The Restoration Movement provides a framework for the self-identity of Mid-South Christian College (MSCC). It helps all who are directly connected with the College--including trustees, staff, and faculty--to form a collective understanding of who we are and what we want to become. That sense of identity touches us at the deepest level. As heirs of this rich and positive spiritual estate, we find ourselves energized to take on the challenges life sends us. This brief introduction focuses on five aspects of that movement that guide MSCC:
- the breadth of its focus,
- its integration of education,
- its welcoming of diversity,
- its commitment to the Scriptures, and
- its dynamic nature.
The success of any Bible college is affected by its ability to connect with the world that exists outside itself. Organizational theorists call this principle "boundary spanning." One of the most remarkable aspects of the early Restoration Movement was the breadth of its audience; it was a movement that was connected to the religious and cultural world of its day. This connection is reflected in the first of Campbell's nine propositions, which states:
The church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.
It is evident from this quote that Campbell saw the Church of Christ as a much broader reality than that which would have fallen under the umbrella of the movement which he and others ignited. Campbell was expressing his conviction that there is no such thing as the Baptist Church or the Presbyterian Church or the Methodist Church or even the Christian Church, if thought of in a denominational way; there is only the one church, the Body of Christ, and that church consists of all who have put their faith in Christ and have committed their lives in obedience to Him. These concepts have helped MSCC to see itself as an influence for the unity of all churches that honor Christ and His word.[Return to top of page]
A second aspect of the Restoration Movement that is significant for the self-identity of MSCC is that it gives us a model of Christian leadership that is both scholarly and practical. The early Restoration fathers were not detached from the daily world of work and civil responsibility. They understood the need for well-rounded Christian leaders who could converse not only among "theologians" but also among the common people.
Alexander Campbell, following in the footsteps of his father Thomas, soon became a key figure in the movement. One of the most fascinating aspects of the life of Alexander is that he was not only a proficient preacher and teacher of the Scriptures but, at one point in his career, he also served as a representative for the state of Virginia. Alexander was also an expert in Greek, Roman, French, and English literature, and had committed to memory large passages from the classics which he was often asked by his friends to recite. He was a man who knew how to take his vast knowledge of the Scriptures and connect them to the issues of his day. This focus on the world at large may have been a factor in the early restoration founders' appreciation of the variety that always exists among God's people.[Return to top of page]
In a period of history when denominational discord was strong, these early pioneers of the movement valued diversity of opinion in a spirit of freedom. One can detect this aspect of the movement in Thomas Campbell's fifth proposition, which states:
With respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church.
It is a normal human reaction to try to quell thoughts or sentiments that are different from one's own. In an insightful study of diversity and unity in organizations, Harold Harung and Lise Marten, warn against that approach, pointing out that it will actually debilitate the organization. They refer to diversity and unity as "two diametrically opposite qualities" that are "essential for a strong individual and a strong organization."
Alexander Campbell, characteristically ahead of his time, was convinced that, as long as Christians continued to insist that others agree with them in every opinion, the church could never be united. Institutions and churches that cannot abide diversity of thought are inherently weak and often unable to see opportunities when they appear. In congruence with this principle of diversity, MSCC seeks to provide a program that is sensitive to the unique cultural perspectives that people from different races and ethnic backgrounds can bring to the church.The early restoration founders also knew that diversity had to have its limits; there must be a unifying core that makes it possible to distinguish between what is the church of Christ and what is not the church of Christ. The Scriptures served as that unifying core.[Return to top of page]
The Restoration fathers laid their foundation firmly on the authority of Scripture. Again, this is clearly visible in Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address. For example, his third proposition states:
Nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion; but what is expressly taught, and enjoined upon them, in the word of God. Nor ought any thing be admitted, as of divine obligation, in their church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles upon the New Testament church; either in express terms, or by approved precedent.
While most Christian movements have espoused adherence to the authority of Scripture, what is perhaps unique to the Restoration Movement is the distinction that was made between the actual statements of Scripture and people's opinions about the meaning of those statements. The Restoration fathers recognized that these were two different issues and that, while the former is binding on the consciences of all Christians, the latter is not. This is expressed even more clearly in Campbell's sixth proposition.
Although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection. . . . No such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church.
This posture toward Scripture is both a limiting and a liberating dynamic. Dr. James North sums it up this way: "Logical deductions are human conclusions, and they are not to be confused with the teaching of Scripture itself."
This commitment to the authority of Scripture means that the Bible will always have the final word and will serve as the foundation for all our courses at MSCC. At the same time, we recognize that the formation of our doctrine and practice based on Scripture is an ongoing process. As its name implies, the restoration movement is a movement; it is an ongoing search for the will of God as we seek to honor Christ in today's world.[Return to top of page]
MSCC seeks to emulate the Restoration Movement's bold and dynamic approach to the future. The movement has often been misrepresented as taking a backward, tradition-laden, change-resistant stance. The reality is that the early Restoration fathers were men who had a vision way ahead of their time. For example, Alexander Campbell's The Christian System demonstrates a keen understanding of systems thinking, a concept that has only recently been discovered in the world of organizational theory.
One of the keys to developing an effective response to the future in changing times is flexibility. Again, the Restoration Movement provides solid principles for promoting institutional flexibility. For example, Campbell's thirteenth proposition states:
If any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose, should be adopted, under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin-so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the church.
This statement is a clear call by Campbell for maintaining congregational flexibility to adapt to changes in the future, i.e., not to make sacred something that is mere expediency. Churches and Christian institutions that have their roots in the Restoration Movement should be among the most agile in the global Body of Christ. The recognition that much of what we do is for the sake of expediency should allow us to mold and adapt those expediencies to create a better fit for the challenges of the future.
MSCC is committed to this kind of agility; it is reflected in the school's motto: "a bilingual college dedicated to equipping global ministers through innovative programs." To prepare effective ministers to face the complexities of today's world, creativity and innovations must be at the center of our program.Conclusion
The Restoration Movement heritage provides some powerful and relevant guidance for facing the future. It was a movement that spanned denominational boundaries, had an integrated view of ministry, welcomed diversity, honored the authority of Scripture, and encouraged flexibility of structure and strategy. The staff and faculty of MSCC are committed to reaffirming that enthusiasm and dialogue. We are convinced that our heritage provides us with a vibrant sense of identity. That sense of identity can serve as an effective guide into the future. We see the principles of the Restoration Movement as cutting edge thinking suitable to the challenges of today's changing world.
- Written by Greg Waddell