[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
Reuben Butchart
The Disciples of Christ in Canada Since 1830 (1949)


Chapter Two


      A Religious Reform began in Visions and Dreams as a mere Movement, but later Conditions compelled Organization.

      The new birth of religious freedom which sprang into permanent being in Pennsylvania in 1809, was another seed from the Old World, which flourished under conditions which happened to be favorable. The movement that finally emerged as a new religious body in North America in 1832, began in the soul--troubles of a few individuals--amongst Methodists in Virginia and North Carolina in 1794; and amongst Baptists in New England in 1801. From these arose a "Christian Church" in small groups. From Kentucky, in 1804, (from amongst the Presbyterians) arose another body of "Christians", led by Barton W. Stone, the latest and strongest contribution to the stream of religious reform flowing from the efforts of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, in the year 1809.

      All these seekers had been touched almost to despair owing to the state of the churches from which they came. The differing creeds, customs and habits of each religious group differed not only from each other but the Book which all religionists regarded as the central authority. What happened eventually was that this striving to know "What is truth?", led to the new attitude of humbly and keenly seeking to know it in the sacred writings. And every one of the seekers noted in the foregoing, found his solution to be in the following of the Book, instead of, first the decisions of councils, synods, and other authorities. This was the memorable thing which the Disciples produced, but to this they added the distinction which the Campbells advanced as to methods of interpretation, which were, that the Bible was to be understood as any other piece of literature is understood, according to rules explained elsewhere. Their discoveries related not only to the matter of personal salvation, but to the entrance to the 'Church' of the Lord, and the conducting of the same by means of rules deduced from Scripture, by direct statement or logical inference. Here, at last, was safe ground, clear and unmistakable. Here, it was hoped, dissensions would cease and progress begin.

      Again, let it be stated, origins were, from the first, from at least four streams of influence. There were the Glas-Sandeman, the Haldanes, in [7] the old land; and the secession from the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian bodies in America. Thus, from these countries, the origins came: from Scotland (and Ireland), from the States of Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Kentucky.

Virginia, and North Carolina, 1794

      Out of the Methodist Episcopal Church (itself a reform movement from British Methodism in 1784) came an elder and lay preacher, James O'Kelly, and others, who in 1792, were voted down in their claim of right of appeal. On August 4, 1794, these Republican Methodists met in Old Lebanon Church, Virginia, and adopted as their name "Christian Church." The name came from a colleague of Kelly's--Rice Haggard. They took the Bible as their only creed: they held that the primitive Church government, which came down from heaven, was a "Republic," though "Christian Church" was its name. All preachers were to be on an equal footing, and both ministers and laymen were to have the right of private judgment. Each congregation should enjoy the greatest possible freedom. The Methodist doctrines were not disowned. Owing to an experienced staff of zealous members, a considerable number of Methodist Churches became "Christian". "Fifteen years later it was estimated that the Christian Church had 20,000 members 'in the southern and western states.' This doubtless includes Kentucky and Tennessee."1

New England Contributes in 1801

      Congregationalism secured a firm footing in New England and may have been a modifying factor in other groups. The influence of two young Baptist preachers arose against the Calvinistic emphasis upon 'original sin.' "Elias Smith", (an educated layman) became a preacher and independently won his way "toward the conviction that the churches should abandon their theological and ecclesiastical systems and restore the simple faith and practice of the primitive church."2 Abner Jones, (born 1772) in Massachusetts, was raised in Vermont, as was Smith: became a Baptist preacher, and after hearing Elias Smith preach, stirred by his influence, "Jones organized an independent church at Lyndon, Vermont, in the Autumn of 1801, to which he would give no name but "Christian". During the next year Jones secured ordination by three Free Will Baptist preachers--not as a Baptist but 'only as a Christian'--and organized 'Christian' churches at Hanover and Piermont, New Hampshire. Up to this time, [8] Smith had been the leader in thought but had hesitated to break his Baptist ties. Jones now persuaded him to obtain the Baptist name and joined him in organizing a 'Christian' church at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1804 Jones moved to Boston and formed a church there."3

      "Within twenty years after the founding of that first 'Christian' church at Lyndon, Vermont, there were dozens of such churches in New England and others in adjacent parts of Canada and in New York and Pennsylvania, all deriving from this original impulse. These were, on principle, independent churches. No organization directed or controlled them and they had no co-operative activities. However, there was a sense of fellowship among them and they soon began to hold informal conferences."4

      About the year 1832, in Ontario, certain churches, believed to be of this group, claimed a membership of 12,000 and twenty churches, and twenty ordained elders. They were organized under the name "Christian Connection." They had an annual Conference. It was out of this body that Joseph Ash came into the movement. He proposed that the 'Christians' unite with the Disciples. At the Ontario Whitby Conference, union between the two bodies was defeated by the adverse casting vote of the chairman. Joseph Ash tells this story in the Christian Worker of Meaford, Ontario, November issue, 1882, page 3. Ash records that he was opposed to the idea of having a "Conference" as being unscriptural. (See Biographies--Joseph Ash, Chapter 10.)

