A Trinitarian Future

Audio of my sermon for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity preached at Newtown Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Georgetown, Kentucky, 11 June 2017.


Foundations of a Fellowship



Over the summer and the fall semester, I had the great privilege in engaging in a bit of theo-genealogy, researching the roots of my family’s religious heritage in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, to which I have recently returned, though in a different expression, as I now am blessed to worship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The context of this research was my concluding project for my graduate work at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, to whose faculty I am grateful for allowing me this indulgence. It was a lot of work, but it was also some of the most fun I’ve had in ages, dork of dorks that I am.

The project traces the movement from its precursors through the emergence of my native fellowship, the non-institutional churches of Christ. It is critical, in that it does not presume the facticity of theological claims made by any party, but it is not intended to be polemical. Given the brevity of the project, it is, of course, over-simplified, and I made the decision to focus on issues emerging at the origin of the movement, rather than the specifics of the institutional crisis of the 1940’s through 1960’s. In part, that’s because the to-date definitive account is given in David Edwin Harrell’s The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century. But it’s also because I’m a notoriously undisciplined academic writer, virtually incapable of making an outline and sticking to it–all of my writing ends up very top-heavy, 60% introduction, minimum, after which I reach a point at which my primary motivation becomes not typing anymore.

In the interest of fairness, and to ensure this isn’t read as polemics, given that I’ve affiliated with the Disciples, I should clarify that my attributing the history of Stone-Campbell Movement schisms to attitudes in the young Alexander Campbell that distinguish him from his father and Stone as well as from his older self is an intentional over-simplification. Further, the Churches/Disciples schism of the dawn of the 20th century is as much resultant of genuine changes in the Disciples as from a partial loss of unity focus in the Churches. Most importantly, it is not my contention that the paths taken by the Churches of Christ, and later by the non-institutional churches, are in any way inauthentic responses to the foundational ideas of the movement. The movement from the beginning sought to hold in tension ideas that are difficult to to emphasize equally, restoration and unity, and if schism was not inevitable, it is understandable.

At any rate, for good or ill, this here right here’s my capstone project, finishing out my seminary studies.

Foundations of a Fellowship:

The Evolution of the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ

Within the Stone-Campbell Christian Unity Movement

A concluding research project in Modern Church History

submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree

Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology

Jeffery E. Childers

Bachelor of Arts, Conception Seminary College, 2009

Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology

St. Meinrad, Indiana

11 November 2016


“The cause that we advocate is not our own peculiar, nor the cause of any party, considered as such; it is a common cause, the cause of Christ and our brethren of all denominations…The Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”

Thomas Campbell

Declaration and Address


“There is not a Christian on this earth who is not a member of the church of Christ. There has never been one…Do we contend that among all the millions of Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other denominational people on the earth there is not even one single, solitary faithful Christian? That is our contention.”

Fanning Yater Tant

The Only Christians


In a joint worship service in Lexington, Kentucky in 1832, churches aligned with the reform movements of Barton Warren Stone and Alexander Campbell entered into full communion, forming the fellowship today known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Though the Stone and Campbell movements were distinct from one another in numerous ways, each was an effort to restore unity among Christians by renouncing or relativizing denominational and confessional divisions, mandating as terms of fellowship only the Christian believer’s conscientious application of the revealed text of the New Testament. The Disciples, continuing today as a self-identified mainline Protestant denomination1, and the joint Stone-Campbell Movement of the 19th century, are the antecedents of a number of distinct contemporary fellowships2, including the Churches of Christ3, independent Christian Churches4, and the International Church of Christ5. Out of the Churches of Christ, the most conservative and exclusivist branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement, emerged in the middle of the 20th century a distinct fellowship of congregations described as “non-institutional.” This fellowship, which is the faith heritage of the present author’s family and youth, generally views all other branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement as heretical and apostate, albeit by varying degrees, and declines to recognize even the Christian identity of all others who profess Christ. That from a movement birthed in a plea for unity among “Christian brethren of every name”6 should evolve a separatist fellowship styling itself “the true church of Christ”7 is a striking development. The present study shall attempt to identify causes of this transformation. A historical survey of the Stone-Campbell Movement, with emphases on background and origins, the schism between Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ, and the emergence of the non-institutional Churches as a distinct fellowship will be presented. Particular attention will be paid to the formative generation of the Stone-Campbell Movement, arguing that the seeds of later schism were sown at its foundation. Thematic elements, such as doctrinal and social variables, will be integrated with the chronology. This project’s ultimate contention will be that a relatively brief shift in focus in the movement in the 1820’s and 1830’s, though corrected, placed the movement on the path to inevitable schism.

I. A City on a Hill

The birth of the American Republic signaled to many contemporaries that dawn of a new age for humankind. In a 1782 letter, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur celebrated that “the American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, form new opinions.”8 Optimistic fervor about the Republic as a new creation “infused the image of American newness with a mythic dimension.”9 Though the promised liberty of the Reformation devolved into the bloody wars of religion and confessional state Churches, no less brutal in their suppression of Christian conscience than had been the united Western Church,10 the new Republic offered a future unencumbered by the depravities of the past. “As record, as deposit,” contends Fred Somkin, “the past undoubtedly existed, but (early) Americans contested the extent of its jurisdiction.”11

Understandably, when viewed through lenses stained with the blood of Christians slaughtering Christians in old Europe, the early American mindset largely viewed history as a quagmire from which liberation was to be sought. Hughes and Allen characterize the pioneering American as one “straddling the stream of history, with one foot planted squarely in the primordium and the other in the millennial dawn,” adding the apt warning that “the student of Christian history…should be aware that a historical religion quickly may become ahistorical when its adherents either deny or attempt to transcend the particular history that produced them.”12 The newness of the American experiment was no mere subconscious, implicit element in the emergence of Stone-Campbell thought, but rather overt and celebrated: “The prospective glory of the United States is a subject which overwhelms the imagination. No citizens of ancient or modern times ever had such a country to contemplate as those of the United States.”13 That the American Republic offered Christians an opportunity to reconnect with a mythic past of sacred purity would become “deeply enmeshed” in the Stone-Campbell worldview.14

While the newness of the American experience manifested among many of the founding generations as a liberation from the constraints of religion as a whole and a decline in Christian identity, the Great Awakening kindled Christian fervor in a new and markedly American fashion.15 Garrett identifies prominent revivalist George Whitfield as “a precursor of Stone-Campbell in that he worked enthusiastically with all churches and was nonsectarian in his preaching.”16 Though the ecclesial structures of old Europe were implanted in the new nation, the nascent vision of American exceptionalism produced a people largely primed to reject or relativize them as relics of an irrelevant history. Populist pioneer preachers arose from outside the ranks of traditional magisteria, marked by “an ethic of unrelenting toil, a passion for expansion, a hostility to orthodox belief and style, a zeal for religious reconstruction, and a systematic plan to realize their ideals.”17 Moved by the populism of the Awakenings and valuing direct experience over traditional dogma,18 the early American religious atmosphere became one in which apparent abnormality was the new norm, such that Hatch contends that, post-1800, “it became anachronistic to speak of dissent in America.”19

II. James O’Kelly and Republican Methodism

John Wesley’s Methodist movement, an effort for evangelical reform within the Church of England, in which Wesley himself remained a priest in full communion for life, proved well-suited to the early American Christian mindset.20 As first bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, a self-granted title by the man Wesley appointed as American superintendent,21 Francis Asbury’s tireless implementation of Methodism’s hallmark circuit-riding model saw extraordinary growth, and many Americans on the remote frontiers, unserved or underserved by traditional ecclesial structures, benefited from this new order of ministry.22 Asbury exhibited a passion for reaching beyond the ecclesial academy to those on the margins of society and, with his associate Peter Cartwright, welcomed the poor and the uneducated into full participation in the life of the Church, even welcoming them into the ordained ministry.23

Despite his populist appeal, for which there is no cause to doubt his sincerity, Asbury’s centralization of power within the Methodist Church into his own hands struck many within the movement as a type of dictatorship, a model of ministry ill-suited for the land of the free.24 James O’Kelly rose to prominence as one of “Asbury’s Ironsides,” a successful circuit riding preacher ordained by Bishop Thomas Coke ministering in the wilderness of the American frontier beginning around 1774.25 Though a respected figure within Methodism, O’Kelly came to represent a growing faction of ministers displeased with Asbury’s authoritarian manner. At the first Methodist General Conference in 1792, O’Kelly proposed a measure granting ministers the right to appeal to the more democratic body of the Conference when they felt mistreated by the dictates of their bishops but, in an instance of collegiality working against its own interests, the resolution failed.26 O’Kelly was not to be stifled, maintaining that he was “too sensible of the sweets of liberty…As a son of America, and a Christian, I shall oppose (Asbury’s) political measures and contend for the Savior’s government.”27 The self-consciously American minister dismissed Asbury: “Francis was born and nurtured in (England, a) land of Bishops and Kings and what is bred in the bone is hard to get out of the flesh.”28

O’Kelly led some thirty fellow ministers in what would be Methodism’s first major schism, forming the Republican Methodist Church.29 The new fellowship was home to thousands of members.30 At a 1794 conference in Surry County, Virginia, Republican Methodist leaders met to draft a constitution for their new fellowship.31 Rice Haggard, a prominent associate of O’Kelly, proposed, on the basis of New Testament nomenclature, that the “Republican Methodist” label be dropped and that “henceforth and forever the followers of Christ be known as Christians simply.”32 Now styled “the Christian Church,” leader’s of O’Kelly’s fellowship adopted as cardinal principles the sole headship of Jesus Christ over the Church, the Bible as the sole rule of faith, Christian character as the sole test of fellowship, liberty of conscience in the interpretation of scripture as both the right and duty of all Christians, and the goal of Christian unity that the world might believe.33

O’Kelly’s Christian movement bore similarities to the independently founded New England movements of Elias Smith and Abner Jones, each of which emerged among Baptist churches which came to reject Calvinist predestination and assert the freedom of the will, concepts amenable to the Methodist roots of the O’Kelly fellowship.34 Smith maintained, like the former Republican Methodists, that every Christian has an “unalienable right” to follow “the scripture wherever it leads him, even an equal right with the Bishops and Pastors of the churches…even though his principles may, in many things, be contrary to what the Reverend D.D.’s call Orthodoxy.”35 The Smith and Jones movements entered full communion under the name “Christian Connection,” and, led by William Guirey, many of the O’Kelly churches entered into communion with the Connection churches.36 Many of the Christian Connection churches, numbering some 20,000 members, would enter into communion with the churches aligned with Barton Warren Stone in 1809.37

