PROFILES IN RESTORATION HISTORY
The Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery
JUNE 28, 1804
By David R. Kenney
On September 7, 1809, Thomas Campbell presented his restoration manifesto, The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, to the Christian Association who had requested he draft a formal declaration of their intentions to pursue New Testament Christianity. The Christian Association approved it for distribution to all religious bodies in Washington County, Pennsylvania on November 2, 1809. At the time, these men were probably unfamiliar with others who likewise saw the need to return to the New Testament pattern.
Barton Warren Stone (1772–1844) was born in Port Tobacco, Maryland, so he certainly was in the United States prior to the Campbells (actually before the founding of the Republic.) He was taught by the Presbyterian Church in the United States as the Campbells were in Ireland (and Scotland). Stone was educated at David Caldwell’s Log College, which was considered one of the more prestigious schools in the South. He was licensed to preach for the Presbyterian Church by the Orange Presbytery of Orange County, NC on April 6, 1796. He would make his first visit to Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, KY later in 1796. He was already having misgivings of the doctrines of Calvinism. In fact, when he was encouraged to seek ordination, he stalled because of persisting doubts. After much encouragement, he decided to proceed. He was asked one question–“Do you accept the Confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Bible?" He replied–"I do, so far as I see it consistent with the word of God.” His answer was accepted. He soon learned there were others that were having misgivings about elements of Calvinism.
As time goes by, there would be associates of Stone who were brought up on charges of teaching doctrines contrary to the Presbyterian Church. The trial was in September 1803, and the proceedings against John Thompson and Richard McNemar by the Kentucky Synod left little doubt what was coming. So, on September 10, 1803 they issued An Apology for Renouncing the Jurisdiction of the Synod of Kentucky To Which Is Added a Compendious View of the Gospel and a Few Remarks on the Confession of Faith. Ministers and 15 congregations banded together and formed the Springfield Presbytery. They selected the name “Springfield” for Springfield, Ohio where Richard McNemar was first tried for preaching against Calvinism. The publication created quite a stir and pamphlets were made to counter, so the “battle of pamphlets” was waged in pursuit of the truth.
Sometimes we may seek to break away from a “bad” system and not realize that it is not just that the system was bad but the system concept itself is likewise deficient. This happened to those who formed the Springfield Presbytery. What real difference did Orange Presbytery have from Springfield Presbytery? The whole concept of having such an organization came into question. There were no such organizations in the NT, so why did they need such today? Still a vital question today!
With these thoughts in mind, they drafted one of the great classics of the Restoration Movement, The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery on June 28, 1804. Some excerpts show the spirit of this restoration movement:
Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.
Item. We will that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God's heritage, and his name one.
Item. We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
Item. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
There is more, and the document is well worth reading in its entirety. It was signed by Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, Richard M'Nemar, B. W. Stone, John Thompson, and David Purviance. On October 16–23, 1804 the Kentucky Synod expelled Barton W. Stone and others. It mattered little as they were now en route to “the old paths.” Sadly, there would be those that felt the pressure to return to Presbyterianism (Robert Marshall and John Thompson). As some of the Disciples who followed Campbell were caught up in Mormonism, there was a similar type of thing happening in Kentucky with the Shakers who claimed both John Dunlavy and John McNemar. David Purviance remained true to the cause; however, he relocated to Ohio in 1807. Barton W. Stone once lamented “I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away.”
Stone persevered and came to realize that he was not alone in his quest for New Testament Christianity. In 1824 he would meet, for the first time, Alexander Campbell and they would begin a conversation that would result in one of the great testimonies for Christian union in 1832. Barton W. Stone began his paper, The Christian Messenger, in 1826 in an effort to continue this quest. There was much to do, the road would be difficult, but these men desired to be restored to the church of the first century and follow the apostolic order.
Dickinson, Hope S., Editor, The Cane Ridge Reader: The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone, Observations on Church Government, Last Will and Testament of That Reverend Body; History of the Christian Church in the West, Paris, KY: Cane Ridge Preservation Project, 1972.
Doran, Adron, Restoring New Testament Christianity, Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 1997.
McNemar, Richard. Observations on Church Government by the Presbytery of Springfield, To Which Is Added the Last Will and Testament of That Reverend Body. Cincinnati, OH: John Brown, 1807.