So why have so many people fallen for the various restorationist groups - particularly the ones that are so clearly UN-Christian?
Some writers suggest that it was due to the powerful abilities of the original proponents - their personalities and writings. Some have pointed to the American sense of independence leading to a desire to break from traditional denominations. Others have pointed to a frontier sense of autonomy in anti-education, anti-establishment, "I can do it just as well myself," attitude.
I will accept all of these as contributing factors, but I think that in the 1800's and 1900's people were primed for the restorationists and even some other utopian groups by theological changes that took place at about the same time in American religious life.
The "Great Awakening" of the 1730's was a time of sober theological preaching (e.g., Jonathan Edwards) that tremendously affected people with passionate desire to yield to God and serve Him. By mid-century, the response to such preaching had died down.
By the end of the century people remembered the passionate response and emotional outpouring with nostalgia and wondered how it could be revived. The outworking of this was the "Second Great Awakening." In this case, however, the preaching was much less sober or theological.
Preachers like Charles Finney pioneered the use of fiery rhetoric, sad stories and extended and impassioned appeals called. All across the frontier, people flocked to camp meetings which were, at the very least, events that encouraged emotional release and exuberance.
Were these individuals genuinely converted by the power of God in their lives, or were they only swayed by the emotional appeal of the moment? Some of each, no doubt. Even genuine converts to Christ were planted in shallow theological soil and often lacked the basic education necessary for Bible study.
Having been swayed by this new emotionalism and the humanistic appeal of Arminian theology, people were sitting ducks for the fakers and charlitans of the era. What mattered most was style and emotional appeal. The salvation by works or ritual messages of false religion found receptive hearers. The promise of utopian escatalogical renewal was just what they wanted! They flocked to the restorationists no matter how un-Biblical or un-Christian the teaching and saw it as "Pristine Christianity."