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§ 116. The Disciples of Christ

Literature.

Richardson: Memoirs of A. Campbell, new ed., Cinti., 1888—A Debate between Rev. A. Campbell and Rev. N. L. Rice on Christian Baptism and Eccles. Creeds as Terms of Communion, Nov. 15–Dec. 2, 1843, Lexington, 1844, pp. 912.— I. Errett: Our Position, a tract, Cinti., 1901.— J. H. Garrison: The Old Faith Restated, St. Louis, 1891.— B. B. Tyler: Hist. of the Disciples of Christ, Am. Ch. Hist. Series, N.Y., 1894.— F. D. Powers: Art. in Schaff-Herzog Enc., III., 443 sq.— J. S. Lamar: Life of I. Errett, 2 vols., Cinti., 1894.— W. T. Moore: Compar. Hist. of the Disciples of Christ, N.Y., 1909, pp. 830.— Summerbell: The Christians and the Disciples, Dayton, 1906.— Errett Gates: The Disciples of Christ, in "Story of the Chh.," Chaps. XI–XIV., N.Y., 1905.— P. Ainslie: The Message of the Disciples for the Union of the Church, N.Y., 1913, pp. 210. Gives the "Declaration and Address" in full. Also The Scandal of Christianity, N. Y., 1929.— J. K. Kellems: A. Campbell and the Disciples, N.Y., 1930, pp. 409.

 

A large and influential Christian body whose historic position has 931been antagonism to all Church creeds containing articles formulated by non-biblical writers is the group known as The Disciples of Christ. In the number of its members, the fifth Protestant ecclesiastical body in the United States, it arose early in the nineteenth century in Western Pennsylvania under the leadership of Thomas Campbell, a Seceder minister from North Ireland and his son, Alexander Campbell. Born in Ireland, Sept. 12, 1788, Alexander came to America, 1809, settled in the Western part of Pennsylvania and died March 4, 1866, in Bethany, West Virginia, where he had established a college. Seeking relief from the restraints of ecclesiastical formularies and a return to the so-called implicity and ordinances of "original Christianity," Thomas, then a Presbyterian minister, formed "the Christian Association of Washington," Pennsylvania, and issued, 1809, a "Declaration and Address" to which the Disciples go back as the justification and basis of their existence as a distinct group. In 1811, he and his followers joined themselves in an independent organization at Brush Run, Pa. Two years later, the organization united with the Redstone Baptist Association. A division arising in this body over the principles of the "Church Reformation," as the movement led by the Campbells was called, the followers of the Campbells constituted themselves an independent body, 1827. Four years later, this body was enlarged by the accession of a number of churches which followed Rev. Barton W. Stone, once a member of the Presbytery of Lexington, Kentucky. The members of the Kentucky churches preferred to call themselves by the simple name "Christians" and for this reason the "Disciples" have often gone by that name.

Alexander Campbell, the real founder of the new movement, was ordained 1812 and immersed a few months later. He was a man of intellectual vigor and independence of thought, of positiveness of conviction and statement, and became abundant in labors. His views were set forth not only in the pulpit but through the columns of two periodicals, the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger, and in public discussions on the platform. These discussions, which aroused wide attention in Southern Ohio and the South West, were carried on with Robert Owen, 1829, and Archbishop Purcell of the Roman Catholic Church, 1837, both in Cincinnati, and with the noted Presbyterian polemic theologian, Dr. Nathan L. Rice, in Lexington, Ky., 1843. The last discussion, which lasted sixteen days, had Henry Clay as its chairman. 932Campbell was accused of being "contentious" and "disputatious" while his skill as a debater was generally recognized.

The distinctive tenets of the Disciples, as set forth in the Declaration and Address, are the "alone-sufficiency and all-sufficiency of the Bible"—to use the language of Alexander Campbell—and the unadulterated evil of Christian creeds and the denominational divisions in Christendom. With other Christians, they hold to the doctrines of the trinity, original sin, Christ's atonement and resurrection, the necessity of repentance and regeneration, and the two future states. They reject—to follow the Declaration and Address—human opinions and the inventions of men as having any authority in the Church of God and profess "to stand upon the ground on which the Church stood at the beginning . . . and to take up things just as the Apostles left them." The Society, so it was affirmed, "was formed for the sole purpose of promoting simple evangelical Christianity and to promote only such measures as, reduce to practice the original form of Christianity expressly exhibited in the sacred page. . . . Everything not taught and enjoined in the Bible is of no authority and nothing is to be made a term of communion among Christians which is not as old as the New Testament." Creeds of human composition are a calamity and have been the cause of the historic divisions in the Church and "divisions among Christians is a horrid evil. Although the Church of Christ must necessarily exist in particular and distinctive societies, locally separate one from another, yet ought there to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions, among them." Further, by the Declaration and Address, the society rejected the application to itself of the name "Church" and its members desired to be regarded "merely as voluntary advocates of Church reformation; and, tired of the jarrings and janglings of a party spirit, to restore unity, peace and purity to the whole Church of God,"—a large, if not ambitious, and certainly most laudable purpose. In accordance with these affirmations, whereby the Scriptures are not only treated as the sole standard of Christian teaching but its language the sole organ through which it is to be conveyed and all human formularies intended to state and summarize those teachings are set aside as evil in their consequences, the Disciples have been inclined to look upon themselves as pioneers in the movement of Christian unity and Church union. For twenty years the body has had within itself an Association for the Promotion 933of Christian Unity. In spite of their formal declarations and wishes, the Disciples are a distinct ecclesiastical body, following the congregational scheme of church government and observing usages distinguishing them from many Christian bodies such as the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper and baptism by immersion, though denying baptismal regeneration. Whether such usages, the doctrines explicitly held in common with all Christians and their opposition to creeds, constitute a confessional formulary or not, seems to admit of two answers. The large volume of Kellems, 1930, ascribes to Alexander Campbell a doctrinal system no less positive than are the systems of other ecclesiastical bodies. By their evangelical activity and warm manifestation of union among themselves, the Disciples of Christ have not only reached large bodies of people but won the fellowship of other Christian communions and have shown that a Church's efficiency and solidarity does not necessarily depend upon an explicit formulary of human composition. The most prominent personage among the Disciples since Alexander Campbell has been James A. Garfield, President of the United States.

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