Proclaiming the Ancient Order – 1816-1830
Thomas and Alexander Campbell and the little band of saints at Brush Run were just a few short years removed from denominationalism. They had come a long way in their journey from the tenets of Presbyterianism. Concerning their pilgrimage toward the Apostolic Faith, Dr. Robert Richardson, Alexander’s physician and biographer, had these things to say in his book, The Memoirs of Alexander Campbell,
In seeking for the ‘old paths’ they had this far found each new truth to lead them to another still obvious, as a single track often guides the traveler lost in the forest to a pathway, which in turn leads him to one still wider and more easily pursued. The necessity for unity brought them to the Bible alone, this led them to a simple primitive faith in Christ, and this, in turn had now guided them to the primitive baptism as the public profession of that faith. The full import and meaning of the institution was however, still reserved for future discovery.
The events that Sunday morning on August 30, 1816 at the Cross Creek Baptist Church had caused a great stir in the Redstone Baptist Association. To Elder John Pritchard, the minister at Cross Creek and the other sectarian minded preachers in the Redstone, it meant heresy. Alexander Campbell had preached that the Old Covenant was not binding on the Christian and that we needed to go to the New Covenant for or instruction. This revolutionary teaching caused so much controversy in the Redstone Baptist Association that many of the pulpits that were once open to the Campbell’s were now closed. The next few years proved to be very stormy.
At this time we want to look ahead a few years and see the result of the persecution the Reformers received from the Pharisees of their day. The leaders of the Redstone Baptist Association were planning to make the next meeting of the Association the time they would expel Alexander in shame. He found out about the plot and employed some excellent strategy. In August of 1823, Alexander Campbell and about thirty members of the Brush Run Church left to start a work in Wellsburg, VA. This was nearer to Alexander’s home in Bethany. They applied for membership in the Mahoning Baptist Association. This association was located in Northeastern Ohio, which was then known as the Western Reserve. It was to be in this association that the reformers were to have the most success. This whole association was to come into the Restoration Movement in masses.
But we must get back to the plot of the Redstone Baptist Association to expel Alexander Campbell in shame. The day came for the yearly meeting of the Redstone Baptist Association. Alexander went to the meetings as usual with his father, Thomas Campbell, and others from the Brush Run Church. When the clerk of the Redstone Baptist Association read the list of messengers from Brush Run, the name of Alexander Campbell was not there. When asked to explain why he was not a messenger from the Brush Run Church, he replied,
The reason that I am not a messenger from the Brush Run Church is that I am now connected with the Wellsburg Baptist Church which is not a member, and will never be a member of the Redstone Baptist Association .
Returning home he told his wife, Margaret how his actions seemed to surprise the leaders of the Redstone Baptist Association. Richardson quotes him as saying,
Never did hunters on seeing the game unexpectedly escape from their toils glare upon each other more mortifying disappointment than that indicated by my pursuers on hearing that I was out of their bailiwick, and consequently, out of their jurisdiction.
A solemn stillness ensued, and, for a time, all parties seemed to have nothing to do.
In 1818 Alexander established Buffalo Seminary in his home at Bethany. He enlarged his home by adding a two-story addition to the west and a one-story ell in back of it. It was during this time that Thomas Campbell returned from Burlington, KY to Pennsylvania to assist Alexander and his sister, Jane Makeover in the seminary. Thomas reassumed the pulpit of the Brush Run Church. In 1822 Alexander closed the school because he realized that it was not serving its purpose. The attendees had no desire to make the Lord’s work their vocation.
It was during this time span that Alexander Campbell held three of his five major debates. Although the Baptists viewed Alexander with suspicion regarding certain doctrines, apparently they believed that he was orthodox enough on immersion. In 1820 he debated Rev. John Walker, a Seceder Presbyterian minister. This debate was held in Mount Pleasant, OH. The theme to be discussed was the subject and action of baptism. Campbell brought out the fact that baptism was by immersion and that according to the Bible, it was to be administered only to believing penitents. This meant that infant baptism by sprinkling was without warrant in the New Testament writings. In discussing the aftermath of this debate, James DeForest Murch, in his book, “Christians Only,” had this to say:
Prior to the debate a large number of pedobaptists around Mt. Vernon had been immersed following a Baptist revival. Indeed, this is what precipitated the debate. Now another large company requested immersion. So depleted were the pedobaptists churches that after they had recovered some aplomb they began to search for one other most noted preachers who might meet Mr. Campbell and retrieve their fortunes.
The next few years (1823-30) were to be the years that Campbell published the Christian Baptist. The title was decided on after consultation with his father and with Walter Scott. The nature and aims of the paper were found in the prospectus. It read as follows:
The Christian Baptist shall espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting that the ancient sect ‘called Christians first at Antioch.’ Its whole object shall be the eviction of truth, and the exposure of error in doctrine and practice. The editor acknowledging no standard of religious faith or work, other than the Old and New Testaments, and the latter as the only standard of the religion of Jesus Christ, will, intentionally at least, oppose nothing which it contains and recommend nothing which it does not enjoin. Having no worldly interest at stake from the adoption or reprobation of any article of faith or religious practice having no gift nor religious emolument to blind his eyes or to pervert his judgment, he hopes to manifest that he is an impartial advocate of truth.
The first issue appeared on July 4, 1823. At the top of each issue were the following quotations:
Style no man on earth your father, for He alone is your Father who is in Heaven; and all ye are brethren. Assume not the title of Rabbi, for ye have only one Teacher; neither assume the title of Leader; for ye have only one Leader—the Messiah. Matthew 22:8-18
Prove all things: hold fast that which is good. – Paul the Apostle.
Alexander Campbell’s next major debate was held on October 14, 1823. His opponent was Rev. W. L. McCalla, minister of the Presbyterian Church in Augusta, KY. The debate was held at Washington, Mason County, KY. Alexander rode over 300, accompanied by Sidney Rigdon, then the minister of the Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, PA. It is sad to report that in few years Rigdon was to affiliate with the Mormons. The theme was the same as the Walker debate. It was in this discourse that Alexander realized that baptism was for the remission of sins. The result of the debate was a rout for the Baptists. Alexander’s popularity increased in Kentucky because of these meetings.
On October 22, 1827, Alexander’s wife, Margaret died. They had been married for sixteen years. He was left with five daughters. His wife died of consumption, a disease that was to plague the Campbell family. On June 31, 1829 he married Selina Bakewell. Their marriage lasted thirty-seven years. She survived him.
In 1829, he held the last of his major debates of the period. His last two were held in 1837 and 1843. At this time the teachings of infidelity were rapidly spreading around the world. In this country, the atheist, Robert Owen was proclaiming that Christianity was the cause for the world’s problems and issued a challenge for some minister to debate him. None responded so Alexander Campbell decided to accept the banner to uphold Christianity. This debate was held in Cincinnati, OH, starting on April 13, 1829. Alexander defended Christianity from the standpoint of the New Testament. He showed that the teachings of Christianity were responsible for the good of the world. He showed that anything that sounded good from Owen was taken, in reality, from the Scriptures. So, thus Alexander Campbell was recognized as the champion of Christianity.
These fifteen years brought great strides for the Campbell’s. Many were hearing the simple Gospel. The Christian Baptist was widely read. Our next article will center on the life and times of Walter Scott, know as the “Golden Oracle of the Western Reserve.” Until next time, MARANATHA!