"And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” I John 4:21.
ALTHOUGH MOST Protestants recognize the Bible as the ultimate authority in religious matters, they are by no means all Biblical literalists. One of the persistent threads in the American religious tradition, however, has been the sectarian emphasis on literal Biblical interpretation. In his study of American sectarianism, Elmer T. Clark describes this theme:
An intense devotion to the very word of Holy Writ characterizes the little groups classed as legalistic. “The Bible not only contains the word of God, it is the word of God," is a well-known attitude. From this position the bodies in question draw the principles which mark them as legalistic.1
The Christian faith expressed in these terms becomes a very concrete and tangible system of thought and, within the bounds of revelation, an intensely rationalistic one. Starting outside of reason by accepting the Bible as the “word of God” which contains all truth, the legalist then proceeds to decipher this body of revealed truth rationally.
This particular sectarian emphasis has been recurrent in the history of Christianity and was especially prominent in nineteenth-century evangelical religion in America. Although there were some beginnings of liberal theology in this country before 1865, for the most part church and Biblical authoritarianism remained unchallenged until after the Civil War.2 Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and most of the splinter evangelical movements of the early nineteenth century would all ultimately resort to logical exegesis of Biblical texts to defend their peculiar doctrines. While there were vast differences in doctrine and emphasis, the revivalist leaders of the early nineteenth century were as much the children of the Enlightenment as deists and freethinkers; they based their investigations on a different set of presuppositions, but they all shared the methodology of eighteenth-century philosophy.
The Disciples of Christ in the first half of the nineteenth century is perhaps the purest and most striking American example of the legalistic and objectivistic sectarian expression.3 One of the basic articles of faith which cut deeply through the whole movement during the period 1800 to 1865 was that the Bible was authoritative and final and that intelligent investigation of this source would result in the discovery of truth. From the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” which pleaded with all men to take “the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven”4 and the statement in the Declaration and Address that the Christian Association of Washington “holds itself engaged ... in promoting a pure evangelical reformation, by the simple preaching of the everlasting Gospel, and the administration of its ordinances in an exact conformity to the Divine Standard,”5 the thought of the group was rooted in the central conviction that there was a divine pattern of apostolic Christianity and that the answer to the problems of contemporary Protestantism was to return to these Biblical standards.
In short, the Disciples were Biblical rationalists. As Winfred E. Garrison has noted, there was a “definiteness and positiveness” about the message of Christianity in their thought which “easily ran into legalism.”6 They conceived of their mission in terms of restoring the gospel to its original first-century purity and of reordering the church according to the “ancient order of things.” The natural result of this spiritual revolution would be the union of divided Christendom. The foundation upon which both ideas rested was Biblical literalism.
The whole of the intellectual, religious, and social environment in which the sect was born fertilized its rationalistic legalism. If the Methodists and frontier Presbyterians were more emotional than the Disciples, they had no less respect for the “word of God” and they were no less prepared to smother an opponent with proof texts. In the countless and colorful debates between Disciples and Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, and almost every other religious species, both sides used the Bible and both sides dissected it with the cold logic of an eighteenth-century rationalist.
Many early leaders among the Disciples were deeply influenced by the writings of John Locke, Francis Bacon, and the Scottish “common sense” philosophers.7 Sterling W. Brown suggests that it was “their philosophical background inherited from John Locke” which was the most important formative influence on the thought of the Disciples of Christ.8 The Disciples simply adopted the philosophical methodology of the day and used it within the framework of their own Christian emphasis. While they “reacted against the results” which came from the philosophy of the eighteenth century, they “accepted in the main the principles upon which it was based.”9
The rationalistic and optimistic philosophy of the Enlightenment was simply a sophisticated expression of the spirit that prevailed in the American West. If many of the first-generation leaders of the Disciples of Christ were influenced by the writings of Locke, Reid, and Bacon, the practical rationalism of the frontier reached into the pulpits and pews of every country church. The self-confident American frontiersman lacked respect for all authority, especially ecclesiastical and clerical, and his individualism led him to believe that every man had the innate ability to discover religious truth simply by a rational investigation of the Scriptures. The Disciples “formulated a simple, practical, straight-from-the-shoulder statement of their faith,” says Sterling W. Brown, “which found a ready response in the minds and hearts of the frontiersman in the Middle West.”10
To a large degree the Disciples were not simply Biblical primitivists, they were New Testament primitivists. Early in the history of the Disciples Campbell gave the church significant direction in his famous “Sermon on the Law” in which he stressed differences between the Old and New Testaments.11 As this covenant theory developed in the thought of the Disciples, the Old Testament was increasingly discarded as authoritative in the “Christian age” and the New Testament emerged as the only guide to Christian action. Perhaps even more significant was the emphasis placed on the Book of Acts and the Epistles. Their interest in the restoration principle made the post-Pentecost portions of the Scriptures particularly important to Disciples, and the bulk of the scriptural precedent for their actions was based on the “approved examples” in the Book of Acts and the “precepts" recorded in the Epistles.12
The preoccupation of Disciples with scriptural authority was one of the fundamental factors which directed the church’s social thought. When a Disciple looked for answers in the pre-Civil War period, he looked in the Bible—more specifically he looked in the New Testament. No important leader in the church during these years would have seriously attempted to defend a position on any issue without Biblical proof texts. Occasionally the “higher law” concept was appealed to during the slavery controversy but invariably even the abolitionists would attempt to substantiate their claims with Biblical proof—the Scriptures remained the “highest law.”13
Another important implication of the literalistic New Testament orientation of Disciples was that this emphasis opened a wide area where diversity of opinion was tolerated. “For Campbell and the movement generally,” notes Harold Lunger, “only those things that were set forth 'in express terms or by approved precedent’ were considered matters of 'faith’ and therefore binding upon all members of the church. Other inferences and deductions from scriptural premises fell into the category of 'opinion’ and could not be made terms of communion.”14 While the early leaders of the group thought there were a number of specific elements in the original gospel and in the order of the first-century church which were clearly and indisputably established by New Testament authority, they also believed there were many areas where scriptural teaching was not so positive or clear and in these areas Christians were free to follow their own private judgments. This distinction was theologically important to Disciples—the union of Disciples and Stoneites, who were suspected of Unitarianism, could hardly have been accomplished without it—but probably even more important were its implications in the area of social ethics. The proper application of the sweeping principles of Christian morality almost always were regarded as matters of “opinion.” If one was loyal to the basic doctrinal statements of the New Testament, he was allowed the widest sort of liberty in the area of Christian social thought. A second important implication of this faith-opinion distinction was that while every individual had the right to make any application of the principles of Christian ethics which he thought proper, the church could make no formal commitment in these disputed areas. Legalism freed the individual Christian and restricted the activities of the church.
The evangelical Christianity of the early nineteenth century, even of the most legalistic variety, was not without an important humanitarian emphasis. The evangelical sects were the “heirs of the religion of the poor” and, according to H. Richard Niebuhr, they were “more interested in the ethics than the theology of the faith.”15 American Protestantism during the years 1800 to 1863 was a religion of action and it imbibed deeply of the humanitarian spirit which was a fundamental part of American social thought. “Practical Christianity” was the heart of the message of the nineteenth-century evangelist in his crusade for the establishment of the kingdom of God in America. The compassionate message of a first-century vagabond Jew was readily comprehended by the itinerant, underpaid prophets to the poor in every section of the nation.16
This emphasis on practical religion was firmly rooted in the early thought of the Disciples of Christ. Although they were objectivistic legalists and often seemed totally preoccupied with doctrinal disputes, they were never unconcerned about the more practical applications of Christian principles. Humanitarian concern was always directed toward helping the individual and was often motivated by a legalistic conscience— the phrase “law of love” was not uncommon—but it was real and activistic.17
Although the chief concern of the early reformers among the Disciples was the “restoration of the ancient order,” they never failed to stress the importance of Christian living. “Were all the common . . . virtues of justice, truth, fidelity, honesty, practised by all Christians,” wrote Alexander Campbell in 1833, “how many mouths would be stopped, and how many new arguments in favor of Jesus Christ could all parties find!”18 Barton Stone early warned Disciples of the “danger of dwelling too long upon doctrinal disquisitions, to the neglect of practical piety” and challenged them to “labor to have our own hearts and lives reformed.”19 In short, from the sect’s beginnings to 1865 the emphasis on practical religion was an important part of the common mind of the Disciples of Christ.