III. Barton Warren Stone and the Spirit of Cane Ridge

Born Christmas Eve, 1772, Barton Warren Stone’s early life was marked by a disinterest in religion, and he entered Guilford Academy in 1790 aspiring to become a lawyer.38 While studying at Guilford, Stone, accustomed to fire and brimstone preaching, was deeply moved by a sermon of William Hodge on love and the divine identity and determined to explore Christianity.39 Of a Calvinist Presbyterian background, Stone was troubled by the implications of hereditary depravity, which led churches to insist that converts provide testimony of a direct movement of grace within them as a sign of their election; Hodge’s message of the universality of divine love led Stone to see “that a poor sinner was as much authorized to believe in Jesus at first, as at last–that now was the accepted time, the day of salvation.”40 Discerning a vocation to be a minister of the gospel, Stone was commissioned to pastor two Presbyterian congregations in Bourbon County, Kentucky, Cane Ridge and Concord, provisional assignments while he spent two years preparing for ordination.41 Already at the commencement of his public life, Stone’s passion for liberty of conscience was evident; when asked at his ordination into the Presbytery of Transylvania42 if he assented to the Westminster Confession, Stone answered, “I do, as far as I see it consistent with the word of God.”43

As a pastor, Stone saw great potential in the camp meeting revivalism then sweeping the frontier, and in 1801 led in the organization of one such revival at his Cane Ridge church, which would prove to be the largest and most influential revival of the Second Great Awakening.44 The Cane Ridge Revival was ostensibly centered around a conventional, closed Presbyterian communion service.45 Already disinclined to absolutize confessional distinctions between Christian bodies and believers, Stone, and the history of American Christianity, were formatively impacted by the remarkable charismatic demonstrations by believers, united together in prayer and worship across denominational boundaries.46 “With astonishment,” recalled Stone, “did I hear men, women, and children declaring the wonderful works of God, and the glorious mysteries of the gospel.”47 Characterized by Garrett as being “as ecumenical as anything that had ever happened on the frontier,” the Cane Ridge Revival culminated in an unprecedented welcoming of non-Presbyterians to share in holy communion.48 At Cane Ridge, Stone “perceived a singleness of purpose that was not hampered by doctrinal or creedal distinctions.”49

Though overt displays of charismata would not remain hallmarks of Stone-Campbell Christianity and, indeed, would come to be anathema for the more Campbellian among them, at the revival itself, Stone both participated and lauded them as a providential sign.50 Perhaps counter-intuitively, aside from a commitment to Christian unity, the most lasting impact of charismatic revivalism on Stone was a renewed dedication to the value of human reason as endowed with the potency to facilitate a salvific encounter with the divine. At Cane Ridge, Stone witnessed thousands of people whose perceived receipt of divine grace paralleled his own. 51 Convinced that any sinner who so desired, not merely the predestined elect, could seek and receive salvation on his or her own accord, Stone “encouraged the pattern of conversion which broke the Calvinistic scheme…which asserted that man must wait until God was ready to strike with the sword of the Spirit. Stone cried out that God had already struck the hour of salvation and continued to strike. The revival was his proof that salvation could invade men’s lives without years of waiting.”52

The relativizing of Presbyterian polity and the questioning of Calvinist orthodoxy sparked by Cane Ridge met with fierce resistance within the Kentucky Presbyterian establishment. The Synod of Kentucky moved to instigate a heresy investigation and trial against two Stone associates, Richard McNemar and John Thompson, in 1803.53 Stone, Robert Marshall, and John Dunlavy joined the alleged heretics in protest, withdrawing from the synod’s jurisdiction and forming an independent Springfield Presbytery.54 In its formative document, Stone and his confreres heavily emphasized the liberty of Christian conscience over and against the authority of ecclesiastical structures and the binding nature of creedal statements:

Through the subtilty of the enemy, the Christian church has long been divided into many different sects and parties. Each has a creed, confession of faith, or brief statement of doctrines, as a bond of union among its members, or rather a separating wall between itself and other societies. This is generally called the standard of such a church…. The people have the privilege of reading the scriptures to prove the standard to be right; but no privilege to examine it by Scripture, and prove it to be wrong. For if any should do this, he forfeits his privilege in that church, and must be cast out as a heretic…

Thus these creeds, help to split the real church of Christ, keep asunder the truly pious, and prevent that union, which would otherwise take place among the real lovers of religion. That real Christians would be united, if human creeds were laid aside, is evident; because we find, that such do agree, on practical religion, when they enjoy the Spirit of Christ.55

The Springfield Presbytery would be remembered less for its formative document than for its deformative sequel. By June, 1804, the presbytery published The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, declaring their will “that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling” and “that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that, the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”56 Stone’s movement would cease to function as a hierarchically structured governing body, but be a free association of independent congregations, neither claiming for itself nor recognizing among others confessional distinctions or denominational boundaries.57 The document closed with a whimsically ominous plea to the various ecclesial governing bodies of Christendom: “Finally we will, that all our sister bodies, read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.”58

The congregations of the now-defunct Springfield Presbytery, influenced by the work of Rice Haggard of the former Republican Methodists, followed his lead and identified themselves by no sectarian label other than “Christian church” or “church of Christ,” beginning a tradition of good-willed interchangeability and imprecision of nomenclature that has birthed two centuries of explanatory footnotes.59 The immediate aftermath of the presbytery’s dissolution was inauspicious, and the Stone movement appeared in danger of being a movement of one, as two of the five signatories placed membership with the Shakers in 1805 and two others returned to good standing with the Presbyterian establishment by 1811.60 Despite losing his earliest closest associates, Stone’s message of the unity of all Christians and the power and freedom of the believer to engage the sacred text according to the dictates of his or her conscience, unperturbed by ecclesial authority or human opinion enshrined as traditional dogma resonated deeply on the frontier. Many Kentucky Presbyterian churches became Stone movement Christian churches, as did the majority of Presbyterian congregations of southwestern Ohio.61 Spread by dedicated evangelists and Stone’s periodical, The Christian Messenger, the Stone movement numbered some 15,000 members in 300 congregations and, as discussed above, had entered into communion with many of the congregations of the O’Kelly/Smith/Jones movements.62

Stone and his churches, like the Christian Connection churches, came to reject the propriety of infant baptism and to practice immersion of believers, yet even this he would not make a test of fellowship or a block to Christian unity: “To assert that none but such as have been immersed for the remission of sins are members of the Church of Christ is to assert that Christ has had no church on earth for many centuries back: for but a few years ago had the old apostolic doctrine…been revived.”63 Stone welcomed all believers as fellow Christians to participate in Eucharist, which distinguished him from his younger associate, Alexander Campbell, who, while never preventing anyone from reception, considered as appropriate communicants only those who had been immersed.64 Stone first met Campbell in 1824, launching an extensive correspondence with him that would result in the 1832 merger of their movements in Lexington.65 The resultant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), forged in passion for unity and liberty, seemed impervious to division, right up until it divided.

IV. The Campbells and the Unity/Restoration Tension

The son of a convert from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism, Thomas Campbell was born 1 February, 1763 in County Down, Ireland.66 While still an active layman in the Church of Ireland, Campbell affiliated with the experimental Evangelical Society of Ulster, a voluntary society urging Protestants of all varieties to set aside confessional differences and work together for evangelical renewal within the churches and common missionary outreach to the non-Christian populations of the British Empire.67 Though dissatisfied with Anglicanism as a context for the living out of his own faith, Campbell was deeply impacted by the trans-denominational nature of the Evangelical Society, and brought his concern for Christian unity with him when he placed membership with and pursued ordination in the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church.68 One hallmark of this variety of Presbyterianism was a rejection of any connection between Church and state.69 Campbell, married to Jane Corneigle, a descendant of French Huguenots, became the father of Alexander in 1788 and, after a successful career as a teacher was ordained in 1798 and pastored a Seceder church in Ahorey, not far from Armagh, the ancient see of St. Patrick.70

Thomas Campbell migrated to the United States in 1807, temporarily leaving his family behind while he established himself and made arrangements for them to join him.71 Ministering among his fellow Presbyterians in Washington, Pennsylvania, Campbell was disheartened to find them more divided than even their Scots-Irish coreligionists.72 For the crime of welcoming fellow Presbyterians of other jurisdictions than his own to communion, Campbell was promptly censured by his governing body, the Chartiers Presbytery.73 In the minutes of the presbytery’s proceedings against Campbell, among the charges against him are that he maintained “that a church has no divine warrant for holding Confessions of Faith as terms of communion.”74 Having been party to unprecedented trans-denominational cooperation in the Evangelical Society of Ulster, Campbell responded to his censure by resigning from the presbytery’s jurisdiction.75

Freed from the constraints of the Pennsylvania Presbyterian magisterium, Campbell sought to recreate his experience in the Evangelical Society through the formation of the radically inclusive Christian Association of Washington, like Ulster a trans-denominational voluntary association committed to Christian unity and common witness.76 In his 1809 Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, Campbell decried denominational divisions, maintaining that “the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”77 The Declaration and Address is a bold rejection of the authority of any ecclesial body or any creedal statement to bind the conscience of sincere believers, thus arguing for unity of spirit among believers with a vast diversity of theological opinions.78

That although inference and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so, for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.79

Garrett notes that Campbell’s call to unity is a call to materialize visibly a unity that is and always has been constitutively present within the Church, further pointing out that “when Campbell penned these words, he did not yet have a congregation of his own, and yet he spoke of the church as a reality on earth.”80 Much like the already-but-not-yet eschatology of Luke-Acts, Ralph Wilburn characterizes Campbell’s vision of Christian unity as “real but not adequately realized.”81

While Thomas Campbell was having his transformative experiences in Pennsylvania, his son Alexander was studying at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.82 While remaining a Seceder Presbyterian, Alexander was deeply influenced by Greville Ewing, a radical congregationalist reformer who rejected the imposition of human creeds as a test of fellowship, maintained the total autocephally of the local congregation, and advocated the use of the New Testament alone as the source for a pattern of authority for all matters of ecclesial polity and doctrine.83 Ewing and his associates, the Haldanes, imbued the younger Campbell both with their contempt for sectarian divisions between Christians and with their sense of primitivism.84 Some scholars have contested the extent of the influence of Ewing and the Scottish patternist-restorationist schools of thought on Campbell, a question on which he himself gave inconsistent responses over the years.85 While Campbell never formally affiliated with them, and did indeed hold some contrary views to theirs, especially as regards baptism,86 the present author finds the body of Campbell’s work most explicable as the product of a life spent creatively integrating the unity/liberty foci of his father with the patternist/primitivist foci of the Scots. John Howard Smith argues forcefully for “an unbroken thread” connecting Scottish primitivism with Campbellian thought.87 Tristano, hesitating to draw a final conclusion, asserts that the “real value of examining these men and their ideas is to demonstrate that the Restoration Movement had deep European roots and that a good many of Campbell’s most important ideas were known and had been debated for some time. In effect, the ideas of these eighteenth-century reformers provide the historical context for the (Stone-Campbell) Restoration Movement.”88

