To the untrained ear, the labels used in Christian circles for some groups of churches as either "reformational" or "restorationist" don't seem that different. If the label "reformed" is a direct connection to the Protestant Reformation of 16th century, what exactly makes something "restorationist"? Does this refer to one specific historical movement (e.g. 'Protestantism') or more generally to a genre of religious movements?


2 Answers 2


To reform is to change what already is there, and to restore is to return to its original state.

It probably depends which congregation within Christianity you're asking. Some protestants may consider themselves restorationists, and others reformational. Other Christians use the term and eschew the "Protestant" label.

For example, Latter-day Saints wouldn't consider themselves Protestant since the LDS Church is considered a restoration of what already was on Earth anciently... regardless of religious protests and breakages through time. This group is particularly interested in differentiating reformation from restoration.

But generally, I do understand most uses of the word "reform" to refer to the 16th century movements -- and other uses of the word "restore" I'm not familiar with than what I've mentioned. I've also seen local congregations use the word "Reformed such-and-such Church" in direct reference to another local congregation from which they are a derivative.

I guess it depends who you ask.

  • I believe there are also ties to Calvinism and "reformed".
    – user3961
    Nov 26, 2014 at 0:44

Restorationist movements imagine themselves to be "restoring" a more pristine form of Christianity, while reformed movements have their roots in the Protestant Reformation.

A good example of a restorationist church are the so-called Stone-Campbell churches that had their beginnings on the American frontier and now refer to themselves as the "Restoration Movement." The more fundamentalist churches among them would say that they are trying to "Restore" 1st Century Christianity, using the New Testament as their blueprint. Often this results in a sort of theological minimalism. For example, they are famous for such tropes as "No Creed but Christ" (They have historically eschewed all but the Apostle's Creed) and "We're not the only Christians, but we are only Christians" (i.e. not Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) and "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." Some congregations go as far as eschewing the use of musical instruments in worship (the so-called acappella Churches of Christ), since nowhere does the NT permit them to do use them.

Interestingly, within the Stone-Campbell churches sometimes refer to their own movement as the "Reformation of the 19th Century."

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