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Barton W. Stone: Let Christian Unity Be Our Polar Star

by Larry Miles

larrymilesThe noble words quoted above could best sum up the contribution that Barton Warren Stone made to a movement “To unite the Christians in all the sects.” Barton W. Stone was born in Port Tobacco, Maryland on December 24, 1772. He was the only American born of the “Big Four.” Stone’s family were devout members of the Church of England. He was sprinkled as an infant. In 1775, his father died and his mother moved the family to Virginia.   After receiving his share of the inheritance, he entered the David Caldwell Academy in North Carolina. This school was steeped in Presbyterian tradition. Here Stone came in contact with the tenants of Calvinism. He finished his classical course in three years. Planning to study law he was converted to Christ in February of 1791.

Deciding that he wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, his next step was to make application to the Orange Presbytery for his license. He was assigned a topic to write on, and after passing the upcoming examination, he was told that his license would be presented at the next meeting of the Presbytery. In the interim he taught in an academy in Georgia conducted by Hope Hull, a Methodist preacher. He returned to North Carolina, and on April 6,1796, received his license to preach.

He began a preaching tour throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. October of 1796, found him in central Kentucky ministering to two Presbyterian Churches. One was called Cane Ridge, located eight miles from Paris; the other Concord, near Carlisle. In the fall of 1798, Stone was called to the stated ministry of the two congregations. This meant that he had to be ordained. The Transylvania Presbytery met at Cane Ridge on October 4,1798. Stone held some positions that were in conflict with the Westminster Confession of Faith. At the meeting he was asked the following question:

“Do you receive and adopt the Confession of Faith as containing the systematic doctrine taught in the Bible?” Stone replied so that everyone could hear: “I do, as far as I see it consistent with the Word of God.” With this statement he was ordained to the ministry by the Transylvania Presbytery.

In 1801, Stone, now twenty-nine years of age, married Eliza Campbell of Greenville, Kentucky. He returned to Cane Ridge with his bride to take part in one of the largest revivals this country has ever seen. It was called the Cane Ridge Revival and lasted from Aug.–6-12, 1801. There were nearly twenty-five thousand in attendance. Beside the Presbyterian ministers present there were Baptists and Methodists. They were preaching the grace of God. This teaching was contrary to Calvinistic predestination. The result was sure to bring trouble from the powers that be. It took a few years but the opposition grew.

Stone and four other Presbyterian ministers had taken part in the Cane Ridge Revival. They were all facing opposition. The four were: Barton W. Stone, Robert Marshall, John Dunlevy and Robert McNemar. On September 7,1803, the Synod of Kentucky brought heresy charges against McNemar. McAllister and Tucker, in “Journey In Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had this to say concerning the events surrounding the formation of the Springfield Presbytery,

About three months after the last amen had been spoken at the Cane Ridge Camp Meeting, dispute arose within the Presbytery of Washington that included churches in Kentucky and Ohio. Three elders in the Cabin Creek Church in Kentucky accused their pastor, Richard McNemar, of advocating doctrines that contradicted the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith. He had “expressly declared,” they reported, that a sinner has power to believe in Christ at any time,” and “that Christ has purchased salvation for the whole human race, without distinction.”… Without a doubt he was guilty as charged. No one appeared at the appointed time to substantiate the case against him, however, and the Presbytery of Washington refused to consider it. . . . When McNemar became minister of the Turtle Creek, Kentucky Church shortly thereafter… His heretical preaching kept him in trouble and the presbytery in turmoil. . . The Synod of Kentucky, meeting in the fall of 1803, censured the Washington Presbytery for mishandling the McNemar-Thompson case and received a resolution to “enter on the trial or examination of the two men.”

After this the five ministers decided to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Synod of Kentucky. After trying to win them back, the Synod of Kentucky suspended them from the Presbyterian ministry. They formed their own independent presbytery. It must be noted that the road out for denominationalism is sometimes a rough and rocky one.

In January of 1804 they issued a pamphlet called “An Apology For Renouncing The Jurisdiction Of The Synod Of Kentucky.” The presbytery they established was called the Springfield Presbytery. It was located in Springfield, Ohio (Now Springdale in suburban Hamilton County). The Springfield Presbytery consisted of fifteen churches, seven in Ohio and eight in Kentucky. The lifespan of the Springfield Presbytery was short-lived. Its leaders realized, that in employing a presbytery, they were, in fact, furthering the cause of denominationalism.

On June 28, 1804, the Springfield Presbytery issued what will go down as one of the most important documents in our heritage. It ranks with Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address” as one of the most important of the non-inspired writings. Because of its importance, we give you the text of “The Last Will And Testimony Of The Springfield Presbytery,”

The Last Will And Testimony Of The Springfield Presbytery

“THE PRESBYTERY OF SPRINGFIELD, sitting at Cane Ridge, in the county of Bourbon. Being, through a gracious providence, in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily; and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die: and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make, and ordain this our last Will and Testament, in manner and following, viz:

▪   Imprimis. We 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.

▪   Item. We will, that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there is but one Lord over God’s heritage and His name one.