William Garrett West, in his biography of Barton Stone, has suggested an interesting comparison between Alexander Campbell and Stone as representatives of the opposing extremes of “legalism” and “love” in Disciples thought. Speaking of Stone, West says, “Love reigned in his life.”20 On the other hand, he believes that the “legalistic element in Alexander Campbell’s thought” left a deep and permanent mark on the restoration movement.21 There is probably truth in West’s comparison (Stone’s teachings may have centered less around the Epistles and Acts and more around the Gospels, as he points out), yet it can easily be distorted. The truth of the matter is that it was never an “either-or” proposition in the mind of either man but a “both-and.” They both could be, and were, legalists and they both could, and did, preach practical Christianity. Humanitarianism and legalism were part of the equipment of every first-generation Disciple and it is a tedious and unsure process to determine which of the two was the dominant theme in the thought of most of the early leaders.22
By 1865, however, it was evident that there were significant and expanding differences in emphasis within the church. If every important Disciples leader prior to 1865 remained nominally loyal to the legalistic restoration principle, and if every important Disciples leader had always insisted that a man could not be a Christian unless he was a “practical Christian,” the intricate mixture of these two emphases showed signs of being jolted out of balance.
In March, 1857, Robert Richardson, long-time personal friend of Alexander Campbell, professor at Bethany College, and associate editor of the Millennial Harbinger, began a series of articles entitled “Faith versus Philosophy,” which ran in the Harbinger throughout most of that year.23 Richardson was soon locked in debate with Tolbert Fanning, the President of Franklin College in Nashville, editor of the Gospel Advocate, and probably the most influential church leader in Tennessee. Although the Richardson-Fanning debate centered specifically around the function of the Holy Spirit in conversion, the real crux of the difference between the two men was in their attitude on the question of literalistic and practical religion. Richardson believed that the restoration movement had not yet reached a successful culmination and that all that really had been effected was “an exchange of opinions, rather than a change of condition.”24 Such an idea was heretical to Fanning; he insisted that the legalistic “search for the ancient order” was the heart of the church’s uniqueness and denounced Richardson as a “spiritualist.” The Richardson-Fanning controversy flared throughout most of the year until finally, much to Richardson’s embarrassment, Alexander Campbell, who apparently favored Fanning’s position, at least through the early phases of the debate, closed the columns of the Harbinger to further discussion.
The discussion evoked widespread interest throughout the brotherhood and similar debates erupted over such issues as open communion, the meaning of baptism, and the propriety of special education for preachers. Beneath this turbulent surface lurked deep-seated internal tensions. While the intricate balance of “legalism” and “practical religion” had not tipped over by 1865, it had become extremely delicate. The common mind of the Disciples of Christ still contained both emphases in 1865 but in the minds of many it was no longer a mixture of “both-and” but a process of first one and then the other.
"But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” Acts 26:25.
While Elmer T. Clark’s statement that it is “a peculiar type of mind which is convinced that God is interested in whether his worshipers sing with or without instrumental accompaniment” is itself the product of a “peculiar type of mind,” it is none the less both true and meaningful.25 It is a “type of mind” which is essentially out of step with midtwentieth-century American thought and yet it is one that is recurrent in Christian history. It is the mind of a legalistic fanatic. The fanatic, legalistic or otherwise, was not out of place in the midnineteenth-century Disciples of Christ.
Religion is essentially an answer to the problems of death, suffering, frustration, and tension—the basic psychological problems of man. An individual’s reactions to these problems are conditioned by both personal and social factors. J. Milton Yinger, in his study of the sociology of religion, points out that there are “wide individual variations of frustration, tolerance for frustration, and sense of injustice, but there are also wide variations in the degree to which social systems produce these personality tendencies.”26 While all individuals in all societies must deal with these problems at some level, “those who feel it most acutely may struggle with it in religious terms” and “for a few—the mystics, the ascetics, the prophets—they become the dominant preoccupation of life.”27 The psychological needs of an individual may mold his religious personality into that of a fantatic, into a state of relative complacency, or into any of the infinite number of stopping places in between these two extremes.
There is much of the mind of the religious fanatic in the pre-Civil War thought of the Disciples. For the most part it was a rationalistic and legalistic fanaticism, but the enthusiast is not circumscribed within any doctrinal system and there were zealots on both extremes of Disciples thought.28 The Christian movement was born amidst the emotionally loaded revival fervor in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Barton Stone recalled that during the early years of the sect “some of us were verging on fanaticism.”29 The Campbell group also began in an atmosphere of excitement and tension. Campbell himself led the way: “His hand was against everything; and every man’s hand was soon against him. His spirit of iconoclasm led him to demolish very many useful and indispensable customs of organized Christianity.”30 Pioneer prophets scoured the fermenting American West with the “restored gospel,” heralding the rejuvenation of the New Testament church, and, as Jacob Creath put it, delivering “a blow at the root” of every false religious system. By the 1830’s enthusiasm reached a peak intensity within the church and culminated in widespread anticipation of the imminent approach of the millennium. To call a Disciple a fanatic has always been considered the grossest insult; but the movement was never without its prophets—and every Disciple had a little of the zealot in him.31
In commenting on the impact of social conditions on the individual’s religious psychology J. Milton Yinger says, “social systems may reduce somewhat the individual religious needs by lowering the level of frustration and reducing the sense of injustice.”32 The Disciples were born in a society which nurtured an intense religious psychology—a society in which tensions and frustrations were unquestionably large. While the pragmatic philosophy and practical experience of the frontiersman made him receptive to rationalistic and legalistic religion, his insecurity and the instability of the society in which he lived made him equally receptive to fervent and enthusiastic religious expressions. The Disciples of Christ shared the same heritage in the violent social and religious climate of early nineteenth-century America that almost every other evangelical sect had; if they were less emotional than most of them, they were hardly less enthusiastic.
From the beginning of the movement, however, the radical element in the Disciples mind was mellowed and tempered by a recurrent emphasis on moderation. Eva Jean Wrather, probably the outstanding student of Alexander Campbell, describes him as a moderate:
In a world of extremes . . . only the uncommon man of sound sense and fine sensibility is able to pursue a sane and moderate course. . . . Alexander Campbell proved himself such a man. . . . For he was naturally of a rational and tolerant temperament, and he was reared in the common-sense school of Scottish philosophy.33
Amos S. Hayden reported that from the beginning Campbell, William Hayden, and other important leaders among the Disciples in Ohio opposed all radical religious and social expressions. They checked rampant antiorganizational prejudice, tried to calm premillennial excitement, and completely quashed the introduction of radical economic schemes.34 By 1831 the most fanatical fringe of the movement in the Western Reserve had been drained off by the defection of the erratic Sydney Rigdon, along with several other preachers and a number of churches, to the Mormons.35
The same spirit of moderation was evident in the early Christian stream in Kentucky. Barton Stone became an early and unrelenting opponent of the most radical religious and social expression to emerge from the Kentucky revivals—the Shakers. In 1805 three missionaries from New Lebanon, New York—Benjamin Seth Youngs, Isaachar Bates, and John Meacham—introduced Shakerism into the West. By the end of April, at least five of the leading preachers of the Christian movement had accepted the prophetic doctrine of the Shaker missionaries. Stone, however, quickly became the “center of an anti-Shaker movement” in the West.36 In his autobiography Stone wrote: “Never did I exert myself more than at this time, to save the people from this vortex of ruin. I yielded to no discouragement, but labored night and day, far and near, among the churches where the Shakers went. By this means their influence was happily checked in many places.”37
The inroads of the Shakers into the nascent Christian movement were significant. They not only took a considerable number of the members but also drained off a good portion of the ablest leaders of the young movement.38 Stone recognized that the Shaker missionaries had come at a propitious time:
Some of us were verging on fanaticism; some were so disgusted at the spirit of the opposition against us, and the evils of division, that they were almost led to doubt the truth of religion in toto. . .. The Shakers well knew how to accommodate each of these classes, and decoy them into the trap set for them.39
In the final analysis, the Shaker defection among the Christians and the Mormon defection among the early Disciples had similar effects; they drained off the most radical fringes in both of the movements.40 David Purviance, who with Stone resisted the Shaker intrusions, believed that the purging had a lasting good effect on the movement:
I have thought there might be something providential in the coming of the Shakers, although some honest and precious souls were seduced and ruined by their means; yet a growing fanaticism was drawn out of the church, which threatened the most deleterious effects.41
The moderate mood deepened in Disciples thought in the decades following 1830. In 1840 Campbell wrote: “I will only farther premise, that as extremes always beget extremes, I fear the logic and the declamation of all enthusiasts on all questions, political, moral, religious.”42 Most of the rising young leaders in the church in the decades preceding the Civil War were firmly dedicated to the policy of moderation. In 1847 Benjamin Franklin, an influential young editor in Indiana, warned that “abusive fanatics are the most unsafe guides both in politics and religion in all the world.”43 Although every Disciple had some of the religious enthusiast in him and some were real prophets, there was inherent in the sect from the beginning an aversion to religious and social radicalism of the most wild-eyed variety—even when expressed in legalistic terms.
