Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 15, 1971
NUMBER 48, PAGE 5-7a

Alexander Campbell: A Third "Anti-Mission" Leader — IV.

Colly Caldwell


Alexander Campbell, an Irish immigrant, came to America in 1809, at the age of twenty-one. His father, Thomas Campbell, had come two years earlier leaving the family behind until he could send for them. The Campbell's were Presbyterians. Shortly after arriving in America, Thomas Campbell, a licensed minister of the Anti-Bergher Seceder Presbyterians in Ireland, was censured by the Presbytery of Chartiers in western Pennsylvania because he had invited those of other Presbyterian sects to join his Seceder group in communion. This censure, along with his rapidly developing ideas concerning the union of all denominations by the abandonment of formal written creeds, caused him to leave the Presbyterian faith. He soon gathered a group who held similar views and called them together to form a clear statement of the truths they advocated. In that meeting, at the home of Abraham Altars between Mount Pleasant and Washington, Pennsylvania, Thomas Campbell made the statement which to this day is the watch-word of Disciples who demand scriptural authority for all items of faith and practice: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." 1 While these developments were taking place in America, the younger Campbell was experiencing changes in his own thinking. In Glasgow, where he had entered the University to study theology, languages, and the arts, his faith was shaken by the continuing personal and doctrinal conflicts within the Presbyterian ranks in Scotland. By the time he arrived in this country, he, too, was very much disillusioned with both Presbyterian government and doctrine. The reasons were similar to those of his father. Neither Alexander Campbell nor Thomas Campbell believed that Presbyterians were interested in unity. 2

First Preaching

In October, 1809, the Campbell's were reunited. Each was surprised and very much relieved at the newly formed conclusions of the other. 3 After a period of intense study, Alexander Campbell first publicly preached his convictions on the independence of the church of Christ from humanly formed creeds. His sermon, delivered on July 15, 1810, stressed the authority of the Scriptures. During the remaining part of that year, he preached 106 sermons on 61 major topics relating to the general theme of that first sermon and received a gratifying response. 4 During this time, the direction of Campbell's thinking on religious subjects was influenced by his personal life. On March 12, 1811, he married, and in the same year moved to Virginia. His wife, Margaret, lived until October 22, 1827, when she died of "consumption," leaving her husband with five young daughters. 5 When the first child was born, Campbell reexamined the question of baptizing infants by sprinkling. He determined that none but believers should be baptized and that by immersion. Having concluded that immersion was the only proper mode of baptism, he became convinced that his own baptism was invalid. On June 12, 1812, heavily burdened over his own salvation, he asked Matthias Luce, a Baptist, to immerse him. After this, Campbell considered himself no longer a Presbyterian and subsequently joined the Baptist communion. 6

That same fall (1812), Campbell visited a meeting of the Redstone (Virginia) Baptist Association. The Brush Run church, in which he had been appointed an elder, was encouraged during that meeting to join its membership. The Church accepted the invitation and was admitted to membership at the annual meeting in 1813. Campbell, for the church, stipulated the condition that it not be required to accept any formula for its belief other than the Scriptures. This was Campbell's first experience with Baptist inter-congregational organization.

The Christian Baptist In January, 1818, Campbell established an academy which he called the Buffaloe Seminary. He served as dean or principal until July 4, 1823, when he began publication of The Christian Baptist, a monthly publication which was issued through June, 1830. The "Prospectus of the Christian Baptist" set forth the philosophy of its editor:

"The 'Christian Baptist' shall espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting that ancient sect called 'Christians first at Antioch.' Its sole 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 works, 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."7

The central theme of Campbell's writing in The Christian Baptist was an examination of all items of religious faith and practice in the light of Scriptural authority. He was often harsh in his denunciation of the religious practices of his day. He claimed that Presbyterians and Baptists had forgotten both the spirit and the letter of New Testament Christianity,8. Accordingly, he began in February, 1825, a series of articles entitled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things." Articles under this title, with various sub-titles depending upon the particular doctrine being considered, appeared in thirty issues before being concluded in September, 1829. In these, Campbell explained his reasons for laying aside all creeds written by men. He proposed, using only the Bible, to answer questions concerning Presbyterian and Baptist practices. Many generally accepted practices, he wrote, were condemned by the Bible because they were not authorized therein. This series was intended to reform the existing denominations. Campbell remained a Baptist through this period.