Whatever the sources for developments in the young Campbell’s thought, while yet unaware of his father’s break from the American Presbyterian establishment, Alexander was by 1809 prepared to make a dramatic gesture of defiance on behalf of Christian unity. It was customary at the time for Seceder Presbyterians to require an examination of a member’s orthodoxy and good standing, after which he or she would be issued a token admitting them to holy communion. At age 20, at a Glasgow communion service, Campbell presented his token but declined to communicate. “He walked out a free man,” maintains Garrett, “realizing that his life would never be the same after he had turned his back on the church of his youth.”89 With dramatic flair, Campbell associate and biographer Robert Richardson celebrates that “the ring of the token, falling upon the plate, announced the instant at which he renounced Presbyterianism forever, the leaden voucher becoming a token not of communion but of separation.”90

Alexander joined his father in the United States later in 1809, both marveling at the apparent operation of divine providence which brought them to similar radical conclusions and, forming an independent congregation, the Brush Run Church, set out together on the project of reformation.91 Alexander was ordained to the ministry of Brush Run on New Year’s Day, 1812,92 and from that point the young son became the prominent leader in the movement his father had launched: “The task of the systematic and rational reconstruction of the apostolic church fell to Alexander Campbell. It was primarily he who delineated the essentials and non-essentials of primitive Christianity and provided a mechanism for what he believed to be the proper interpretation of the Bible.”93 The Campbells had hoped for Brush Run to find a place in a Presbyterian association, which was consistently denied them, but the point became moot when, later in 1812, both became convinced that the biblical model of baptism was immersion of believers, not the infant baptism they had received as Presbyterians; the two were re-baptized by immersion and Brush Run affiliated with the Redstone Baptist Association.94

Utilizing his new journal, The Christian Baptist, Alexander Campbell contended far and wide for his reformation movement.95 Especially in the first half of his career, Campbell was a paradox as a proponent of unity by way of fierce polemics. “Though his chief interest,” says Richard Hughes, “was ecumenical, his rhetoric often sounded both sectarian and legalistic.”96 At times, it was in the context of polemics that Campbell would, in essence, argue himself into positions that would become hallmarks of the movement. A key instance of this dynamic is the development of his thought on baptism. While the Campbells had embraced believer’s immersion by 1812, it was only in the context of a public debate with a Presbyterian minister that Campbell came to advocate a classically orthodox position on the sacramentality and regenerativity of the ordinance.

I know it will be said that I have affirmed that baptism “saves us,” that it “washes away sins.” Well, Peter and Paul have said so before me. . . . The blood of Jesus Christ then really cleanses us who believe from all sin. Behold the goodness of God in giving us a formal proof and token of it, by ordaining a baptism expressly “for the remission of sins”. . . . Paul’s sins were really pardoned when he believed, yet he had no solemn pledge of the fact, no formal acquittal, no formal purgation of his sins, until he had washed them away in the water of baptism. To every believer, therefore, baptism is a formal and personal remission, or purgation of sins. The believer never has his sins formally washed away or remitted until he is baptized.97

The unique Campbellian blending of a typically Anabaptist view of the form of baptism with a biblical and historically Catholic view of the nature of baptism remains a decisive hallmark of all major branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement.98

The younger Campbell seemed incapable of his father’s irenicism. While rejecting creedal statements as terms of fellowship, Thomas Campbell exhibited great respect for the historic doctrinal heritage of the Church:

(A)lthough doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be,for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.99

By contrast, young Alexander “Campbell was convinced that institutional Christianity was thoroughly bankrupt, right across the board. Catholicism was apostate, and neither Luther, Calvin, nor Wesley had moved much beyond the spirit of Rome.”100 “The christian religion,” maintained Alexander, “has been for ages interred in the rubbish of human invention and tradition.”101

A contemporary critic of Campbell well summarized how those who were not swayed by him received his sectarian message of anti-sectarianism:

What is sectarianism, but an undue confidence in the soundness of of views of Scripture truth, an excessive partiality for the party concurring with us in these views, and the lack of candor, tenderness, and forbearance towards those who dissent from them? When tried by this standard, no enlightened and unbiased reader of the Christian Baptist can doubt that Mr. Campbell’s sectarianism was unmitigated.102

Under the leadership of Campbell and his caustic pen, the movement experienced rapid growth. Though the Redstone Association disfellowshiped Brush Run and other Campbellian congregations for his unorthodox views in 1824,103 the movement, now commonly styling itself “Disciples of Christ,” found a temporary new home in the Mahoning Baptist Association, which the Campbell movement would come to dominate.104

In the Mahoning years, the Campbell movement was aided by two of its most extraordinary evangelists, Walter Scott and Sidney Rigdon. Scott developed a simple, five-point exercise to proclaim baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, gaining converts by the thousands; in his less cautious moments, Scott would claim by his preaching to have himself restored the gospel to the earth, a claim which Campbell found understandably troubling.105 Sidney Rigdon bore similar fruit for the movement before, in 1830, defecting to the nascent Latter-day Saints.106 Faced with mounting antagonism from the wider Baptist community, the Mahoning Association voluntarily dissolved in 1830, against the objections of Campbell, and the movement transformed into a loose association of congregations without an overarching governing structure, a model retained, by various degrees, in Churches of Christ and independent Christian Churches, as well as by the Disciples of Christ until a 1968 restructure.107

It was the first of two pivotal intersections between the Stone-Campbell Movement and Roman Catholicism that in part facilitated a shift in Campbell’s tone from that of contrarian restorationist to one more committed to the movement’s foundational ideal of unity. In the 1830’s, Campbell grew increasingly suspicious of the supposed threat Roman Catholicism posed to American liberty:108 at an 1836 lecture attended by Cincinnati Roman Catholic Bishop John B. Purcell, Campbell argued that the American genius was rooted in a Protestant commitment to freedom of thought. Purcell challenged Campbell to a public debate, held in 1837, at which Campbell stood as the voice, not of his own sectarian movement, but of trans-denominational Protestant Christianity.109 His new role as a defender of Protestantism writ large and of American liberties resulted in a subtle shift in his thinking, by which God’s chosen vessel of unity became no longer a Church strictly reconstituted on the New Testament pattern, but a free, Protestant-inspired American Republic.110

V. The Age of Schisms

Alexander Campbell remained the dominant figure in the Stone-Campbell Movement, outshining his predecessors in the movement, his father, who died in 1854, and Barton Warren Stone, who died in 1844, even during their lifetimes.111 As previously discussed, Campbell held in tension the dual ideals of unity and restorationism, emphasizing the latter in his earlier career and the former in his maturity. The mature Campbell recognized the impetuousness of his youthful rhetoric: “I was once so straight a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as perfect as I supposed myself.”112

The first major schism in the movement occurred gradually over the final decades of the 19th century. As the churches of the movement were associated without the governance of a formal overarching structure, with no formal authority recognized to admit or expel congregations from one another’s fellowship, there is an element of arbitrariness in seeking to precisely date the schism. By 1906, the US Census Bureau was instructed by influential conservative leader and publisher of the Gospel Advocate journal, to count the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Churches of Christ as distinct fellowships.113

Lipscomb, born 1831, rose to prominence as a leading conservative voice in the Disciples after the 1866 death of Alexander Campbell. While the Civil War had divided other denominations into northern and southern factions, it was a point of pride among the Disciples that, for all the tensions the issues of slavery and secession caused, they had not broken communion with one another.114 The ultimate schism can not be clearly traced along geographic lines, though the defeated and disenfranchised Reconstruction southern churches were highly represented and dominant in what would become the Churches of Christ, while economically ascendant northern churches set the tone for the continuation of the Disciples.115 Lipscomb, a southerner and a conscientious sympathizer with the most conservative views in the fellowship, was a peacemaker by nature and, as tensions mounted between factions in the Disciples, sought to avoid schism.116

A man of character, well respected by all, Lipscomb’s defining characteristics were “(s)implicity in life and thorough devotion to the cause of Christ.”117 In an editorial which pained him to write, Lipscomb explains to his readers why he had agreed to consider Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ as distinct fellowships, no longer in communion:

(M)any desired to become popular also, and sought to adopt the very human inventions that in the beginning of the movement had been opposed–a general organization of the churches under a missionary society with a moneyed membership, and the adoption of instrumental music in the worship. This is a subversion of the fundamental principle on which the churches were based. . . .

These disciples, the Churches of Christ, have separated from the Christian Churches that grew out of the effort to restore pure primitive Christianity, by remaining true to the original purpose and the principles needful to develop it, while these Christian Churches have departed from this end and have set aside the principles of fidelity to the word of God as the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice for Christians.118

One of the two precipitating issues of the schism was the foundation in 1849 of the American Christian Missionary Society, with Alexander Campbell at the lead.119 The Society was a cooperative agency among congregations to facilitate the work of overseas missions; critics, such as Tolbert Fanning, expressed concern that the Society might develop into a governing body, claiming authority over the heretofore conscientiously independent congregations.120 Such a prudential concern, worthy of consideration on its own merits though no such usurpation of ecclesial rule was to manifest, gave way among the critics to a more fundamental issue: the Missionary Society was to be rejected as a digression from the purity of New Testament Christianity because the New Testament contained no passage directly authorizing such a society. Moses Lard, a leading conservative Disciples figure offered this redefinition of the plea of the Stone-Campbell Movement, in which unity, its actual foundational value, gives way to uniformity: “The reformation for which we are pleading consists first in accepting the exact meaning of Holy Writ as our religious theory…(and, second), in the minute conformity of our practice to the revealed will of Christ…Thus it is proposed continually to construct the body of Christ after the Divine model.”121

Likewise, the introduction of instrumental music into Disciples worship services sparked an unstoppable conflagration of controversy. Opposition emerged initially in socio-economic terms, as the organ represented largely northern economic ascendancy while poorer southern churches could afford no such luxury; such argument cut both ways as early defenders of the instrument displayed all the marks of liberal elitist contempt for their rustic coreligionists.122 If the instrumental music controversy was a social issue in search of a theological mask, one was ready-made for it in the conservative Disciple approach to biblical authority. Conservative Disciple Benjamin Franklin criticized the liturgical innovation in this language: “There is not a man anywhere who claims any (biblical) authority for the new element…The worship in all its parts is a matter of revelation–divinely prescribed. Nothing is acceptable worship, only that which the Lord ordained.”123 The New Testament recorded no example of Christians utilizing instruments in their worship, and thus it was anathema, and a fellowship forged in unity split in two.