Barton W. Stone and other "Christians"

      "The longest direct tributary to the stream which became the Disciples of Christ is the movement with which the name of Barton W. Stone is generally associated. This took visible form when he and his four colleagues dissolved the Springfield Presbytery, in 1804, and took the name 'Christians'. Back of this, however, lay two other movements which led to the formation of 'Christian' churches. Stone was certainly fully informed about the first of these before taking his own step, but probably not about the second. The three were so nearly identical in principles and objectives that they considered themselves as constituting a single body as soon as they learned of one another's work and long before they had any organizational unity. We shall consider the three parts of the 'Christian' Church in the order of their origin. The first was a secession from the Methodist, the second from the Baptists, the third from the Presbyterians".5 [9]

      Barton W. Stone stands as one of the great quarternion made up of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Stone, and Walter Scott. He was born December 24, 1772, and was living in Virginia at age 16, when he began to take an interest in his salvation. He was torn between the rival claims of certain bodies strongly represented, and relapsed into depression, but finally received some peace from the Bible. After graduating from an academy in Guilford, N.C., he began study to qualify for the Presbyterian ministry. Again he became depressed over the Westminster theology, and resorted to the teaching profession: but some perseverance in his search brought clearer outlook. Hesitation was produced in his mind by a study of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which he could not endorse as a presentation of evangelical Christianity. At his graduation as a student, he answered concerning the doctrine in the Confession, "that he could accept it as far as it is consistent with the Word of God." He was ordained on that. His expressed idea of the doctrines of Calvinism was, that it was a dark mountain, which acts as a discouragement to the sinner. This point of view has been noted in other pages. The sincere and truly Christian mind of Barton W. Stone carried him through many difficulties of belief.

      But he was once again to make another advance, with conflict. In the course of his duties, in the year 1801, he had come in contact with a great revival in the south of Kentucky, and in Tennessee, under James McCready, a Presbyterian. In a great campmeeting, in Logan County, he witnessed the strange agitations and cataleptic attacks which had been noted in the evangelism of Whitefield; men and women, struck down as if dead, or who barked, or jerked, or performed prodigious feats of strength. Nevertheless, he believed that there had been released a great deal of genuine religious seeking after God. He returned to Cane Ridge, Kentucky, where similar effects were occurring during a protracted meeting in August. In a gathering of many thousands, which was addressed at different points by various speakers (Methodists and Baptists) it is believed that not less than a thousand persons were struck down by an excess of religious fervor (Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, ii, page 193). Stone himself, with five others, had come to the point where he had told his congregation that he could not preach the doctrines of the Confession, unless they were in accordance with Scriptural terms. Under so tense a state of conviction as existed, there was readiness to accept a method that made sense to the average mind. As Stone preached to the people their freedom to accept the gospel when they6 [10] would, "they appeared as if awakened from the sleep of ages: they seemed to see for the first time they were responsible beings and that refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin." His co-laborers in this new stand were Richard McNemar, John Thompson, John Dunlavy, David Purviance and Robert Marshall. These all preached in direct conflict with the Westminster Confession. They were soon charged with heresy against Calvinistic doctrines. The group met a protest from their Synod and one of the committee sent to them was converted to their view. But they were suspended from the preaching body. They continued to preach without salaries whenever they could. They founded congregations, principally in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. Mr. Stone reported once that he had won a whole Baptist Association entire in Ohio. The group attempted to organize for their campaign, and an Association called the Springfield Presbytery was the result. But men who were at the time preaching that Christians should be united upon the Bible, soon saw that they could not do a thing savoring of party. Within a year--on June 28, 1804--they dissolved the Association and issued a famous document called "Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery." They chose to call themselves by the name "Christian". This occurred at Cane Ridge, near Paris, Kentucky, in 1804. Their renunciation likely took courage to correct this mistake publicly, but the effect of so doing was greater than they had perhaps imagined it would be. Let it be noted that these events occurred five years before Thomas Campbell issued his "Declaration and Address", and eight years before he and his famous son was immersed in Christian baptism. One of Stone's trials was the return of five of his first group to their religious allegiances. The priority that Stone has in teaching the fundamental duties in Bible terms, entitles him to be better known. He brought many churches into union with the Reformers, which are referred to later on.

Thomas and Alexander Campbell, 1807

Thomas Campbell

      Thomas the father, was of Scotch origin, born in North Ireland, in County Down, February 1, 1763. He married the daughter of a French Huguenot family and his son, Alexander, was born September 12, 1788 near Shane's Castle, County Antrim, Ireland. The father of Thomas Campbell was first a Roman Catholic, but later adopted the faith of the Church of England. The son followed into the Presbyterian fold, a Church divided after the severe fashion of the times. The Presbyterian Church in Scotland and Ireland in 1733 divided over the right of the local church to elect its [11] own minister This right had been taken from the parishes and given to local land owners who appointed the parsons. The Dissenters were known as Seceders, and these again were divided into Burghers and Anti-Burghers, over still finer issues, about the relation of Church and State. That was the great question at stake. Thus, there were four branches of the Seceder Church, each professing the Westminster Confession of Faith, whilst holding to its own testimony.

