The Restoration Movement has always been a diverse movement. At times disagreements seemed more prevalent than agreements. I think this fact existed from the movement's inception. Let me give some exampls.
James O'Kelly is often credited with one of the earliest efforts resulting in "Christians only." He led a number of Methodists to withdraw from the Asbury led Methodist Church to form the Republican Methodists. William Guirey brought a group into fellowship with the O'Kelly movement only to fracture over the issue of immersion. Both Guirey and O'Kelly made contact with the New England Christians (Abner Smith and Elias Jones) but there was never complete agreement because the New Englanders tended to deny aspects of the Trinity. Nonetheless fellowship continued but there was less than complete excitement about it.
The Cane Ridge Meeting birthed another expression of the Restoration Movement. This meeting occurred during an era when Presbyterians were transitioning from a strict Calvinism to an understanding that preaching led to responses and experiences confirming election. Five participating Presbyterian preachers concluded that faith was the belief of testimonyand humans hearing the Gospel could respond to it. Political maneuverings on the part of some strict old-line Presbyterian elders led to the filing of charges against Richard McNemar for preaching an Arminian doctrine. Defending themselves in a documnt often called "The Apology," five men withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Synod of Kentucky to form their own structure, the Springfield Presbytery. These five men--Barton Stone, John Thompson, Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, and Richard McNemar--disassociated from one another with the signing of "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery." According to that document, these men gave up any organizational structure beyond the local congregation and sank into union with the church at large.
It is often taught that it was mutually agreed to break up and continue as independent local congregations. What is not so clearly seen is the tension existing behind the scenes. It is known that Richard McNemar hoped to continue the religious excitement and the sometimes strange events seen during the Cane Ridge Meeting. Apparently Marshall and Thompson weren't so keen on all that "enthusiasm." They returned to the Presbyterian Church and later wrote a document critical of "The Newlight Church." Taken at face value, it becomes apparent that these two men opposed the extremes McNemar advocated. Richard McNemar and John Dunlavy eventually ended up in the Shakers proving exactly what Thompson and Marshall feared -- that such excesses would lead to heresy. Barton W. Stone was the only one of the five who remained steadfast to the theological principles spelled out in "The Apology."
Most of the events regarding the Springfield Presbytery took place before the Campbells arrived in America. That meant the Kentucky Christians, the New England Christians, the followers of O'Kelly and those of Guirey were well entrenched prior to the coming of the Campbells. When "Father" Thomas arrived in America the Seceder Presbyterians assigned him to Western Pennsylvania. He soon got in hot water for offering communion to all varieties of Presbyterians and was drummed out of the Chartiers Presbytery. For most of a year, Thomas Campbell preached to friends who formed the Christian Association of Washington. To inform others of the nature of the association, he wrote "The Declaration and Address." Alexander and the rest of the Campbell family arrived just as Thomas was putting the finishing touches on the document. That document combined with the experiences of Alexander in Scotland led to the establishment of the Campbellian reform movement.
This brings us to the relationship of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. It is commonly thought that the two men were "fast friends." Frankly, I doubt that! Major differences stood between the two men. Campbell and Stone held different views on the Trinity. Campbell was a strict Trinitarian, Stone verged on a Unitarian or Arian view of the Godhead. Both had divergent views of the nature of the atonement. Campbell held firmly to the substitutionary atonement believing that Jesus died for to pay sin's penalty on our behalf. Stone held to a view usually called the "Moral Influence Theory." That is, Jesus died to demonstrate self-sacrificing love. Although both men believed immersion was the biblical form of baptism, Campbell strongly argued that baptism resulted in "fomal" forgiveness of sins. Stone, however, came to believe baptism resulted in the forgiveness of sins but he was "softer" on it and preferred not to make an issue of it. Campbell held that the proper name for Christ's followers was "Disciple," and he continued to argue for it long after the two movements united in Georgetown and Lexington, Kentucky. Stone pled for the name "Christian" to the exclusion of all others. Campbell and his followers held that any Christian could baptize new believers and preside at the Lord's Table. Stone and his followers were of the persuasion that an ordained minister was required for both. I think both men respected each other and recognized each other as brothers, but I do not see them as hearty friends. Respected colleagues who called for unity and acceptance in spite of differences, you bet. Buddies! I don't think so.
Over the 200 years of the movement one can see tremendous diversity on a multitude of other issue: instrumental music, Sunday Schools, millennial theories single cup or multiple cup communion services, organizations, colleges, radio programs, publications. There were always those who refused to permit others to pigeonhole them, but in time fractures occurred. The fractures occurred because someone insisted everyone had to think alike on this issue or that.
The same attitudes continue today. Is baptism for the remission of sins or is it a part of the process of salvation? My answer to the question is, YES. Sponsorship of various programs and organizations led to doctrinal error in the past. Some argue that's a sufficient argument for rejecting organizational sponsorship of the North American Christian Convention or portions of its program. Others respond that just because it was damaging in the past it does not necessarily mean it will lead to "digression." Signing contracts with sponsor organizations for constructions projects resulted in lost buildings when congregations withdrew from fellowship with the organization. That's enough of a reason to avoid such contracts even with church supported lending agencies say some. Others argue it is only good business to protect the investments of numerous Christians who saved with the agency. In the past, mission sending organizations capitulated to Liberalism, comity agreements, and Open Membership. Therefore, Christians should reject all such organizations and support missionaries drectly. Wait, say others, it isn't the concept of the organization and cooperation that is bad, it is the wrong-headed theology of their leadership. I could go on!
What should we do? Remember that in your biological family it is rare for every family member to see all things alike. In spite of these differences, the familial ties remain strong. A brother is still a brother. You may not agree or even like what he does but you can't change the DNA. You may discuss your differences loud and long. Feelings might even get hurt, but when the "chips" are down you are still brothers. It is only a dysfunctional family where such animosity creates withdrawal and ostracism.
Should it be different in Christ's body, the church? I think not. I heartily disagree with many of my brothers in the Lord over biblical, structural, and leadership issues but they are still my brothers. Like T.B. Larimore, I don't want to push away with whom I disagree. Unlike Brother Lairmore, however, I will give my position. I will hold to my convictions until proven by Scripture or reason that I'm wrong. Believe me, a lot has changed in my 44 years of ministry. A lot of my convictions have matured. Some have changed. But some things don't change. I love the Lord. I love my brothers and sisters in Christ. (I admit there are a few I don't like much, but I love them.) I still think everyone else has as much right to be wrong as I do! There are still some areas where I draw the line, but they are fewer now than years ago.
Should this reduce any concern you or I have for spiritual drift in the church? Absolutely not! We must, however, be careful that we separate genuine spiritual drift from our own uninformed conscience (see Romans 14). We must also be careful to warn in a spirit of concern and love, not a spirit of vindictiveness and rancor. We must also be ready to rescue those whose rejection of our warnings -- if correct -- produce difficulty while rejecting the temptation to say, "I told you so."
Think about these things.