Decades later, a similar dynamic occurred with the Churches of Christ. For decades after the schism, the Churches of Christ remained small, predominantly southern, largely economically underprivileged, a separatist fellowship of the marginalized and invisible, such as the present author’s own agrarian ancestors in rural Tippah County, Mississippi.124 By the outbreak of the Second World War, the 19th century plea of the Stone-Campbell Movement to restore unity to all Christians by embracing liberty of opinion and standing together on the ground of Scripture had given way to a mythic self-identity. “(P)rimitive Christianity had become the defining, foundational myth” of the Churches of Christ, a myth in which their fellowship was the primitive Church, restored in its fullness, bearing as it were the substance of glory under the accidents of social insignificance.125 There is an honor and even a romance to this vision, a sort of sacramental participation in the life of the earliest Church which, much like the experience of the pilgrim walking across the medieval pathways of Spain to pay homage at the purported tomb of a first century Galilean, is somehow made no less noble by its historical falseness.

The mutual exposure of members of the Churches of Christ and the wider world precipitated by the Second World War and the economic boom of the post-War era fundamentally changed the worldview of many in the Churches of Christ.126 Economically ascendant congregations were now able to launch expansive foreign missions and erect educational and charitable institutions; in the 20 years following the war, the number of Churches of Christ-sponsored colleges tripled and orphanages increased over five-fold.127 As congregations experimented with new models of cooperative endeavors to facilitate this modernization, dissenting voices, labeled “antis” by mainline leaders, raised familiar objections about the lack of biblical authority for these new ministries and methods.128

A second major intersection of the Stone-Campbell Movement with Roman Catholicism was a contributing factor to ensuring that the disagreement on the relationship of churches and institutions would become a full-fledged schism. Cline and Harold Paden served as missionaries of the Churches of Christ to Italy in 1949, where they provided charitable services in addition to aggressively proselytizing Roman Catholics. Rioting occurred at one of their worship services, at which Catholic attendees are reported to have pelted them with rocks. The Italian government responded by forbidding the Padens to continue in their ministry. The news spread throughout the Churches of Christ, calling for members of the fellowship to support the Padens and urge the US government to come to their defense.129

In January, 1950, the Gospel Guardian, a prominent paper of the anti-institutional minority, published a scathing and sarcastic editorial by Cled Wallace criticizing his coreligionists for popularizing the controversy. Dismissive of the assault on the Padens, he took the opportunity to castigate the sponsoring-church model of mission work which had supported them. For Wallace, the mainline Churches of Christ were enamored with appearing fashionable and influential in the public eye. Noting that many had contacted President Eisenhower, Wallace joked that “they decided not to bother the Lord with it until things got more serious.”130 The mutual animosity displayed in Wallace’s piece and mainline reactions foreshadowed rupture, and, by 1960, the non-institutional Churches of Christ, which reject congregational support of any institution and financial cooperation between congregations on the grounds of a lack of biblical authority, were a distinct fellowship, no longer in communion with the wider Churches of Christ.131

Particularly to an outsider, the issues that split the movement at the dawn of the 20th century and at mid-century may appear trivial. Without intending to be dismissive of issues that remain matters of conscience for living Christian communities, greater understanding of the schisms is to be gained by returning to consideration of the movement’s founding generation than by examining the particular proximate causes. The tensions within the Stone-Campbell Movement that led to the schisms existed from its very foundations. Even in the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell’s manifesto which boldly advocated for unity among Christians who remained free to conscientiously interpret scripture, there is a recognition that, allowing no human opinion to be binding, unity could be achieved by common assent to the clear and express teachings of scripture.132 For Thomas Campbell, as for Barton Warren Stone and the Republican Methodists before them, the biblical restoration sought was a dynamic engagement in the context of a living community, an ongoing process, rather than a task to be outlined and completed: “To return to the NT is not just to reduplicate a prefabricated platform or blueprint for the perfected church; it is to identify with a process, a struggle negotiated by leaders in the primitive church who were themselves trying to conform their communities—in worship, sacraments, teaching, ethics, ministry, evangelistic mission—to Christ’s vision for the church.”133

The rise to prominence in the movement of Alexander Campbell, so deeply influenced by patternist primitivism, would obfuscate that vision for those in the movement most influenced by his early work. Never renouncing the cause of unity, the young Campbell allowed it to become secondary to his own vision of recreating the pattern of Christianity which he believed to find in the New Testament. “I have endeavored,” Campbell declared, “to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me.”134 In his laudable passion for Scripture, Campbell dismisses the value of the common witness of the Christian community. This is less out of hubris, and more the result of his Scottish Common Sense philosophical presuppositions, which, applied to biblical hermeneutics, led Campbell to view the Scriptures as a collection of raw facts, requiring not interpretation but mere acquisition.135 Thus Campbell could assure his readers that “the Scriptures, when made their own interpreter, and accompanied with earnest desires to the author of these writings” could manifest to the biblical student the full and inviolable will of God, faithful acquiescence to which would result in a restoration of the biblical pattern and the unity of all sincere Christians.136

Thomas Campbell’s plea had been: “Oh! that ministers and people would but consider, that there are no divisions in the grave; nor in that world which lies beyond it: there our divisions must come to an end! we must all unite there!–Would to God, we could find in our hearts to put an end to our short-lived divisions here; that so we might leave a blessing behind us; even a happy and united church.”137 At the helm of the movement designed to bring about that happy unity, his son’s approach to Scripture severely handicapped the movement’s ability to do so. Viewing Scripture as a collection of data, self-evident and self-interpreting facts accessible to any sincere reader, even intentionally divorced from the historical witness of the Church and the common life of the Christian community, Alexander Campbell was unable to recognize that his own interpretations were interpretations at all or that those who did not share them could be sincere.138

Note the exuberant confidence of the following passage, a confidence not of one relying on his own understanding, but of one unable to distinguish that understanding from the clearly articulated mind of God:

Numbers with me count nothing. Let God be true, and very man a liar. Let truth stand, though the heavens fall. When contending with thirty millions of Lutherans, I feel myself contending with but one man. In opposing seventy millions of Greek and Eastern Professors, I am in conflict with but one leader. When one hundred millions of Baptists assail me, I feel myself in a struggle with but one mind. In all the Methodists I see but John Wesley; in all the Calvinists John Calvin; and in all the Episcopalians, one Cranmer. Names, numbers, circumstances weigh nothing in the scales of justice, truth and holiness.139

Contemporary critics were not unaware of Campbell’s blind spot. One such critic said of Campbell that “is sure he is right and all others wrong; for his conviction that he is a child of God depends upon the certainty that he is not mistaken in his interpretation.”140

It was this confidence and fervor that Campbell brought to his ministry, transforming the unity focus of his father and Barton Stone into his project of restorationism. Unity became, if not by design then de facto, a mere appendix in the young Campbell, and patternist restoration the top and only priority:

But a restoration of the ancient order of things, it appears, is all that is contemplated by the wise disciples of the Lord; as it is agreed that this is all that is wanting to the perfection, happiness, and glory of the Christian community….Now, in attempting to accomplish this, it must be observed that it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice everything that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Saviour, and to believe and practice whatever is there is enjoined. This done, and everything is done which ought to be done.141

Hughes maintains that Campbell did not grasp that the dual goals of unity and restoration were in sharp tension, but little path to unity with those who disagreed with the young Campbell was presented by him.142

By the time of Campbell’s mid-life refocus on the movement’s foundational ideals of unity and liberty, the de facto authority of his youthful patternist-restorationist hermeneutic had left an indelible impact on his movement. Hughes’ contention that the Disciples of Christ follow the mature Alexander Campbell while the Churches of Christ follow the young Campbell may be an intentional over-simplification; it is not a falsehood.143 Other elements certainly impacted the development of the Churches of Christ and the non-institutional Churches of Christ. One could fruitfully explore the role of Campbell’s sacramental theology and soteriology, how his unique baptismal doctrine led many to conclude that only those baptized in his fellowship were validly baptized and, thus, Christian. The impact of the absence of defined ecclesial authority as an invitation for unaccountable demagogues to step into the vacuum is worthy of consideration.144 Nevertheless, no single factor has influenced the development of the Churches of Christ insofar as they differ from other fellowships of the Stone-Campbell Movement more profoundly than the young Alexander Campbell’s relatively brief shift of the movement’s focus from unity and liberty to restorationism and conformity. As he matured and moderated himself, successive generations arose to re-radicalize him.

1Mark G. Toulouse, “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” in Douglas A. Foster et. al, The Encyclopedia of the Stone- Campbell Movement [ESCM] (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 177.

2Many members of Churches of Christ and independent Christian Churches reject the label “denomination” as a matter of conscience. Without adjudicating the issue, this study will use the term “fellowship” to mean a distinct community of congregations in full communion, recognizing the validity of the ministries, organization, and worship of one another.

3It is common among members of the Churches of Christ to conscientiously reject both the article “the” and the capitalization of the letter ‘c’ in “churches” in order to emphasize the autocephally of each congregation and the rejection of denominational identity. Without any polemical intent, this paper will follow the conventions of ESCM and retain both article and capital ‘C.’ For discussion of these conventions, see David Edwin Harrell, The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2000), xiv.

4The emergence of independent Christian Churches in the mid-20th century as a conservative protest against the increasingly progressive and institutionalizing tendencies of the Disciples of Christ is beyond the scope of the present study. On this fellowship, see Henry E. Webb, “Christian Churches/Churches of Christ” in ESCM, 185-190.

5On the late 20th century emergence of the International Church of Christ, also known as the “discipling movement” or the “Boston-Crossroads Movement” from within the mainline Churches of Christ, see Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2008), 359-363. Other communions with partial Stone-Campbell Movement roots include the Chistadelphians, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (on which roots see Jeff Childers, Living Oracles: Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints in the Context of the Christian Restoration Movement of Alexander Campbell [unpublished research project, Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, 2014])), and the United Church of Christ (on which roots, see below, n. 37).

