on these days in the American Restoration Heritage: February 1-7

Among the things that happened this past week in American Restoration Heritage history …

February 1

Feb. 1, 1763Thomas Campbell is born to Archibald & Alice (McNally) Campbell in County Down in northern Ireland. Thomas’ father, Archibald, is a Catholic who has converted to the Church of England. Archibald is by no means well-to-do, and so, when a Seceder of great means by the name of John Kinley befriends Archibald and takes a shine to obviously bright, young Thomas and offers to pay for Thomas’ college education, Archibald accepts. However, Kinley’s offer is not without strings: the proviso is that Thomas will receive training for ministry – as a Presbyterian. [A ‘Seceder’ is one who is a member of the Church of Secession; the Presbyterian Church.] Consequently, young Thomas will enter the prestigious University of Glasgow in Scotland in 1780 and will graduate from there in 1783, and through the course of five more years of study (1786-1791) at the Whitburn Seceder Seminary, Thomas will depart from his father’s church faith and will embrace the Anti-Burgher branch of the Presbyterian Church.

While at Whitburn, Thomas will study more than theology, for he will come to meet, and soon marry (1787), a young woman by the name of Jane Corneigle. They will waste little time in starting a family and will welcome the birth of their firstborn child, Alexander, just fourteen months later.

Nineteen years later, due to reasons of health, a doctor will suggest to Thomas to move to the United States, and Thomas does just that in 1807. Upon meeting with the Synod in Philadelphia, he is warmly embraced and encouraged to preach in Washington County, Pennsylvania. However, he finds the Presbyterian Church deeply fragmented there and Thomas’ experience with deeply entrenched mindsets that allow no room whatsoever for differing groups to even occasionally worship together greatly distresses him. He is thus motivated to set about all the more to strongly encourage oneness and togetherness between the splinter groups. For his efforts, he will be put on trial by the presbytery and will be rebuked. He will appeal to the Synod, and they will give him an acquittal – coupled with an additional word of chastisement.

Predictably, Thomas will soon quit the Presbyterian Church. He is now, so to speak, a man without a denomination.

We’ll revisit Thomas and his life in future posts. It is enough to say at this point that it is Thomas Campbell who will soon come to coin the phrase that will become the idealistic watchword among those of the Restoration Heritage:

“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”

Oh, and for those who notice patterns in life connected with birth order, it is interesting to note that Thomas Campbell is a firtsborn child, as is his even far more influential son, Alexander.

February 2

Feb. 2, 1842 – On this day near Ozark (what is now Christian County), Missouri, James Harvey (‘J.H.’) Garrison is born to Baptist parents James Calvin & Diana (Kyle) Garrison. Along with several of his brothers, J.H. will grow up to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. Shortly after the Confederate Army’s victory in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – fought in J.H.’s home county (Aug. 10, 1861) – he will enlist as a Private in Co. F of the U.S.A., 24th Missouri Infantry. Serving throughout the rest of the Civil War he will ultimately exit at the rank of Major in the U.S.A., 8th Missouri Cavalry. His transfer from infantry to cavalry service comes as a result of suffering a serious leg wound during the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862.

Following the war, J.H. will enter Abingdon College and will marry a classmate, Judith Elizabeth Garrett, within days after graduation in 1868. During his time at Abingdon he will leave the Baptist tradition and will embrace a Restoration perspective.

J.H.’s influence among those of a moderate mind in the Restoration Heritage is substantial, being felt most mightily through his multi-decade editorship of (and over sixty years of writing for) the Christian-Evangelist (CE). In the words of one of J.H.’s biographers, William E. Tucker, during J.H.’s involvement with the CE it is known as “… the pre-eminent journal in shaping religious opinion among Disciples.”

February 3

Feb. 3, 1886Marshall Clement (“M.C.”) Kurfees begins preaching with the Campbell Street Church of Christ in Louisville, Kentucky. He will preach there until his death in February 1931, the longest known ministry of the time of any one minister with a church in the Restoration Heritage.

While ministering at Campbell Street, Kurfees will also serve as one of Gospel Advocate’s editors (1908-1924) and will author a book against instrumental music entitled Instrumental Music in the Worship (published in 1911, the same year his wife, Sallie [Eddy] Kurfees, will die). He will also collect and publish in book form (1921) many of the questions answered by David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell (Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell).

