I was brought up, both in my family and my church, completely ignorant of our fellowship’s history. The prevailing attitude was that church history need not matter to a people who rely fully on Scripture for their guidance. I understand the sentiment, but disagree with it to an extent. I believe very strongly in the concept of “Sola Scriptura” (scripture alone). However, I also believe strongly in the proverb that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. None of us lives in a historic vacuum; there are reasons, good and bad, that we are where we are, and it dishonors those brothers and sisters of the past who made great sacrifices to ignore their contributions to the kingdom of God. God deserves praise not only for happens today or two thousand years ago. In my humble opinion, He deserves praise for the intervening time as well.
There is a document that is one of the defining turning points in the development of the Restoration Movement. It is the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. I’ll spare you the history lesson for now, but feel free to check out this article by Al Maxey: “The Springfield Presbytery”. Take the time before you leave to read the document below. I find it to be as needed and poignant today as it was in 1804. It takes courage and faith to step out of the comfort of traditionalism and into the brave new world of trusting fully in God.
The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery
For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of the testator; for a testament is of force after men are dead, otherwise it is of no strength at all, while the testator liveth. Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die. Verily, verily I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised, saying, yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.–Scripture.
THE PRESBYTERY OF SPRINGFIELD, sitting at Cane-ridge, in the county of Bourbon, being, through a gracious Providence, in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily; and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die: and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make, and ordain this our last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, viz.:
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.
Item. We will, that the church of Christ resume her native right of internal government–try her candidates for the ministry, as to their soundness in the faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority but Christ speaking in them. We will, that the church of Christ look up to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest; and that she resume her primitive right of trying those who say they are apostles, and are not.
Item. We will, that each particular church, as a body, actuated by the same spirit, choose her own preacher, and support him by a free will offering, without a written call or subscription–admit members–remove offences; and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatever.
Item. We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.
Item. We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.
Item. We will, that our weak brethren, who may have been wishing to make the Presbytery of Springfield their king, and wot not what is now become of it, betake themselves to the Rock of Ages, and follow Jesus for the future.
Item. We will, that the Synod of Kentucky examine every member, who may be suspected of having departed from the Confession of Faith, and suspend every such suspected heretic immediately; in order that the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of gospel liberty.
Item. We will, that Ja______ ______, the author of two letters lately published in Lexington, be encouraged in his zeal to destroy partyism. We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined into by all who may have correct information; but let foreigners beware of speaking evil of things which they know not.
Item. Finally we will, that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.
Springfield Presbytery, L.S.
June 28th, 1804.
B. W. STONE,