6Barton Warren Stone et. al., “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” [Will] in Richard McNemar, Observations on Church Government, by the Presbytery of Springfield, to Which Is Added, The Last Will and Testament of That Reverend Body, (1808), transcribed at http://web.archive.org/web/20080404013430/http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/rmcnemar/ocg/OCG.HTM#Will, accessed 3 June 2016.

7Homer Hailey, From Creation to the Day of Eternity (n.l.: Religious Supply Company, 1992), 197.

8J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, 1782 (New York: Penguin American Library: 1981), 70.

9Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivsm in America, 1630-1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 1.

10George Hunston Williams, “The Radical Reformation Revisited.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 39, no.1-2 (1984), 5.

11Fred Somkin, Unquiet Eagle: Memory and Desire in the Idea of American Freedom, 1815-1860 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univeristy Press, 1967), 57.

12Hughes and Allen, 3,6.

13Alexander Campbell, “Prospective Glory of the United States.” Millennial Harbinger [MH], 3rd Series, III (June, 1846), 356.

14David Edwin Harrell, “The Agrarian Myth and the Disciples of Christ in the Nineteenth Century.” Agricultural History, vol. 41, no. 2 (April, 1967), 181.

15Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2004), 48.

16ibid., 49.

17Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 4.

18Garrett, 50

19Hatch, 7.

20Halford E. Luccock and Paul Hutchinson, The Story of Methodism (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1926), 178.

21Garrett, 55.

22Hatch, 49.

23ibid., 9.

24Russell R. Paden, From the Churches of Christ to the Boston Movement: A Comparative Study (unpublished MA thesis, University of Kansas, 1994), 2:1.1. http://www.reveal.org/library/history/paden.html, accessed 3 July 2016.

25Garrett, 56.

26James DeForest Murch, Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1962), 32.

27James O’Kelly, A Vindication of the Author’s Apology (Raleigh: n.p., 1801), 60-61.

28ibid., The Author’s Apology for Protesting Against the Methodist Episcopal Government (Richmond: n.p., 1798), 21.

29Paden, ibid.

30Exact numbers are disputed. Garret (ibid., 59) cites 10,000 joining with O’Kelly’s protest, while James B. North estimates a more conservative figure of 1,000 to 5,000. “O’Kelly, James (1735-1826)” in ESCM, 574.

31Garrett, 59.

32W.E. MacClenney, The Life of Rev. James O’Kelly and the History of the Christian Church in the South (Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, 1950), 116.

33William T. Scott, “A Brief History of the Christian Denomination,” Christian Sun (Richmond, VA), 26 April, 1956, 3.

34Thomas H. Olbricht, “Christian Connection” in ESCM, 190.

35Elias Smith, The Loving Kindness of God Displayed (1798) in Hatch, 76.

36North, ibid. O’Kelly himself did not join in this union and led a party of like-minded Christians in also refraining. These O’Kelly partisans retained the practice of infant baptism, rejected by the Connection. Remnant’s of O’Kelly’s party ultimately reconciled with the Smith-Jones movement in 1841.

37Hatch, 70. When the Stone and Campbell movements united in 1832, those Stone churches which objected included those with O’Kelly/Smith/Jones roots and connections. The descendants of these congregations, along with the O’Kelly partisans who rejoined them in 1841, represent a small portion of the congregational fellowships that entered into covenant in 1957 as the United Church of Christ. While remaining autocephalous denominations, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) entered into full communion in 1989.

38Garrett, 71.

39C.C. Ware, Barton Warren Stone (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1932), xiv.

40Barton Warren Stone, quoted in John Rogers, Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone (Cincinnati: n.p., 1841), 11.

41Garrett, 73.

42On early 19th century Presbyterian polity, see Douglas A Foster, “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery: Its Presbyterian Context and Signers.” Stone-Campbell Journal 7 (Fall, 1994), 171-187.

43Garrett, ibid.

44Paden 2:1.3

45Paul K. Conkin, Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 64.

46Ware, 108.

47Barton Warren Stone, Autobiography of Barton W. Stone quoted in D. Newell Williams, “Cane Ridge” in ESCM, 164.

48Garrett, 74.

49Paden, ibid.

50Thomas H. Olbricht, “Charismatics” in ESCM, 170.

51Richard M. Tristano, Origins of the Restoration Movement: An Intellectual History (Atlanta: Glenmary Research Center, 1998), 35.

52William Garrett West, Barton Warren Stone: Early American Advocate of Christian Unity (Nashville: The Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1954), 44.

53Garrett, 76.

54Paden, ibid.

55Barton Warren Stone et. al., An Abstract of an Apology for Renouncing the Jurisdiction of the Synod of Kentucky, Being a Compendious View of the Gospel and a Few Remarks on the Confession of Faith quoted in Tristano, 38. Idiosyncratic grammar, spelling, and punctuation from pre-1950 primary sources are reproduced in this study without the indicator “sic.”


57Garrett, 81.


59Tristano, 39.

60Garrett, 82.

61Winfred E. Garrison and Alfred T. De Groot, The Disciples of Christ: A History (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1958), 115

62Garrett, ibid.

63Barton Warren Stone, “Untitled.” Christian Messenger, vol. 8 (1834), 28.

64Garrett, 83.

65Ben Brewster, Torn Asunder: The Civil War and the 1906 Division of the Disciples (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2006), 26.

66Lester G. McAllister, “Campbell, Thomas (1763-1854)” in ESCM, 138.

67James L. Gorman, “European Roots of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address: the Evangelical Society of Ulster.” Restoration Quarterly 51, no. 3 (2009), 133.

68On the labyrinthian complexities of early 19th century Scots-Irish Presbyterian polity, see Tyler Howe, “The Six Mile Water Revival of 1625: Ulster Presbyterianism as the Background for the Last Will and Testament.” Stone-Campbell Journal 7 (Fall, 2004), 225-235.

69Tristano, 50.

70McAllister, 139.

71Garrett, 100.


73McAllister, 140.

74William Hanna, Thomas Campbell, Seceder and Christian Union Advocate (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1935 reprinted by College Press, Joplin, Missouri, n.d.), 39.

75Tristano, 54.

76Garrett, 103.

77Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington (Washington, PA: Washington Christian Association, 1809), 16.

78William R. Baker, “Formally Binding? Scriptural Authority and Private Opinion in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address and in the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.” Stone-Campbell Journal 14 (Spring, 2011), 55.

79Declaration, 17.

80Garrett, 109.

81Ralph Wilburn, “The Unity We Seek” in W.B. Blakemore, ed., The Revival of the Churches, The Renewal of the Church Vol. 3 (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1963), 345.

82Garrett, 122.

83Lynn A. McMillon, “Ewing, Greville (1767-1841)” in ESCM, 324.

84Camille K. Dean, “Robert and James Alexander Haldane in Scotland: Evangelicals or Restorationists?” Restoration Quarterly 42 (2000), 104

85Tristano, 55.

86McMillon, ibid.

87John Howard Smith, The Perfect Rule of the Christian Religion: A History of Sandemanianism in the Eighteenth Century (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2008), 181.

88Tristano, ibid.

89Garrett, 119.

90Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Cincinnati: Standard, 1897), 190.

91Garrett, 124.

92ibid., 125.

93Paden 2:1.5

94Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol.1 (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1974), 61.

95Lee Snyder, “Christian Baptist, The” in ESCM, 174.

96Hughes, 12. Hughes continues: “This dimension of the early Campbell exerted a tremendous influence on the emerging Churches of Christ.”

97Alexander Campbell, A Debate on Christian Baptism, Between the Rev. W. L. Maccalla and Alexander Campbell (Buffalo: Campbell and Sala, 1824), 134- 35.

98Paden, ibid.

99Declaration, ibid.

100 Hughes, 22.

101 Alexander Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. 1.” Christian Baptist 2 (7 February 1825), 134-136.

102 Jeremiah Jeter, Campbellism Examined (New York: Sheldon, Lambert, & Blakeman, 1855), 83-84.

103 James B. North, “Redstone Baptist Association” in ESCM, 629.

104 Garrett, 144.

105 ibid., 154.

106 See Lloyd Knowles, “Sidney Rigdon: Benedict Arnold of the Restoration Movement?” Stone-Campbell Journal 6 (Spring, 2003), 3-35 and Jeff Childers, ibid.

107 Garrett, 157. The 1832 joining of Campbell’s Disciples with Stone’s Christian Church resulted in the parenthetical double name of the fellowship, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

108 L. Edward Hicks, “Republican Religion and Republican Institutions: Alexander Campbell and the anti-Catholic Movement.” Fides Et Historia 22, no. 3 (September 1990), 43

109 Hughes, 35. Full transcription of the debate is available online at https://archive.org/details/debateonromancat00campiala

110 ibid.

111 Garrett, 82.

112 MH, 1840, p. 556.

113 Garrett, 393

114 Brewster, 48.

115 Paden 2.2

116 Garrett, 397

117 Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 2 (Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, 1950).

118 David Lipscomb, “The ‘Churches of Christ’ and the ‘Disciples of Christ,'” Gospel Advocate 49 (July 18, 1907), 457. Some punctuation edits are mine.

119 Garrett, 289

120 Hughes, 75.

121 Moses Lard, “The Reformation for Which We Are Pleading–What Is It?” Lard’s Quarterly 1 (September, 1863), 14, 22.

122 Hughes, 86.

123 Benjamin Franklin, “Explanatory to Brother Franklin.” American Christian Review 13 (24 May 1870), 164.

124 Paden 2.3.

125 Hughes, 210.

126 Harrell 2000, 81

127 ibid., 86.

128 Garrett, 435.

129 Harrell 2000, 118.

130 Cled Wallace, “That Rock Fight in Italy.” Gospel Guardian, 19 January, 1950, 5.

131 Paden 2:3.1

132 Baker, 54.

133 Paul M. Blowers, “Striving Toward a Common Mind in Jesus Christ: Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address and the Historic Principle of the Consensus Fidelium.” Stone-Campbell Journal 14 (Spring, 2011), 34.

134 Alexander Campbell, “Reply.” CB, Vol. III, No. 9 (2 April, 1826), 229.

135 James O. Duke, “The Hermeneutics of the Early Stone-Campbell Movement,” Stone-Campbell Journal 12 (Spring, 2009), 5.

136 Campbell, ibid.

137 Declaration, 13.

138 M. Eugene Boring, “The Formation of a Tradition: Alexander Campbell and the New Testament,” The Disciples Theological Digest 2 (1987), 28.