Not only did the rationalistic and “common-sense” heritage of the Disciples create a practical aversion to “extremes” of every sort but there was also much in their environment to encourage a moderate mood. For the most part the Disciples arrived late on the frontier. During the period 1830-1865, when the group made such large gains in the Middle West, the most riotous and unrestrained features of frontier society were giving way to a more settled and sedate pattern of Western life. Although the frontier was unquestionably important in the development of Disciples thought, perhaps, as H. Richard Niebuhr points out, they were even more “representative of a West which had passed the storm and stress period of social adolescence and was recovering from its youthful extremities of hope and fear.”44 From the group’s beginning the Disciples included many leaders and members from the most stable segment of Western society—from that element least likely to be influenced by religious and social fanaticism. Many of the church’s leaders had something of the “aristocratic temperament” and shared an appreciation for stability, order, and moderation.45
To sum up, the religious personality of the Disciples of Christ had decided schizophrenic tendencies. They were fanatics with a compulsive sense of mission; and yet they were nineteenth-century rationalists with an almost psychotic aversion to fanaticism. Most Disciples were a perplexing mixture of these two elements. They could be tolerant or intolerant; they could be dogmatic or broad-minded; they could be sectarian or denominational—and it was never quite obvious which course they would follow. The schizoid middle-of-the-road psychology always comprised the broad and slow-moving mainstream of the movement but it became more and more apparent in the years before the Civil War that it was the fanatical fringes of Disciples thought which were determining the direction of the flow.
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” Revelation 20:6.
The Disciples of Christ during the pre-Civil War period were more rationalistic and legalistic than many of their contemporary American sects but they were hardly less interested in the prophetic and eschatological portions of the Bible. Not one first-generation leader of the church ignored the apocalytical portions of the Scriptures and some of them were almost totally preoccupied with discussing prophetic passages.46
Disciples interest in prophecy centered, as it did in other groups, around anticipation of the millennium. Millennialism, says Elmer T. Clark, has always been “the leading principle of the so-called Fundamentalist movement” and has historically been “found in nearly all of the denominations and in many small sects.”47 There are two distinct schools of millennialists, divided basically over their understanding of the time of the coming of the Christ in relation to the thousand-year period referred to in Revelation 20:1-6. One group, the postmillennialists, believes that the second coming of Christ will be delayed until after the completion of the millennium. The millennium will be a period when the world is governed according to Christian principles rather than an era when Christ will literally reign on earth and it will be introduced by the gradual triumph of the church over the wickedness of the world rather than by a cataclysmic reappearance of the Lord. The social implications of postmillennialism are both obvious and profound. Optimism, a belief in progress, and a desire for reform are inherent in such a religious interpretation of history.
Although there are broad differences among premillennialists about just what will happen during the apocalyptical period, they are generally agreed that the world has been hopelessly evil and degraded since the fall of Adam. According to the premillennialist, the world must become more and more turbulent and confused until the crucial hour when Christ will return and banish the wicked from the earth, “chain the Old Serpent,” and personally reign with the “true church” in a kingdom of glory. After the thousand-year millennium, the battle of Armageddon and the final judgment will take place. The pessimistic implications of premillennialism are at least equal to the optimistic ones of postmillennialism. Clark points out: “One finds little or no social consciousness among them. It is no part of the church’s duty to reform and redeem the social order. Its function is to prepare a 'true church,’ a comparatively small body of saints, for membership in the coming kingdom.”48
Social and moral laxity in the church, combined with political, social, and economic maladjustments, have caused recurrent outbursts of millennialist enthusiasm throughout the history of the Jewish-Christian tradition. A vibrant millennialist fervor was an important element in the turbulent and unstable American religious scene in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Ante-bellum American premillennialism centered around the personality and work of William Miller, a devout Baptist licentiate from Low Hampton, New York, whose studies on the Book of Revelation and the Old Testament prophecies led him to the conclusion that the millennium was imminent and probably would begin between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. He began to preach his message of the “soon coming of the Lord” in 1831 and his views were favorably received by leaders of many of the American churches. Although the movement reached its culmination in 1844, the year of the prediction, and there was widespread disillusionment when the Lord failed to appear, there remained many premillennialists within the evangelical sects and in 1845 an independent adventist body was formed.49
Probably more important in early nineteenth-century American thought was the widespread acceptance of postmillennialist views. “The most significant millennarian doctrines of the mid-nineteenth century," writes Timothy Smith, “were not those of William Miller, but those which grew out of evangelical Protestantism’s crusade to Christianize the land.”50 All of the great evangelical preachers of this period believed that the new order was “at hand” and that it was their duty to blot both sin and injustice from the world. While the revivalists were as determined as ever to save men’s souls, they also preached the “hope of a radical transformation of life upon earth.”51
Postmillennial presuppositions were deeply entrenched in Disciples thought prior to the national eruption of premillennialist enthusiasm in the 1830’s.52 Prior to 1830 both Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone linked their religious reform efforts with the eventual spiritual and social regeneration of the world. In 1829 Stone wrote that the greatest obstacle in introducing the millennium, when “Christ will reign in spirit on earth a thousand years,” was the religious degeneration of his day.53 The following year Campbell summarized his early millennialist view in the prospectus of his new and significantly named journal, the Millennial Harbinger:
This work shall be devoted to the destruction of Sectarianism, Infidelity, and Antichristian doctrine and practice. It shall have for its object the development, and introduction of that political and religious order of society called THE MILLENNIUM, which will be the consummation of that ultimate amelioration of society proposed in the Christian Scriptures.54
By the early 1830’s a number of significant church leaders had become ardent premillennialists. Both Walter Scott and Barton Stone lent the support of their periodicals to speculation about the imminent advent and millennial reign of the Lord.55 Scott wrote:
The Christian of the 19th century has been permitted to witness the accomplishment of wonderful events; Providence has stationed him on a sublime eminence, from which he can behold the fulfillment of illustrious prophecies, and look backwards upon nearly the whole train of events leading to the Millennium.56
Stone, when queried about the meaning of the “fiery stars” and other “phenomenon” [sic] which one of his readers had observed, replied: ”I have no doubt that awful things are just ahead. May the Lord prepare us to meet them unappalled.”57
But by 1834 Campbell began to lead a counterattack against the premillennial enthusiasm. The question was handled delicately by the editor but Campbell’s postmillennialist position was meticulously outlined in a long series of articles signed, “A Reformed Clergyman."58 Campbell urged his readers to “hear both sides” before they decided on the merits of pre- and postmillenniailism.59 According to one early historian of the movement, the Bethany reformer’s articles were decisive and “in the course of a few years the excitement subsided.”60
That the death of premillennial excitement among the Disciples was either so sudden or so complete is by no means obvious. In 1846, when the young editor of The Reformer, Benjamin Franklin, was trying to account for the seeming lag in religious interest among Disciples, one of the things he blamed was the widespread “second advent excitement” in the church.61 Actually, premillennial sentiment remained strong until the mid-1840’s, retaining the support of such leading editors as Barton Stone, Walter Scott, Arthur Crihfield, and John R. Howard. Stone’s Christian Messenger and Scott’s Evangelist were crowded with premillennialist material during the early forties. Although neither of these men was willing to give unqualified backing to Miller’s chronological calculations, they both thought them “worthy of all attention.”62
The Millerite debacle of 1844 ended most of the serious premillennial agitation among the Disciples. In the November issue of the Christain Messenger the editors observed that “the subject of prophecies has too much engrossed the attention of our periodicals, and our brethren in general” and announced that they intended to avoid any further discussion “on that subject in the Messenger.”63 Walter Scott was crushed by the failure of Miller’s prediction. While as late as 1846 he defended Miller as a “good pious Baptist, having the hope of the gospel,”64 he slowly returned to his old postmillennialist views. In 1859, when he wrote The Messiah ship or Great Demonstration, he was again a staunch postmillennialist: “The long-looked for age, popularly styled 'The Millennium’ must belong to the history of human progress, and be of gradual introduction.”65 By 1856 Alexander Campbell frankly called the “Millerites” “Bastard Millennarians”66 and seldom did premillennialist articles go unchallenged after 1845.
The postmillennial emphasis remained strong in Disciples thought in the last decades before the Civil War but it was both less enthusiastic and more practical than during the early years of the church. It was apparent before 1840 that the preaching of the “ancient gospel” was not going immediately to dissipate all religious division and social sin. In the early years of the movement Alexander Campbell felt that the “new age was near at hand” but as it became more and more apparent that social and religious evils were not to be so easily solved he postponed “the arrival of the millennium ... to around the year two thousand.”67 Perhaps even more significant was the rise of second-generation leaders who had not shared in the enthusiasm of the sect’s youth and who were openly disinterested in millennialist speculation.68 In short, millennialist interest was on the decline in the years immediately preceding the Civil War and that postmillennialism which remained was less urgent and more practical and constructive than it had been in the pre-1840 period.
"Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” II Peter 3:13.
The philosophy of history of nineteenth-century Disciples was inextricably interwoven with their millennialist presuppositions. Premillennialists were apt to view the idea of progress with a disinterested pessimism while the most outspoken postmillennialists were Enlightenment optimists. The destiny of the American nation and the necessity and possibility of social improvement were more often than not prophetically interpreted.
Outstanding premillennialists such as the prominent Ohio preacher and editor, Arthur Crihfield, believed that “the present amount of spiritual influence is not likely to produce a better state of society; that, it is probably that the coming of the Lord is nigh.”69 The editor concluded that “man is incapable of self-government” and that the proper course for Christians was to withdraw their “minds from all secular affairs as to give them only the necessary attention” and “learn the laws of the Lord.”70 Crihfield’s pessimism is typical of the premillennialist leaders of the Disciples and yet his attacks on those who predicted a “millennium brought about by science and theology” clearly indicate that a more optimistic philosophy dominated the thought of the church.71
A belief in inevitable social progress before the millennium order could begin was almost everywhere a part of the Christian message of Disciples leaders. Alexander Campbell early connected religious and social reform and confidently predicted the “speedy overthrow of superstition, false religion, oppressive governments.”72 The European political revolutions of the 1830’s and late 1840’s were repeatedly linked with the rearranging of society necessary for the triumph of religious truth and the introduction of the millennium.73 By and large, Campbell, and other leaders of the group, retained through the ante-bellum period a profound “faith in progress” and in the “fore-ordained destiny” of man.74 In 1845 Robert Forrester wrote: “progressiveness seems to be an established and universal law in the economy of Divine procedures.”75
Another idea which was fundamental in the Disciples philosophy of history and which was inextricably connected with the group’s views on the millennium and progress was a deep confidence in the providence of God. Repeatedly Christians were advised to “resign yourself entirely to the will of God” and reminded that “though all may not seem well in your feeble judgment, remember that it is God who directs it, and that it must be right.”76 Alexander Campbell concluded that it was “a thousand times more rational and blissful, to refer all things interesting to us . . . to the counsel... of the Lord, than to . .. our good fortune’ or management.”77
The American faith in progress, often rooted in millennial hopes and a God-centered philosophy of history, was expressed in the pre-Civil War period in a Christianized philosophy of the destiny of the American nation.78 Faith in the future of the American nation was again and again identified with the Christian faith and in the minds of most Americans the “mission of American democracy to save the world from the oppression of autocrats was a secular version of the destiny of Christianity to save the world from the governance of Satan.”79 Protestantism and republicanism were the two great forces which God was using to reform the world and the American nation was leading the way to the millennium.
The millennialistic and providential world view of the Disciples of Christ was profoundly influenced by the patriotism of church leaders. Campbell, although there was some variation in the strength of his optimism, generally believed that the fate of the world rested on the American nation; that it was a land prepared by God for the restoration of the gospel and that from this country the message was to go into all the world. “To Protestant America and Protestant England,” he wrote, “the world must look for its emancipation from the most heartless spiritual despotism that ever . . . degraded mankind. This is our special mission in the world as a nation and a people; and for this purpose the Ruler of nations has raised us up and made us the wonder and the admiration of the world.”80 When the “light which shines from our political institutions” had penetrated “the dungeons of European despots,” the millennium would begin.81
Often Disciples leaders connected their duty of spreading Christianity with the mission of the nation. In his presidential address before the American Christian Publication Society in 1854, the prominent Cincinnati preacher, David S. Burnet, said: “The American church should do this work, because America is the divinely chosen theater of new measures as well as new men.”82 The American nation, declared the widely known educator, James Shannon, had been raised up by God to lead “the regeneration, political, social and moral, of a debased and down-trodden world.”83
No pre-Civil War Disciple was more consistently nationalistic than Walter Scott and none had a more elaborate philosophy of American Christian destiny. Scott’s intricate, nationalistic, postmillennial philosophy was published in its completed form in 1859 in his book, The Messiahship or Great Demonstration. He believed that the prophetic promises of a “new heavens and a new earth” should be interpreted to mean “a new government and a new people.” “In this new political heavens and new political earth,” wrote Scott, “Christianity was to have free course and to be glorified in the salvation of the nations.” He believed that the millennium would begin when the “ancient gospel” had purified all the governments and all the societies of the world and that the United States, as the “first of the Messianic nations,” had already passed through this transformation. He insisted that the “change in government and society” which had taken place in America would soon “obtain among all people” and that “revolution must succeed revolution in all lands, till the rights and liberties of humanity are understood and restored to all nations.” The Protestant spirit and the American nation would lead to the “gradual introduction” of the millennium.84 Walter Scott, the pioneer prophet of the “ancient gospel restored,” was also one of the foremost prophets of the gospel of the American millennium.
“These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.” Genesis 10:32.
Such stately English names as Stone, Bentley, Pendleton, Fall, and Lamar, though hardly less common in the early history of the Disciples, are less conspicuous than the names Campbell, Scott, Richardson, Ferguson, Thompson, McCulloch, Mathes, Errett, Creath, and Shannon. Added to this English and Scotch-Irish base is a sprinkling of such names as Loos, Hoshour, Vawter, Hostetler, and Schmidt, an occasional Welshman named Longley, and an equally rare Huguenot named Reneau. Disciples of Christ of the first half of the nineteenth century were a cross section of Anglo-Saxon, Protestant middle America.
Aside from the internal migration of the more adventuresome and unsettled elements from the eastern sections of the colonies, the ethnic composure of the American backcountry in the last half of the eighteenth century was largely the result of two significant waves of European immigration. In the early part of the eighteenth century a series of religious, political, social, and economic disturbances led to a widespread influx of Germans into this country.85 Although significant German settlement developed in New York during the colonial period, Pennsylvania became the center of German concentration. The immigrants moved first into the rich farming areas of southern and eastern Pennsylvania and then turned southward down the Valley of Virginia until “by 1750, an almost continuous zone of German settlements had been established along the frontier from the head of the Mohawk, in New York, to Savannah, Georgia."86 After the American Revolution the Germans joined in the growing migration through the mountain gaps into Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Trans-Appalachian West. For the most part this early German immigration was made up of Protestants who were “simple souls, devoted to the accumulation of material goods, and conservative farmers” and they proved to be a valuable and stable element in the development of the American West.87
The second major stream of colonial immigration came from the Ulster section of Ireland.88 Most of these immigrants were the descendants of the Scotch who had settled on the Ulster plantation in the seventeenth century. The course of the Scotch-Irish migration was similar to that of the Germans and, being unwelcome in New England and the tidewater South, they came directly to Philadelphia and then rapidly sifted to the frontier of Pennsylvania. Settling first along the river valleys of southern Pennsylvania, they then followed the valleys between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains into the Southwest. The Scotch-Irishman was in the vanguard of the American frontier movement. Girl Wittke writes: “He was bold, courageous, democratic to a point of lawlessness, highly individualistic, querulous, a 'squatter,’ an inveterate hater of Indians, and a chronic opponent and critic of the established order.”89 Uncompromising and militant Presbyterians, they were creative, tenacious, and often belligerent and unruly.
