REFORMERS AND BAPTISTS

The previouspage ended with Alexander Campbell's formal separation from Presbyterianism. He took the examination in preparation for the semi-annual communion and received his token. At the last minute his conscience led him to place his token in the basket and leave without partaking. Both Campbells, although separated by the Atlantic, made a break with Presbyterianism.

Now let's pick up on the Campbell family's journey to America, the reunification of the family and the beginnings of the Campbellian reform.

I. Reunion in America

Alexander Campbell spent some time tutoring a friend's children in Glasgow following the close of the university's session. He then made arrangements for the family to sail to the United States on the Latonia. The ship sailed from Scotland on August 3, 1809. The Latonia also ran into difficulty but landed safely in New York September 29, 1809.

The family sent word to Thomas Campbell in western Pennsylvania that they had arrived safely in America. The family arranged for stage transportation from New York to Philadelphia arriving there on October 7. They spent Sunday and part of Monday in Philadelphia before setting out by wagon on the 350 mile trip to Washington. Thomas Campbell heard the news in the midst of his work editing the Declaration and Address. He took one of the galley proofs and set out to meet the family. He met the family about three days out.

When Thomas and Alexander met, neither knew the other had broken with Presbyterianism. Even though Alexander was 21, he undoubtedly hesitated to tell his father about his new convictions. I'm sure Thomas was just as uncertain about telling the family his experiences with the Associate Synod of North America and the Chartiers Presbytery. After more than a year apart, how would they take the news of his rejection of Presbyterianism? He finally told them and he also told them he continued preaching as an independent. Alexander told his father about his Glasgow decision.

Thomas gave the galley proofs to his son and Alexander carefully read them. Alexander told his father that he intended to preach without remuneration. Both men committed themselves to following the Scripture as their sole guide in matters of faith. As soon as the family got to Washington, Alexander began an intensive six month Scripture study. Neither man could say for sure where this commitment would lead them.

I think the best example of their submission to Scripture can be seen in the issue of baptism. Like the Kentucky Christians, the Campbells, the Christian Association of Washington and the Brush Run Church all overlooked the importance of immersion. Enos Dowling said that:

When the principle, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent," was first announced in the home of Abraham Altars...it was pointed out that this would put an end to the practice of infant baptism.

Thomas Campbell responded that if that was so it was so. At that time Alexander was not in America and no one had really studied it out. Instead, they relegated the issue to the realm of "non-essentials." Still, the issue came up again and again but even after Alexander's arrival no one considered it important.

On March 12, 1811, Alexander Campbell married Margaret Brown, the daughter of a wealthy Brooke County, Virginia, farmer. One day over a year later (March 13, 1812) the Campbells gave birth to a daughter. Now the issue of baptism became very real. Alexander wanted to know the biblical position so he began a thorough Bible study on the subject. He came to the conclusion that his child did not need baptism, he did. He asked Matthias Luce, a Baptist preacher, to immerse him without requiring adoption of the Baptist confessions or creeds. When the time came for Alexander's immersion in Buffaloe Creek, Alexander, his wife, Margaret, his parents and his sister, Dorothea, all presented themselves for baptism. Both Campbells presented lengthy addresses and they were immersed on the profession of their faith. As preparations for their baptism took place, two more candidates came forward for baptism.

II. Union with the Baptists

After the Campbell family arrived in America, the younger Campbell remained in the background deferring to his father. The new reform progressed slowly but both men felt by the spring of 1810 that things weren't going well. Since the association continued taking on church characteristics, Thomas applied to the Synod of Pittsburgh for admission to the regular Presbyterian Church. The Synod met on October 2, 1810, and quickly rejected the application saying:

The Synod are constrained by the most solemn considerations to disapprove the plan (of the association)...and farther...Mr. Campbell's request to be received into christian [sic] and ministerial communion cannot be granted.

