Since the establishment of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, the Lord has always had those who were, and are, true to Him. Although we realize that through the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church and other “so-called” religious bodies, many were deceived and lost, the words of Matthew 16:18 were not in vain. The “gates of Hades” had not in the late 1700’s, and have not yet, “prevailed against it.”
So, in a myriad of religious confusion, what we call the American Restoration Movement had its beginnings. Our pioneers saw that the church that the Lord built was already one. They also realized that Christians had been splintered in to many different denominations. As Thomas Campbell said, their aim was to “unite the Christians in all the sects,” Their aim was to get people to accept the Bible as the only true guide. Their aim was not to start another denomination as they realized that all denominations were contrary to the Word of God. Leroy Garrett, writing in Restoration Review, has this to say,
“Our pioneers, drawing upon the resources of their own heritage, came to see the essential unity of the Body of Christ and the horrid evil of division.”
This is what prompted Thomas Campbell to write these words in The Declaration and Address,
“That division among Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils…In a word it I productive of confusion and of every evil work.”
Let us now trace the beginnings of the work of Thomas Campbell. On Thursday, June 29, 1978, I traveled to Bethany, West Virginia. Bethany is nestled in the rolling hills of the West Virginia Panhandle. It is about twenty miles northeast of Wheeling, sitting a scant two miles from the Pennsylvania border. It was here that those of us who are heirs to a glorious movement can trace our roots. There is a historical marker put up by the State of West Virginia on the road outside the Campbell Mansion. It reads as follows:
“ALEXANDER CAMPBELL: Here lived the leading influence in America’s largest indigenous movement…”
But we want to go beyond Bethany to trace our roots. We want to go back to Ireland and center our attention on Thomas Campbell, the father of Alexander Campbell.
Thomas Campbell was born in Ireland on February 1, 1763 of Roman Catholic parents who later converted to the Anglican Church. He later identified himself with the Presbyterians, and decided that he wanted to be a preacher among them. The results of division were evident to Thomas Campbell even in the 1780’s He was a minister in the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church. Viewing this example of sectarianism led him to rely less on human creeds and statements of faith, and rely more on the Bible. He believed and taught that one should read and study the Bible. He committed much of the Bible to memory, which would help him in later years as he became blind and had to preach from memory. It would take the Campbell’s a while to come completely out of the clutches of denominationalism.
Thomas Campbell, because of failing health, sailed to America on April 8, 1807. He bid his family good-bye and went to the United States of America to perhaps, prepare a place for them. If conditions were favorable, he would send for them to join him. Thomas arrived in Philadelphia just as the Synod of North America was meeting. This synod served all Seceder Presbyterians, as the Burghers never had a distinct or separate organization in America. He presented His credentials to them and was assigned an itinerant ministry in Western Pennsylvania under the jurisdiction of the Chartiers Presbytery. It was in this area, near Washington, Pennsylvania, that many of his friends, including James Foster, had settled.
The Seceder Presbyterians were a very sectarian sort. a minister among them was expected not to have fellowship with any not of his own party. They were most certainly not to offer other Presbyterians the opportunity to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Thomas Campbell’s days as a Seceder Presbyterian were numbered because he did both of these things.
He was brought before the Presbytery on charges of heresy. These hearings were to last about two years, but midway Thomas Campbell withdrew from the Seceder Presbyterian Church to go his own way, a free man in Christ. We are to be free of all sectarian spirit as Christians. The Associated Synod of North America suspended Thomas Campbell from his ministerial duties on September 13, 1808.
What would happen to Thomas Campbell without a party to support him? Leroy Garrett writes the following in Restoration Review,
“Thomas Campbell was now 45 and alone in a new land, his church having rejected him and his family delayed in Europe because of a shipwreck. But God blesses His children who are besieged by angry men with new friends, and they soon discover that they have more brothers and sisters than they realize. Such was the case with Campbell, for God gave him so many friends and brethren that he launched and effort ‘to unite the Christian in all the sects.” His plea became the union of a divided church on the basis of the Bible. Barred from churches, he took his plea to homes and barns and his summer meetings were held out of doors under the trees. Large numbers came to hear his cry for the oneness of the church and the unity of all believers. He deplored partisan divisions, called for a faith and practice based on the Bible alone, and encouraged Christians to cooperate with each other.”
It was soon after this that Thomas Campbell and some of his friends established the Christian Association of Washington (PA). This was to be an organization to help promote the ideas of New Testament Christianity. It was to meet but twice a year. They asked Thomas Campbell to draw up a document on his views on working for unity within the Body of Christ and for bringing about true New Testament Christianity. This document was to be the Magna Carta of a movement. This document was called The Declaration and Address. May we always be striving to do our best to reach the whole world with the whole Gospel and try to teach them the principles of New Testament Christianity before Jesus comes!