Among these peoples of the frontier (with the Scotch-Irish, perhaps, as the dominant element) both of the early streams of the Disciples of Christ had their beginnings.90 The thought of the Disciples was influenced in many obvious ways by these ethnic roots. The legalistic emphasis of the movement was in the tradition of Scottish Presbyterianism and German sectarianism.91 The intense individualism and iconoclasm of the early Disciples leaders, their fervent confidence in the destiny of the nation, and their practical “common-sense" approach to religion were all nurtured by their ethnic as well as their social heritage.92
Equally important in the thought of the Disciples was the idea of race itself. There is no simple and all-inclusive explanation for the racial presuppositions of a large segment of American society in the pre-Civil War period. As Oscar Handlin says, “Racism is a complex reaction, the strength of which inheres in its many-stranded nature.”93 Neither has the impact of racist ideas been simple. Although racist theories have most often influenced the Negro in American history, other groups have been important targets of race prejudice. American attitudes on Indian relations, immigration, and economic experimentation have been deeply influenced by racist convictions and the national faith in “manifest destiny” was often based on Anglo-Saxon superiority.94
A number of forces at work in American society in the early nineteenth century encouraged the development of racist theories. Unquestionably the most important factor in the formation of American racial views was the problem of the Negro. Only slightly less important, however, was the presence of the Indian, who formed a hostile, and often bitterly hated, barrier to westward expansion. After 1820 it became increasingly difficult to fit the Negroes and Indians into the picture of a multiracial United States. By the 1830’s the idealistic hopes that by some method these two groups could be removed from American society had pretty largely been shattered. In the decades immediately preceding the Civil War many Americans simply ignored the problem posed by American racial inequalities but increasingly two extreme views were developing in the North and the South. In the North abolitionist agitators accepted the inevitable conclusions of the doctrine of equality and announced that slavery was a sin and that it must be abolished. Economic and social necessity made the problem much less simple in the South and increasingly Southern radicals developed a philosophy which explained the obvious inequalities of their society on the basis of inherent biological differences in the races. Supported by biblical, anthropological, and scientific arguments, the most rabid racists in pre-Civil War America were the Southern proslavery radicals.95
Racist doctrines, however, were not confined to the proslavery agitators of the South; they did not have their origins there; they had important repercussions in several other areas of American social thought and action. Early in the eighteenth century a Swedish scientist, Carl Linnaeus, made the first basic attempt to classify the world of living organisms into species and genera. Linnaeus’ work stimulated tremendous interest and soon the races of mankind became the subject of intensive studies by anthropologists, phrenologists, and philologists. Philosophers of the eighteenth century were not hesitant to point out the social implications of the intriguing findings of the new scientists of race. If the races of mankind had specific and hereditary physical characteristics, it was not unreasonable that they should also have certain hereditary mental and personality traits. More than any other man, Count Arthur de Gobineau of France popularized the racist conclusions of eighteenth-century science. Gobineau wrote a history of the human races which spanned from ancient times to modern and which glorified the white Aryan race as the creative and ruling people throughout the history of the world. The races of “inferior blood” were arranged in a descending scale below the Aryans. Although scientific racism had its greatest impact on American thought in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it had already made significant inroads before 1865.96
The Anglo-Saxon, middle-American Disciples of Christ were aware of and often influenced by the racist philosophies of the nineteenth century. William K. Pendleton, in an article in the Millennial Harbinger in 1846, demonstrated both a broad knowledge of the latest anthropological investigations and the typical Disciples disposition to link racist theory with biblical prophecy. Pendleton believed that the Caucasians had developed their “moral feelings and intellectual powers” to the “highest degree of perfection which human nature has ever exhibited.” In the other races these admirable characteristics were present to an “inferior degree.” The Asiatics had shown “limited intellectual powers” and had long “remained stationary”; the Negro race also had “remained stationary; but stopped at a point very much below that which the Asiatics have reached.” Pendleton concluded his elaborate investigation by placing these racist conclusions within a biblical context:
Such are the results of physiological research; and we cannot fail to be struck with the remarkable agreement between their conclusions, based entirely upon the principles of comparative anatomy applied in a comprehensive and rigid induction, and those we rationally draw from the ninth chapter of Genesis. Shem, Ham, and Japeth are there represented as the heads of three races.97
Pendleton stated his racist convictions with more clarity and learning than most Disciples, and he was expressing a conviction which penetrated deeply into the movement. The idea that the races of men were the descendants of the three sons of Noah and that their destiny had been prophetically determined by God was a part of the intellectual equipment of a large majority of early nineteenth-century Disciples.98 Only a few Disciples parlayed their racist convictions into radical proslavery arguments, and some even rejected the theories altogether, but that they were an important influence on the thought of the church is unquestionable.
Racist views were often combined with millennial faith in the destiny of the American nation. Alexander Campbell concisely pulled all these elements together:
In our country’s destiny is involved the destiny of Protestantism, and in its destiny the destiny of all the nations of the world. God has given, in awful charge, to Protestant England and Protestant America—the Anglo-Saxon race—the fortunes, not of Christendom only, but of all the world.99
The millennialistic triumph of freedom and pure religion was to be accomplished in God’s providence by Protestantism, America, and the white man.
"Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s." Matthew 22:21.
With the exception of the premillennial prophets of doom who remained rather consistently a minority element in the life of the Disciples prior to 1865, the leaders of the church generally believed that American society was progressing because of the influence of Christianity. Alexander Campbell wrote:
Society is not yet fully civilized. It is only beginning to be. Things are in process, in progress to another age—a golden—a millennial—a blissful period in human history. Selfishness, violence, inordinate ambition, revenge, duelling, even tyranny, oppression and cruelty, are yet exerting a pernicious influence in society.100
In 1830 Campbell surmised that all social progress had stemmed directly from the influence of Christianity:
It has enlightened men upon all subjects—in all arts and sciences. ... It was the tongue and pen of controversy which developed the true solar system—laid the foundation for the American Revolution—abolished the slave trade.101
Thirty years later, on the eve of the Civil War, Aaron Chatterton wrote: “The Bible is the true basis of all that is worthy of the name of civilization.”102 But while the vast majority of Disciples believed that the Christian religion supplied the formula for a perfect society, they were by no means agreed about the Christian’s function in bringing this society into being.
As a matter of fact, American Protestant leaders were generally divided over the best way to initiate the American millennium. While some revivalists, such as Charles Finney, believed that politics was “an indispensable part of religion,”103 Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Mark Hopkins, and many of the other great American evangelists had little confidence in “civil conflicts” but rather believed that the “Christian revolution” which would result from the conversion of individuals was the only real hope of the world.104 In sum, American Protestant leaders were divided in the years preceding the Civil War on the best method of promoting social reform. Some were political activists, while others, whose hopes for a Christian America were equally strong, had little confidence in such methods.
Disciples of Christ occupied three basic positions on this question during the pre-Civil War period. The extremely conservative and sectarian element within the stream formulated a philosophy of absolute nonparticipation in civil government. They believed that Christians ought not to participate in political agitation in any way, either as candidates for office or as voting citizens. On the other hand, there were those in the church from the beginning who believed that the Christian had fundamental obligations to the government and that he ought actively to encourage the use of Christian principles to solve the problems of the nation. The third, and unquestionably the largest group during most of the pre-war period, represented something of a compromise between these two extremes. Most of the leaders of the group had a distinct aversion to “party politics” but they did believe that a Christian ought to be a good citizen and that he could use his rights as a citizen to try to improve the nation. They generally insisted that the church should not become involved in social agitation but agreed that individuals had the right to follow any course they thought would better society. While all Disciples had a social philosophy—they all had a set of standards which they believed society ought to comply with—they disagreed drastically about how society was to be converted.
The sectarian emphasis of nonparticipation in civil government centered around the influence of Barton Stone in the early years of the church. Stirred by millennialist aspirations, Stone wrote in 1843: “Men by the light of truth are beginning to see that Christians have no right to make laws and governments for themselves. . . . We must cease to support any . . . government on earth by our counsels, co-operation, and choice.”105 In 1844 he wrote that he was “disgusted with the politicians” and prayed that the Lord would “deliver his people from their contagion.”106
Other early preachers, such as Benjamin U. Watkins and James J. Trott, were equally fervent in insisting that God’s people ought to have no association with the governments of the world. Watkins wrote: “But you may ask, is not Bro. W. a 'constituent’ in this government. I answer, no, I am a pilgrim and a stranger as all my fathers were. . . . My citizenship is in Heaven! May the good Lord keep us all unspotted from the world!”107 Probably the most important nucleus of this radical left-wing position among the Disciples during the ante-bellum period grew up in Tennessee in the years immediately preceding the war. Tolbert Fanning was the early leader of Tennessee radicalism, which in the years after the war was dominated by David Lipscomb. In 1861 Fanning, along with Robert B. Trimble, David Lipscomb, Elisha G. Sewell, and several other Southern preachers, petitioned the President of the Confederacy for exemption from the draft act. They wrote: “The measure and limit of the Christian’s duty to, and connection with, the governments under which they live ... is not an active participation in its affairs . . . but simply a quiet and cheerful submission to its enactments.”108
There were also those in the church from the beginning who believed that the Christian had every right to participate in the political decisions of the nation. Walter Scott, avid nationalist with a prophetic confidence in the destiny of the American system, when asked in 1835 whether a Christian had the right to hold a public office, replied: “It is perfectly lawful ... for any of the Disciples to fill the offices of the nations.”109 Samuel Ayers, editor of the Lexington, Kentucky, Christian Journal clearly stated the case of the interventionists in 1844:
Christians owe a duty to their country as well as to their God, and they cannot be released from the performance of the duty.—Again, if Christians who love religion and virtue, should leave politics and the polls entirely in the hands of the ungodly and the dissipated, we might well tremble for our country, and our liberties would soon be at an end.110
In practice, many early Disciples preachers and laymen were active in politics. The two most prominent Disciples laymen prior to 1870 were politicians, Judge Jeremiah Sullivan Black of Pennsylvania and James A. Garfield of Ohio. The persistent comments of disgruntled moderates at election time that “even the church of Christ is agitated by this fierce demon of discord” is good evidence of the political activity of Disciples at the local level.111
More than anything else, the critical debate over slavery and the outbreak of the Civil War forced more and more Disciples into an activist position. Henry Shaw, historian of Ohio Disciples, suggests that before 1849 the Ohio churches were “concerned only with what they called, 'Restoring the ancient order of things’ ” but during the decade of the fifties they became vitally concerned with social reform.112 The abolitionist preacher, John Boggs, began the publication of his North-Western Christian Magazine in 1854 to discuss: “Primitive Christianity, General Education, The Temperance Reform, and Universal Liberty.”113 More and more in the decade of the fifties, and especially in the North, church leaders became convinced that Christians ought to be actively concerned about the failures of American society to conform to Christian principles. Increasingly, Northerners charged that the ban on “preaching politics” was a Southern stratagem designed to gag the Christian protest against slavery.114
Throughout most of the period before 1865, however, the dominant Disciples philosophy on the relation of the Christian to politics was characteristically moderate and ill-defined. Alexander Campbell was the early spokesman for this middle group. In answer to the question, “Ought Christians to take an active part in politics,” Campbell bluntly replied: “I am decidedly of the opinion that they ought not.”115 Although he never advocated the “radical left-wing position that the Christian dare not hold public office or participate in political decisions in the use of the franchise,”116 Campbell consistently warned Christians not to become involved in political controversies. He wrote on social questions and occasionally advised his readers to “vote like Christians”117 but he was never a political agitator. Campbell believed that the way to reform a society was to reform the individuals who made up that society—he wanted a spiritual revolution rather than a political one.
