Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 22, 1953

The Campbell's Work In North Carolina

Wm. E. Wallace, Hickory, North Carolina

It was in 1809 that Thomas Campbell published his "Declaration and Address." The movement back to the Bible that was given a propulsion by this occasion was felt in the state of North Carolina. Several years later the Christian Baptist (started in 1823) had subscribers in North Carolina and later the Millennial Harbinger increased the numbers of subscriptions from the state. It was through these subscribers that the Campbells gained interest in North Carolina. On several occasions they traveled through and in the state but the six months visit of Thomas Campbell is worthy of our special mention. In November, 1833 Thomas Campbell came to Edenton, N. C., in the eastern part of the state. B. F. Hall accompanied him as they road horseback. Hall who had previously preached at the Edenton Baptist Church had caused considerable stir there but he had been invited back in the absence of the regular preacher. In advertising the service for November 3, 1833 Thomas Campbell issued the following proclamation: "To the religious public in Edenton and its vicinities: Thomas Campbell, minister of the gospel, respectfully presents Christian salutation. Begs leave to inform them that on next Sunday afternoon, at one half past two o'clock, in the Baptist meeting house of this place, he intends addressing them on the all important subject of the Religious Reformation, which he with a goodly number of his contemporaries, has been humbly and earnestly recommending to the reception of the Christian public, for upwards of twenty years. The object of the proposed addressed will be, to give a clear, precise and definite statement of the principles, reason, and object of the proposed Reformation, so that all concerned may determine with certainty whether they ought to embrace or reject." When the Baptist preacher, Thomas Meredith, returned and saw what was going on he was extremely indignant. He said if the Edenton Baptist Church was to become a "Campbellite Church" he would leave. In persuasive rhetoric he called on a vote as to whether the church was to follow the teachings of Campbell or not. The church split. After three months Thomas Campbell left Edenton. The group that followed Campbell had been excluded from the Baptist association. Thomas Campbell travelled through several towns in eastern North Carolina teaching individuals and preaching when opportunity availed. All preachers who showed any sympathy toward the Campbell plea of abandoning human creeds were immediately dubbed "Campbellites." In March 1834 Thomas Campbell held a "Union Meeting" to meet the "few friends of reform" especially the preachers. At Pantego, N. C., he visited and taught one Thomas J. Latham who seven years later led a whole conference of Free Will Baptists to the "Restoration Movement."

Thomas Campbell was 70 years old on this trip to North Carolina. One writer wrote of him: "One thing which impressed me was that he preached setting down. He had rather a long, but narrow face, high pronounced forehead, with long white hair, rather full hair. He sat with a large Bible open, and read much from it." Thomas Campbell left North Carolina in 1834 having spent six months of work in the state.

The aftermath of the work of Thomas Campbell: The Baptist preacher at Edenton, Thomas Meredith, was pouting and he wrote a series of articles in his papers (the North Carolina Baptist Interpreter and the Biblical Recorder), entitled "Campbellism Examined." Thomas Campbell's friends asked for space in Meredith's papers for Campbell to reply. He at first refused but later agreed. The journalistic debate that followed became heated — a war of words. Some good came from this written discussion. The Campbell's and their work became well known in North Carolina and many Baptists were influenced to accept the plea to return to the New Testament order of things. It was difficult for the Baptists to give up their old traditional practices — ceremonial foot washing, quarterly communion, anointing the sick with oil, the mourners bench, et cetera. About the time the "Restoration Movement" in North Carolina had come out from under these denominational errors the digressive movement had begun. The advocates of the missionary society, state organization, and instruments of music in the worship captured the churches of eastern N. C. and it was not until after the turn of the century that the New Testament church was once more known in eastern N. C. In my estimation eastern N. C. harbors one of the greatest opportunities for the church in the whole U.S.A. Buildings with "Church of Christ" on the signs are prevalent through the country side — but they are digressive meeting houses.

In western N. C. the story was somewhat different. The following excerpt from C. C. Ward's (Christian Church historian) "History of the Disciples In North Carolina" indicates what the digressives think of us and it presents a picture of the situation at the turn of the century: "An ultra-conservative group of Disciples, who opposed use of musical instruments in the churches, and the functioning of missionary societies in the church, developed under the leadership of Tolbert Fanning and David Lipscomb, both of Tennessee. The strength of this group is mainly in Tennessee and Texas. Disciples in these western counties of North Carolina did not begin under anti-missionary leadership, but it was not long before the extreme conservatives discovered their opportunity. They were aggressive in blighting effectually every church of Christ, where they could prevail. This was extensive. A few preachers bred in N. C. were proselytes to this group. Chief among these was Marshall C. Kurfees of Davie county, who became one of their outstanding national leaders. These disciples in the western counties for many years had no coordinate affiliation with any state group. Travel between sections was slow and difficult. They were isolated. They were open to depredations of reactionary zealots from Tennessee and Texas. The cause of liberal and progressive Christianity received a hard blow from this source, and its growth was materially retarded."

That was the situation in years gone by. In these articles we have attempted to give the readers a history and view of a field wherein lies a great opportunity for the advancement of the New Testament church. If some of those "reactionary zealots" of Tennessee and Texas will come our way again, to stay, some day North Carolina will be numbered among those states who are able to do extensive evangelistic work and send some "ultra-conservative" to "blight effectually" error in other areas.