The invention of Gutenberg's printing press made Luther's rebellion against Catholicism possible. Printing with moveable metal-faced type made it possible to disseminate Reformation literature throughout Europe. American colonists discovered the power of the press prior to and during the American Revolution of 1776. Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and others used the power of the press to promote the cause of freedom. The press continued its influence even after the revolution. Literature printed on French presses promoted infidelity and atheism in America. Various religious groups started using printed materials in earnest as the 1800s began.
The Restoration Movement owed its success to the press as well. So influential were the various publications that W.T. Moore, an Disciples' historian at the end of the nineteenth century wrote, "The Restoration Movement doesn't have bishops, it has editors."
I want to note both positive and negative contributions of Restoration Movement literature and then briefly survey some of the more important periodicals.
I. Editors and their contributions.
A. The place of editors. Individuals owned and edited most early Restoration Movement periodicals. These editors determined the periodical's character and did most of the writing. Writers launched many publications, but most did not survive and the trash of papers begun and discarded litters the past. Thomas E. Friskney wrote:
Plenty of men felt they had something to say. Financing the effort proved more difficult. Even Alexander Campbell noted that one of the three essentials to an editor's success was the "means of living independently of his editorial labors."
The editor used his publication to create a constituency. In time readers identified with an editor's policies and position. Sometimes these policies or positions reflected sectional interests. More often, they reflected the editor's opinions on various issues. As the Restoration Movement developed, readers can see this truth in the papers opposing or advocating the use of musical instruments or missionary societies. Sometimes people subscribed to periodicals with which they disagreed just so they could read the other side of an argument. Usually most took a paper because "it gives them what they want."
Restoration Movement leaders demonstrated concern for the sheer number of publications as early as 1839. Campbell spelled out some of his concern in the Millennial Harbinger when he stated that too many periodicals drained brotherhood finances. As he put it, "We really need but two periodicals, or three at the most, in the United States -- all beyond these are fifth wheels -- they only needlessly tax the brethren. . . ." By 1852, Campbell became more insistent saying that "the unlicensed press of the present day, and especially in our department of reformation, is the most fearful omen in my horizon. . . ." Campbell's fear may be legitimate, but some of it may be due to the fear that his own publication might become less influential.
B. The periodicals' contributions. The many periodicals made, and still make, many contributions to the Restoration Movement.
There are positive contributions. The various periodicals provided much general religious information to their readers. They kept religious activities and issues before their subscribers. Restoration Movement periodicals provided a valuable service by keeping significant restoration events before the public. Periodicals printed devotional articles which deepened their readers' spiritual commitment and understanding. Restoration Movement periodicals tended to print much Scripture exposition. Most editors demonstrated genuine concern for their readers' Bible knowledge. Papers also published reports from evangelists, successful local congregations and cooperative efforts. As you might guess, they also published a great deal of Restoration Movement propaganda as they tried to clearly present the movement's goals and principles. They also pointed out and refuted errors in current biblical interpretation.
There are also negative contributions. Editors, writing from their own convictions, often used their paper to promote speculation and opinion. Such papers fostered partyism as factions formed around the editors. These self-appointed "bishops" often took an intolerant and dogmatic position in their efforts to expose "error." In the end such men denied the same liberty of opinion they demanded. Periodicals led to a crystalization of thought and vocabulary. As the number of periodicals grew, so did editorial jealousy and envy.
II. A survey of some important periodicals.
The Restoration Movement developed several significant periodicals over the years. Some are old standards, others are relatively new. Even the names are interesting. Two papers that did not survive were The Christian Casket and the Israel Indeed. One paper which had tremendous significance in the 1930s and 1940s, but which mercifully died, is The Touchstone.
A. The Herald of Gospel Liberty (1808) published by Elias Smith. We've already noted this paper first took religion to the world in a periodical. For this fact alone it is significant.
B. The Christian Baptist (1823-1830). This paper, Alexander Campbell's first paper, is really the first successful "reformer" paper. Of this paper it is said to "be the periodical which produced the greatest revolution in thought in this century." Campbell published the Baptist monthly issuing it on the first Monday of each month. In love with America, Campbell mailed his first issue on July 4, 1823. Campbell purposely used a sharp vitriolic writing style. He wanted to gain the religious world's attention! He did. The 1823 volume is particularly sharp. Clergymen from the various denominations responded in kind and Campbell loved it! Over the years his reasoning and writing led many influential men to adopt restoration principles. One of the most significant series carried in the paper is that entitled, "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things."
C. The Christian Messenger (1826-1845). Barton W. Stone published this paper. The Christian Baptist and The Christian Messenger were about the same size but the two papers differed substantially in tone. Stone's paper's masthead carried the notice that "unity was the Christian Messenger's polar star." Stone gave much attention to issues of union. He also used his paper as a forum to oppose slavery and to promote some of his theological speculations.
