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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)


      The question of our distinctive name is one that agitated our leaders. The discussion began in the days of the Christian Baptist. It appears in the Harbinger in 1839, page 337, as follows:


      What shall we be called? is one question; and What shall men call us? is another. We are responsible for the first--our neighbors for the second. There is virtue, or there is vice--moral good, or moral evil an both sides. If we miscall ourselves, the sin is ours--it is theirs, ii they do it.

      We all agree that there is potency in a name. The world is ruled by names, both in a good and in a bad sense. If this be true, we exert an influence, good or evil, by the name we wear, as we do by the character we form. It is of importance, then, that we be called what we are, as that we be what we are called.

      That men should be called by their father's name is now a very common custom. It was not so from the beginning! It was not Mr. Adam and Mrs. Eve Adam. It was not Master Cain Adam, nor Abel Adam. Nor two thousand years after was it Mr. Abraham and Mrs. Abraham, nor Master Isaac Abraham. Nor a thousand years after was it Mr. David and Mrs. David, and Mr. Absalom David. Not even in the Christian era was it Mr. Zecharias and Mrs. Elizabeth Zecharias, nor Master John Zecharias. The custom is rather modern, and only prevails where polygamy and concubinage have been proscribed.

      But that men should be called by their, leaders--nations, by their founders--and people, by their country, is almost as old as the Flood. Canaanites, Hebrews, Israelites, Egyptians, Arabians, Pythagoreans, Platonists, Epicureans, Sadducees, etc., are monuments of this fact.--But when fathers, and leaders, and founders became numerous, and names derived from them also multiplied and increased, men began to be called after some remarkable incident or tenet in their history. Thus came the Pharisees, the Stoics, the Academicians, etc., etc.

      The Gentiles are fond of leaders; and, being proud of them, were called by them. The passion soon got into the church. Hence, as [369] early as the first Gentile churches, there were some proud of Paul; others, of Apollos; and some, of Cephas. It wad in vain that Paul protested against this schismatic spirit. The Corinthians, the Nicolaitans, Arians, Pelagians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians, etc., etc. are proofs that the authority of the great Apostle has hitherto been inadequate to restrain the passion for popes and parties.

      Call no man on earth Father, or Leader, or Master, is a positive precept. Under that flag we put to sea when we set sail from the moorings of sectarianism for the haven of ancient and primitive Christianity. When we drew up our Prospectus for our first publication, we headed it "The Christian;" and had it not been that we found ourselves anticipated we should have adhered to the title. I hesitated between the title "Baptist Christian" and "Christian Baptist," and on suggesting my embarrassment to a friend, who has since given himself due credit for the hint, as an original idea, he thought the latter was a better passport into favor than either of the others. We never fully approved, but from expediency adopted it. Finding that our brethren were being called "Christian Baptists," we changed the title of our work when we enlarged it, designing it only to the harbinger of better times, and not the insignia nor armorial of a new party.

      The Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians, judging us according to their standard, and weighing us in their balances, have nicknamed us "Campbellites." They wish us to take no precedence of them. They are proud of the livery they wear, and would have us to be like themselves--the followers of a fallible earthly leader. But our Master forbids us to assume any such designation, as derogatory to him, to ourselves, and tending to schism.

      Some would have us call ourselves Reformers, as if this word was specific of any thing. Like the word Protestant, it means nothing positive or definite, either in principle or in practice. There have been protestants and reformers, political, economical, ecclesiastic, and sacerdotal, times and ways without number. We are not reformed Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or any such things. Why, then, misrepresent ourselves? We may be reformed Baptists or reformed sinners, and yet a great way off Christians.

      Some like the name "Bible Christians," as if there were Christians without the Bible; or Bible, and not Bible Christians. There are no Koran Christians. Hence Bible before Christian is like human before man, or female before woman. A human man, a female woman, and a Bible Christian are creatures of the same parentage.