Campbell’s philosophy of avoiding “political strife” was shared by most of the important Disciples leaders prior to the Civil War. John T. Johnson, probably the most influential first-generation preacher of the movement in Kentucky, was strongly opposed to political involvement. Johnson was from a politically prominent Scott County, Kentucky, family (his brother Richard Mentor Johnson was Vice-President during the Martin Van Buren administration) and he himself served several terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1820 to 1830. After Johnson began preaching in 1830, he not only cut short his own promising political career but also persistently advised his brethren to beware of the dangers of political entanglement.118
In the decade of the 1850’s this middle group was vigorously led by such moderates on the slavery question as the Cincinnati editor, Benjamin Franklin. The outspoken Franklin wrote: “Jesus and his apostles . . . never attempted to correct the political institutions of the country, no matter how corrupt they were.” He insisted that while the Christian had the right to vote, he had no right to be an agitator: “When acting as a citizen of the civil government, be candid, quiet, peaceable, and kind, and do just what you think right, allowing every man the same privilege, as Christ has left us all free here, and leave the event with God.”119
In sum, different attitudes on the relation of the Christian to politics existed from the beginnings of the restoration movement. The ill-defined and ambiguous moderate position dominated the thought of church leaders through most of the period before 1866. But increasingly after 1845 the stresses of the bitter slavery controversy and the Civil War threatened the Disciples tradition of unity in diversity. The crisis between political activists and pacifists which crested in the years 1861-1865 was an important milestone in the history of the movement.
"Now I beseech you, brethren . . . that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1:10.
If peoples and civilizations and epochs have moods, then the Disciples of Christ had a common mind. It was a precariously balanced and often ill-defined mind—but it was common to the movement. Disciples were New Testament primitivists and Christian humanitarians; they were temperamentally fanatics and moderates; they were out-group iconoclasts and in-group constructive critics; they were noninterventionists in civil government and they were political activists; they were sectarian and they were denominational. The uniqueness of the mind of the movement rests not in the fad that there were Disciples who were each of these things but that most Disciples were all of them. The Disciple of the pre-Civil War period did not simply tolerate diversity—he was diversity.
Throughout the period 1800 to 1865 most Disciples remained a complex and unpredictable mixture of these diverse elements. But by 1865 it was obvious that the mixture was not in the same balance throughout the church. Harold Lunger has pointed to the decade of the thirties as a marked dividing line in Campbell’s thought: “From about 1831 to the middle of the following decade Campbell’s conception of the church underwent a gradual transformation from that of the radical sect form to that of the characteristic American church form—the denomination.”120 There is much to support the proposition that the mid-1830’s was a significant turning point in Disciples history. By 1835 the Millennial Harbinger had become the more constructive replacement of the iconoclastic Christian Baptist as the leading periodical of the group; Disciples were no longer a dissatisfied and critical element within another communion but were now confronted with the demanding task of building a new religious body; both streams of the church had been purged of their most radical elements; the union of Disciples and Christians had had the effect of mellowing the most incompatible elements in the thought of both streams; phenomenal growth increasingly enhanced the social prestige of the church; and the accelerating retreat of the frontier rapidly increased the wealth and social status of the church’s membership.
The transition that took place among the Disciples in the decades following 1830, however, was not so much a change as it was a dividing. There is truth in Alexander Campbell’s contention in 1855 that he had not changed his views on “any Christian doctrine since I wrote the first volume of the Christian Baptist.”121 But Campbell’s emphasis did change. Within the movement, the schizoid common mind showed signs of fracturing by 1865. Two distinct emphases emerged. One group conceived of Christianity in the denominational framework of practical religion, social and political activism, and, often, a nationalistic postmillennialism. A second group emphasized the sectarian tradition of Biblical legalism, a fanatical disposition, and uncompromising separation from the world. Few Disciples fit snugly into one of these pigeonholes in 1865 but it also was becoming increasingly difficult to find a man who would fit in them both.
The fragmentation of the Disciples of Christ was inevitable. They were born of two seeds; they had two fathers; and no man could indefinitely serve two masters. That the Disciples divided in the way they did is, at least partially, a part of the story of the American nation. The United States divided in 1861; it was an economic and cultural fracturing as well as a sectional and political one. The national amputation of 1861 was not the clean and neat work of a skilled surgeon; there remained a large group of neutrals in the border states, there were Unionists in the South and Copperheads in the North—but Americans did divide into North and South. In the decades before 1865 the Disciples increasingly sifted into conservative and liberal camps and these alignments were perceptibly related to the sociological pressures in American society. Nor were the Disciples of Christ gathering neatly on each side of a geographic line; there were liberals in the South, conservatives in the North, and the ever-present block of moderates—but a socio-economic pattern was emerging in Disciples history. There was surely more perception than he knew in Alexander Campbell’s statement in 1846: “In grand national concerns, I found it my duty to support principles and measures involving, as I conceive, the best interests of the community to which I belonged.”122 The social views of the Disciples of Christ vividly reflect how intricately cultural and economic presuppositions were linked with the theological in the composite mind of the movement.
The relationship of Disciples with the world around them was never one-sided, however. They were persistently concerned about the failures of their own society to fulfill the high standards of the Christian message. Practical humanitarianism and prophetic vision combined in fervent spirits to assault the sins of the nation. It is true that their aim was to perfect society by perfecting men but they were never unconcerned. If the legacy of individualistic love and millennial hope proved inadequate in the years following the Civil War to meet the complex new problems of industrial America, the post-war sons of pre-war Disciples prophets were not without a heritage of Christian concern over social sin.
1Clark, Small Sects, p. 159.
2For a general discussion of American religious thought during this period see, Olmstead, Religion in the United States, pp. 295-320.
3Among Disciples the rationalistic emphasis was more unmixed than in most evangelical sects. Disciples almost completely rejected emotion and “experience," although they inherited some of this emphasis through Stone.
4Charles Alexander Young, Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union (Chicago: The Christian Century Company, 1904), p. 2.
5Ibid., p. 78.
6Garrison, Religion Follows the Frontier, p. 193. For a broad discussion of this emphasis see Garrison, The Sources of Alexander Campbell's Theology (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1900), pp. 185-210; and Homer Hailey, Attitudes and Consequences in the Restoration Movement (2d. ed.; Rosemead, California: The Old Paths Book Club, 1952), pp. 113-136.
7A basic study which remains valuable after many years is Garrison’s Alexander Campbell’s Theology. See, also, Robert Frederick West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948); Sterling W. Brown, “The Disciples and the New Frontier,” The Scroll, XXXII (May, 1936), 153-163. Bacon's name is recurrent in Disciples history. For an excellent example of the Baconian impact on Biblical interpretation see J. S. Lamar, The Organon of Scripture (Cincinnati: H. S. Bosworth, Publisher, 1860).
8Brown, “Disciples and the New Frontier," XXXII, 158.
9Garrison, Alexander Campbell's Theology, p. 108.
10Brown, “Disciples and the New Frontier," XXXII, 158. See, also, W. C. Bower, “The Frontier Mind,” The Scroll, XL (June, 1943), 300-309.
11Garrison, Alexander Campbell’s Theology, pp. 161-182.
