more concrete be at the root of these trends?

A: While it itself is a consequence of these trends, a fear or unwillingness to commit to anything philosophically solid (meaning it would force us to conform to something outside of ourselves) can be found at the root of nearly all growing social “ills”. (e.g.. divorce, sexual promiscuity, crime, etc)

These are the three big ones. I am sure there are others. I will probably be writing an article on each of these three and I would very much appreciate any and all feedback on them. If you have any insight you can comment here or send me an email at kami at falseblue.com.

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Weird Science

I know I said I would try and not write about science and theology much, but as hard as I tried I found myself in the presence of young earth creationists (YEC) again. I honestly thought that my walking away from most of the bridges in my life that led to the YECs would have gotten me away from them for a while, but I was wrong. I don’t want to sound mean or condescending in this article so Ill merely sketch out my view on YEC and end it before my frustration with them gets the better of me.

From early childhood most of us Christians are taught the familiar creation story in Sunday school, church service, and various other events. We are taught that in the first day God created the heavens and the earth. We are taught that by the end of the week, the earth as we know it came into being in its full glory. The flora and fauna we see today were present at the end of the creation week and that 168 hours before hand there was nothing.

As charming as this story is, most of us grow up and goto school and university to learn what science has to say about the matter of creation. Science has come to the conclusion that the universe came into being 13.7 billion years ago and that the earth and sun formed from galactic dust. Life then emerged on our planet and evolved into what we see today. It is when confronted with this knowledge that a certain, select group of individuals decide to hold their hands to their ears and scream loud enough so they cant hear what is being said. In their screams they yell that the earth is 6000 years old, that creation happened as stated in the bible, and that science is a godless, heathen thing to be distrusted with every fiber in your being.

These people are young earth creationists. In short, as their name suggests, they believe creation happened strictly as stated in the first chapter of Genesis and that the earth is incredibly young. YECs believe that creation took literally six 24 hour periods and at that point earth was fully formed with all life that is present today, present then.

The modern creationist movement was born during the restoration movement in the late 1700s when the protestant churches broke with anything that resembled Catholicism or the church of england (who had both been active in the sciences for the previous two hundred years) and instead turned to a strict, individual interpretation of the bible as an answer to all questions; Not just all theological questions, ALL questions. Since then, through the explosion of understanding in geology, astronomy, cosmology, physics, etc. the creationists have stuck to the same unerring belief: that the bible is infallible in all things and that creation happened in 6 days.

To keep up with scientific advancement, YECs have had to develop their own branch of theoretical arguments. As such, the first theory they developed was that science was the enemy of the church and of god. This is the backbone and solid foundation of their belief system. It states that science is out to draw people away from God and into a godless way of life. That God is not all powerful and that science is full of atheists wanting nothing more than to disprove god’s existence. The second theory of YEC is that the bible is the sole answer for scientific questions. they state that Genesis 1 is the only source for answers to the question of how the universe began and that anything that says otherwise is in direct contradiction to god. The third theory is that the earth is 6000 years old. This date is based on the work done by James Ussher in 1648 when he compiled all the genealogies in the bible to ascertain how long ago adam and eve were created.

Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, YECs are dead wrong and nearly all counts. Since numerous books, videos, and other media have been made to disprove YEC on multiple levels, I will not bore you with the ridiculous amount of arguing that it would take to debunk each and every one of the YEC tenants. Suffice to say that YEC is an idea that is, simply put, ignorant.

Science is indeed real. In fact, the modern day would not be possible without the efforts of the men who also discovered how the universe works. And more surprisingly, nearly every scientific discovery up until about 1880 was made by a Christian. Even the original theory of the big bang was proposed by a Catholic priest and was fought with fury by atheist physicists as too theological to be true.

The question of how old the earth was first arose with the advent of thermodynamics (the study of head) and the observation that the earth was cool, but volcanoes were not. in 1779 a french scientist created a small globe the made of the same composition as the earth and watched its rate of cooling. Based on this, he put the date at 75,000 years. The age of the earth was further brought into question with the discovery and extensive examination of fossils and rock strata. How were fossils made? Why were they in layers? These questions lead to basic geology and to uniformitarianism (the theory that the earth has been changing in a uniform way throughout its life). This view on the world was largely spawned by creationist views that the world is unchanging in any major way and has always been as it was. As such, men of science (mostly clergymen and Christians) set about looking at rates of erosion and came to the conclusion that it may be that the earth was older than Ussher had set the date at. The figure was about 100,000 years.