Campbell And Stone

As these articles developed, the similarity between Alexander Campbell's views and those of Barton W. Stone became apparent. The two teachers agreed on such issues as the mode and importance of baptism, the lack of authority for mechanical instruments of music in worship, and the nature of church government and organization. Years later, Stone, in his autobiography, wrote of Campbell:

"In A Few Things I Dissented From Him, But Was Agreed To Disagree. I Will Not Say, There Are Not Faults In Brother Campbell; But That There Are Fewer, Perhaps In Him, Than In Any Man I Know On Earth; And Over These Few My Love Would Throw A Veil, And Hide Them From View Forever. I Am Constrained, And Willingly Constrained To Acknowledge Him The Greatest Promoter Of This Reformation Of Any Man Living. The Lord Reward Him!"9 In the Christian Baptist of October 1, 1827, Campbell published a letter from Stone in which the latter had referred to the editor as "Brother," though differing with him on some matters relating to the nature of Christ.' 10 In his reply, Campbell stressed their agreements. He called Stone "Brother" and expressed the hope that Stone would not allow those calling themselves "Christians" and wearing the name "Church of Christ" to become a sect denying brotherhood with those following Campbell's lead in restoring the New Testament order.11 In most places fellowship between the two groups was already being enjoyed. Stone and Campbell met and agreed to unite in 1832.12

The differences which did exist between Campbell's views and those of Stone were primarily in emphasis. Stone's interests are seen in the "Preface" to the first volume of his monthly periodical, The Christian Messenger:

"It is universally acknowledged, by the various sects of Christians, that the religion of Heaven, for centuries past, has fallen far below the excellency and glory of primitive Christianity. The man who honestly investigates the cause of this declension, and points the proper way of reformation, must certainly be engaged in a work, pleasing to God, and profitable to man. This is our design; and to accomplish this desirable end, shall our best exercises be enlisted and engaged." 13

Most of Stone's work in the Disciples' movement was directed toward Presbyterians, while Campbell converted more Baptists. To the "unchurched," Stone was an enthusiastic evangelist who appealed to those who would be emotionally stirred, while Campbell was an intellectual educator who appealed to those who were moved by reasoned logic. William Garrett West wrote in his biography of Stone:

"Campbell with his viewpoint, probably never would have been able to bring his followers together with those of Stone. It was Stone's spirit and active practical interest in unity which generated the drive necessary to cement the union of the two groups." 14

Campbell And Stone Both "Antis"

The central theme of both Campbell's and Stone's teachings was that every item of doctrine, worship, and organization must be authorized in the New Testament. It was basically upon this principle that they both objected to cooperative organizations engaged to fulfill evangelistic missions. Stone evidently maintained this view until his death. In the Christian Messenger, he wrote:

"These benevolent schemes are Bible societies, Tract societies, Rag societies, Cent societies, Theological societies, Sunday School societies, Education societies, &c., &c., . . . I would simply ask, what have the divine writers of the New Testament said representing these societies? They are all silent as the grave ... These benevolent societies, though good in their origin, we cannot but view as engines used to build up sectarian establishments, and monopolize the wealth and power of the nation.:15 In a letter dated February 23, 1824, Campbell asserted, "Our objections to the missionary plan originated from the conviction that it is unauthorized in the New Testament."' 16 He had earlier written:

"The societies called churches, constituted and set in order by those ministers of the New Testament . . . were not fractured into missionary societies, Bible societies, education societies: nor did they dream of organizing such in the world. The head of a believing household was not in those days a president or manager of a board of foreign missions; his wife, president of some female education society; his elder son, the recording secretary- of some domestic Bible society; his eldest daughter, the corresponding secretary of a mite society; his servant maid, the vice-president of a rag society; and his little daughter, a tutoress of a Sunday School. They knew nothing of the hobbies of modem times."' 17

Campbell's point was that God in His wisdom had determined the organizational means to be used in doing religious work. The organization chosen by God was the church, and he who turned its work over to human corporations "robbed it of its character." 18 He said, "The association called the church of Jesus Christ is, in propria forma, the only institution of God left on earth to illuminate and reform the world."19 These statements aligned Campbell with Daniel Parker and John Taylor and the "Anti-Mission" movement among Baptists.


1 Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Nashville; Gospel Advocate, 1956) I, pp. 19, 205, 222-24, 231-36.

2 Christian Baptist, II (Sept. 6, 1824), 36.

3 Richardson, Memoris, I, 217-21.

4 CB, II (Sept. 6, 1824), 36.

5 CB, V (Nov. 5, 1827), 101-2; (Dec. 3:1827), 125-27. 6CB, II (Sept. 6, 1824), 37.

7 CB, I (July 4, 1823), iv.

8 Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1964), I, pp. 69-70.

9 Stone, Biography, p. 76.

10 CB, V (October 1, 1827), 63-67.

11 CB. V (October 1, 1827), 67-70.

12 David Edwin Harrell, Jr., Quest for a Christian America (Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1966), p. 7.

13 Christian Messenger, I (Dec. 25, 1826), 1-5.

14 William Garrett West, Barton Warren Stone: Early American Advocate of Christian Unity Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1954), p. 11.

15 Christian Messenger, VI (Nov., 1832), 344. 16C8, I (March 1, 1824), 157.

17 CB, I (July 4, 1823), 14.

18 CB, I (Dec. 1, 1823), 101-02.

19 CB, I (June 7, 1824), 218.