Restorationists and New Movements
Restorationists and New Movements
Nineteenth-century Britain saw the emergence of a variety of new Dissenting movements which cannot be regarded as belonging to older-established traditions. While some, such as the Brethren, have received considerable attention from historians, others are less well served; indeed, some have discouraged such investigation, partly because of their convictions regarding their divine origin. Consequently, an appreciation of them within their social and religious context has been difficult to achieve. This has been reinforced by the tendency to study such movements in isolation from one another. This chapter establishes where commonalities existed among these movements and between them and Dissent more generally. Those under review fall into several categories. Primitivists looked back to the New Testament as a golden age, from which all subsequent church history had been a decline. The Huntingtonians sought a restoration of a supposed New Testament pattern of spiritual experience. Other primitivists, who may also be called Restorationists, sought to re-establish a pattern of church life replicating that which they read off from the New Testament, or else reacted against such an approach on the basis that it was neither commanded nor possible. Another family of movements adopted a more pragmatic approach, since their primary concern was not the establishment of correct church order but effective evangelism and nurture. The chapter argues that there was a web of connections between these movements, and that they did not in fact develop in isolation from one another. While their pluriformity should not be understated, certain commonalities do emerge. All were suspicious of traditional theological learning. Most emphasized the need for personal conversion. Ecclesiologically, most believed in the sole authority of Scripture, the centrality of communion, the baptism of believers, plural unordained leadership, and often also the autonomy of local congregations; they also tended to be gathered churches. These movements usually began through secession from existing denominations, and this shaped their agenda. A tension felt by most lay between the call for separation from the world and the expression of the unity of all true believers; in several cases, the balance between purity and unity shifted over time. The way in which Scripture was seen as functioning in church life affected the extent and visibility of women’s involvement. Outreach was frequently directed at members of other denominations (who might be regarded as unconverted) as much as at the unchurched. While many of these movements appealed primarily to the working classes and the poor, some such as Brethren and Catholic Apostolics combined this with a middle-class element, and few were democratic in ethos. While there was often a cerebral element to their apologetic, most movements stressed the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit to act in and through members. Although their approach to Scripture as propositional truth and their sense of their own mission rendered them liable to division, they have remained a visible part of the British religious landscape to the present.
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