The Restoration Movement consolidated and grew tremendously between 1830 and 1860. At the same time important changes left their mark on the movement's progress and future. The movement acknowledged Campbell as its leader while Barton W. Stone and others slipped into the background. Some say the Disciples grew on "preaching, publishing, pedagogy and the plea." Most important, it grew!
Here we survey the movement's extensive growth in the period. I'll also note the reasons for that growth.
I. Reasons for the Restoration Movement's rapid growth.
The Restoration Movement grew faster than any other religious movement between 1830 and 1860. Starting from almost nothing in 1800, 1860 estimates placed total membership at 195,000. Statistics show some 2,100 congregations and 1,800 ministers. Campbell, who published statistics in the Millennial Harbinger in 1857, showed even more with 225,000 members in 2,700 congregations served by 2,225 ministers. We may never know the real numbers, but it became obvious that rapid growth occurred. Why?
A. The circulation of notable papers. Restoration Movement editors published periodicals in nearly every region. Many had substantial influence. The major papers, of course, reached larger audiences and many outside the Restoration Movement digested this material. Many people simply left their denominational churches to join the Restoration Movement.
B. The movement of Baptists. Many Baptist congregations came into the reformation "lock, stock, and barrel." The Mahoning Baptist Association represented just one of these Baptist groups. Baptists in Indiana, notably the Blue River Baptists and the Silver Creek Association, along with Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina also came into the movement. Quite often, when entire associations adopted the restorationist position, individuals left to form new congregations following the old Baptist order of things.
C. The period's Primitivism promoted restorationism. Historians refer to the period between 1829 and 1841 as the "Age of Jackson," "The Age of the Common Man," or the "Age of Egalitarianism." The people of the day romantically elevated the common man. Americans considered the "old paths" superior to the newer ways. Men looked back to the golden ages of Greece and Rome with longing. You can see such interest in frontier names: Paris, Athens, Liberal and New Harmony. Campbellian reform called Christians back to the "old paths" so the plea fit the age.
Some writers link the Restoration Movement to Jacksonian primitivism. I think this interpretation is too simplistic. The Restoration Movement providentially appeared at "just the right time." Like so many successful men and movements it "was at the right place at the right time."
D. The nonsectarian plea. Settlers built new communities every time the frontier moved west. The Disciples offered the hope that Christians moving to these new towns did not need to be divided over sectarian differences. Many settlers prayerfully and carefully considered the movement's plea.
E. Disciples migrated west, too. Disciples simply took their faith with them. Wherever they went they started new churches worshiping on the New Testament "pattern." In some cases, such as in Kansas, Disciples established some of the territory's first churches.
F. Church planting. By the mid-1840s, the Restoration Movement formed cooperative agencies. Missionary associations formed specifically to send missionaries overseas, but they also sent workers to the midwest and the frontier to begin new churches.
G. Personal work of the leaders. History reveals that whenever Alexander Campbell toured an area increased interest in "the plea" spread. When Barton Stone moved to Illinois and then Missouri he increased interest in those areas, too.
H. Campbell's debates. Other restorationists debated sectarians throughout the period but Campbell's proved most influential. Whenever Campbell debated in an area the plea grew dramatically. Following the Campbell-Rice Debate on baptism the Presbyterians purchased the publication rights because of "their victory." So many Presbyterians left their churches that they stopped printing the debate. The debates also increased Campbell's notoriety and made the reformation more palatable, particularly those debates with Robert Owen and Bishop Purcell.
II. Examples of substantial growth.
A. The East. For some reason the Restoration Movement never really took root in the eastern United States. Once the movement recognized Alexander Campbell's leadership, the New England Christians refused fellowship. Unitarianism and Universalism tinctured those groups anyway but a few congregations united with the movement after Campbell visited New England in 1836. A few Christian Churches in Massachusetts and an independent congregation in Danbury, Connecticut, joined the movement. At one point a few Vermont and Maine bodies identified with the movement but they ultimately died out.