Was does this mean? This means that men of science independently trying to verify the bible’s literal meaning ended up verifying the opposite. And since science’s most basic tenant is to throw out information if proved otherwise, science decided to divorce itself from religion so as not to get tangled up in theological matters. Does this mean that science decided there was no God? NO! It merely discovered that God was a being and a force that could not be proven from studying the natural world. The question for science as to god’s existence was moot. It didn’t matter if he existed or not, their aim was to understand how nature around them worked.

God is real as well. Genesis was not a lie either. Genesis was never meant to be a science lesson. Remember, it was written by moses who more than likely was shown the creation by God himself. Now, Im guessing here but I don’t think that if God was going to show someone something it would last the complete set of billions of years. I doubt it would have lasted the full week either. What moses was shown, and what he wrote down, were probably the highlights of the creation process and laid out in a stage by stage process. The Hebrew word “yom” used in the Torah to say “the first day” is also translated as “era” or “generation”. The translation can then be subject to question. Even Genesis 2:4 says “These are the generations of creation…” (KJV). Thus the “day” can be opened up to the interpretation of “era”. God has no time limit as Paul stated, “A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.”

But even as this is just one argument out of many, why does it matter? Why should anyone care how old the earth is? Why should Christians and YECs be bound to one view over the other? The reasons are simple.

First, YEC confines God to being a “god of the gaps”. This means that they place God where ever science does not have an answer. Electricity was once just an “act of god”. So were various weather phenomena. As science discovered the workings of these gaps of knowledge God was pushed out of them. As such, YECs build these gaps of knowledge into pillars of faith that crumble when challenged by what rightfully fills the gaps. It also confines God to their personal interpretation of Genesis 1. There are many ways to read Genesis 1, especially with all the translations of the bible out there. Each YEC picks a version and then sticks with that one, confining God to 7 days. When challenged, a YEC will sometimes state “you limit God by saying that he couldn’t have done it all in 7 days!” They, however, are limiting God by saying that doing it in 7 days was the ONLY way he could.

Second, YEC makes the bible into something it is not. The bible was never meant to be a science book. It is a book of theology. Genesis 1 was put there to tell us only “God created everything” not to tell us how he did it. There is also only 1 chapter in the whole of the bible that deals with anything remotely near science. If God had wanted to tell us exactly how he created the world he would have given us math and details. He instead devoted the entire bible to understanding his nature and left the science to his curious creation for its own discovery.

Third, YEC forces a wedge between religion and science. It makes the two mortal enemies. Thus it says you must belong in one camp or the other and that by joining one means you must reject the other. Young Christians are being forced to take sides. As a result many young people are leaving the faith to pursue science when there is absolutely no need to do so. Religion and science have always gone hand in hand until 1880 when Darwin produced “on the origin of species”. Each scientific discovery was heralded as better understanding of how magnificent god’s creation was put together. Even Darwin’s theory was met with general “so thats how God did it” before the fireworks went off with the English church over the issue.

Forth, YEC makes Christianity look utterly ridiculous to outsiders and those on the doubting side of faith (yes, everyone doubts at some point). For such a large section of the Christian population to reject science so outrightly makes us all look foolish and untrustworthy. Jesus himself told us to go into all nations and make believers. Rejecting basic natural laws does not allow us to be taken seriously by anyone. Even for non-YEC Christians, like myself, this problem can hit personally. Talking to curious atheists about Christianity always brings up the subject of why to they have to reject science to join our faith. We are ridiculed by the press and intellectuals as backward, mentally challenged freaks because of the outspoken YEC community. And because of this, many who could find Jesus, wont.

YEC is not going to go away because of anything I say no matter how much I would love for it to. However, I feel that this discussion should not even be happening. It is a disgrace that I have to watch what I say about the age of the sun, or the creation of the moon, or how genetics work around YECs for fear of their pure hatred for science coming back to call me a heathen and believer of “silly theories with no evidence”. It is shameful for me to not be able to speak of my faith for fear of being told that believing in something that believes the earth is 6000 years old is tantamount to believing in something that holds “the moon is made of green cheese” as a chief tenant.

