Archive for October, 2005

Power & Revelation: Cane Ridge & the Theology of Rev. Barton Stone

3 October, 2005

In August 1801, a four-day communion service in Cane Ridge, Kentucky that included Methodist, Presbyterians, Baptists and other Christians turned into a raucous frontier revival. The meetings attracted an estimated 20,000 believers, and the fervent preaching and spiritual manifestations are unequaled in the history of early American revivalism. Repentance gripped the congregation, and the meetings lasted well into each night. Fields and forests were filled with makeshift camps where Christians spent hours in prayer and exhortation. Gripped by conviction, congregants shook, swooned, laughed, leaped, ran, and jerked. Those present believed passionately that Pentecostal power had come; and though there is no direct historical reference to speaking in tongues, modern Apostolics cannot doubt that God was certainly visiting these humble frontiersman with the power of the Holy Ghost.
Perhaps even more interesting for Oneness Pentecostals are the unique beliefs of Rev. Barton Stone, the host pastor of the Cane Ridge Camp Meeting. A sometime Presbyterian, Stone proved to be a freethinker, rejecting doctrines and creeds that he could not validate with the Scriptures. As a young convert to Presbyterianism under the dynamic ministry of Rev. James McGready, Stone began studying theology and was soon discouraged by the inconsistencies between his exegetical textbooks and the Bible. He was particularly mystified by the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, he became so disillusioned while reading Witsius on the Trinity that he nearly gave up hopes of the ministry and struggled with worship: “. . . it was idolatry to worship more Gods than one, and yet equal worship must be given to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He [Witsius] wound up all in incomprehensible mystery. My mind became confused, so much confused that I knew not how to pray” (Thompson 43).
In summating his own view of the Godhead, Barton Stone is almost indistinguishable from Oneness apologists. He rejects outright the trinitarian insistence upon persons in the Godhead and declares: ” . . . there is but one only living and true God, without parts” (Stone 9). Concerning the divinity of Christ, Stone references a retinue of traditionally Oneness verses (i.e., Jn. 14.8-10, Jn. 10.38, & I Tm. 3.16), concluding most positively that: “In him [Jesus Christ] dwelleth, not a part, but all the fullness of God-head or divinity, bodily. The Father, the undivided God dwelt in Him” (Stone 12). Furthermore, Stone makes a clear distinction between the mingled divine and human natures of Christ arguing: ” . . . as Son, he knew not when would be the day of judgment-could do nothing-and was at last to be subject to the Father; but as God, he knew all things-could do all things” (Stone 20). While he believed that the Son as Logos existed in the bosom of the Father in eternity, he also repudiated the notion of the eternal Sonship and plainly contends: “From what I have said, it may be inferred that Jesus Christ was not eternally begotten of the Father-The notion of being begotten from eternity appears absurd.” (Stone 19).
Though Barton Stone’s revelation of God is perhaps imperfectly articulated with esoteric references to the soul of Jesus, which he may have equated with the Word, his theological resemblance to so many core tenets of Oneness Pentecostal theology evidences his penetration into the deeper truths of the Scriptures. Is it any wonder then that God sent such a magnificent revival to Cane Ridge, a frontier flame of supernatural power and consecration? Cane Ridge marked a historical moment in the march toward Apostolic restoration; and though Rev. Barton Stone is not often touted as a great reformer, his theological position proves that God’s illuminating Word & Spirit have, throughout history, beckoned men toward the fullness of New Testament Christianity.

Sources:

Stone, Barton. An Address to the Christian churches in Kentucky, Tennessee, & Ohio on several important doctrines of religion. C.V.M & J. Norvell, Nashville: 1814.

Thompson, Rhoes, ed. Voices from Cane Ridge. Bethany Press, St. Louis: 1954.