Liberty! During the last half of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries, this was the watchword of millions in the western world. The American and French revolutions were fueled by this watchword and fueled later revolutions in their turn. Christianity felt the influence as well.
In the United States there was a movement to return to primitive Christianity. The Bible alone should be the rule of religion; all excess church baggage should be ditched--observances and practices that had grown up over the centuries.
A leader in this movement toward church renewal was Thomas Campbell. He taught that denominations should enjoy unity with each other, not division; that scripture should be the final arbiter of differences in belief rather than church confessions; that there should be an end to creeds as tests of fellowship; and that ministers should have freedom from various restrictions created by religious organizations to control those who held pulpits.
Thomas Campbell fell out with the Seceder Presbyterians, to which he belonged. He was soon asked to leave them. Meanwhile, on this day, August 17, 1809, he and some like-minded friends formed a society called the Christian Association of Washington.
They adopted as their motto, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." They expected to become what is now known as a parachurch: a society to work with and through many denominations.
The following year, Thomas and his son Alexander tried to unite their society with the Presbyterian church. They were afraid that their followers would form a new denomination, the exact opposite of what they hoped for. The Presbyterians rejected their overtures. A Declaration and Address issued by Campbell's society implied a denial of parts of the Westminster Confession of Faith which were fundamental to the Presbyterian church. The Baptists also rejected the new group.
As they feared, the Campbells' efforts did lead to still more divisions in the body of Christ. They adopted baptism by immersion and called themselves Christians churches or Disciples of Christ. The Church of Christ also resulted from this movement that the Campbell's (and others) led.
- Garrison, Winfred Ernest and DeGroot, Alfred. The Disciples of Christ. A History. St. Louis, Missouri, 1948.
- West, Robert Frederick. Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion. New Haven: Yale University, 1948.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007