      We have only to choose between two Scriptural titles--disciples and Christians. [370]

[A. C.]      

      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, etc., etc.

      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 the others would repudiate us and unchurch us, because of our supposed Unitarianism, Arianism, etc. 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 in 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 person whose name they bear. Germans, Franks, Greeks, Romans, Americans, Columbians, Jeffersonians, etc., 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 [371] 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 gave at least thirty years' history of the primitive church, the word Christian occurs but twice--used only by the 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 that it was used rather by the enemies, than by the friends of the brotherhood. Our proposition is, then, abundantly proved, that it is 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 new sects, are zealous for the name Christian: while we are the only people on earth fairly and indisputably in the use of the title Disciples of Christ.

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

A. C.      

      On page 478 (1839) he says:

      An objection strongly urged by a brother, against the title "Disciples of Christ," or its substitute, "Disciples," is, that it is a common, not a proper noun--that it is not even a patronymic. It is, on the other hand, argued that Christian is a patronymic--a name derived from a father or a founder--Christ; and that, therefore, Christian is the proper and patronymic name, which, above all others, has superior claims.

      Well, if so, we must have better logic than I have yet seen to prove it: for the above argument is all on the side which it opposes. It is decidedly against its author. Christian is not a patronymic--Christ is not a proper name. "His name shall be called Jesus," said the angel. That is a proper name, whose patronymic is Jesuit. Christ is the name of an office--it is equal to King or Priest; and that I have no doubt is the true reason why the original disciples of Christ would not, could not, did not accept the name from the Antiochans, nor from the magistrates, nor even from King Agrippa, who, not knowing the meaning of Christos, supposed it to be a proper name, and Christian to be its patronymic. For the first disciples of Christ to have called [372] themselves 'The Anointed,' would have been a singular proper name. They were too discriminating for such a mistake. Our brother's logic proves that we ought to be called Jesuits. If it does not prove this, I affirm in my judgment it proves nothing. But if any one say that we can make the common noun Christian a proper noun, then I say we may make the word Disciple a proper name--nay, it is done in the New Testament, and by high authority. I am glad this subject is before us. I have heard much said in behalf of the name Christian for thirty years; and I am only more and more persuaded that the Apostles had better reasons for not assuming it, than any living man can give for now wearing it! Jesus, among the Jews, was a proper name and Christ a characteristic--an official designation. Jesuits or Disciples of Christ is now the alternative. Brethren, take your choice.

A. C.      

      In 1839, page 536, he says: The brethren all have a vote in this matter; and among the candidates for public favor, I give my vote for "the Disciples," or for the "Disciples of Christ." This is, for the reasons now given, my choice: but I will not contend with any man for a mere name, especially when they are all good. I believe since the age of christening that folks are usually passive in receiving a name.

A. C.      

      "D. A." proposes the name Brethren (1839, page 555 [sic]); objects to Christian and Disciple that they are not of the same significance now as in apostolic times, and are too general. He says:

      But as we are now in search of the best name, I take the liberty to suggest "Brethren," or "Brother" in the singular, as the most suitable. This, I think, will appear from a few considerations:--

      1st. While it is used interchangeably in the Scriptures with the word "disciple" so as to have equal authority, it occurs much more frequently.

      2d. It was used by Christ and the Apostles as a designation. "Ye are all brethren"--"holy brethren"--"If any one called a brother," etc.

      3d. Being derived from a natural relation which is immutable, it expresses the same idea now as formerly, which is not true of the others.

      4th. It is most free from any appearance of assumption or arrogance.

      5th. It is much more applicable.

[D. A.]      

      Thomas Campbell says (1840, page 21 [sic])

      In relation to the name by which the advocates and subjects of the proposed Reformation should be known, it would appear that there is none so eligible or suitable as the name Christian; for the following reasons: [373]

      1st. Because of the radical and comprehensive import of its appellative signification. 2d. Because of its Scriptural consistency with the intention of the proposed reformation.