YEC has become a horrible disfigurement on the back of Christians everywhere. Unfortunately there’s little I can do about it. All I can do is write what I think in hopes that maybe, just maybe, a YEC will look at this page and begin questioning their belief. Rejecting YEC does not mean rejecting god, it only means rejecting a belief that men should forgo the gift God gave them of being curious.

I will leave you with this. From Saint Augustine’s 415 A.D. work, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” chapter 19:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

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Restoration of American Christianity

Author’s Note: This paper was written for a course on the history of American religion. There is no spirituality in this paper. It is an objective view on the Restoration movement of 1800-1840. It focuses on the two main groups that formed in this period: the New Testament Christians (Disciples of Christ, the Christian Church, or Church of Christ) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). It looks at the beginnings and growth of these groups and puts them into the context of a public yearning to feel its own power in a democratized setting rather than being told by an authority, as well as how each movement, in its own right, turned itself into a somewhat ironic and self contradictory form of what it originally had set out to be.

That being said, if you do not want to read all 20 pages (when printed), then I wouldn’t blame you. It is admittedly long and tedious and I had to research and write it. However, if you are, or ever were, or plan on being a member of a Restorationist Church, I highly recommend this paper for your consideration. Knowing your roots, even if its just a very fast overview and analysis, can empower you to not only learn of your heritage, but perhaps spawn a longing to take more research upon yourself. If this paper causes you to become curious or perhaps even a little doubtful of the meaning of your church’s dogma, then it has done its job. I do not mean this as a criticism of any religion in particular, only an analysis on what their purpose originally was in the context of the time. I hope you understand this.

Restoration of American Christianity

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Christianity took a turn. The Christians at the time saw around them a sea of confusion and of man made authorities. The quest for unity in the church was a daunting one but one that was undertaken by some of the most famous theologians in history. The restoration movement sought out to unify the church under a single banner of Christianity and return it to a primitive, pure state which scripture was the only creed and God the only authority. Two groups, the New Testament restorationalists and the Mormons, who shared this same end, but whose paths took radically different roads, attempted this goal.

It could be said that the restoration movement started several decades before historians normally say it began. The entire idea behind the restoration flowered within the bed of a rich pot of ideas that had been brewing since the Revolutionary War. After America gained its independence, the culture of democracy abounded throughout the new nation. Gone was the rule by monarchs and authority figures chosen from outside the popular rule. In its place was the new philosophy of rule by popular representation. The power in the country was placed not in a social elite, but instead in the hand of everyday people (( Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University, 1989), 127. )).

The move to the popular power was the key component in several major religious movements at the time. The reason that movements took root because of this radical change in thinking is simple, and there are two reasons for it. First is the realization of the parishioners that the ministers in the pulpit could be subject to their views and not the other way around (( Ibid., 133. )). Should dissent arise within a church due to scriptural or dogmatic issues, members could simply pressure the minister or leadership to resign and replace them with someone with more appeal to their wants and needs. It was not uncommon during this period that churches would disagree within the membership. In such cases, instead of bending to the will of an arbitrary authority to work out the differences and have a final say in the matter, members would simply leave that church and found their own with a minister sympathetic to their views (( Ibid., 170. )).

The second reason for these movements with the revolutionary idea of democracy flowing over the young America is the want to move away from anything resembling British authority. For the most part in pre-revolutionary America, people were indifferent towards the Anglican and Catholic churches. Afterwards, however, there was a major move away from these churches towards the other smaller American Protestant faiths. The reason for this was rooted in the same idea of the need to get away from authority, but this reason was aimed at a specific brand of Christianity. These versions were not only identified with the enemy of America during the war but also with supreme authority. The king was the foremost power in the Anglican Church and the Pope in the Catholic. With the advent of democracy, bending to the will of these powers was something that did not go over well with the religious ideals of the day in America.

With this philosophy in mind, and the numerous splinters appearing in the Protestant denominations within America, Christians and those thinking of converting were becoming increasingly concerned. Each of these splinter congregations was proclaiming to be the true way to salvation. In addition, in order to carve out an identity for themselves, these congregations would define themselves by denouncing all others as heretical. For the lay-person, these allegations flying between churches and with all the definitions of truth to choose from, questions arose about who exactly was right. Without the authority of an overarching power to quell dissent between churches, any church was able to proclaim that they alone were the holders of absolute truth. People then were forced to choose with virtually no clue as to who was proclaiming the real truth. But a choice was often felt necessary because of the fear instilled by various churches that if the people did not follow their particular brand of truth then they were destined for hell.

