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Alexander Campbell: Part 2 – Proclaiming The Ancient Order 1816-1830

by Larry Miles

larry123Thomas 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 theChristian 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!


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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33