The plea enjoyed some strength in Pennsylvania and Virginia. This was expected. After all, the first Campbellite congregation formed in the panhandle of Virginia (now West Virginia) at Brush Run and the next was Wellsburg, which formed in 1815. Campbell's Virginia fame grew after he served as a delegate to Virginia's constitutional convention in Richmond in 1829. A congregation began meeting in Richmond as a Baptist Church but the Baptists effectively forced it out of fellowship. The Richmond church, once independent, "mothered" six more congregations.
Reformation churches began in Maryland in 1833 when Alexander Campbell held meetings there in a Haldanian church. After the Georgetown union in Kentucky, Maryland's "New Lights" joined the Disciples. The first Washington, D.C. congregation met in the home of Dr. James T. Barclay in 1843. Barclay later became the movement's first foreign missionary.
B. The Deep South. Republican Methodists established a congregation near Athens, Georgia in 1807. This congregation joined the reformation in 1842. Campbell visited Savannah in 1838 and many of the city's notables attended his meetings.
Alabama churches grew from Georgia and Tennessee migrations. Alabama opened up when upper south cotton lands "played out" and growers needed new land. The Disciples held a convention in Alabama sometime around 1849 spurring growth in the region. In addition, Campbell toured Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana three times: 1839, 1857 and 1859.
The establishment of black congregations offers and interesting sidelight to southern restoration growth. By 1850, the south saw some 310 black restorationist congregations although most blacks attended predominately white congregations before the Civil War. Slaves and whites worshiped together, but separated. Blacks sat either in the balcony, as at Cane Ridge, or in rows at the back of the building. A small number of free blacks organized Disciple congregations, too. A free black congregation organized in Savannah as early as 1838 led by Andrew Marshall, a mulatto who bought his own and his family's freedom. Marshall built quite a large congregation but after leaving the Baptists for the reformation he went back to sectarianism. Separation of blacks into separate congregations, then, began before the Civil War. In Nashville, Tennessee, a white congregation operated two black Sunday Schools. In 1859, one of these schools organized into a west Nashville church. In Midway, Kentucky, whites allocated money to enable blacks to build their own building. A former slave, who took Alexander Campbell's name and who became a Christian at Cane Ridge, led this congregation. He did a good job, too. During his ministry he converted some 300 blacks.
C. The Midwest. Ohio proved a ready field for restoration work. By 1853 eighty congregations existed within the state although many members and ministers started migrating west. The same thing happened in Indiana. Interestingly, the Disciples predominated in northeastern Ohio while the Christians predominated in southern Ohio.
Christians organized Illinois' first congregation at Barney's Prairie in 1819. Restorationism grew quickly in Illinois and it remains strong downstate.
Kentucky had the largest Christian and Disciple population. Even though most Disciple congregations had no paid ministry, the cause grew rapidly. When the Christians and the Disciples united, growth exploded.
D. Far West. New Testament Christianity moved into Michigan in 1840. Isaac Errett organized a congregation at Ionia in 1859 and experienced remarkable success.
Settlers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina moved into Missouri after it became a state. Many of these belonged to restoration churches. Missouri became one of the strongest states for the New Testament plea. In 1845 the state held 196 congregations with 13,047 members.
The first Arkansas Disciple church began in Little Rock in 1832 by B.F. Hall, a doctor and evangelist. Hall strongly supported the Confederacy during the War.
The first congregation in Iowa, my home state, met in Dubuque in October, 1835. A second church started in Fort Madison in 1836. By 1846, when Iowa became a state, the state had 21 churches and by 1860 there were 150 churches and 10,000 members.
The Restoration Movement reached Minnesota in 1860, Nebraska in 1849, Kansas in 1854-55, Oregon in 1843. The first California congregation gathered in Stockton in 1850 or 1851.
By 1860 the Restoration Movement had churches in almost every state and reached from "shore to shore." At a time when political tensions divided the nation the plea for Christian unity grew. Then the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter and things changed!
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