February 4

Feb. 4, 1831 – In Merton, Ohio, Thomas Campbell writes a letter to Sidney Rigdon, a preacher who, though once associated with the Restoration Heritage, has gone over to following Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormons). Part of Campbell’s letter reads:

“It may seem strange, that instead of a confidential and friendly visit, after so long an absence, I should thus address, by letter one whom for many years I have considered not only as a courteous and benevolent friend, but as a beloved brother and fellow-laborer in the gospel; but, alas! how changed and fallen! … you … the professed disciple and public teacher of the infernal Book of Mormon …

“I, therefore, as in duty bound … shall hold myself in readiness, if the Lord permit, to meet you publicly, in any place … and defend against Mormonism and every other ism that has been assumed since the Christian era … we have no more need for … Mormonism, or any other ism, than we have for three eyes, three ears, three hands, or three feet, in order to see, hear, work, or walk.”

It is reported that when Rigdon received Campbell’s letter that after reading a few sentences he “hastily committed it to the flames.”

February 5

Feb. 5, 1942 – Persistent through the years within the Restoration Heritage is the myth that Abraham Lincoln was baptized by Restoration Heritage minister, John O’Kane. This myth has its roots in a letter by G. M. Wiemer that first appeared on this day in 1942 in the Christian-Evangelist (CE). The letter reads:

“I met Brother John O’Kane who was state evangelist in Illinois. It was at a convention. We were together about all the time. The Lincoln matter as to whether he [Lincoln] had ever been baptized came up. Brother O’Kane told me one day, ‘Yes, Brother Weimer, I know all about the affair. On the night before Lincoln was to be baptized his wife cried all night. So the matter was deferred, as she thought. But soon after Lincoln and I took extra clothing and took a buggy ride. I baptized him in a creek near Springfield, Illinois. We changed to dry clothing and returned to the city. And by his request, I placed his name on the church book. He lived and died a member of the church of Christ.'”

Concerning this account, and after careful research, Jim Martin has concluded: “It appears then, that in spite of legends, speculations, and wishful thinking, Abraham Lincoln was not extraordinarily close to the Restoration Movement. In the only public document in which Lincoln ever gave personal testimony about his religious views, he said simply, ‘That I am not a member of any Christian church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.’ It is perhaps fitting that his handbill published in 1846 to refute the charge of ‘infidelity’ also refutes overzealous churchmen eager to bring Lincoln into the fold.” (Restoration Quarterly 38.2)

February 6

Feb. 6, 1846Austin McGary is born to Methodist parents, Isaac & Elizabeth McGary in Huntsville, Texas. His father is a Texas hero, and Austin’s life will also drip with difficulty and drama. His mother will die when he is only seven. His father will die before Austin turns twenty. Austin will join the military and serve in Confederate cavalry (6th Texas Cavalry Battalion [Gould’s] and the 35th Texas Cavalry Regiment [Brown’s]), but will never see combat. Following the Civil War he will marry three times, outliving his first two wives (Cyrene Jenkins [dying in 1873] and Lucie Kitrell [passing in 1897]). He will father at least eleven children, but several of them will die before adulthood. He will be employed for two years, at about the age of thirty, as the sheriff of Madison County, TX and will then go on to be employed by the state of Texas to transport prisoners to the prison in Huntsville, a job that will continue to expose him to constant danger. Prior to becoming a sheriff he had killed a man in Midway, TX (1869) and once while sheriff he killed again (1787) for the same reason, self-defense.

In his mid-thirties (1881) McGary will take up, for the first time in his life, a serious inquiry into faith. Part of his research leads him to reading the Campbell-Owen debate (Owen being a famous skeptic). While reading this book, McGary will go to hear a series of sermons in Madisonville, Texas by Restoration Heritage preacher Harry Hamilton and will submit to baptism by Hamilton on Christmas Eve, 1881. However, within a couple of years McGary will come to question his baptism’s validity due to his awareness that he and Hamilton disagree on some matters. As a result, he will seek “rebaptism” at the hands of another Restoration Heritage minister, W.H.D. Carrington. However, quite quickly (by 1884), McGary will seriously question whether his baptism by Carrington is valid. Still, there is no record of McGary being baptized again by any other.

He will take up preaching in 1883 and will begin (September 1, 1884) editing and publishing a weekly paper entitled the Firm Foundation (FF). His stated objective, through the FF and otherwise, is:

“… to oppose everything in the work and worship of the church, for which there was not a command or an apostolic example or a necessary scriptural inference.”