      1st. With respect to the former--its radical and comprehensive import, etc.--it is evident that it literally signifies a disciple and follower of Christ; from which, as a proper name, it is derived; and which is the very radix of Christianity;--upon which, of course, every Scriptural appellation of a religious import, under the gospel dispensation, derives its religious significancy. For if a man be not a disciple and follower of Christ, he has no right to be called by any of the "different appellatives" by which Christians were wont to salute each other, as such. All other confessed or conceivable relations by which they did or could recognize each other, radically depended upon their confessed relationship to Christ, as his disciples and follower. Wherefore, the title CHRISTIAN comprehends and covers them all. 2d. Nor, secondly, is it less consistent with the intention of the proposed reformation, for which some of us have been laboring both by tongue and pen, by pulpit and press, for, at least, thirty years. The professed object of which is, and has been, from our commencement--the restoration of pure, primitive, apostolic Christianity in letter and spirit, in principle and practice; witness our "Declaration and Address," published at Washington, Pa., in the fall of 1809. Now this is that very religion--that very exhibition of Christianity, to which the appellative of CHRISTIAN was primarily annexed; for the disciples of Christ were called Christians first at Antioch A. D. 43. Nor, indeed, can there be a more proper term; "for as many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ:" therefore, surely they have as good a right to be called after him, as a woman has to be called after the name of the man of her choice, whom she has assumed as her head and husband. And is not this the very relation in which Christians are divinely said to stand to Jesus Christ? See II Cor. vi. 2; Eph. v. 23: "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you a chaste virgin to Christ." "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." Should Christians, then, consent to be recognized by any other name than that which brought them into the family of God?--by which they have become heirs of God--even joint heirs with Christ, their husband: compare Rom. vii. 4. with viii. 16, 17, and Gal. iii. 26. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." Hence--"All things are yours"--for "you are, Christ's." Can any name, then, be more appropriate, more distinguishing, more comprehensive, more glorious, or more Scriptural than that of CHRISTIAN? Or can any name suit better with the ultimate intention of the [374] proposed reformation; viz: the Scriptural unity and unanimity of the professors of Christianity, without which they can never convert the world? Surely no. For while one says, "I am of Paul"--another, "I am of Apollos"--the professing body must be divided; and, while continuing so, it can never succeed, prevail, or prosper: "For every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation" (Matt. xii. 25). Wherefore our Lord prays so earnestly for the unity of all who should believe in his name, that so the world might be converted: see John xvii. 11. Nothing, therefore, is more obviously necessary for this purpose, than that professed believers be professedly united in the one name, the one faith, and the one love, of the one Lord and Master;--both in order to their own peace and comfort, and also for the success of the blessed cause in which they are professedly engaged.

      These things being evidently so, what signifies all the objections that have been, or can be made to that worthy name by which the disciples of Christ have been called from the beginning? What if some have abused it? Is the abuse of a good thing any reason for the disuse or rejection of it? If so, what is it that has not been abused? But--"It is not sufficiently distinguishing." Why? Is it because that some who assume it, have practised or taught something inconsistent with the genuine truth and purity of our holy religion? Grant it: and what then? May not any name or title be thus abused? And can any appellation be better calculated to keep us right that that of CHRISTIAN? Surely no name can possibly combine in it so many interesting considerations to excite us to every thing that is good, honorable, and praiseworthy, as the name CHRISTIAN. It is, without exception, the most exalting, the most honorable, and distinguishing title under heaven. Excited, therefore, by these considerations, let us hold it fast, and endeavor to walk worthy of it.