Certainly there was a need for unity within the American protestant churches. The need for this unity spurned several attempts outside the denominational boundaries to reel in the fringe congregations. However, more importantly the restoration movement, at this time, there were also attempts within denominational sects that looked to define a more over arching authority to rule over the branches. In particular, the Methodists were keen to place a superintendent in charge of the boards of the Methodist church (( Paul K. Conkin, American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 4. )). This move towards autocracy angered one preacher perhaps more than any other. His name was James O’Kelly, a Methodist minister from Virginia. O’Kelly saw this move back towards a authoritarian structure as analogous to moving back to something resembling the Catholic Church (( Everett Ferguson, The Way of Life (Abilene: Biblical Research Press, 1967), 68. )). He decried it as a move meant only to favor preachers’ prestige and power within the church.

The Methodist proposal for a superintendent troubled O’Kelly so deeply that in 1792 he presented to the Methodist convention appeals taken from ministers who sympathized with his objection. Unfortunately for them, the measure was voted down, but this did not stop O’Kelly and his supporters from using the democratic method. As a result, the “Republican Methodist Church” was formed as a breakaway sect of Methodism (( Conkin, American Originals, 4. )). In 1794 at the suggestion of Rice Haggard, the group renamed itself simply “Christians.” This movement, curiously, was a claim to unity rather to division. O’Kelly was after a unifying force other than a human-created authority. He was seeking authority from heaven. As such, the newly formed sect adopted several principles that in time became the foundation for the entirety of the New Testament restoration movement. These principles included the ideas that Jesus Christ was the only head of the church; second, the name “Christian” was a term that referred to all those in the church, regardless of denomination; third, the only creed that the Christian should follow is that of the Bible; fourth, Christian character is the only test needed for membership in the church; fifth, the right of private judgment and liberty of conscience is the privilege and duty of all (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 68. )).

As stated before, the newly formed “Christian” church was as move towards unity in the eyes of O’Kelly and the other ministers who were sympathetic to his cause. The ideals behind the reasons for unification are clear from the five main points proposed by the leaders of the new church. They were looking to move the church back to a doctrine that was pure and unaffected by he centuries of human intervention in the way dogmatic law was interpreted. In short, they were looking to restore the church to a more primitive state. However, as the idea was close to what would later be the full-blown restoration, the O’Kelly movement and the Christian church did not fully intend to move the church back to a form of church that was later to be termed the “New Testament Church.” Instead, they simply wanted to remove from church tradition the idea of authority vested in a single man or man-made body. Turning to the Bible as the only creed and Jesus as the only head gave the authority in the church back to the divine and out of the hands of men.

This trend, however, was not limited to the northeast of American thought. In the south, like-minded congregations learned of the movement in the north and sent a letter to a Christian newspaper published by Elias Smith in New England (( Conkin, American Originals, 5. )). In this letter the congregations sent greetings and wishes of fellowship with their New England brothers. The response was positive and in 1811 a conference was held in Virginia for talks of union between the two groups. Smith was the only representative for the New England congregations but this did not hamper the discussions of fellowship. Unfortunately, due to the small number of representatives and the relatively few followings of the new movement, the union was not so much a conglomeration as it was a meeting to show that two like-minded groups geographically removed from each other shared a common ideal (( Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Cambridge: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1996), 12. )).

The southern sector of the Christian movement was lead in part by Abner Jones, a Baptist minister with an extreme dislike of anything smacking of Calvinism. Jones met Smith in 1803 during a meeting in Portsmith, New Hampshire. Jones was the man who first proposed a total change in the way the new Christian church was run, from one of simple biblical authority to a total restoration of a New Testament type church. Later in 1803, he would form his own church to cement his teachings into reality. Smith and Jones eventually set forth together on the trend of annihilationsim, that is, to tear down everything and to start over with nothing but the New Testament as a guide to what the church should actually look like. Eventually though, Smith grew more and more friendly with the Unitarians in the region, mainly due to the fact they shared his views concerning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Smith being antitrinitarian. So much so, that after a while Smith left his own congregation to lead a cause to unify the New England Christian church with the Unitarians in creating a new seminary. A small number of churches followed his lead but by the time it was all said and done they gave so little support that the seminary become totally Unitarian (( Conkin, American Originals, 6-7. )).