      Thomas Campbell was a deeply-disposed religious man. He had received the current conception that a man could do nothing for his personal salvation until the grace of God intervened. Yet he prepared, himself to preach, by graduating from the University of Glasgow. He became an Anti-Burgher minister and preached in the New Market Presbytery in the north of Ireland. Later he settled at Rich Hill, where he conducted an academy. He was also minister at Ahorey, nearby. He became an earnest advocate of union over Seceder differences. In his brotherly advocacy of peace he influenced his Presbytery, but he was outvoted. However, the Union was accomplished, in 1820. Thomas Campbell was influenced by the Independents (Congregationalists) and by James and Robert Haldane, who were then leaders amongst non-conformists in an effort to revive evangelical religion in Scotland. The Haldanes were not advocates of Union, but they deprecated the creeds and dangerous errors which had crept into the witness of the Church.

      Certain scholars have also traced in the mind of Thomas Campbell evidence that in his university days he had been strongly influenced by the writings of the English philosopher, John Locke. In his Letters Concerning Toleration (in worship) Locke helped to free many minds against narrow views expressed as to the right of individuals to enter into dissenting groups and hold varieties of religious opinion. In this spiritual liberation both father--and later the son--shared, and their own original efforts bear the marks of this trend. But to a man of Campbell free spirit, the sectarian narrowness of North Ireland must have been a trial. A measure of ill-health, and the desire to benefit his family by emigration to America, eventually brought him across the Atlantic. In so doing he was but following some of his neighbors.

Religious Conditions In North America

      It is true there was plenty of traditional partyism in the religious sects. At that time the bodies of greatest strength were Baptists, Methodists, [12] and Presbyterians. It need not be assumed, however, that amongst these so-called 'branches' of the Church and others, there was necessarily always hostility. Amongst them there had arisen friendliness and co-operation through Bible distribution, Sunday Schools, and certain missionary activity, which began about this period. But one super-cause of opportunity in America lay in the fact that here was a country which owned no duty toward religion in their institutions. There was no Established Church, nor could there be any form of discrimination against any form of Church polity. In European countries since the Reformation, in both Catholic and Protestant countries, the idea that there had of necessity to be an authoritative association of Church and State was still unbroken; yet in America it was disowned by the country's Constitution.

      Thomas Campbell arrived in Philadelphia in May, 1807, and found the Synod of his Church in session. A man of his presence and scholarship easily won acceptance. He was allotted charges to a group of scattered churches in Washington County, Pennsylvania. There he found many of his friends who had preceded him. In his duties as a Seceder minister, he found in the Alleghenies groups of wandering sheep without any pastoral oversight, yet subject to the divisions of a Church and an inherited intolerance from the old land. His spiritual vision recognized this unlikeness to the unity and brotherliness that should prevail amongst Christians, when judged by Scriptural standards. Such was probably his most distinctive feature. He was to be faced with a crisis that was to try his faith. Among these groups of his own followers were other 'Christians' outside his communion. Upon a certain occasion in his ministry, near Pittsburgh, he found other members of Christian communions in his congregation. In his sermon he deplored the divisions which kept the followers of Christ in opposite flocks; and as it was an occasion for the communion, he invited all to come without reference to their alliances. This departure from Seceder rules soon brought upon him the censure of his Presbytery. He appealed to the Synod and stated that he only pleaded for the Scriptural and apostolic worship of the Church, in opposition to various errors which had corrupted it. The Synod released him from censure technically, but their attitude continued to be unfriendly. Eventually he found the cloud of suspicion and opposition too strong to overlook and took the step of withdrawing as a Seceder minister, though not leaving the Presbyterian Church. In defining Campbell's attitude here, historian W. E. Garrison asserts that "his emphasis on the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice was no more than the general [13] Protestant principles applied to a specific situation, and clarified by that distinction between essentials and non-essentials which had been enunciated by Rupertus Meldenius, repeated by Stillingfleet, and elaborated by Locke in his Toleration", (Religion Follows the Frontier, page 76, W. E. Garrison, Harper Brothers, New York, 1931). Nevertheless, his first firm act, upon deep convictions, holds up here an everlasting mark.

The Declaration and Address

      This crisis to the peacefully-minded Campbell, involved in strife over his principles, drove him to study even more diligently, but with renewed courage. He now had to resort to homes for his preaching. The state of organized religion then promoted unrest and enquiry amongst certain devout people. Friends soon rallied around him, because he had refused to renounce his loyalty to the Bible as he understood it. The scene was mainly rural, in the village of Washington, in Washington County. At the home of Abram Altars he made a stirring address, exalting the Bible as the only sufficient rule of faith and practice, and climaxed his thought by the words: "Where the Scriptures speak we speak: where the Scriptures are silent we are silent."

      This conformity to exact Scriptural standards would, he believed, tend to check divisions and promote unity. This affirmation produced a strong feeling that they were as searchers of Truth, on a new and high road; but none knew just where it might lead. Even the speaker soon found that his principles compelled him to revise his old opinions. When a heated discussion brought fourth the unscripturalness of infant sprinkling, it was forthwith abandoned. Further study brought forth fresh affirmations. The group were the originals of those who should be persistent in every church:--Bible searchers after Truth. It was not a creed they sought. On August 17, of that year, at a meeting it was decided to form "The Christian Association of Washington". There was a membership of about thirty persons, of which a committee of twenty-one was formed to act upon a statement composed by Mr. Campbell on September 7, 1807. This was written in a small room, in the house of a farmer named Welch, and contains 30,000 words. It is learned, morally authoritative, and spiritually enlightening. It brought into definite focus the errors then afflicting the Church. The "Declaration and Address" is still a religious milestone.