12Although, of course, this varied a great deal with the individual. For instance, William Garrett West, in his book on Barton Stone, points out that Stone leaned heavily on the Gospels and the Sermon on the Mount. Barton Warren Stone: Early American Advocate of Christian Unity (Nashville: The Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1954), pp. 209, 222-223. This is certainly true of many other leaders in the church. And yet, the Acts-Epistles emphasis is inherent in the “restoration plea” and more often than not these were the portions of Scripture where most early Disciples looked for authority. See Lunger, Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, p. 33.
13There were, of course, differences in degree in the New Testament legalism of Disciples leaders from the beginning but there were hardly any real “liberals” in the church prior to 1865. Preachers such as Lewis L. Pinkerton, Burke Hinsdale, James Garfield, George Longan, and Alexander Proctor, who were the first Biblical liberals in the group, did not openly advocate such views until the years following the Civil War. For a discussion of the general doctrinal emphasis of the movement during these years see Whitley, Trumpet Call, pp. 47-91.
14Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, p. 27. See, also, Whitley, Trumpet Call, pp. 92-96.
15Social Sources, pp. 191-192. See, also, Niebuhr, Kingdom of God, pp. 112-126; Cole, Northern Evangelists, pp. 96-131; Olmstead, Religion in the United States, pp. 347-361.
16This is the emphasis of the whole latter half of Timothy Smith’s Revivalism and Social Reform, pp. 148-237. The fact that the leaders of American evangelical religion were concerned about men's lives as well as their souls in the years before and after the Civil War has certainly been well established. Whitney R. Cross, in his study of enthusiastic religion in western New York during the period 1800-1850, has carefully and convincingly demonstrated the complex interrelationship between revivalism and social humanitarianism. The Burned-Over District (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950).
17Charles C. Cole, Jr., says that Lewis Tappan was “keynoting the spirit of the times" when he expressed concern for other people in these dogmatic terms: “If I think you are losing your soul it is my duty to attempt to save you.” Northern Evangelists, p. 130.
18"The Regeneration of the Church,” Millennial Harbinger, Extra, VI (August, 1833), 366. In all quotations from nineteenth-century sources the original spelling and punctuation has been retained.
19"Editor’s Address,” Christian Messenger, VII (January, 1833), 3.
20Barton Stone, p. 223.
21Ibid., p. 224.
22There is certainly a broad and challenging area here which would make an interesting study. The assumption that the humanitarian emphasis within the movement has its roots in Stone and the legalistic emphasis in Campbell has certainly never been proved. The exceptions to such a generalization are overwhelming at first appearances. Such early leaders of the “liberal” spirit, in social matters at any rate, as David S. Burnet, John T. Johnson, and Isaac Errett were from the Campbell stream. On the other hand, John Rogers says that “a large proportion of the friends of Stone received the teachings of Brother Campbell almost from the very beginning of his writings in the Christian Baptist." Elder John Rogers, The Biography of Eld. Barton Warren Stone. . . . (Cincinnati: J. A. & U. P. Jones, 1847), p. 115. A thorough study of this thesis remains to be done.
23See the Millennial Harbinger, beginning March, 1857. For a good general discussion of the Richardson-Fanning debate see Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight E. Stevenson, Home to Bethphage (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1949), pp. 168-187; West, Ancient Order, I, 125-126.
24Stevenson and Goodnight, Home to Bethphage, p. 169.
25Small Sects, p. 16.
26Religion, Society, and the Individual (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1957), p. 79.
28Jacob Creath, Jr. and Lewis L. Pinkerton were on the opposing extremes of Disciples thought and yet it would not be inaccurate to say that each of them had a fanatical temperament. It is the nature of a man and not the doctrinal message he preaches that marks him as a zealot.
29Rogers, Biography of Stone, p. 64.
30Errett Gates, The Early Relation and Separation of Baptists and Disciples (Chicago: The Christian Century Company, 1904), p. 40.
31For more than any other reason, early Disciples probably objected to being called fanatics because of the emotional connotations of the word. They considered the emotional excesses of the frontier camp meetings most objectionable. But it is apparent that they were just as extreme in their own rationalistic way.
32Yinger, Religion Society, p. 79.
33Eva Jean Wrather, “Alexander Campbell and Social Righteousness,” Christian Standard, LXXIII (September 17, 1938), 907. See, also, Whitley, Trumpet Call, pp. 60-61.
34Amos S. Hayden, A History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve (Cincinnati: Chase it Hall, Publishers, 1875), pp. 295-300, 183-190.
35Ibid., pp. 209-222.
36Edward Deming Andrews, The People Called Shakers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), p. 73. See, also, Marguerite Melcher, The Shaker Adventure (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), pp. 75-76.
37Rogers, Biography of Stone, p. 63.
38Melcher, Shaker Adventure, pp. 69-77.
39Rogers, Biography of Stone, p. 64.
40H. Richard Niebuhr describes these two groups as “the radical wing of the frontier movement.” Social Sources, p. 160.
41Levi Purviance, The Biography of Elder David Purviance (Dayton: B. F. & G. W. Ells, 1848), p. 148. Another of the early Christian leaders, Nicholas Summerbell, came to a similar conclusion: “Those who went to the Shakers were too much inclined to fanaticism; and had they remained they would have caused trouble.” Quoted in J. P. MacLean, “The Kentucky Revival in the Miami Valley,” Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, XII (1903), 271.
42"Morality of Christians—No. XVIII,” M.H., N.S., IV (March, 1840), 99. See, also, A. C., “Church Organization—No. 1,” M.H., 3d S., III (February, 1849), 92. The series numbers of such periodicals as the Millennial Harbinger are hereafter cited as N. S. (New Series), 3d S., 4th S., etc.
43"Remarks,” Western Reformer, VI (December, 1847), 114.
44Social Sources, p. 181.
45Lunger, Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, p. 145. Although Campbell was a spokesman for liberal Western views in the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829-30, he was never a political radical. See, also, the biographies of such men as John T. Johnson, William K. Pendleton, Philip Fall, Thomas M. Allen, David S. Burnet, and Isaac Errett.
46John Thomas' Apostolic Advocate, which began publication in 1835, and Arthur Crihfield's Heretic Detector (1837-41) and Orthodox Preacher (1843-46) are perhaps the outstanding examples of this. But almost all of the editors of the movement demonstrated intense prophetic interest at times. Walter Scott's Evangelist and Barton Stone's Christian Messenger were frequently crowded with interpretations of prophecy.
47Small Sects, p. 23.
48Ibid, p. 26.
49For general information on Miller and pre-Civil War premillennialism see Olmstead, Religion in the United States, pp. 343-345; Cross, Burned-Over District, pp. 287-321; Alice Felt Tyler, Freedom’s Ferment (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1944), pp. 68-78.
50Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, p. 236. See Timothy Smith’s fine chapter, “The Gospel of the Kingdom," for an analysis of the widespread impact of postmillennialism, pp. 225-237. See, also, Niebuhr, Kingdom of God, pp. 127-163.
51Kingdom of God, p. 151.
52“Although the impact of millennialism on the thought of the movement has largely been ignored, there have been two very able studies of Alexander Campbell’s millennial views in recent years. See West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion, pp. 163-222; Samuel M. Whitson, Jr., “Campbell’s Concept of the Millennium” (unpublished Master’s thesis, Division of Graduate Instruction, Butler University, 1951).
53“Remarks on Liberty of Conscience," C.M., III (February, 1829), 91.
54“Prospectus,” M.H., I (January, 1830), 1. In Religion Follows the Frontier Winfred Garrison says that the name of the new paper did not “indicate any special interest in the second coming of Christ in a spectacular way or any marked devotion to either premillennial or postmillennial view,” p. 147. This is quite incorrect. Garrison gives some recognition to the importance of Campbell’s millennial views in his later work: Garrison and DeGroot, Disciples of Christ, pp. 206-207. But by and large historians of the movement have seriously neglected this area of thought of the Disciples.
55See the Evangelist and the Christian Messenger for the years 1832-34.
56“Extract of a Circular Letter, for the Mahoning Association of 1830,” Evangelist, I (February, 1832), 40.
57“Remarks,” C.M., VIII (January, 1834), 29.
58Hayden identifies Campbell as the author, Western Reserve, pp. 188-189. This series begins with the article, “The Millennium—No. I,” M.H. V (September, 1834), 454-459.
59"The Millennium—No. I,” M.H., V (September, 1834), 454.
60William Thomas Moore, A Comprehensive History of the Disciples of Christ (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1909), p. 303. This is also Hayden’s conclusion, Western Reserve, pp. 188-189.
61Quoted in West, Ancient Order, I, 131.
62B. W. S., “The Second Coming of Christ,” C.M., XII (May, 1842), 218; W. S., “New Government and New Society,” Evangelist, IX (January, 1841), 5-7.