The path that Smith took is almost mirrored verbatim by Barton Stone. A Presbyterian minister in Kentucky, Stone had deep reservations, almost hatred, of John Calvin, a central figure in Presbyterian doctrine. He regarded Calvin’s doctrines as complete fabrication when juxtaposed against scripture. During the 1801 revival at Cane Ridge, Stone revealed his convictions in a sermon that insisted on having the only Christian creed be the Bible as the prerequisite to salvation (( Hughes, Reviving, 96. )). This stance aligned him with Jones but alienated him from the mainstream Presbyterians. Dissatisfied with the response, Stone founded the Springfield Presbytery in 1804 to further his doctrinal studies. While Presbyterian in name, the Springfield Presbytery was not active within the larger Midwest presbytery (( Conkin, American Originals, 7. )). After much examination of scripture and doctrines, Stone and others from the presbytery decided that in order to cement their beliefs, and in part to stay the Romanization of their organization, they would dissolve the Springfield Presbytery. This action was instigated by the writing of the “Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery,” a half-serious, half-satirical commentary on the shortcomings of Presbyterianism and the need for churches to align themselves with Christ instead of with denominational doctrines (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 69. )). This move was highly symbolic in that it showed Stone’s resolve to make congregations autonomous and to need for a return to the New Testament church. After dissolving the presbytery, Stone opted to call his new following the “Christian” church, a move done by Smith around the same time and again at the behest of Haggard (( Hughes, Reviving, 108. )). He also began showing signs of antitrinitarianism, a personal move on his part that left him more in line with the Unitarians than with his own movement. However, Stone was now allied with both the southern congregations of Jones and the northern congregations of Smith, laying a widespread foundation for the most significant phase in the New Testament restoration.

Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander are generally regarded as the fathers of the restoration movement. While this is not entirely true, as seen by the preliminary material above, they did play the most important role in the movement insofar as they unified and cemented the doctrines that would eventually be the core of all restoration church dogma. Thomas Campbell was a Presbyterian minister from Scotland who came to American in 1807 to try and get his poor health under control (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 70. )). He found work in the ministry in Pennsylvania and quickly came into trouble with the local Synod, or church council. Campbell had a knack for going up against the Synod for his peculiar way of understanding the scriptures and also for his unwillingness to adhere to creeds set forth by the Presbyterian Church. In 1809, Campbell withdrew from the Synod and he, along with several sympathizers, formed the “Christian Association of Washington (Pa.)” which, while itself not a church, promoted nondenominational Christianity within existing churches (( Ibid. )).

Thomas Campbell’s son, Alexander, had been left in Scotland by his father, along with the rest of the family, while Thomas made arrangements for them to join him in America. After a shipwreck, the family was forced to stay an extra year in Scotland. Alexander took this opportunity to study at Glasgow where he soon came under the guidance of the Independent Christian church. This experience moved Alexander from his Presbyterian roots to a position that was close to that of his father. In 1809, Alexander finally got the chance to reunite with his father in America where he soon learned of his father’s ideas. Thomas showed his son a document he had written and presented to his association called a “Declaration and Address” in which he outlined a type of constitution for the association as well as a plan to unite all the churches (( Conkin, American Originals, 15. )). Thomas firmly believed that he could start a movement that would finally reunite all the churches under a broad banner of Christianity, for he saw only one church unified by the belief in Jesus Christ. He wanted a church that was made up of all who believed in Christ and who obeyed His commandments. Thomas’ plan therefore was to strip Christianity down to its barest essentials and begin again with the New Testament as a blueprint.

Alexander was completely sympathetic to his father’s views and in 1810 began delivering sermons to the association’s churches to try and relate it to the masses. He was not the most eloquent speaker, nor the most inspiring. Alexander was, however, a born debater and used his logic and preparation to deliver stunning sermons (( Ibid., 18. )). Through a logical progression of ideas and scriptural analysis, he hoped to define what the New Testament church should be. In 1811 the Christian Association of Washington renamed itself the “Brush Run Church,” with Alexander as is minister. The church quickly, yet somewhat reluctantly, joined the Redstone Baptist Association as Alexander’s popularity as a speaker and debater grew. In 1816, Campbell made a groundbreaking sermon in which he denounced the convictions of the Calvinists as a total depravity. He also argued that the church was to rest only upon the authority of Jesus and that the Mosaic law no longer applied to Christians because Jesus had fulfilled that law (( Hughes, Reviving, 23. )). He did this in part because the way he read scripture told him it was true, but also he had been brought up watching difference denominations, even difference congregations picking and choosing which Old Testament moral codes to follow and which to disregard. In his one fell swoop, Campbell simply took all authority away from the Old Testament and gave total authority to the New Testament.