T. C.      

      On the lack of divine authority for the name Christian, Mr. Campbell says (1840, page 24, et al.):

      But enough has appeared on this subject; and as we are all passive in receiving a name, and cannot compel the public to call us what we please, I shall only attempt one point, which, with me, is the only important one in the whole affair. It is this: Have we any divine authority for being called Christians? I do not ask, Have we any divine authority for being exclusively called Christians; for I believe all our brethren give that up; but the question is, Have we any divine authority for being called Christians at all? The same question may be variously propounded--as, for example, Was the name Christian first given by Heaven or earth, by God or man? Or was it recommended by human authority, and finally adopted by divine authority? [375]

      Those who affirm that it was given by divine authority from the days of John Newton till now, have relied upon the verb crhmatizw,, found in Acts xi. 26, as importing they were divinely called Christians first at Antioch; but it ever has been shown that such is the fixed meaning of that word, which is essential to the argument from it; indeed, no one, I believe, has ever assumed that it necessarily means so. Others again have assumed that Christian is the new name by which God's people were to be called, as intimated in Isa. lx. 3. But that was in the days of text-preaching, when the context had little or nothing to do with the interpretation of any passage: for now all are satisfied that the new name there spoken of is Hepzibah--"the delight of the Lord," or "My delight is in her." But although we are not called upon to prove that this name was not given by divine authority, our friends being obliged to offer proof that it was; we may fearlessly affirm, from all that has recently been written on the subject, and from all that is in the New Testament, that no person can possibly prove that it was divinely introduced or sanctioned.

      One great fact or two on record, in my judgment, forever precludes the possibility of such proof. It is a fact that the disciples were not first called Christians at Jerusalem, but at Antioch. Now as from Jerusalem went forth the law and the word of the Lord, and as the Holy Spirit was then fully communicated to the Apostles, and they had a full revelation of the whole institution and of the Master's will, whatever name they gave to the followers of Christ was of divine authority, and no other. The question, then, is, What did the Holy Spirit then call them? I answer, certainly not Christian; for Luke says they were called Christians first at Antioch. The matter is then decided forever, that the followers of Christ were not called Christians by divine authority, unless the Apostles received a new revelation or command some fourteen years after the day of Pentecost. For according to the chronology of those who differ from us, as well as of those who agree, the disciples were called Christians at Antioch fourteen years after the descent of the Spirit, and never before.

      But a second fact, equally conclusive, is, that Luke did not write his Acts of the Apostles for twenty-one years after they were called Christians first at Antioch. Paul, according to the received chronology, came to Rome A. D. 63, and Luke did not write his Acts for two years afterwards: for he writes in them that Paul "lived two years in Rome in his own hired house;" consequently he could not have written that book till the end of 64. Now if the name Christian had been given in Antioch, twenty-one years before, by divine command, what an ungodly man must Luke have been during these twenty-one years after, and fourteen before--in all, thirty-five years--never to have [376] called them Christians; but, on the contrary, waywardly and frowardly to have called them disciples all the while; and even in the very next fact that he writes in the very face of his intimating that they were divinely called Christians, (according to some of our Evangelists and teachers,) he obstinately says, verse 29, "In the days of Claudius Cesar, the disciples, every man," etc. Unless, then, we suppose this man Luke to have been a bold and daring offender against a divine revelation, it is infallibly certain that he and his companions, the Apostles, did not receive the name Christian as coming from Heaven, but from the rude and profane Antiochans.

      But it is assumed that Paul admitted it as of divine authority when it fell from the lips of King Agrippa. Paul was not such an admirer of regal grandeur as to hold the words of a king divine; nay, he modestly declined the name in the presence of Agrippa. For when the king said, "Paul, thou almost persuadest me to be a Christian," Paul does not say, "I would to God that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were not only almost, but altogether" Christians. Nay, verily, he says, "altogether such as I am, except these chains." The reason was then what it is now. The enemies of Christ desired to put him on a footing with Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle, and other philosophic and political aspirants, heads of parties, leaders, and thus to place his religion and his party on a par with others according to the ruling custom of the age; by which they hoped to humble his pretensions and exalt their own. The Apostles, therefore, as appears from all their writings, never once adopted the name. They call themselves and one another by numerous and various names, but never by that name.