139 Alexander Campbell, “The Christian Organization–No. XXV,” MH, New Series, Vol. III, No. 7 (July, 1843), 307.

140 T. McK. Stuart, Errors of Campbelism (Cincinnati: Cranston and Stowe, 1890), 25.

141 Alexander Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things–No.II,” CB Vol. II, No. 8 (7 March 1825), 133. Emphasis mine.

142 Hughes, 22. Hughes speaks not of tension but of mutual exclusivity, which the present author considers an overstatement.

143 ibid., 46.

144 At his most radical, Alexander Campbell was no demagogue. A lengthier study would demonstrate that among his unofficial successors, Daniel Sommer, Austin McGary, and Foy Wallace were, men whose shadow looms over the good people of the Churches of Christ to this day.

Old Stuff: Living Oracles

This is a research project from a 2014 graduate course in Modern Church History, in which I explored intersections between the Stone-Campbell Movement and the Latter-day Saints in the earliest years of those movements. This was easily the most fun I ever had doing research work. It’s kind of a work of religious genealogy, since my mother’s background was in the Latter-day Saints, and my own, though my father’s family going back to around the 1870’s in the Stone-Campbell Movement, starting with the Disciples, then the Churches of Christ at the turn of the century and the non-institutional churches by the 1960’s. In the course of the research, I came to feel like I really got to know Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith as people and, for all their, shall we say, idiosyncrasies, I couldn’t help but like the dudes. Though the paper does not make the argument, because the available evidence is simply inconclusive, on a blog version, I don’t mind pointing out that, based on internal evidence of the Book of Mormon text, I give credence to the theory that Sidney Rigdon is an author of the Book of Mormon. That requires some conspiracy theorizing, putting him in contact with Smith well before there is any direct evidence for their meeting outside of the text itself and while Rigdon was still a leading Disciple, but if you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ll find that whackjob conspiracy thinking is en vogue these days.

Because of the historical-critical nature of the piece, it may not shine though, but in the last few years I have come to a great appreciation of the value of my own Stone-Campbell roots. The period in question in this piece, the 1820’s and 30’s, are, admittedly, not what I consider the high point of the Movement, so my fondness may not be apparent in what follows. But I love the Movement, and all three major branches, and feel that they have so much good to contribute to wider Christendom and the wider world. I especially love the good people of the churches of Christ, the fellowship in which I was raised and, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, was privileged to worship with my old home congregation all of the past summer. Being in Lexington, Kentucky, I’m at ground zero of Stone-Campbell history, and I hope to explore that further in the months to come. I’ve had the opportunity to worship with Disciples congregations recently, which I hope to continue doing, as well as to visit local churches of Christ and independent Christian Churches. A 20-year papist, I may not be the type of guy they envisioned, but I’m a grateful product of the Stone-Campbell Movement and churches of Christ.

Living Oracles:

Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints in the Context of the

Christian Restoration Movement of Alexander Campbell

Jeff Childers


“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.”

1 Peter 4:11

“It is my duty to say to you that the need was never greater for new revelation than now. The doctrine of inspiration is lost. Miracles, prophesy, the holy life, exist as ancient history only. Men have come to speak of revelation of somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was, that He speaketh, not spake.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Speech to the Harvard Divinity School, 15 July 1838


In January, 1831, Alexander Campbell, founding intellectual light and de facto leader of the nascent Disciples of Christ1, received troubling news. His friend and close collaborator in the Disciples’ reform movement, Sidney Rigdon, had, to Campbell’s “regret and surprize,” “renounced the ancient gospel, and…fallen into the snare of the Devil in joining the Mormonites.”2 Rigdon’s “Mormonites,” or, more properly, Latter-day Saints, were a movement committed to restoring the Church to its apostolic purity by following the 26 year-old New York-native money-digger turned pseudopigrapher turned prophet Joseph Smith, Junior, “among the most enigmatic, controversial figures of the nineteenth century.”3 For Campbell, who from the very outset of his ministry had dedicated his work

TO ALL THOSEWho, willing to have all religious tenets and practices tried by the Divine Word; and who feeling themselves in duty bound to search the Scriptures for themselves, in matters of Religion, are disposed to reject all doctrines and commandments of men, to obey the truth, holding fast the faith once delivered to the Saints4

the betrayal of Rigdon could only be attributed to “some morbid of action of mind.”5 Rigdon did not embrace the new prophet alone, but brought much of his Kirtland, Ohio congregation with him6, earning the Latter-day Saints the ongoing polemical attention of Campbell, an animosity that even death could not temper; Campbell eulogized: “JOSEPH SMITH and his brother HIRAM have been providentially cut off in the midst of their diabolical career. They were most lawlessly and mobocratically put to death.”7

While in many ways on the fringes of Christianity, the Latter-day Saints movement of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. has developed, since its 1830 launch, into an influential and growing global communion, with over 15,000,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints8. Latter-day Saints consider theirs to be the one true Church, a restoration of that established by Christ and the only true expression of Christianity, while many Catholic and Protestant polemicists deny their very Christian identity.9 In the decade and a half preceding the publication of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the Latter-day Saint Church, the pioneering work of Alexander Campbell, publisher of The Christian Baptist, his father Thomas Campbell, and their associates Sidney Rigdon and Walter Scott led thousands to embrace their call to restore the faith and practice of the primitive, biblical Church. The Campbellian movement, which would unite with the restoration movement of Barton Warren Stone in 1832, is the progenitor of today’s Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), churches of Christ, and independent Christian Churches, among others.10

Rigdon’s defection and near-immediate ascent to the position of Joseph Smith’s second-in-command link the two restoration movements nearly at their source.11 The rise and success of the Latter-day Saints can best be understood in the context of the Campbellian Restoration Movement. We contend that, granting the restorationist premises of Campbell12, Joseph Smith’s movement is an almost necessary fulfillment, providing followers with much that seems demanded by restoration but is lacking in Campbellian ideology. Explored herein will be a brief account of the origins of the Campbellian movement, a brief analysis of the work of Joseph Smith in the context of that movement, points of convergence between Disciple and Latter-day Saint doctrine which made Disciples more prone to give Smith’s teaching a hearing than were other Christians, and areas in which Latter-day Saint doctrine provides satisfying solutions to the problems raised by Campbellianism.

1. Early Origins of the Disciples of Christ

Scots-Irish churchman Thomas Campbell rose to prominence in the Seceder Presbyterian Church13 in Scotland before migrating to the United States in 1807 where he would be joined by his son Alexander two years.14 In a communion wrought with schism, the elder Campbell “worked for unity and sought to bring himself and his family closer to God.”15 Associating with the Chartiers Presbytery in the United States, Rev. Campbell, witnessing disunity in the unprecedentedly pluralistic society of the New World, grew increasingly skeptical about the ability of confessional creeds to serve as a ground of unity for Christians, and increasingly scandalized by the exclusion of faithful Christians from fellowship and communion due to canonical and creedal irregularities.16 Troubled by Campbell’s dissent from denominational orthodoxy, the presbytery suspended him from ministry in 1808, ordering him to answer charges of heresy, to which Campbell rendered this account:

With regard to faith I believe that the soul of man is the subject of it; the Divine Spirit is the author of it; the Divine Word the rule and reason of it; Christ and Him crucified the object of it; the Divine pardon, acceptance and assistance, or grace here and glory hereafter, the direct, proper and formal end of it…With respect to Confessions of Faith and Testimonies I believe that the church has all the Divine warrant for such exhibitions of the truth, that our Confession and Testimony adduce for that purpose.17

Campbell’s attempt to find a middle ground, allowing for the pragmatic use of creedal statements but denying them inherent authority, was not enough to please the presbytery. Upon his expulsion, Thomas and like-minded collaborators formed the Washington Christian Association within which he was able to fully develop his antipathy toward confessional divisions.18 Describing his father’s attitude at the time of his break from Chartiers, Alexander Campbell wrote that

(h)e objected not so much to the doctrines of the Secession creed and platform, as a doctrinal basis, but to the assumption of any formula of religious theories or opinions, as the foundation of the church of Christ; alleging that the holy Scriptures, Divinely inspired, were all sufficient and alone sufficient for all the purposes contemplated by their Author in giving them.19

At an 1809 Association meeting, Thomas Campbell closed a sermon with what would become the most famous motto of the movement: “Where the Bible speaks; we speak; where the Bible is silent; we are silent.”20 Campbell issued the Declaration and Address on 7 September, 1809, which outlined the mission of the Restoration Movement in which his son Alexander would become the key operator.21 With an amazing, if naive, optimism, Campbell “expected his Declaration and Address to produce a religious revolution within a few years.”22

Thomas Campbell’s vision, which became the raison d’être of Alexander, was to end Christian division and unite all believers in one fellowship by purging the Church of all man-made accretions and restoring the ancient order of Christianity to the churches. He professes in the Declaration:

Being well aware, from sad experience, of the heinous nature and pernicious tendency for religious controversy among Christians…we would desire to be at peace; and…we would also desire to adopt and recommend such measures as would give rest to our brethren throughout all the churches: as would restore unity, peace, and purity to the whole Church of God.23

It is worthy of note that, from the outset, authentic Campbellian restorationism is purgative rather than supercessionist; the Campbells wished to restore purity to the Church without maintaining that apostasy had been so through-going as to eradicate Christianity altogether; other, supercessionist visions of restoration, in which it was the Church itself that was being restored from historical obscurity, would come to dominate much of the later Campbellian movement as well as the Latter-day Saints.24

The Campbellian message of Christian unity to be achieved by the elimination of creeds and adherence to scripture as the sole authority was spread through Alexander’s widely-circulated periodical The Christian Baptist, which saw nationwide distribution from 1823 to 1830 before being replaced by The Millennial Harbinger.25 While seeking to eliminate divisions, the Campbells were content to operate within existing structures, associating their congregation first with the Redwood Baptist Association26 and, after being expelled for unorthodoxy, with the Mahoning Baptist Association, among which they gained so great an influence that a majority of congregations would become part of their reformation.