Even with the Campbells’ popularity, the movement they started did not move at a fast pace for some time. It wasn’t until 1823 that their movement really picked up speed and grew rapidly. In that year, after much rhetoric against the Calvinists, Alexander was running the risk of having his church removed form the Red Stone Association. Fortunately for him, a small Baptist association in Ohio known as the Mahoning Association contacted Campbell and asked him to join their association (( Conkin, American Originals, 22. )). He jumped at this opportunity, leaving the Red Stone Association before it had a chance to discharge him officially, but while technically a part of it. During this time, Alexander began publishing a monthly magazine called “The Christian Baptist” which allowed him to spread his doctrinal ideas in a well-organized debating style to people far from his home congregation. In this magazine he lashed out at all forms of ecclesiastical organizations and formalized clergy. He argued that no special authority should be given to ministers with scholarly training, ordination, or any kind of special calling by the Holy Spirit. He also denounced instrumental music and preached about the inherent equality of all Christians to one another (( Hughes, Reviving, 30. )).

In 1825 the Red Stone Association finally took action against Campbell and forced his congregation out. The Mahoning Association dissolved five years later leaving the congregations autonomous. Sensing the need for continuity between all the now- independent churches, Alexander renamed his movement the “Disciples of Christ.” He then dropped the name “The Christian Baptist” from his journal’s title and replaced it with the “Millennial Harbinger” (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 72. )). The name was significant because it reflected not a millennialist idea of the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after the tribulation (an idea Campbell fervently detested); instead, his choice of title was to reflect his wish for a millennium of peace and happiness for the church under unification as a New Testament church. This journal became the vehicle for Campbell’s movement as he was able to use it to settle disputes between new congregations, cement doctrine, and evangelize to outsiders. Indeed, Campbell used this journal to act as a de facto bishop over his new church (( Conkin, American Originals, 26. )).

Stone and Campbell had met once before in 1824 during Campbell’s trip to Kentucky from Ohio and the two struck a chord with one another, seeing that their two movements closely resembled one another. Over the next seven years the two would trade correspondence. Despite sharing exchanges that indicated some jealousy between the two regarding who was playing a more prominent role in the move to a New Testament church, they announced the union of the two movements into a single force in 1832. The combination of the two into the Christian-Disciples movement was the biggest boost to the growth of the New Testament restoration (( Ibid. 28-29. )).

The New Testament restoration was not without its problems though. Despite sharing of the ideal of unity, the Christian-Disciples disagreed over several doctrinal issues. The foremost of these was the issue of baptismal immersion. While not going into specifics over who believed what, it is important to note that this issue caused many congregations to leave throughout the entirety of the movement.. To add to this, it should be pointed out that the Christian-Disciples movement eventually split apart (( Hughes, Reviving, 192. )). The union between the two was never a fully unified effort by either side and was more symbolic than it was functional. In the 1840’s the two sides began to argue over what could be considered trivial issues such as the use of instrumental music in worship. While it was not official, congregations began ceasing fellowship with each other. The official divide did not happen until the early twentieth century at which time three churches emerged: the liberal-minded Disciples, the instrumental Christian Church, and the Churches of Christ who only allowed a cappella music. Since then, these three major denominations have further split into about thirty distinct flavors of restorationalist churches (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 73. )).

The irony of he entire New Testament restoration movement is that the dream of restoring the church to its primitive form and unifying all Christians under one church roof never was realized. In fact the opposite occurred. Campbell and Stone ended up creating just as much doctrinal red tape, then they had hoped to dispose of by restoring the church to its “original” form. Consequently, the authority they used to justify their movement, the New Testament, was used also to undo the unifying effect they strove for. By appealing to their quest for the true church of the New Testament, they condemned other denominations for breaking with it in the first place. They alienated themselves from other congregations and became an elitist-like denomination in direct opposition to what they had set out to achieve.