▪   Item.  We will, 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.

▪   Item. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, without any mixture of Philosophy, vein deceit, traditions of men or rudiments of the world- and let none henceforth take this honor to himself but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

▪   Item. We will, that the church of Christ resume her native right of internal government—try her candidates for the ministry as to the soundness of their faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity, and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority but Christ speaking in them- We will, that the church of Christ lock to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest; and she resume her primitive right of trying those who say they are apostles and are not.

▪   Item.  We will, that cacti particular church, ass body, actuated by the same spirit, choose their own preacher, and support him with a free will offering without a written call or subscription–admit members—remove offenses; and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatsoever.

▪   Item. We will, that people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to Heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with I, may cast them into the fire if they choose: for it is better to enter into Life having one Book, than having many to be cast into hell

▪   Item.  We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.

▪   Item.  We will, that our weak brethren, who may have been wishing to make the Presbytery of Springfield their king, and wot not what is now become of it. betake themselves to the Rock of Ages, and follow Jesus for the future.

▪   Item. We will, that the Synod of Kentucky, examine each member, who may be suspected of having departed from the Confession of Faith, and suspend every such suspected heretic immediately, in order that the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of Gospel I body

▪   Item. We will, that J –—, the author of two letters lately published in Lexington, be encouraged in his zeal to destroy partyism. We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined into by all who have correct information; but let foreigners beware of speaking evil of things that they know not.

▪   Item. 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,

Springfield Presbytery, L. S., June 28, 1804


Robert Marshall,  John Dunlevy, Richard McNemar, B. W. Stone, John Thompson, David Purvience .

Writing in the Christian Messenger, Stone tells us about the forming of the Springfield and  its demise,

Under the name of Springfield Presbytery we went forward preaching, arid constituting churches: but we had not worn our name more than one year, before we saw that it savored of a party spirit With the man-made creeds we threw it overboard, and took the name CHRISTIAN—the name given to the disciples by divine appointment first at Antioch We published a pamphlet on this name, written by Elder Rice Haggard, who had just lately united with us. Having divested ourselves of all party creeds. And party names, and trusting alone in God; and in the Word of His grace. we became a by-word and Laughing stock to the sects around; all prophesying our speedy annihilation. Yet from this period I date the commencement of that reformation, which has progressed to this day.

Some time after dissolving of the Springfield Presbytery, Stone and his fellow ministers became convinced that baptism was by immersion They immersed each other. Barton W. Stone, writing in the Christian Messenger. October 25, 1827, wrote these words.

A number of us from reading the Bible had received the conviction that immersion was the Apostolic mode of baptism, and that believers were the only proper sub3ects of it. The Elders and brethren set in conference on these and other subjects of importance. It was unanimously agreed That every brother or sister should act according to their faith; we should not judge one another for being baptized. or for not being baptized in this mode. The far greater part of the churches submitted to be baptized by immersion and now there is not one in 500 among us who have not been immersed.

We want to relate some of the events that happened to Stone and his associates in the time after 1804. It takes conviction to stand for the simple Gospel. It seems that the associates of B. W. Stone were not really committed to working to restore the Ancient Order of Things. Within a few short years after the signing of The last Will And Testament of The Springfield Presbytery only Stone arid David Purvience remained faithful to The preaching of the Everlasting Gospel. Richard McNemar and his brother-in-law. John Dunlevy were swept away by the strange gospel of Shakerism. McAllister and Tucker, in Journey In Faith have this to say

The movement faced its most Severe challenge in 1805. Three strangers-lssachar Bates, John Meacham and Benjamin Seth Youngs—arrived in Bourbon County. They represented the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and had been sent down from New Lebanon, New- York to evangelize, in the heartland of the Second Awakening. Founded by Anna Lee Stanley (1736-1784). the Shakers—to use the popular name–testified that Christ already had made a second appearance on earth in the life and witness of Mother Ann,” Following their leader, They opposed the institution of marriage and forbade all sexual activity Malcolm Worley and Matthew Houston were two early converts. Moreover, Richard McNemar and John Dunlevy, joined by several families in their congregations, transferred their allegiance to the Shakers.

In 1806, Barton W. Stone said this of the Shakers, ‘The Shakers are as set of worldly minded, cunning deceivers, whose religion a earthly, sensual, and devilish.”

Robert Marshall and John Thompson rejoined the Presbyterians, and upon repenting of their sins and reaffirming the tenets of the Westminster Confession of Faith, were restored to full fellowship. Of the original six men who signed The Last Will And Testament of The Springfield Presbytery. only Stone and Purvience remained faithful to the preaching of the primitive Gospel. Stone continued to preach and establish congregations. More will be written of the latter years of Barton W. Stone.

May we always be willing as Barton Warren Stone was, to take the Bible as the only sure guide to Heaven,” and be willing to preach the simple Gospel until Jesus returns for His Bride, the church of Christ. Until next time, Maranatha!

-Larry Miles,  lives in Louisville, KY  and  preaches  part-time for the  Mackville (KY) Church of Christ

this was   taken from  his  blog, "Larry's Lines." 

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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10