      Thus Paul waived an appropriation of the name so complimentarily given him by the king. As, for example, should a German prince have said to Zuinglius when pleading the cause of Protestantism before him, "Zuinglius, thou almost persuadest me to be a Lutheran;" Zuinglius, perceiving his drift, would, in the spirit of Paul, not reply, "O Prince! I would to heaven that you were not only almost, but, altogether, a Lutheran; but altogether such as I am, except my unfortunate circumstances." So I think an uncommitted person would understand Paul before Agrippa.

      But the term is once more found, I Pet. Iii. 16. The Apostle intimates a fiery trial, persecution, reproaches, and sufferings for the name of Christ. The name Christian was then common among the enemies of Christ, as Luke intimated in the year 64, by telling when and where it first began; and it was then usual to indict, try, and kill the holy brethren under the name Christian. "If, then," says Peter, "any one suffer under this name of reproach and suffering (as a Christian,) let [377] him not be ashamed," etc. There are the only times the name is found in holy writ. Paul and Peter having suffered under Nero, all antiquity dates his 1st Epistle about the year 60, four years before Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. We have, then, unequivocal evidence that even after the time of Peter's two letters, the brethren called each other disciples, and had not then adopted the name Christian, though so current in the world as to be mentioned three different times in the space of thirty years in the inspired writings.

      It is an instructive fact that the same year (A. D. 60) in which Peter uses the word Christian as bandied about by Roman magistrates and people, the saints called each other brethren and disciples. For, A. D. 60, Luke says "the disciples" came together to break the loaf at Troas; while Peter spoke of their persecution under the title of Christians in the same year, and not far from the same place. The world, then, it seems called them Christians while they called themselves disciples and brethren, etc., down to A. D. 64.

      Not to repeat what has been so often and so well said by others--such as if the Lord had, in the judgment of the Apostles, authorized or approved this name, I ask, Would they not have immediately and ever after adopted it in preference to all others, as was the fact when Abram was changed into Abraham, and Sarai into Sarah? Even courtesy decreed that when the names Saul and Joses were changed into Paul and Barnabas, the old name should no more be used; or that they should thence be designated by the new name. I say, we need not to repeat what has already been so well said, and so often said by others. The disciples were immersed into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This holy name, neither Jesus nor Christ, was put or called upon them by divine authority.

      But let all remember that those who were first called Christians in Antioch, were persons who had first believed the gospel preached by the Apostles--had then repented of their sins--were then immersed into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--met the first day of every week--showed forth the Lord's death--contributed freely to the necessities of saints, and kept the apostolic ordinances. Will those who contend for this name do the same things, and exhibit the same moral excellencies! If so, I will call them Christians, if that will please them better than Disciples, or any other name; so far superior, in my judgment, is the thing to the name--the fruit to the blossom--the living man to the inanimate statue--the character to the profession. It will be remembered that I have used almost indiscriminately sundry names, and will likely continue to do so; for where the Lord has made me free, I cannot, without good cause, agree to bind myself.

[A. C.]      

      1. Alexander Campbell. "Our Name: Disciples--Christians--Reformers--Campbellites." The Millennial
Harbinger 10 (August 1839): 337-339.
      2. ----------. "Our Name." The Millennial Harbinger 10 (September 1839): 401-403.
      3. ----------. Extract from "Our Name." The Millennial Harbinger 10 (October 1839): 478-479.
      4. ----------. Extracts from "Remarks" on "Our Name." The Millennial Harbinger 10 (November 1839): 536.
      5. D. A. Extract from "Our Name." The Millennial Harbinger 10 (December 1839): 556.
      6. Thomas Campbell. Extract from "Communication." The Millennial Harbinger 11 (January 1840): 19-21.
      7. Alexander Campbell. Extract from "And Our Name." The Millennial Harbinger 11 (January 1840): 24-27,


[MHA2 369-378]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)