As stated before, the restoration movement of the first half of the nineteenth century followed two radically different yet intimately connected paths. Both paths sought to end the confusion and the discord present in the Christian church at the time. The first of these paths was a restoration of the church to a primitive state, owing all authority to the New Testament. The second, however, took the path of creating entirely new scripture to be the basis of authority. This second path of restoration of the church was the Mormon movement.

The sole leader of the Mormon movement during its conception was Joseph Smith Jr., the son of a poor farmer. His father had lost all the family’s money on a speculative venture and remained a frequently moving tenant the rest of this life. He spent much of his time and effort trying to rebuild a fortune and to redeem the family name. The family was never deeply involved with religion. Smith himself was seen once or twice attending the local Methodist church and he enjoyed greatly learning about the occult. One of his pastimes was to use the three seer stones he possessed to locate treasure and underground water for people for a price. He was a frequent visitor of treasure hunters and was always interested in new ways to making money, just like his father (( Conkin, American Originals, 163. )).

Smith was admittedly wary of all types of religion. He viewed the church at the time to be in a confused state with no one sure of what to believe. This was the same conclusion drawn by the restorationists of the New Testament restoration. Authority in religious matters seemed to be a huge issue at the time (( Marvin S. Hill and James B. Allen, Mormonism and American Culture (New York: Harber & Row Publishers, 1972), 16. )). Smith was deeply troubled by this, and by his own account he went out in 1820 to a field near his hometown of Palmyra, New York, to meditate on what he should do. It was in this field that Smith would receive the answer to his question of who to believe in this time of confusion.

While meditating in the field, Smith claims to have been visited by both God and Jesus in the flesh. They blessed the young Smith and shared with him their concerns over the state of the church. They told him that he should not affiliate with any sect as they had all strayed form the path they were supposed to have taken, and he himself would be the new prophet who would lead the Christian church back to the right path (( William E. Barrett, The Restored Church (Desert Book Company, 1977), 22. )). Three years later, the angel Moroni, who had once lived as a human on the American continent, visited Smith. He told Smith of a history that was written on a set of golden plates which Moroni had himself helped to compile that chronicled the history of early. The history was to be a completion of the gospels as Jesus had revealed Himself to the ancient Americans. Moroni showed Smith where he had hidden the plates and two seer stones (identified later by Smith as the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament) accompanied the plates to allow Smith to translate them (( Conkin, American Originals, 164. )).

According to Smith, he went to the place Moroni had showed him (a hill only three miles from his home) and discovered the plates just as promised, but he could not remove them from their resting place. He was told in a vision that he was not pure enough to take the plates and that he had to purify himself in order to be free of the world. For four years after, Smith would meditate and resist the temptations of the world so that he could possess them. In 1827, Smith returned to the hill and successfully removed the plates and took them home (( Barrett, Restored Church, 24-25. )). The plates were in a metallic, book-like binding which reportedly weighed about fifty pounds. They were inscribed with Egyptian-like hieroglyphs but were in actuality an ancient form of Hebrew. The two seer stones were fastened into a frame that resembled eyeglasses. However, when observed translating, Smith would only use one stone that he placed into his hat and then covered his face with it (( Conkin, American Originals, 164. )).

The first translation of the book of Mormon was done with the aid of Smith’s wife Emma, who transcribed what he dictated. Eventually, their neighbor, Martin Harris, came to take over the transcription while Smith was concealed behind a blanket (( Barrett, Restored Church, 34. )). Harris was the first convert outside of the immediate Smith family and was nearly the new religion’s undoing. Harris sought out two Orientalist, one at Rutgers and one at Columbia College, to look over the translations and to authenticate them. At Columbia, Professor Charles Anthon authenticated the writings until he learned of the nature of the plates and their origin. He then reportedly tore up the certificate of authenticity and denied all claims Harris had made. This did not stop Harris from believing that Smith was a true prophet though. He went back to Smith and asked to borrow some of the translations to show to his doubting wife. Smith agreed, but while Harris had them, they were lost. Some stories abound that Harris’ wife burned the work, but the official Mormon account is that they were stolen. Smith then had the plates taken from him by Moroni as punishment. The material that was lost covered about 400 years of the ancient Jewish people who had come to America and was the opening segment of the history written by Mormon. Smith was reluctant to translate the plates again as he reportedly had fears about the other version resurfacing and his enemies finding discrepancies between the two (( Conkin, American Originals, 165-166. )).

