Alexander Campbell Our Name (1839)






B E T H A N Y, VA. SEPTEMBER, 1839. =================================================================


      INTO what, or into whom have we been immersed? Into Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Campbell, or Reformation? If not, then why nickname us, or we nickname ourselves, when we assume or choose such designations? Shall we be called Disciples of Christ, or Christians? Why not call ourselves Christians? Not because we have another leader than Christ; for he is our teacher. We believe in him--were immersed into his death--and have thus put on Christ. But we have been anticipated. The term Christian in New England, and in some other sections of this land, is a name chosen and appropriated by a party who boast that they are Unitarians--disbelieve in baptism for the remission of sins--and refuse to celebrate the Lord's death as often as they celebrate his resurrection, &c., &c.

      Were I or any brother to traverse much of New York, New England, and some other sections, and call ourselves Christians, as a party name, we should be admitted by all Unitarians and rejected by all of a different belief. One party would fraternize with us, while others [401] would repudiate us, and unchurch us, because of our Unitarianism, Arianism, &c. For this reason we prefer an unappropriated name, which is indeed neither more nor less than the scriptural equivalent of Christian; for who were called Christians first at Antioch? They had a prior--a more ancient name. They were called Disciples. Disciples of whom? Of Christ. Disciples of Christ is, then, a more ancient title than Christian, while it fully includes the whole idea. It is, then, as divine, as authoritative as the name Christian, and more ancient. Besides it is more descriptive; and, better still, it is unappropriated. It claims our preference for four reasons:--

      1st. It is more ancient.
      2d. It is more descriptive.
      3d. It is more scriptural.
      4th. It is more unappropriated.

      1. Our first reason is indisputable, for the disciples of Christ were called Christians first at Antioch. Those who from the day of Pentecost were known throughout Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and among the Gentiles as disciples of Christ, were at Antioch, many years afterwards, called, for the first time, Christians.

      2. It is more descriptive: because many people are named after their country or their political leaders, and sometimes after their religious leaders, who would feel it an insult to be called the pupils or disciples of the persons whose name they bear. Germans, Franks, Greeks, Americans, Columbians, Jeffersonians, &c. do not describe the persons who bear their names; for they are not supposed to be the pupils of such men. Might not a stranger, an alien, imagine that Christian, like American or Roman, had some reference to country or some benefactor, or some particular circumstance, rather than scholarship? Disciple of Christ is, then, a more descriptive and definite designation than Christian.

      3. It is more scriptural. Luke wrote his Acts some thirty years after the ascension. Now in his writings, which give at least thirty years' history of the primitive church, the word Christian occurs but twice--used only by Antiochans and by King Agrippa; but no disciple, as far as Luke relates, ever spoke of himself or brethren under that designation. More than thirty times they are called Disciples in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke and other intelligent men call them often "brethren" and "disciples," but never Christians. Again, we have the word Christian but once in all the epistles, and then in circumstances which make it pretty evident it was used rather by the enemies, than by the friends of the brotherhood. Our proposition is, then, abundantly proved, that it was a more scriptural and consequently a more authoritative and divine designation than Christian.

      4. It is more unappropriated at the present time. Unitarians, Arians, and sundry other newly risen sects abroad are zealous for the name Christian; while we are the only people on earth fairly and undisputably in the use of the title Disciples of Christ.

      For these four reasons I prefer this designation to any other which has been offered. Can any one offer better reasons or a better name?

A. C.      

[The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, 3 (September 1839): 401-403.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Our Name" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 9, September 1839. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1839), pp. 401-403. The essay is reprinted in The Origin and Principles of the Christians by J. F. Burnett (Dayton, OH: The Christian Publishing Association, 1921), pp. 22-25.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page.

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 11 April 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Our Name (1839)

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