Summary of the 'Declaration and Address'

      Proposition 1: That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one, consisting of all those in every place [14] that profess their faith in Christ and obey him in all things according to the Scriptures; and that they should manifest the same by their conduct.

      2. That although churches may exist separately there ought to be no schisms or uncharitable divisions among them; that they walk by the same rule, mind and speak the same thing.

      3. Nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith, or required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the Word of God, either in express terms or approved precedent.

      4. The Old and New Testaments contain one perfect revelation of the divine will; yet the New Testament is a perfect constitution for worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament church.

      5. No human authority should impose new commands which our Lord has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received or made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.

      6. Deductions based upon the Scriptures may not be binding upon the consciences of Christians further than they see the connection.

      7. Whilst doctrinal definitions of the sacred Word may be helpful, they ought not to be made terms of communion.

      8. No more should be required for admission to the Church than a recognition of our lost and perishing condition, a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to him according to his word.

      9. That all who become followers of Christ should consider their brethren as saints in indissoluble union, under their heavenly Father.

      10. Divisions among Christians is a horrid evil, destroys love, is unscriptural, and works confusion.

      11. That human opinions and inventions when made terms of communion, are obvious causes of the corruptions and divisions that have occurred.

      12. Purity in the Church may best be obtained by receiving none but those who profess faith and obedience, according to the Scriptures. Conduct will reveal their fidelity. The ordinances taught and enjoined in the primitive Church, should be observed without addition.

      13. In matters of expedience, such only should be adopted as are necessary, with no pretence of sacred origin, so that subsequent alteration may not produce strife. [15]

Comment Upon the "Declaration and Address"

      It is not surprising that the contents of this revolutionary document were not at once accepted by a community of farmers, or of scholars. Reforms are never so spontaneous. The Document had to grow into acceptance. Upon such a subject it, for the first time, laid down a great principle that had to be tried in the court of human effort. It was a statesmanlike appeal to all Christians to abstain from further contributions to the agitations and discussions that had obscured the faith and divided the flock of God since apostolic times. The effect of the document is not that of new and revolutionary ideas, but of a focusing glass, by which much of the truth of the Bible as divinely authoritative is seen in a proper relationship, previously unrecognized. The genius of the "Declaration" is that it clarifies the Bible message to the Christian Church, and precipitates a mode of action. Perhaps the strongest vindication of its claims is found in the fact that it helped to create the largest religious body born on American soil, and now the seventh largest in the United States. While its proposals are subject to the criticism of the religious world, including the body founded partly upon it, it is at least apparent that since its appearance, and possibly greatly owing to its influence, great progress has been made, throughout the religious world toward Christian Union.

Alexander Campbell joins His Father

Alexander Campbell

      Thomas Campbell had merely preceded his family to America, and when his son Alexander finally joined him, with others of his family, an important addition to the ranks of reform came into view. He arrived at Washington village on October 28, 1809. The family had set sail to come to America in October, 1808, but becoming shipwrecked on the Hebrides they were detained for a whole year. Alexander, then 19, used his time by attending lectures at Glasgow University. He was gifted mentally and physically. He attained proficiency in both Greek and Hebrew. A fundamental change was effected in his make-up by contacts with James and Robert Haldane, and their co-laborers, in a training school for lay preachers, which they maintained in a movement directed toward the masses in Scotland. The Haldanes had in 1799 established in Edinburgh an Independent church, in search of purely Scriptural models. They practised weekly communion, the congregational form of organization, but did not adopt Scriptural baptism until 1807. Richardson states that their aim was to expose doctrinal errors that had crept into the Church, and to provide a more [16] efficient evangelism--hence the lay preaching, (Memoirs, i, p. 309). The Haldanes were warmly evangelical. Their outreach had included Rich Hill, Ireland, during Thomas Campbell's service there. The spiritual power released by them had a remarkable effect, (comparable to that of Rowland Hill, Whitefield and Wesley in England.)

      At Glasgow the young Alexander tame under influences of the Haldanes and particularly that of Mr. Greville Ewing, who was the scholarly and progressive conductor of the Haldane seminary in Glasgow. Richardson states that here he "received his first definite impulse as a religious reformer" (Memoirs, i, p. 149). On his own account he had broken with Presbyterianism as unsatisfactory. Ewing's counsel and friendship became potent for Alexander and contributed to the changing of his views. Ewing had introduced the books of Glas and Sandeman into the seminary (against the wishes of the Haldanes); and here young Campbell learned some new religious concepts, such as the congregational form of organization, weekly communion, the denial of 'clerical' rights and privileges, with the complementary right of the 'lay' person to participate in public worship. The Haldanes had by this time come to the assertion that effective Christian faith was something more than assent to testimony, and should result in the inquirer's resting his whole aim and hope upon the finished work of a Saviour, thus leading to a complete transformation of heart and mind. It seems a truism today to assert this, but in the early nineteenth century times it was revolutionary (Memoirs i, page 177). Alexander's adoption of this truth marks him as progressive and open-minded, and this attitude was maintained later. And it is of interest to note further, that Haldane converts were powerful agents in early days in Ontario (see Chapter 9).