On a fortuitous day in 1821, Alexander Campbell entertained two ministers, Adamson Bentley and Sidney Rigdon27, discussing his theological vision:

Beginning with the baptism that John preached, we went back to Adam and forward to the final judgment. The dispensations–Adamic, Abrahamic, Jewish and Christian–passed and repassed before us. Mount Sinai in Arabia, Mount Zion, Mount Tabor, the Red Sea and the Jordan, the Passovers and the Pentacosts, the law and the Gospel, but especially the ancient order of things and modern.28

So moved was Rigdon by the Campbellian vision that, Campbell continued, “on parting the next day, Sidney Rigdon, with all apparent candor, said, if he had within the last year taught and promulgated from the pulpit one error, he had a thousand.”29 For the next decade, Rigdon, who would remain officially unaffiliated with any Baptist jurisdiction, along with Walter Scott30, the Presbyterian chosen by the Mahoning Baptist Association to be the principle evangelist of the reforming vision of the Disciples of Christ, would be among Campbell’s closest associates in his mission to unify all Christians through restoration of the ancient order.31

Of Rigdon’s contributions to the nascent Disciples, Amon Hayden states that

Sidney Rigdon was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities….His action was graceful, his language copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical…His personal influence with an audience was great…He was just the man for an awakening.32

Of his time ministering with Campbell, Rigdon himself, speaking, as was his custom, in the third person, stated that he

devoted himself to the work of the ministry, confining himself to no creed, but held up the Bible as the rule of faith, and advocating those doctrines which had been the subject of his, and Mr. Campbell’s investigations…to take the Bible as their standard, and search its sacred pages — to learn to live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of the Lord, and to rise above every sectarian sentiment, and the traditions of the age, and explore the wide and glorious fields of truth which the scriptures holds out to them.33

By 1832, Campbell’s movement would be divorced from Baptist structures and, joined with the movement of Barton Warren Stone, free to pursue his dual vision of unity and restoration from the comfort of his own, independent denomination.34 Yet by that time, the seasoned publisher had already lost one of his closest associates to the wiles of a perplexing new prophet.

2. A New Restoration Movement

Throughout the late 1820’s, Sidney Rigdon and Walter Scott, with a vibrant missionary zeal, traveled the countryside proclaiming the restoration advocated in Campbell’s Christian Baptist. Parley Pratt, an 1827 convert to the Disciples, shares this account:

Mr. Sidney Rigdon came into the neighborhood as a preacher, and it was rumored that he was a kind of Reformed Baptist…with Mr. Alexander Campbell, of Virginia, a Mr. Scott, and some other gifted men…here was the ancient gospel in due form. Here were the very principles which I had discovered years before; but could find no one to minister in.35

This would hardly be the end of Pratt’s journey toward “the ancient gospel;” in 1830, Pratt continues, “(w)e visited am old Baptist deacon by the name of Hamlin…(who) began to tell of a book, a STRANGE BOOK, a VERY STRANGE BOOK!”36 Reading the “strange book,” Pratt “knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.”37 Disinclined to keep this literary epiphany to himself, Pratt visited his Disciple mentor, Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon describes the unexpected visit:

At this time, it being in the fall of A. D. 1830, elders Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, called at the town, on their way to the western boundary of the State of Missouri, testifying to the truth of the “Book of Mormon,” and that the Lord had raised up a Prophet, and restored the priesthood. Previous to this, elder Parley Pratt had been a preacher in the same church with elder Rigdon…(H)e became acquainted with the circumstances of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and was introduced to Joseph Smith, Junior, and others of the church of Latter Day Saints. After listening to the testimony of the “witnesses,” and reading the “Book,” he became convinced that it was of God, and that the principles which they taught, were the principles of truth. He was then baptised, and shortly after was ordained an elder, and began to preach, and from that time became a strenous advocate of the truth.38

Rigdon, skeptical, invited the missionaries to address his congregation, about which he congratulates himself: “This was, indeed, generous on the part of elder Rigdon, and gave evidence of his entire freedom from any sectarian bias; but allowing his mind full scope to range, untrammeled, through the scriptures, embracing every principle of truth, and rejecting error, under whatever guise it should appear.”39 By his own account, Rigdon’s skepticism lasted “a fortnight,” after which “he was fully convinced of the truth of the work, by a revelation from Jesus Christ, which was made known to him in a remarkable manner,” so that he could exclaim “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto me, by my father which is in heaven.”40

Thus convinced, Rigdon set out to do what historians and theologians alike continue to struggle to accomplish: to know Joseph Smith.41 The self-proclaimed prophet who launched a bold new Christian movement is a man of nuance and contradiction; Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, recounting an 1844 meeting with Smith, thus characterized him thus:

Such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets. Fanatic, imposter, charlatan, he may have been; but these hard names furnish no solution to the problem he presents to us. Fanatics and impostors are living and dying every day, and their memory is buried with them; but the wonderful influence which this founder of a religion exerted and still exerts throws him into relief before us, not as a rogue to be criminated, but as a phenomenon to be explained. The most vital questions Americans are asking each other today have to do with this man and what he has left us.42

In one of his final and most influential addresses, Smith himself, eerily foreshadowing his impending martyrdom, seemed to recognize the impenetrable enigma surrounding him:

You don’t know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself….When I am called by the trump of the archangel and weighed in the balance, you will all know me then. I add no more. God bless you all. Amen.43

Joseph Smith, Jr., was born 23 December, 1805, to a religiously non-conformist family in the burned over district of New York, so called because of the wave of revivalism that had swept through the countryside in the wake of the Second Great Awakening.44 Like the Campbells, the young Smith was scandalized by disunity among Christian sects.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? …At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion or else I must do as (the Epistle of) James directs, that is, ask of God… I retired to the woods to make the attempt…I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction…I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!45

This first visionary experience would be followed by many others, including a vision of the angel Moroni instructing Smith to recover ancient plates containing lost scriptures.46 Utilizing seer stones and scribes who themselves never viewed the plates, Smith translated what would become the Book of Mormon.47 Recounting the supposed history of the Nephites and Lamantes, two Israelite tribes which traveled from Judea to the ancient Americas at the time of the Babylonian captivity, the Book of Mormon collapses the dispensations of salvation history, portraying a Hebrew-American community of Christians in anticipation. While Christians have long seen Christ anticipated by the Hebrew Bible, they have historically had to be satisfied with nuanced and obscure prophetic language, such as “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10), the prophesies recounted in the Book of Mormon would make the early Christian apologists salivate with their explicitness:

Yea, even six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews–even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world…And after they had slain the Messiah, who should come, and after he had been slain he should rise form the dead, and should make himself manifest, but the Holy Ghost, unto the Gentiles (1 Nephi 10:4,11).48

Through the creation of this scripture, which Robert M. Price likens to the priest Hilkiah’s discovery of the long-lost Book of Deuteronomy as recounted in 1 Kings 22,49 in which Smith even placed himself in prophecy as “a choice seer…(who) shall do a work for…his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even bringing of them (sic) to the knowledge of the covenants which I (the Lord) have made with thy fathers…and he shall be great like unto Moses” (2 Nephi 3:7-9), Smith portrayed the whole of disunited Christendom as diabolical.50 While the sweeping historical consensus is “that Joseph Smith did not discover the Book of Mormon but rather created it,”51 and Dan Vogel argues compellingly that Smith is best understood as a “pious fraud,”52 Smith’s ability to project his spiritual insights through the medium of his imagination into literature which, though blatantly forged,53 revolutionized the Christian experience of even seasoned gospel preachers like Rigdon, enabled the “choice seer,” or, in Campbell’s verdict, “as ignorant and impudent a knave as ever wrote a book,”54 to adjudicate explicitly and authoritatively on the controversial issues dividing Christians in his attempt to unite them into his new Church for the latter days. As Campbell mockingly critiques:

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies; — infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free-masonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American apostle, than were the holy Twelve, and Paul to assist them!!! He prophesied of all these topics, and of the apostacy, and infallibly decided, by his authority, every question.55

What Campbell sees as a weakness, Price sees as a great strength:

When the other Campbellite sects blazed a trail “back to the Bible,” i.e., to the early church of the New Testament, they were unwittingly retrojecting onto the past their own ideas of how the church ought to be. Obviously Alexander Campbell and the others had derived their ideals from a selective reading of the New Testament documents (noticing certain things and ignoring others), so it was not as if they had created their scriptural prototype of Christianity out of thin air. And, by the same token, neither had Joseph Smith…Smith’s fabricated picture of a pristine American Christianity was in fact his own biblically-informed ideal of what American Christianity in his own day ought to become. And, for a great many Americans, it did. Joseph’s Smith’s creation and retrojection of an artificial, superior biblical past is thus seen to be simply the most dramatic and thorough-going of all “restorationist” creations.56

Smith’s restoration movement, growing at the expense of the Disciples and with the aid of former Disciple leaders, was poised to become an enduring new form of Christianity.57

3. Points of Convergence

Rigdon, now a lesser prophet alongside Smith, took great pride in the impact the growing Latter-day Saints movement had on the Disciples.

One thing has been done by the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; it has puked the Campbellites effectually,…has revealed the secrets of Campbellism, and unfolded the end of the system. Every eye may see, and every heart understand; for the public may depend upon it, that the vomit which it has received, is too severe for it; it has spewed itself to death, and in a very short time it will have fled the Lake shore, to appear no more forever…So say we of Campbellism: God has smitten it, lying and harlots have wasted it; but the word of God grows and multiplies.58

How could a vision as different from Campbell’s as Smith’s attract committed Disciples at even the highest level? The path from Disciple to Latter-day Saint was paved with certain key points of convergence between the two movements, particularly an apostasy/restoration paradigm, anti-Calvinism, and soteriology.

In his influential early years, Campbell sought unity among Christians by attacking confessional systems which impeded that unity. His diagnosis of the Church of his time was scathing: “The Christian religion has been for ages interred in the rubbish of human invention and tradition.”59 Says Hughes: “Campbell was convinced that institutional Christianity was thoroughly bankrupt, right across the board.”60 The young Campbell’s claims for his own work were grandiose: “(S)ince the Great Apostasy was completed, till the present generation, the gospel of Jesus Christ has not been laid open to mankind in its original plainness, simplicity, and majesty.”61

Conditioned by Campbellian teaching to reject the churches of the day as apostate, the Book of Mormon was met by many Disciples as inspired confirmation of their ecclesiological paradigm: “For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: behold, I, I am the Lord’s…and they shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance” (2 Nephi 28:3-4).

A mere rejection of denominationalism would not suffice to draw a Campbellian Christian into the fold of Smith. Second only to his insistence on the sole authority of scripture, Campbell’s restoration centered on his soteriology, in which the dominant Calvinism was rejected and salvation depended not on predestination, but on freely given human obedience to the ordinances of God, particularly in baptism.