Thomas let the matter rest after the rejection. When the association next met, however, he determined to offer some sort of reply. Alexander preached and brought several facts out during the sermon:

1. They (the Campbells) regarded the denominations around them as having the substance of Christianity, but not its nature; therefore the chief object of the proposed reformation was to restore the primitive church.

2. They regarded each congregation as independent.

3. They considered "lay preaching" as authorized and denied any distinction between clergy and laity.

4. They looked on infant baptism as without Scriptural authority.

5. They anticipated the probability of the association's becoming a church in order to obey Scripture.

6. In depending on Scriptural authority they foresaw that some things, considered important to others, must be excluded.

The sermon became a self-fulling prophecy. On May 4, 1811, the Christian Association of Washington constituted itself a church with congregational government. This church, known as the Brush Run Church, ordained Alexander Campbell as their minister and determined to observe the Lord's Supper every Sunday. The new church held its first service in a newly constructed building on June 16, 1811.

The Campbells never gave up the idea of identifying with one of the standard denominations. They did not wish to foist a totally new denomination on the American scene. After the Brush Run Church adopted adult immersion, repudiating infant baptism in the process, Baptists took note of them. At the same time, the Presbyterians erected a wall instituting vocal and economic persecution. Very shortly the Redstone Baptist Association made friendly overtures to the Campbells.

The Baptists gladly heard Alexander Campbell, particularly the "laity." In turn, the Baptists impressed Campbell with their consecration and purity. In time the Redstone Association extended an invitation to the Brush Run Church to unite with them. According to the association minutes, the Brush Run Church applied for membership and was accepted in 1815. Leroy Garrett and other historians erroneously offer a much later date because they accept Campbell's date in the Millennial Harbinger. He evidently erred in the date included in the Harbinger.

Dowling reports there were similarities between the Baptists and the Brush Run reformers. The two groups also exhibited numerous differences. Dowling said:

Among these "likes" were the following: the Bible the final authority in religion; autonomy of the local congregation, observance of the Lord's Supper; repudiation of sprinkling; immersion of believers; ordination of the ministry; divinity of Christ; the atonement; resurrection of the dead; the ultimate happiness of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked.

Among the differences you'll find:

The utility and use of creeds, divisions in the Bible, the purpose of baptism, the administrator of baptism, frequency of the Lord's Supper, operation of the Holy Spirit in conversion, requirements for church membership.

The reformers emphasized the similarities and continued their fellowship with the Baptists. When the Baptists gathered at Cross Creek in August 1816, many preachers wanted to hear Campbell. Campbell was not on the original program, but when the scheduled speaker became ill the association invited Campbell to speak. He spoke on Romans 8:3 and delivered his now famous message, The Sermon on the Law.

II. Exclusion from the Baptists

Alexander Campbell said the Sermon on the Law engaged him in a running battle with the Baptists. In the sermon, Campbell attacked the usual Baptist position on the Law and the unity of the Testaments. The association immediately moved to condemn his doctrines but the effort failed. Looking back on the event, Campbell considered the opportunity to preach providential.

The Campbells, and their followers, continued to fellowship with the Redstone Baptists for a time after the sermon. In 1823 Campbell began publishing The Christian Baptist to enunciate his views. He filled his first volume with sharp words directed at all denominations, but he directed much of it against fellow Baptists. On September 4, 1824 the Redstone Baptist Association reached the breaking point. On that date the association took steps to remove the Brush Run Church from fellowship. The meeting's minutes are brief and to the point, "9th. Resolved that this Association have no fellowship with the Brush Run church."

The Campbells found themselves independent again, but within the year the Mahoning Baptist Association accepted them into fellowship. This union continued until virtually every Mahoning congregation accepted the reformers' plea and the association dissolved.

I want you to take special note of the Campbells' hesitation to establish a new denomination. They felt it better to work from within than from without. Even when the Mahoning Association dissolved, some hardcore Baptists pulled away to continue as Baptists. Those who accepted the reformers' principles did not see themselves as a new denomination but the church revealed in Scripture.

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