THE MOVEMENT ORGANIZES

Nothing exists in total isolation. We speak of "independent, locally autonomous congregations" but no such congregation exists. Each church has a network of interdependencies.

Any endeavor requires organization. While small groups can operate with little organization, larger groups can not. As the Restoration Movement grew, its perceptions changed and it became a movement with worldwide vision. Local congregations remained small. How could they take the Gospel and the plea to the world? The answer: organize!

Here are some the early attempts to organize and look at reactions.

I. Early cooperative efforts

Early Christian Baptist articles blasted denominational cooperative societies. Campbell declared missionary enterprises the tools of the clergy established to expand their power. Furthermore, he said, missions extorted funds from Christians. Campbell cited budget figures to prove that Christians sent much money to sectarian or denominational causes. Campbell also maintained more efficient methods existed to do evangelistic work.

At the same time, Alexander Campbell regretted the Mahoning Baptist Association's demise. Earl I. West said that "Alexander Campbell was not pleased with the dissolving of the Mahoning Association, but sensing the intense desire on the part of the majority, he silently acquiesced." Since many considered extra-congregational organizations unnecessary or unscriptural they scrapped such structures.

In spite of this fact, churches held a number of cooperative meetings based on a need for fellowship and the underwriting of common causes. The "New Lights" began cooperative efforts in Kentucky in 1804, in Ohio in 1808, in Virginia in 1814, in Indiana in 1817 and in Illinois, Vermont, and Maine in 1818.

Walter Scott wrote in favor of cooperation in the Christian Messenger as early as 1827. Stone, the editor, agreed. Four years later Campbell published five essays concerning the necessity of cooperation. Scott wrote two of the essays. Campbell simply argued, "We can do together what we can not do alone. It is expedient that we cooperate to get the job done." Campbell advocated cooperation again in 1842 when he began publishing a series of essays on "Church Organization." These essays continued until 1848.

Campbell's cooperative vision differed from that practiced in denominational churches, however. Campbell began the Christian-Baptist during the "Benevolent Empire." Denominations cooperated to build a whole set of structures for missions and church assistance. These structures stood independent of churches and laymen and clergymen from various denominations administered them. Campbell envisioned churches cooperating together to build structures answerable directly to the churches. Campbell's structures assisted the church and were not to rule over it.

II. Specific organizational efforts

Once Campbell argued for cooperation, the idea quickly spread . Even though the Mahoning Baptist Association ceased, the former members met occasionally for mutual edification. In New Lisbon, Ohio, in 1831 someone moved to begin cooperation on a county basis. Both Campbell and Walter Scott preached at this meeting. A committee met and soon outlined the intended cooperation. Its report stated:

That these county meetings shall have nothing to do with any church business, of any sort whatever; but shall spend time in public worship and edification, in hearing reports from the churches, and those who labor in the word, of the success attendant on their operations, and to devise ways and means for giving great publicity to the word in such places as may require their particular attention.

Similar results soon came from meetings in Mayslick, Kentucky, in 1835. Cooperative meetings drew churches from Virginia and eastern Ohio to Wheeling in 1836. County cooperative meetings began in Indiana in 1836 and these Indiana meetings led to state meetings by 1839 where they discussed education, cooperation and the sustaining of evangelists.

After Campbell's series in the Millennial Harbinger organization began on a wider scale. Numerous structures resulted.

1. The American Christian Bible Society organized first. It organized in Cincinnati in 1845 adopting as its purpose the distribution of the Scripture "without note or comment." D.S. Burnet served as the first president and Alexander Campbell was one of nine vice-presidents. Campbell remained cool towards this organization primarily because he favored cooperating with other Bible societies such as the existing American Bible Society.

2. The American Christian Missionary Society resulted from a call to form a general convention. Alexander Hall called for such a convention in the fall of 1849. In October, 1849, the American Christian Bible Society asked for a meeting to convene in Cincinnati. In spite of a cholera outbreak in the city, 100 men gathered. These men elected Alexander Campbell president along with 18 vice-presidents. During the meeting Campbell remained at Bethany pleading illness. The group adopted as their name the "General Convention of the Christian Churches of the United States of America." They soon dropped this name and became a missionary organization.

The brotherhood supported the ACMS through the sale of memberships. Dowling describes it as follows:

The new society was to be composed of "annual delegates, Life Members, and Life Directors." An annual contribution of ten dollars entitled a church to one delegate. Life members were those who paid twenty dollars at one time; one hundred dollars made the giver a life director.

This support scheme itself drew a lot of fire.

The ACMS sent out the Restoration Movement's first missionary, Dr. James Barclay. Barclay went to Jerusalem because of the brotherhood's romantic attachment to restarting where the church originally began. Barclay spent two terms in Jerusalem, neither showed many results. Barclay did make a rather important archaeological discovery now known as the "Barclay Gate."