      Returning to the Campbell family, we see them now happily re-united in the Autumn of 1809, having located at Washington, in southwestern Pennsylvania. On meeting with his father Alexander had received the newly-printed "Declaration and Address" which was to make his father famous. He studied it, and to the father's joy, it was found that father and son had complete agreement on its principles. Both were on the search for more truth, and through diverse paths they had reached this point together, whilst separated by the Atlantic. One had evolved his views while in the stress of religious conflict; the other, by independent study, assisted by favoring aids. Alexander proposed to give his life to the furtherance of these views. He began an intensive study of the Bible, of Greek and Hebrew, and Church history. He preached his first sermon in a private house [17] on July 15, 1810, and was licensed to preach. But, there was no Church to ordain him. The Washington Christian Association was not a church, and the Presbyterian Church had refused fellowship to its leaders. Thus, regrettably, the formation of yet another Church became a necessity. They proceeded to the organization of a congregation, according to Scriptural design. A simple building was erected called Brush Run. This church held its first service on June 16, 1811, with Thomas Campbell as elder. Alexander was ordained to preach on January 1, 1812. So far they had perhaps no more than two leading principles: the supreme authority of the Scriptures and the aim of uniting the people of God. Take note that this 'first Church' became a body in search of truth. They found some of it as a surprise. During the observance of the Lord's Supper, it was noticed that some did not partake. They explained that they had not been baptized; and at that date their leaders had not been baptized. They believed that baptism lay within the discretion of the individual. But the studious church (would that all churches should be so moved) found a more perfect way, through the leadership of the Campbell family. Alexander Campbell had married in March, 1811: the birth of a daughter brought to the test his previous acceptance of infant sprinkling. Father and son both studied the matter and were led through the New Testament to a new form of Christian baptism--that by immersion of the body of an intelligent believer on Christ. So, on June 12, 1812, father and son, and five others were immersed in Buffalo creek, by Matthias Luce, a Baptist preacher, using only the 'Good confession' of Peter (Matt. 16:16). This was likely the first baptism in America upon this usage. Baptist procedure had required the relation of an 'experience'. Soon most of the one hundred members became immersed.

Brush Run Church joins the Redstone Association

      Without desiring to do so, the Campbells had been forced by circumstances, to launch another Church, so that their newly discovered principles could be tested in action. As Brush Run was practically a Baptist church, it had found favour with the Redstone Baptist Association of Churches. This gave them new friends, although it estranged some Paedobaptist brethren. Alexander, who by this time had by his force of character practically become leader, was urged to preach in Baptist churches, and did so. Brush Run voted that they would join the Association, provided they were allowed to teach and preach anything learned from Scripture, "regardless of any creed." Although the Association had adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, its members liberally voted about unanimously [18] for their acceptance in the Association. This was in the autumn of 1813. This new fellowship continued with growing influence for Mr. Campbell, with the difference that follows: the Calvinistic Baptists regarded faith as a 'gift of God', regarding the individual as inactive: the Campbell view was that faith rests upon the individual's acceptance of the testimony of the Word--that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

      Alexander Campbell's influence and popularity now rapidly increased. In the year 1823, he began the publication of a weekly journal called the Christian Baptist--the inclusion of the Baptist name arising from its association with Baptists in the Redstone Association. An epoch-making series of thirty-two articles soon appeared in its columns on the "Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things". This gave a name to the Movement. In substance, the series was a challenge to the ideas in the Philadelphia Confession of Faith.

"Christian Baptist" and Its Influence

      The Christian Baptist continued for seven years, 1823-1830. It was published at the Campbell farm home. Mr. Campbell became postmaster and called his place Bethany. The avowed purpose of the new journal was to "detect and expose the various anti-Christian enormities, innovations, and corruptions which infest the Christian church". It attacked three characteristics of the existing churches: the authority and standing of the 'clergy', organizations not specific in Scripture such as synods and church courts, missionary societies, Bible societies, Sunday Schools, and all kinds of "innovations" and the use of creeds. It sowed widely seeds of discord, in the opinions of those to the contrary; but Campbell held truth must be served, according to his view.

      The journal was constructive also, and its aim was to develop "that complete system of faith and duty expressly contained in the sacred oracles respecting the doctrine, worship and government of the Church." This was to its author, the order of the apostolic Church. The Christian Baptist became the spearhead for the advance of the total truth finally advanced by Alexander Campbell and his associates. (This iconoclastic and definitive period of the Campbell mind was followed by a later one (1823-1870), during which a maturer and more liberal exposition of New Testament Christianity issued from the great leader, who saw no inconsistency in altering his convictions wherever truth seemed to lead him. His new organ, truly representative of "Disciple" ideas as to the Church of Christ, was called Millennial Harbinger, with the idea that a world reformation of the [19] Christian Church was due--"at hand", in Scriptural phrase.)

Campbell's Position With The Baptists

      The truth seems to be that the Baptist body found in Mr. Campbell's Scripturally-defined ideas much akin to their own faith. He was their champion in a debate with John Walker, who affirmed that the baptism of infants came in the place of circumcision. Mr. Campbell's exposition (see 'Sermon on the Law') showed our separation from requirements of the old Law and a new directive towards obeying definite commands of Christ. This pointed to the immersion of intelligent believers.