Campbell offered…a theology that cut through the struggle and pain (of the Calvinist quest for a conversion experience)…(H)e developed his contention that immersion is for the forgiveness of sins. This notion became the linchpin in what Campbell increasingly would call the ancient gospel.62

So integral to Campbell was baptism by immersion for the purpose of regeneration that he issued his own translation of the New Testament, titled Living Oracles, which replaced “baptism” with “immersion.”63 Campbell’s focus on baptism was so single-minded as to cause many to equate having received immersion for the forgiveness of sins with Christianity itself; based on the centrality of baptismal doctrine, Walter Scott would pinpoint the date of the restoration of the gospel to precisely 1827.64

Disciples exploring the teaching of Joseph Smith discovered, as in Campbell’s teaching, redemption linked explicitly to baptism: “And behold, (Christ) cometh to redeem those who will be baptized unto repentance, through faith on his name” (Alma 9:27). The controversy over infant baptism, rejected ardently by Campbell, is adjudicated explicitly in Mormon scripture: “And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling of the commandments unto the remission of sins” (Moroni 8:11).

The most intellectually compelling point of convergence, in which Smith’s restoration appears to fulfill something lacking in that of Campbell, is the question of authority. Like Smith, Campbell maintained that the ancient order of the gospel has been corrupted, only to be restored in his new movement. Like Smith, Campbell invited converts to embrace the ancient Christian faith through immersion for the forgiveness of sins. Yet such a grand endeavor as a restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ raises a pressing question, the strength of which was felt by Parley Pratt upon his entrance into the Disciples:

But still one great link was wanting to complete the chain of the ancient order of things; and that was, the authority to minister in holy things-the apostleship, the power which should accompany the form. This thought occurred to me as soon as I heard Mr. Rigdon make proclamation of the gospel. Peter proclaimed this gospel, and baptized for remission of sins, and promised the gift of the Holy Ghost, because he was commissioned so to do by a crucified and risen Saviour. But who is Mr. Rigdon? Who is Mr. Campbell? Who commissioned them?65

Authority was perceived by many as the fatal gap in Campbell’s ideology. Smith’s claims to be a prophet gave divine warrant to the work of restoration, preventing it from being, as Campbell himself feared for his own movement, a mere “adding to the catalogue of new sects.”66 Campbell’s message of restoration made many followers hunger for a manifestation of power such as they read about in the Book of Acts; one can easily imagine such persons as primed to hear the words of a charismatic prophet claiming divine authority to do exactly that which Campbell had attempted to do by his own accord. Lost on many Disciples would be Campbell’s words of caution: “He who sets out to find signs and omens will soon find enough of them. He that expects visits from angels will find them as abundant as he who in the age of witchcraft found a witch in every unseemly old woman.”67

Beyond the intellectual question of authority, Smith offered believers an experiential engagement with the biblical narrative in place of Campbell’s legalistic, doctrinaire approach to the text. Campbell “viewed the New Testament almost as a divinely inspired, scientific text which supplied precise directions for admission into the church, for church organization, for proper worship, and for a variety of other details.”68

Ultimately, men like Pratt and Rigdon and the thousands who followed Smith through their missionary work, were not interested in the Campbellian pseudo-science of biblical proof-texting. It was not “precise directions” and “details” that spoke to their hearts; they desired an encounter with a living, speaking God. In the company of a seer receiving continuing revelation, whose foundational document had already collapsed the distinction between dispensations, Latter-day Saints could walk amongst prophets and apostles like the Christians of old.

Smith’s followers experienced a “romantic thirst for a direct encounter with the Spirit of God,” and, unlike orthodox Campbellianism, they “had little interest in mere obedience to biblical commands and replication of biblical data. Indeed, they never viewed the Bible as data at all. Instead, they viewed the Bible as story, as drama, in which they themselves were participants.”69

The vision of Alexander Campbell to unite Christians on the foundation of a restored apostolic Church launched an influential movement that lives on today in the Disciples of Christ and churches of Christ. From the very core of his ranks emerged leaders like Sidney Rigdon who would hear his call for primitive Christianity and, in a sense taking him at his word, move beyond Campbellian re-enactment of scripture and opt for a truly sacramental encounter with the Word of God. So hungry were they for a living encounter with God like that of the disciples on the Emmaus Road, that they saw overwhelming appeal in the peculiar and unlikely figure of Joseph Smith. Latter-day Saints found in their jovial forger a portal through time and space back to the Pentecostal newness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, fulfilling what was promised by Campbell in an exciting and unexpected way.

1There is no uniform nomenclature for Campbell’s movement in the early years, which was called variously the Reformers, Reformed Baptists, Christians, Church of Christ, or disciples. The official denominational label Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) would be adopted in 1832 following the merger of Campbell’s movement with that of Barton Warren Stone. Recognizing the anachronism, this study will utilize “Disciples of Christ” for the sake of clarity. It is to be noted that the label “Campbellite” was never embraced by the movement, and to this day is considered pejorative. When appropriate, this study will substitute the equivalent “Campbellian” out of deference.

2Alexander Campbell, “Sidney Rigdon,” The Millennial Harbinger (MH) 2, no. 2 (1831), 99. Idiosyncratic grammar, emphases, and spelling in primary sources dated before 1900 shall be retained without the indicator sic unless the needs of clarity necessitate otherwise.

3Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), vii.

4Alexander Campbell, “Dedication,” The Christian Baptist (TCB) 1, no. 1, 1823, 1.

5“Sidney Rigdon,” ibid.

6Milton V. Backman, “The Quest for a Restoration: The Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” BYU Studies 12, no. 4 (1972), 347.

7Alexander Campbell, “Death of J. Smith, the Mormon Impostor,” MH Third Series 1, no. 9 (1844), 1.

8The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-stats, accessed 4 October 2014.

9Barry R. Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith & Early Christianity. (Ben Lomond, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, 1999), 21.

10Any study of the origins of the Disciples of Christ is incomplete without an examination of the work of Barton Warren Stone which, since Campbellian-Mormon intersection occurred predominantly before the Campbell-Stone merger, is beyond the scope of the present study.

11Knowles, Lloyd. “Sidney Rigdon: The Benedict Arnold of the Stone-Campbell Movement?” Stone-Campbell Journal 6, (2003), 23.

12The validity of the theological/ecclesiological apostasy-restoration paradigm taken as a fundamental premise by both Disciples and Latter-day Saints is beyond the competence of an historical examination to adjudicate. From the theological perspective of a Roman Catholic, the principle of the indefectibility of the Church renders restorationism flawed at its core, and any ecclesiology based upon it problematic. This historical analysis is written from a perspective which grants the validity of the restoration premise in order to analyze the relative consistency of both movements in adhering to it, while the present author’s own ecclesiological perspective is one of assent to the Roman tradition.

13On the intricate complexities of Presbyterian ecclesial polity in the 18th and 19th centuries, see Andrew R. Holmes, “Presbyterian Religion, Historiography, and Ulster Scots Identity, c. 1800 to 1914.” The Historical Journal 52, no. 3 (2009), 615-640.

14Leroy Garrett. The Stone-Campbell Movement. (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1983), 97.

15Earl Irvin West. The Search for the Ancient Order, Volume I. (Memphis: Religious Book Service, 1949), 43-44.

16ibid., 45.

17Thomas Campbell, cited in W.H. Hanna, Thomas Campbell, Seceder, and Christian Union Advocate. (Cincinnati: The Christian Standard Publishing Company, 1935), 38-39.

18Garrett, 102.

19Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell. (Cincinnati: H.S. Bosworth, 1861), 11.

20West, 47.

21Garrett, 99.

22F.D. Kershner in Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address. (St. Louis: Mission Messenger, 1975 [1809]), 14.

23Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address of the Washington Christian Association, 1809. http://web.archive.org/web/20080625072058/http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/tcampbell/da/DA-1ST.HTM, accessed 25 June 2008.

24Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America. (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2008), 5.

25Hughes 1996, 21.

26Developments in the Campbell’s soteriology and sacramental theology rendered them more akin to Baptists than Presbyterians. Campbellian baptismal doctrine will be discussed in Section 2 below.

27On Rigdon’s pre-Campbellian Baptist career, see Richard McClellan, “Sidney Rigdon’s 1820 Ministry: Preparing the Way for Mormonism in Ohio.” Dialogue-A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 4 (2004): 152-159.

28Alexander Campbell, MH Third Series 5, no 3 (1843), 523.


30On Walter Scott, see Garrett, 143-170.

31Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 34.

32Amon Sutton Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (Cincinnati: Chase and hall, 1875), 191-192.

33Sidney Rigdon, “History of Joseph Smith, continued,” Times and Seasons (TS) 4, no. 13 (1843), 193-194.

34Garrett, 194.

35Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Pratt (Salt Lake City: Desert Book Company, 1985 [1873]), 13-14.

36ibid., 18.

37ibid., 20.

38Sidney Rigdon, “History of Joseph Smith, continued,” TS 4, no 19 (1843), 289.

39ibid., 290.


41Van Wagoner, 71.

42Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals. (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 376-377.

43Joseph Smith, Jr. “The King Follett Discourse,” Documentary History of the Church 6 (1971 [1844]), 317.

44Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 26.

45Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978 [1902], 4-5.

46Bushman, 45.

47Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: the Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Vintage Books, 1995 [1949]), 39.

48All citations from the Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith, Jr., trans., The Book of Mormon. (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981 [1830])

49Robert M. Price, “Joseph Smith: Inspired Author of the Book of Mormon,” in Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), pdf version, p. 1-2.

50cf. 1 Nephi 13:6

51Price, 3.

52Vogel 2004, viii.

53As Bart Ehrman argues compellingly were many of the canonical documents long recognized as scripture by mainline Christian traditions. See Forgery and Counter-Forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (London: Oxford University Press, 2012).

54Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” MH 2, no. 2 (1831), 91.

55ibid., 93.

56Price, 4.

57The standard critical biography of Smith is Fawn Brodie, op. cit. The leading contemporary biographies are Richard Bushman, op. cit. himself a believing Latter-day Saint, and the critical work of Dan Vogel 2004, op. cit.

58Sidney Rigdon, “Persecution,” Latter-day Saints’ Advocate and Messenger 3, no. 4 (1837), 437-438.

59Alexander Campbell. “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things,” TCB 2, no. 2 (1824), 134.

60Hughes 1996, 22.

61The Christian System, 154.

62Hughes 1996, 113-115.

63Garrett, 161.

64Hughes 1996, 52.

65Pratt, 13-14.

66Alexander Campbell. “Reply to T.T.,” TCB 3, no. 7 (1823), 217.

67“Sidney Rigdon,” 110.

68Richard T. Hughes, “Tanner Lecture: Two Restoration Traditions: Mormons and Churches of Christ in the Nineteenth Century.” Journal of Mormon History (1993), 43.

69ibid., 48.