3. The American Christian Publishing Society organized in Cincinnati as The Cincinnati Tract Society. The organization took its later name in 1851. The ACPS tried to become the "brotherhood publishing house" and failed. It did publish one journal, The Christian Age.

4. The Christian Missionary Society started out as the Northwest Christian Missionary Society. It began as a protest movement to the work of the ACMS. James Barclay owned slaves and the northwest churches promoted abolition. Never popular, this society underwrote the work of the colorful Pardee Butler of Kansas.

5. The Foreign Christian Missionary Society began over dissatisfaction of the ACMS, too. It organized in 1875 with Isaac Errett as president. The FCMS successfully sent missionaries to numerous foreign countries.

6. The Christian Women's Board of Missions began in Cincinnati in October, 1874. Restoration Movement leaders supported the women and the society supported works here in the U.S.A. along with foreign works in Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, India, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America, and Africa. by 1911 they acquired offerings totaling some $4 million.

For a while the ACMS annual meeting served as the brotherhood's general convention. Protests attacked the membership setup arguing that the society "sold memberships." They felt the poorer churches had less voice and that powerful individuals governed the society.

To solve this problem and others a committee of 20 met in Louisville in 1869 to come up with a better way. From their meetings came the "Louisville Plan." According to this plan, churches sent delegates to district, state, and national conventions. States sent two delegates plus an additional delegate for every 5,000 Christians in the state. Each congregation reported and presented its offerings to the district convention. The district convention kept half the money for its purposes and sent the rest on to the state. The state then retained half and sent the rest to the General Convention.

In time all of these organizations became the International Convention of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), a structure now structured into a full denominational hierarchy.

III. Protests against the flow

Protest arose right after the ACBS's formation. Jacob Creath Jr. objected the loudest because he believed the church should do what the societies tried to do. Creath argued vehemently that Scripture did not authorize the use of conventions or other similar organizations. Speaking of conventions Creath said:

It will be seen that, in this discussion, the advocates of conventions have totally abandoned the rule on which we and all Protestants set out--that the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants. They have not produced one passage of scripture, to countenance these assemblies from the New Testament.

The brotherhood reacted with shock and disbelief with the adoption of the "Louisville Plan." Most identified this plan as an elaborate ecclesiastical system. Creath again objected. So did many others. Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb began editing the Gospel Advocate in July, 1855, promising to investigate cooperation's scripturality. Later they announced their opposition. Benjamin Franklin, who edited the American Christian Review supported the cooperative ventures at first, even the "Louisville Plan." He later changed his mind and threw his influence to those opposing the societies and conventions.

Objections came on three grounds: (1) Scripture did not authorize conventions. (2) The organizations could infringe on the rights of local congregations. (3) Support for such structures soon become a test of Christian fellowship. Benjamin Franklin wrote:

We want more faith and less machinery, more work and less talk, more faith and less planning. The Lord has given us the plan...; but instead of going to work with the tools he has furnished, we spend all the day in making new ones which in our wisdom we think will work better.

Those who opposed cooperation saw Campbell as old and under the influence of younger men. The acapella brethren accept this because of Charles V. Segar's statement that after 1847 Alexander Campbell just was not himself. Because of illness and several unfortunate accidents, and perhaps even a stroke, W.K. Pendleton and Robert Richardson pretty well led Campbell here and there. Tolbert Fanning substantiated this after a visit to Bethany. Speaking of Fanning's visit, David Lipscomb wrote:

I remember well, on his return he stated that he (Fanning) was shocked to find his (Campbell's) mind was so shaken that he could, with difficulty, keep it on one subject; that he could converse in general terms on things he had studied in the past, but that all power of close, connected reasoning was gone; that he had to be continually prompted to keep up an ordinary conversation.

West disagrees for four good reasons: (1) Campbell was active in the missionary society and defended its existence. (2) Campbell never thought he had changed his mind. (3) Campbell favored the principle of a missionary society before 1847. (4) Campbell did not criticize organization before 1847. West writes:

However, the many articles which appear from his (Campbell's) pen in the Millennial Harbinger from 1830 on down show a particular bias in favor of all human organizations in the church, and on this testimony, we base our conviction that Campbell did favor these organizations. Nevertheless, as previously stated, we feel no particular embarrassment for taking this position. Campbell is not our authority. He was a great man, but withal, a man, with the same tendency to err as others. ...

Campbell believed in organizational structures, but Campbell was wrong! We speak of "independent, locally autonomous missionary organizations today but many of these structures operate cooperatively. Independent churches also support openly cooperative efforts such as Brazil Christian Mission, Christian Missionary Fellowship, and numerous state and local evangelizing associations.

As we move on into the Twentieth Century we will look at some of the problems within the Disciples of Christ and the United Christian Missionary Society which led to the Cooperative/Independent split.

| Home | Contents |

1