Bruce Sullivan – The Stone-Campbell Movement (DIH 2008)

The Stone-Campbell Movement (aka the American Restoration Movement) was the first response to the commotion caused by denominationalism, a plea for unity.

Bruce was a pastor in the movement before his journey home to the Catholic Church.

The SCM began in the then-western frontier of Kentuck etc., rejected man-made creeds and authority, and attracted the rugged individualistic pioneers who liked the plea for each person to interpret the Bible for themselves.

Alexandar Campbell was the chief spokesman for the SCM.

Primary Personalities

Stonebw01.jpgBarton W. Stone. Born just before the revolution, he was a frontiersman. He started as a Presbyterian pastor in Bourbon County, KY. He had reservations about accepting the Presbyterian doctrines. For examples, he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, election, pre-destination, and so forth.

He was part of the Second Great Revival, which influenced him greatly. The Cane Ridge Revival had a huge impact on him, and was deeply impressed by the ecumenical nature of the Great Revival.

While not particularly an original thinker, he was a strong leader. He helped organize the Springfield Presbytery, which was schismatic, though he was very focused on love and unity.

He travelled far and wide to preach, while he continued to farm.

Within a year, they threw out the new presbytery, and took the name “Christian”, sometime during 1804.


Thomas Campbell. Raised an Anglican in Ireland, by 1733 he split and joined the Seceeders, which was fairly radical. In 1807 he emigrated to the United States, but was quickly kicked out of the US Seceeders for inviting other Christians who were not in his communion table.

In 1809 he joined others of like mind to form a unity movement with the motto “where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”. They then wrote a document which became the defacto magna carta of the movement.

Alexander Campbell. Son of Thomas, Also born in Ireland, he was reunited with his father in 1809. He studied at the University of Glasgow, where he came under the influence of Thomas Locke and Reed. He also arrived to similar conclusions of his father at the dangers of sectarianism. Consequently, he declined the opportunity to commune with his fellow Seceeeders (which required a token earned by an examination).


This experience announced his renouncement of Presbyterianism. When he discovered that he and his father had arrived at the same conclusions, they started to work hard to gather others of like mind.

They didn’t originally intend to start a new church, but of course that is what happened.

Deeply talented, he became a quintessential American success story.

He became very wealthy from his skill at farming in West Virginia, and helped found Bethany College (W. VA), and had some role in national politics.

James Madison was impressed by his knowledge as a theologian. Campbell’s fame was really established by his success in a series of public debates (lasting from one to two weeks each!)

His series of debates was helped by his affable nature and deep intellect.

One debate of note was his debate with a young Archbishop Purcell in Cincinnatti, which interestingly led to a number of conversions to Catholicism.

The two movements started out oblivous to each other. The Stone movement started out as a plea for unity, the Campell movement started out as a plea for restoration.

The Stone-Campbell Movement Begins

They adopted the famous words of St. Augustine … “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”.

They thought that they had finally struck the balance between unity and individual judgement, so joined in 1824.

This led to the Declaration and Address (fill in the reference

1. Affirmation to the Right of Private Judgement

2. Sola Scriptura

3. Condemnation of Sectarian Division

4. Rejection of Human Opinions

The Address

Essentially a plea for christian unity. Thirteen principles, which turned out to be


The SCM was primitivist, attempting to restore what they thought of as primitive Christianity. This unity would usher in the millenia. Also believed in sola scriptura, and a general apostasy of the Catholic Church.

Campbell believed that each and every individual could properly understand Scripture by applying the scientific method, without either Tradition of the Magisterium.

By applying this lens they came to the conclusion that the church had apostasized early.

They believed this so strongly that they couldn’t see the inherent contradictions in their very presuppositions, the inner contractions, and the built-in conflict in their very structure.

In other words, no way to resolve disputes without a central authority. Period.

Of course, sola scriptura is conflicted by the Scripture themselves.

The Scriptures are a product of the Church, not the other way around. Taking the Scriptures out side of the Church is the one way to guarantee misunderstanding the Scriptures themselves.

The fruit has not been clarity, but confusion; not unity, but division.

The Present States of the Movement

The plea of the movement is attractive, especially at first glance. However, it turns out to be fundamentally divisive. The present reality reflects this sad reality.

Division after division, strife upon strife.

The irony is thick, and really serves to illustrate that true Christian unity is only possible within the visible Church, in submission to the Bishop of Rome.

This does not mean we should give up on unity … rather, work even harder to establish it (as consistently taught by the Church).

We must continue to pray and work for Christian unity.

Bruce Sullivan – The Stone-Campbell Movement (DIH 2008)

2 thoughts on “Bruce Sullivan – The Stone-Campbell Movement (DIH 2008)

  1. Amen! Great post! I posted the link on Facebook, where a friend started a wonderful page, “Catholics ARE Christians!” I heard Bruce Sullivan on an old Mother Angelica Live show we DVR’d. It was an episode about 11 years ago. Need to follow up on him. I found he was on the Journey Home in 2007. You have a very nice blog.

    PAX CHRISTI, susie

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