Guided by a vision, Smith was told that he could not retranslate any plates once they were translated. Therefore he was told to translate a new set of plates, the plates of Nephi, which held the same information as the Mormon history. Harris left the transcription job and was replaced by Smith’s cousin, Oliver Cowdery (( Barrett, Restored Church, 35. )). Cowdery, Harris, and several others were chosen at that time to see the plates for themselves. After intense meditation for several hours, the men saw a vision of the plates. After witnessing this they wrote a statement to the fact which was later included in the Book of Mormon. When the first edition was finished, the book was published by a Palmyra printer and went on sale in 1830 at which time Moroni took the plates back again (( Ibid. 38. )).

The actual content of the book is much too complex to be discussed here in any fair way. Suffice to say it chronicled the journey of an ancient Jewish people to America and their subsequent spiritual life (( Conkin, American Originals, 168-173. )). The book was not an especially a rousing success. Its confused wording and numerous grammatical errors made it laborious to read. However, it was still sold if for only curiosity on what the notorious Joseph Smith had written.

The origins of the Mormon Church can be traced to 1829 when Smith and Cowdery were directed by the angel of John the Baptist to baptize each other for the remission of sins and had bestowed on them the priesthood of Aaron (( Barrett, Restored Church, 69. )). The church itself was organized by Smith who was guided by revelations and turned out to be extremely disorganized. When baptizing new converts, Smith would give them titles such as elder, priest, or teacher, titles which did not hold any meaning at the time and which would later become no more clearer as Smith’s doctrines fully emerged. The church was set up to be a restored church that had been purified of the worldly ills that had befallen all the other Christian sects (( Hill, Mormonism, 22. )). Smith’s doctrine for the most part was simple and easy for the layperson to understand. He even agreed with Alexander Campbell on some major points. While the doctrines will not be covered here, they were in some ways a nod to the other restorationists at the time, but were also a departure from mainstream Christianity.

Mormonism was not without its critics. To be sure, critics at the time far out numbered the believers. Their criticisms were varied but a few major points were made in objection to Smith’s new religion. First there was the problem of Smith himself. Critics citied numerous examples of Smith being involved in treasure hunting and other get-rich-quick schemes. The entire religion therefore was nothing more than a very elaborate hoax. Smith had even gotten involved in several defrauding and banking schemes well into his prophetic career, helping boost opposition to him (( Conkin, American Originals, 163, 182. )). Second was the problem of the history Smith had proposed. There was no archeological evidence to support an ancient offshoot of Jews in America (( Harry L. Ropp. Are the Mormon Scriptures Reliable? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 55. )). Nor was the history even logical. One example given to support this is the description of the boats used to cross the ocean by the Jews in the book of Ether, an appendix to the book of Mormon written by Moroni. The boats are submarines with holes in the top and in the bottom that were to be opened when they needed air, but closed again if water should come in (( The Book of Mormon, Ether 2:20. )). Third was the book itself. Smith had translated it in secret. He was not allowed to go back and review translations. When some of the translations were stolen, he conveniently got a new set of plates. The text was often seen as more of a rant than a real document (( Ropp, Reliable?, 34. )). Finally, the plates on which the book was written were never actually seen by human eyes save for Smith. Cowdery even later recanted his statement about seeing the plates, although his statement remains in the book (( Ibid. 21. )).

As with the Campbell-Stone movement, the Mormon restoration ended up becoming an irony. The authority Smith was supposed to be subverting, he himself assumed. At one point, Smith was basically the king of a Mormon city with a militia at his command (( Conkin, American Originals, 203. )). The man who wanted to put all faith into scripture ended up using that scripture to put all faith into himself. Regardless, Mormonism became a dominant force in America soon after Smith’s death in 1844 (( Barrett, Restored Church, 192. )).

In the end, it can be argued that restorationalists, both New Testament and Mormon failed in their goal of uniting all of Christianity under the banner of scripture. Their causes have lived on through the decades since, but the end result of their dreams is nowhere in sight. Christianity still is splintered into factions and sects and denominations. Even the New Testament restoration church itself has fractured into numerous sub-sects. Human nature being what it is, it seems that the dream of unity will, for now at least, remain just that—a dream.

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