      In another, debate with William Maccalla, Campbell developed his theory of the design of baptism as "for the remission of sins", though not with the teaching that failure to be immersed would result in damnation.

      Mr. Campbell's strong presence within a body committed to creedal teaching eventually wore thin, owing to the growing popularity and acceptance of his ideas over a widening territory. The Redstone Association realized this and hardened towards its original acceptance of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and of Baptist usages. At this point, the Campbells formed a new church at Wellsburg, seven miles from Bethany, and it was admitted to the Mahoning Association of Eastern Ohio. In 1826, the Redstone Association ruled out thirteen churches which were leaning toward the Reformers, and these were admitted to the Washington (Pa) Association. Following this the Mahoning Association of Ohio became permeated with the idea of restoring primitive practice. The reform spread widely through Kentucky churches. Here the discussion involved such questions as, "Did Christ die for all or a few? (Calvinism); and "What sort of experience should a converted man have? In contrast to this the Christian churches offered vigorous evangelism, asking a simple faith in Christ as Saviour, and obedience to him, without the necessity of avowing belief in a difficult systematized doctrine called a creed.

      The religious reformation went forward so actively that the Baptist body in Kentucky and eastern Ohio were largely 'reformed' by the Reformers, who were now popularly being called 'Campbellites.' The actual Campbell influence was in the nature of ideas, rather than in the founding of churches. They were Baptist in name, but only capable of 'reforming Baptists'. A wider program had to be sought.

Sermon on the Law

      After Alexander Campbell had preached, in 1816, before the Redstone Association, a fateful 'Sermon on the Law', his place in the Baptist [20] body became plainly inharmonious to both parties. In it he declared that the New Testament revealed and fulfilled a former covenant of ordinances which had now passed, which was superseded by the spiritual covenant arising through Christ. This view was not plainly seen by Paedobaptist people at the time, and there is still some confusion regarding it. Campbell's "Ancient order" teachings were undermining Calvinistically-minded Baptists to such an extent that, from the Baptist standpoint at least, withdrawal seemed advisable. It was the looking forward to a new definition of Church order for which they were not fully ready, though the Baptists and Presbyterians were the greatest sources of new followers.

Walter Scott, Inspired Evangelist

Walter Scott

      The new religious body being developed may be shown to be the weaving together of diverse principles and persons who, by the opportunity of a favorable field, released extraordinary energies. Walter Scott has been mentioned as a preacher in the Mahoning Association. He was of Scotch birth, (b. 1796); educated at Edinburgh University, and had come under the influence of the Haldanes, and of the Sandeman and other reforming bodies in Scotland. He came to New York to investigate conditions and found only the Glas-Sandeman methods being developed by a Haldanean Church. Just then (1827) the Mahoning Association was much in need of the energizing to be provided by a new spirit in evangelism. And Scott, though not technically a Baptist, but immersed by the Haldanes, was chosen to visit the churches, which is some proof of the spread of the principles announced by the Campbells. Scott had spent four years in studying something then entirely new in religious progress in America: it was not church order, but the process by which a believer becomes a Christian. This proved to be the finding of a great key, and it has had an extraordinary influence upon the body begun by the Campbells. It is not without historic interest in relation to Scott's association with Campbell, that in the first issue of the Christian Baptist in 1823, Scott contributed an article on the "Divinely Authorized Plan of Preaching the Christian Religion." It was complementary to the Campbell's proposals. He diagrammed the order in which truth enters the mind of the believer, that order being of first importance.

      First, the Messiahship of Jesus rests upon demonstration. Faith consists in the acceptance of the message presented in the gospels. When this has been proved and admitted, everything else follows in order. He taught that the strongest argument, therefore, must be "The Master has spoken." [21] (Walter Scott: The Messiahship, or the Great Demonstration.) He further developed the steps laid down as to salvation: faith, upon rational evidence: baptism in obedience to Scriptural command; and then the remission of sins must follow as a consequence, with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 39). He later hung these points upon a five-finger-and-thumb exercise, so that his hearers might review them. Scott called his method "the Gospel restored", following Campbell's restoration of the "ancient order" in 1823. Back of this had been the restoration of the Bible as authority in which Thomas Campbell had led; next, the apostolic order, as developed by the Campbells; and finally what he called the "true gospel" method. He had great success in preaching by it. Amongst a multitude of evangelists whom the Disciples have developed, Walter Scott stands out as one of the foremost in the realm of exposition, with perhaps the addition of emotion. Campbell and Scott thus became foremost leaders in the reformation. The reform had hitherto lacked the stirring evangelical presentation that Scott evoked. The first historic baptism upon this order was that of Wm. Amend, a Presbyterian of New Lisbon, Ohio, on November 18, 1827. Mr. Amend himself had read himself into the position. (In the ninth issue of the Christian Baptist Campbell had announced the order as follows: 1. faith, 2. reformation, 3. immersion, 4. remission of sins, 5. Holy Spirit, 6. eternal life.) These simple, orderly, classified Scriptural commands are well known amongst Churches of Christ: they are 1. facts to be believed, 2. commands to be obeyed, 3. promises to be enjoyed, 4. threatenings to be avoided. Thus we may have on our fingers, hearing, faith, repentance of sins, confession of the Name, Christian baptism. Scott held that faith changes the life, baptism changes the state, remission of sins cleanses from guilt; and the Holy Spirit is the divine help to the religious life. This categorical definition of the Gospel need not be considered mechanical. The spirit is still within it.