63"To Our Patrons," C.M., XIV (November, 1844), 216.
64"The Adventist,” Protestant Unionist, II (May 13, 1846), 90.
65(Cincinnati: H. S. Bosworth, 1859), p. 335.
66"Millennium,” M.H., 4th S., VI (December, 1856), 698. See, also, West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion, pp. 176-183.
67West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion, p. 214. See, also, Whitson, “Campbell’s Concept of the Millennium,” pp. 171-172.
68Both Isaac Errett and David Lipscomb were persistently unwilling to discuss the subject. Although the social ideas of second-generation leaders were not so different from those of the first, the millennial rationale is much less significant in their thought. See “The Second Coming of the Lord,” Christian Standard, I (June 2, 1866), 68; “Queries,” Gospel Advocate, XL (June 23, 1898), 397; “Queries,” G.A., XXXVII (July 11, 1895), 437. Charles C. Cole, Jr. emphasizes that this fading of interest in the millennium was a part of a general pattern of declining revival enthusiasm. Northern Evangelists, p. 224.
69"Coming of the Lord—No. XVI,” O.P., I (November, 1843), 241.
70"Preface,” Heretic Detector, V (1841), 3-12.
71"Coming of the Lord—No. III,” O.P., I (February, 1843), 31.
72"Conclusion of Volume II,” M.H., II (December, 1831), 568.
73See “Conclusion of Volume II,” M.H., II (December, 1831), 568; “Prefatory Remarks,” Christian Examiner, II (January, 1831), 1-7; “Preface,” Gospel Proclamation, II (1848), 3-6; “Europe,” P.U., IV (April 26, 1948), 82.
74"The Millennium," M.H., 5th S., I (June, 1858), 336. See, also, James Egbert, Alexander Campbell and Christian liberty (St. Louis: Christain Publishing Company, 1909), p. 47.
75"Progressive Development,” P.U., I (August 6, 1845), 138.
76H.C., “Resignation to the Will of God,” Bible Advocate, VII (December, 1849), 154.
77"Comments," M.H., 4th S., I (November, 1851), 620.
78See Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1935), pp. 1-223: Cole, Northern Evangelists, pp. 158-164, 232-233; Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, pp. 225-237; Niebuhr, Kingdom of God, pp. 141-142; Tyler, Freedom’s Ferment, p. 44.
79Gabriel, Democratic Thought, p. 37.
80” Address on the Destiny of Our Country,” Popular Lectures and Addresses (Philadelphia: James Challen & Son, 1863), p. 174.
81"An Oration in Honor of the Fourth of July,” M.H., I (July, 1830), 301-310.
82Report of Proceedings of the Convention of Churches of Christ, at the Anniversaries of the American Christian Bible, Missionary and Publication Societies, Held in Cincinnati, October 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th, 1854 (Cincinnati: American Christian Publication Society, 1854), p. 14.
83Address to the People of the United States, Together with the Proceedings and Resolutions of the Proslavery Convention of Missouri, Held at Lexington, July, 1855 (St. Louis: Republican Office, 1855), p. v.
84Messiahship, pp. 296-335. See, also, “Elements of Modern Society,” P.U., II (May 27, 1846), 98.
85For a general discussion of the German migration see Carl Wittke, We Who Built America (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1940), pp. 66-97.
86Ibid., p. 71.
87Ibid., p. 74.
88For a general discussion of the Scotch-Irish migration see Wittke, We Who Built America, pp. 43-65.
89Ibid., p. 54.
90A number of historians have linked the Disciples of Christ with the Scotch-Irish ethnic tradition. See McQuary, “The Social Background of the Disciples of Christ,” The College of the Bible Quarterly, XIII, 3-16; Frederick Morgan Davenport, Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905) pp. 60-86; Wittke, We Who Built America, pp. 59-60; Niebuhr, Social Sources, pp. 162-163.
91See Clark, Small Sects, pp. 176-217; Sweet, Religion in America, pp. 102-126; Niebuhr, Social Sources, p. 158.
92See Wittke, We Who Built America, pp. 58-65; Niebuhr, Social Sources, pp. 130-134.
93Oscar Handlin, Race and Nationality in American Life (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1957), p. xii.
94See Weinberg’s excellent chapter, “The Mission of Regeneration,” for a description of the relationship between these two ideas, Manifest Destiny, pp. 160-189.
95"For a discussion of this phase of American racism see Handlin, Race and Nationality, pp. 29-44; Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (5th ed.; New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1941), I, 50-67.
96See Handlin, Race and Nationality, pp. 71-92; Myrdal, American Dilemma, I, 84-101.
97"The World," M.H., 3d S., III (April, 1846), 210-216.
98This whole subject is discussed in more detail in chapter IV. For a few examples see “Lectures on Genesis,” Christian Magazine, I (May, 1848), 132-133; J.M.M., “Prophecy—II," C.R., V (August, 1847), 45-47; A.C., “Conversations at the Carlton House,” M.H., N.S., IV (November, 1840), 493-501; James Shannon, The Philosophy of Slavery, as Identified with the Philosophy of Human Happiness (2d ed.; Frankfort, Kentucky: A. G. Hodges & Co., 1849). Robert Frederick West points out that when the conclusions of racist philosophers seemed anti-scriptural, they were promptly rejected, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion, pp. 123-126.
99"The Destiny of Our Country,” M.H., 4th S., II (August, 1852), 462.
100"Address on the Amelioration of the Social State,” Popular Lectures, p. 69.
101"Religious Controversy," M.H., I (January, 1830), 43.
102"Items," Evangelist, XI (May, 1860), 239.
103Cole, Northern Evangelists, p. 133. Cole notes that many of the revivalists were political activists, pp. 132-164.
104H. Richard Niebuhr stresses this view in Kingdom of God, pp. 149-150.
105"Reflections of Old Age,” C.M., XIII (August, 1843), 126. For a general discussion of Stone’s left-wing concept of the church-state relationship see West, Barton Stone, pp. 135-136, 211-212.
106"Reply to T. P. Ware,” C.M., XIV (October, 1844), 166-171.
107Correspondence,” G.P., I (January, 1848), 259. See, also, J. J. Trott, “Church and State,” C.Mag., II (October, 1849), 379-382; A.C., “Notes on a Late Tour—No. II,” M.H., N.S., VI (November, 1842), 506-507; “News,” G.P., II (May, 1849), 549.
108Tolbert Fanning, “Church of Christ and World Powers, No. 11,” G.A., VIII (July 3, 1866), 417. See, also, Earl Irvin West, The Life and Times of David Lipscomb (Henderson, Tennessee: Religious Book Service, 1954), pp. 87-111. For a concise statement of this philosophy of nonparticipation in civil government see D. Lipscomb, Civil Government (reprint; Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1957), pp. 40-43.
109"Question,” Evangelist, IV (June, 1835), 143.
110"The Christian and Politics,” C.J., III (October 5, 1844), 454. See, also, “What Should Christians Aim at as Citizens?” C.Mag., I (September, 1848), 281; “Letter from M. Winans,” C.M., VII (October, 1833), 303-304; “Preface,” G.P., II (1848), 3-6.
111A.C., “Morality of Christians—No. XXI,” M.H., N.S., IV (September, 1840), 413.
112Henry K. Shaw, Buckeye Disciples (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1952), p. 129.
113See J.B., “Salutatory,” North-Western Christian Magazine, I (July, 1854), 1-5.
114"Editor’s Table," N.W.C.M., IV (April, 1858), 320.
115"Morality of Christians—No. XXI,” M.H., N.S., IV (September, 1840), 414.
116Lunger, Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, p. 63. See pp. 38-65; Dwight E. Stevenson, “Campbell's Attitude on Social Issues," Christian Evangelist, LXXVI (September 8, 1938), 977-979.
117See “Christian Politics,” M.H., 4th S., VII (March, 1857), 174; Lunger, Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, p. 63.
118See John Rogers, The Biography of Elder /. T. Johnson (Cincinnati: n.p., 1861), pp. 19-20; J. T. Johnson to Jacob Creath, November 22, 1844, Jacob Creath Collection, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, Tennessee.
119"Where Is Safe Ground?” American Christian Review, I (July, 1856), 216-218.
120Lunger, Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, p. 115. See pp. 115-128. See, also, Garrison, Religion Follows the Frontier, p. 147.
121"Our Changes,” M.H., 4th S., V (June, 1855), 343. See, also, West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion, p. 164; West, Ancient Order, I, 181-195; Lunger, Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell, pp. 13-14, 264-274; Whitley, Trumpet Call, pp. 68-69, 92-103.
122"Impartiality of the Editor of the Harbinger,” M.H., 3d S., III (January, 1846), 4-5.