D. The Millennial Harbinger (1830-1870). Alexander Campbell began this paper to play down some of The Christian Baptist's sharpness. He did not always succeed and early volumes continued somewhat critical. Campbell issued the Harbinger at a time when Restoration Movement successes seemed to sweep merrily along. Scott's preaching of the "Restored Gospel" led Campbell to think God might soon usher in the millennium, thus the name. The paper included essays, biblical exposition, topical discussions, news and more. Campbell occasionally published "extras" to handle controversial subjects or subjects to which he wanted to direct additional attention. This paper operated as the Restoration Movement's major paper but its support began to erode by 1860. When Campbell died its driving force died, too. Even though Robert Richardson continued editing the paper for several more years it never had its previous zest.
Two other factors contributed to the Harbinger's demise. Other competing papers soaked off much of the Harbinger's readership. The American Civil War cut the paper off from most of its southern constituency.
E. The American Christian Review (1856- ). Benjamin Franklin, a great-great-great- nephew of statesman patriot printer Benjamin Franklin, published this periodical. Franklin issued the paper weekly or monthly depending on circumstances and editorial decisions. Franklin, a cabinet maker turned preacher, grew up in Ohio but lived most of his life in Indiana. An effective debater and evangelist, Franklin became known as a most conservative editor. His paper became the conservative bastion known as "the old reliable" by many. Franklin refused to take sides during the Civil War but he spoke boldly against instrumental music and other "innovations." Others continued the paper after Franklin's death. Daniel Sommer, Franklin's most significant successor, changed the paper's name to The Octographic Review. Franklin's paper passed its heyday with his death but it is still published today from Indianapolis under the name of The American Christian Review.
F. The Gospel Advocate (1855- ). Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb began this paper but it had little influence until David Lipscomb became editor after the Civil War. In fact, the paper ceased publication during the war but was restarted in 1866. Tolbert Fanning immersed David Lipscomb, a Tennessean and one of the many farmer-preachers in the movement. During the Civil War Lipscomb stood staunchly as a "man of the south." When the American Christian Missionary Society abandoned its neutrality in 1863, Lipscomb took exception. From that point on he became an outspoken opponent of missionary societies and later instrumental music. The Gospel Advocate overcame many financial problems to become influential in the American south where it today remains strongly influential.
G. The Christian Standard (1866- ). Soon to be President James A. Garfield and the wealthy T.W. Phillips led in The Christian Standard's establishment in 1866. Both men became dissatisfied with the American Christian Review's legalism and hoped to begin a more irenic journal. They selected Isaac Errett, a Scotch-Baptist turned reformer, as the paper's first editor. Errett was born in New York in 1820 and joined the Disciples in 1832. He apprenticed himself to a printer but turned to ministry when he was 20. During his career he ministered to strong congregations in Ohio and Michigan. For several years he also coedited The Millennial Harbinger. The movement knew Errett before the Standard's began publication. The Christian Standard came off Cleveland presses in April, 1866. The paper's first issue carried Alexander Campbell's obituary. The periodical advocated New Testament Christianity, union, practical piety, support of worthy institutions, reviews of the day's religious literature and the analysis of important current religious movements. By 1867 the paper slumped financially so the stockholders dumped it giving it to Errett. Errett purchased the Christian Record's subscription list adding some 2,000 names but that still wasn't enough. Finally a Cincinnati firm, R.W. Carrol and Company, offered to underwrite the journal if Errett remained the editor. The publication then moved to Cincinnati where remains to this day. By 1872 it had some 15,000 subscribers with more subscribing every day.
In the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Errett family sold Standard Publishing Company to a New England congregationalist. Since then it has become part of a conglomerate known as Standex International. Standex's religious division remains loyal to Restoration Movement principles. A publication committee drawn from Restoration Movement leaders guides the editorial policies for all publications which now includes The Lookout, The Christian Mother, Key to Christian Education, a host of youth papers. In addition, Standard Publishing publishes brotherhood books on a limited basis.
H. The Christian or The Christian-Evangelist (1882- ). This periodical, now the Disciples of Christ formal organ, began as the Gospel-Echo with J.H. Garrison as coeditor. Garrison moved the paper to St. Louis in January, 1869 where it merged with the Evangelist in 1882. B.W. Johnson may have started the Evangelist in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, somewhere around 1850. The paper's tone resembled that of The Christian Standard until Errett and Garrison died. After that, the two papers diverged until they became opposed to one another over Liberalism in the early 1900s.
Restoration Movement preachers and leaders still issue publications. You'll find them published almost everywhere. Curtis Dickinson edits The Witness, which advocates annihilationism; David Reagan edits The Lamb and the Lion, which espouses dispensational premillennialism; Leroy Garrett edits Restoration Review, which advocates unity and open membership but opposes inerrancy to name a few. Some of these publications wield great influence today. For many years successful Restoration Movement preachers felt they needed to preach, teach and edit a journal. The significance of all this is simply the fact that nothing did more to shape the movement than its journals.
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