      Walter Scott was highly educated, magnetic as a speaker, temperamental in character. He preached not so much a doctrine as a Person, and that at times in words of fire. His genius was shown in his presentation of the gospel in a new, orderly, and easily-understood manner. His contribution to the cause was very great, and he grows in our history. Without his great sense of order and a clear exposition of it, our history might have been different. Mr. Amend's baptism was the beginning of a new constructive evangelism that brought thousands into the fold. Within a year, Scott had won a thousand souls for Christ within the Mahoning Association. A new [22] Life of this great man has been written by Dwight E. Stevenson--"Walter Scott: Voice of the Golden Oracle." (Bethany Press, St. Louis, Mo.)

The Disciples of Christ Begin Afresh

      The Mahoning Association was dissolved at Austintown, Ohio in August, 1830, and this step is considered one of destiny for the Disciples. The tremendous numerical additions in the previous year by Walter Scott were a factor. It was Scott too, who secured the presentation of a resolution to disband the Mahoning Association as inconsistent with the New Testament. Over the dismayed protest of Alexander Campbell, this was done. Campbell would have preferred the leaven of the Reformation to continue its work where change might be effected without revolution. He had feared the effect on his brethren of multitudes of new and untaught converts, admitted after perhaps being subject to emotional appeals. But the practical sense of the situation won and the Mahoning, and later other, Associations were disbanded. Later the Disciples adopted the yearly meeting. Assisting perhaps to soften the blow to Alexander was the report of his father, Thomas Campbell, who had been sent to Ohio to study the Scott movement. After six months' association with Walter Scott, the elder Campbell wrote:

      "I must confess that.  . . I am present for the first time upon the ground where the thing (the ancient gospel) has appeared to be practically exhibited" (Life of Walter Scott, Wm. Baxter, pp 158).

Coherence Begins Within the New Body

      It is at this point, or near it, when the combination of the Disciples' Plea for a Scriptural presentation of religious duty became coherent. There are several elements which may be recapitulated: (1) the declaration of Thomas Campbell that the Scriptures should be adhered to as the sole source of authority; (2) Alexander Campbell's definition in the Christian Baptist of the 'ancient order' of the Church, drawn from the New Testament; (3) the junction with the West Pennsylvania groups of Christian minds from New England, Carolina, and Kentucky, made partly possible by the leadership of Barton W. Stone; (4) the evangelistic passion which Stone brought into the movement, which was matched by the energetic and developed simplification of the Gospel in terms most easily presentable to the public, and so successfully presented by Walter Scott as to win for him a major place in the Restoration Movement. [23]

      These are at least some of the elements for the beginning of an understanding of the Plea of the Disciples of Christ. They had not yet been entirely known to the whole body of Reformers, but the fiery evangelism of Scott undoubtedly gave them prominence ever after. There is also to be reckoned, the diversity of individual leading minds, each of which was possessed of a strong passion for truth as individually seen. (This is illustrated in the unfortunate failure to see alike in the matter of the Name.) Besides this, there has to be taken into account the actual later development of strong minds with a set towards discovery and reform. Time and study were to have their effect upon the growing perfection of the form of truth in the process of sculpture.

      It is worth recalling too, that both Thomas and Alexander Campbell were so strongly Christian in temperament that they were only driven by circumstances to abandon, first the fellowship of the Presbyterians, and later that of the Baptists. This is apparent in Alexander Campbell's strong desire to remain within the Baptist body and continue as a reforming force, rather than to make another "sect." (Out of this has perhaps grown the naive idea of being 'Christians only' and not the only Christians). It is true that afterwards Campbell abandoned his idea of remaining with the Baptists, for he is said to have told Jos. Ash, in Ohio, in 1856, that the Baptists.  . . would never accept the 'ancient gospel' and all we could do was to lay it before them (Christian Worker, Meaford, Ont. p. 1, April, 1883). But there is still no evidence that he would not have preferred reform within the Church rather than the formation of a new body. For, behind all Campbell's early efforts there lay the vision of a united Church. After having mercilessly exposed the errors of the whole Church in the Christian Baptist, he altered his course for the better by efforts directed towards correct reformation within a wider aspect of Christian liberty.

Campbell Becomes Protagonist for Protestantism

      Mr. Campbell's leadership increased so that he was driven by circumstances to assume even a wider range. He became not only the defender and propagator of his own views but of those which affect the structure of the whole Christian mind. He had already defended the Baptists against the Presbyterians in the Walker-Campbell debate on the action involved in Christian baptism. This was in June, 1820. Then followed a notable debate with W. L. Maccalla, a Presbyterian minister, in October, 1823. The subject of that encounter was the design of baptism, which was later greatly [24] developed by Mr. Campbell in his work on Christian Baptism: its antecedents and consequents. In it he also may be said historically, perhaps for the first time, to have clearly set forth the natural order for a soul coming under the influence of the Gospel and surrendering to it. Whether he, or Walter Scott, was the first to propose the order is not so important as that they agreed upon what has become axiomatic for the Restoration body.

Other Famous debates by Mr. Campbell

      Other debates here mentioned are of later periods and mentioned in relation to Campbell's intellectual powers, which were calculated to impress deeply those who were privileged to listen. In the year 1837 he defended Protestantism in an eight-day debate with John B. Purcell, a Roman Catholic bishop, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1843, a sixteen-day debate was held with N. L. Rice, a Presbyterian minister, on the nature of Christian baptism, as regards subject, design, action, and administrator. Probably Mr. Campbell's most famous debate was in 1829, with Robert Owen, an English social reformer and sceptic. In this event, Mr. Campbell's magnificent effort distinguished him as the defender of the Christian faith and of Protestantism. The publication of these debates added greatly to his repute as a thinker and speaker. His debates are phenomenal and should be the subjects of study. As another evidence of his stature in the nation, Mr. Campbell attained the honor of sitting as a member of the Virginia Constitutional convention, where he sat in equality with certain great American statesmen in conference on national affairs.

What is Involved in Being a Reformer

      The intellectual primacy of Alexander Campbell is undisputed. It is not surprising that as a reformer he had to suffer from seeing laggard followers. That seems an inevitable result of intense forward activity. An instance or two are referred to because they have affected the historical development of the body. He lived until March, 1866, long enough to see the development of the Disciples of Christ, in ways perhaps at first not expected, but as circumstances and his own way of looking at things seemed to justify. Following his first delineation in the Christian Baptist of the "ancient order" of the church of the New Testament he afterwards developed his complete idea of the Church, its nature and duties, in a volume entitled the Christian System, in the year 1836. The book has never been looked upon as an authoritative document for Disciple adoption, either individually or as a body. It is this distinction that reformation views possess: [25] that they must win by appeal to the individual's consent, not by authority. Campbell's mind operated very naturally upon the lines of reasoned appeal, and it is in the record that he was fearful of the result of emotional evangelism, where what he called "untaught converts" might be hastily brought into the Christian church (Millennial Harbinger, 1844, page 41). His idea of converts was unquestionably that of quality rather than numbers. But when later on he could observe that "untaught persons" were misconstruing his meaning and vaunting the "restoration of the ancient order" of the Church as his complete message--as if it were the restoration of the "true gospel"--his surprise became dismay. This had the effect in some quarters of reducing his message to the narrow idea that anything not mentioned in the New Testament in regard to the Church was heterodox; that the natural evolvement of order of worship and direction of the Church, noticeable in Scripture, were so because of divine warrant, rather than of historical development. To the mind that had promulgated earlier the great dictum that the interpretation of Scripture demands a certain adjustment, such ideas were in the nature of absurdities. Campbell's view of Scripture and its interpretation was that one should consider: the historical circumstances of the book, the order, the title, the author, the date, the place, and the occasion of it. This statement is a truly liberating bit of scholarship and it is inconsistent with any narrow views to the contrary. The foregoing was in substance the issue which occasioned the withdrawal of many churches and some thousands of members into a separate body, to be designated in the U.S. Census for 1906 as the "Churches of Christ."

Disciples and Baptists Contrasted

      W. E. Garrison, later historian of the Disciples, sums up the contrasting features of both Disciples and Baptists, at the period now under review.7

      "The doctrines and practices of the Disciples which distinguished them from the Baptists at the time of the separation, may be summarized:

      As to doctrine: (1) The distinction between the Old and New Covenants, with consequent reliance solely upon the New Testament as a source for instruction concerning Christian faith and institutions. (2) The design of baptism, for the remission of sins; faith, repentance, and baptism constitute regeneration. (3) The nature of faith as the belief of testimony, a rational act of which any man is capable in the exercise of his natural powers and free will. (4) The operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word [26] alone in conversion. (5) Rejection of the Calvinistic idea (which not all Baptists held) that Christ died for only the 'elect' and a limited number of predetermined individuals.

      As to practice: Rejection of creeds and church covenants. (2) Reception of members on confession of faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism, without examination, the relation of an experience, or a vote by the congregation. (3) Baptism and the Lord's Supper may be administered by any believer. (4) Weekly observance of the Lord's Supper. (5) No special "call" to the ministry expected or required, and, in general, no sharp distinction between clergy and laity. (6) Denial of the authority of Associations to exercise any power over the local congregations (Baptists also denied this in theory), or to pass any judgment upon them, or to lay down conditions of fellowship and communion, as the Baptists Associations did when they excluded delegates who did not bring assurance that their churches adhered to the Philadelphia Confession." [27]

      1 AN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT, page 44, Bethany Press, St. Louis, Mo. [8]
      2 OP CIT, page 45. [8]
      3 OP CIT, page 45. [9]
      4 IBID, page 46. [9]
      5 OP CIT, page 45. [9]
      6 OP CIT, page 41. [10]
      7 AN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT, pp. 88, W. E. Garrison, The Bethany Press, St. Louis, Mo. [26]


[DCC 7-27]

[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
Reuben Butchart
The Disciples of Christ in Canada Since 1830 (1949)