The FF‘s readership will grow rapidly and will become the dominant (and most strident) written voice in the Texas Restoration Heritage. It will vary some in content and tone through the years as editorships change, but the FF will continue in publication until 2010, a 126 year run.

In his preaching and writing, McGary earns a reputation as a firebrand, rabble-rouser, and something like an angry man … and a great many people in the Texas Restoration Heritage at the time love it so. While he is, in the words of one historian, “rabid” in his opposition to missionary societies and the use of instrumental music, McGary’s objections regarding the subjects of baptism are equally full of wrath. He will viciously, verbally attack those who do not agree with him on this matter, David Lipscomb and the Gospel Advocate (GA) in particular (understand, the GA has a large circulation in Texas). As an example, he will refer “with charity” (McGary’s choice of words) to Lipscomb as “a religious reprobate of the most hypocritical cast,” inhabited by a “demoniacal spirit.”

How is that? Understand that Lipscomb, and most Restoration Heritage churches, believe it is totally unnecessary for those who have already been immersed in water when coming to faith in Christ, though it took place within another tribe (e.g. – the Baptist Church), to be immersed again when coming to a Restoration Heritage church family. Most churches and preachers actively discourage such “rebaptisms.” However, McGary considers rebaptism essential; to not rebaptize is to simply “shake in the Baptists” and is therefore, heresy and hypocrisy.

Ironically, though great numbers of Tennesseans influenced by Lipscomb and the GA will migrate to Texas during this time and will either start or join Restoration Heritage churches in the state, it is McGary’s perspective that will win the field and become the new, dominant view regarding baptism not only within the vast majority of Texas congregations, but, in time, within the majority of churches of the branch of the Restoration Heritage that will become known as southern Churches of Christ. To be sure, this battle continues to be fought in some quarters today, but the consensus view has radically shifted due to McGary’s efforts.

It is through an invitation made by McGary and J.W. Jackson that J.D. Tant will arrive in Austin, Texas in 1887 and will conduct a meeting, the result of which is the sealing of division between those of a Restoration Heritage perspective in the state capital. The group that leaves an existing congregation is led by McGary and Jackson and it is this group who make up the core of people who begin the University Avenue Church of Christ. The group left behind will be known as the Central Christian Church.

However, McGary’s slash-and-burn ways will catch up with him and in 1900 he will be forced to resign, due to his harshness, as editor of the paper he began, the FF. And yet, especially in McGary’s last years of life, the 1920’s, he will largely change his views and tone and will actively seek reconciliation with some of those he had editorially crucified for many years. In 1923, six years after Lipscomb’s death, he will have published in the GA, an open apology for how he dealt with brethren through the years. To seal his repentance, and in a remarkable display of reconciliation, he will spend some of his last few years of life writing for the paper he had long despised and vilified, the GA. However, his change has little effect on the brotherhood’s understanding of baptism; rather brethren will continue to cling to McGary’s original view of baptism and will view those who differ on the matter with a strong eye of suspicion.

[Sidebar: * Austin McGary’s father, Isaac, had fought in the Battle of San Jacinto (8th Company [Kimbro’s], 2nd Regiment). The 2nd Regiment led the Texan’s attack on the Mexican Army and first offered up that day’s battle cry, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” Upon his sudden death in 1866, Isaac was buried in Galveston and his grave was one of those washed away by the hurricane that devastated Galveston in 1900. * We must realize just how close these matters are to us in terms of the span of a lifetime. McGary’s third wife (Lillian Otey, whom he married in 1897), died in 1959 in Huntsville, TX (where she and Austin are buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, also the resting place of Sam Houston’s body).]

February 7

Feb. 7, 1825 – In his publication known as the Christian Baptist (CB), Alexander Campbell, Sr. will begin a long series of articles which will prove to become highly influential, and truly pivotal, to a great many. The series is entitled “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things.” As a part of this first article Campbell will write:

“It is obvious to the most superficial observer, who is at all acquainted with the state of christianity and of the church of the New Testament, that much, very much is wanting … In what this deficiency consists, and how it is to be remedied, or whether it can be remedied at all, are the points to be discovered and determined. … We know very well that nothing can be done right which is not done according to the gospel, or done effectually which is not done by the authority, and accompanied by the blessing of God. …

“Human systems, whether of philosophy or religion, are proper subjects of reformation; but christianity cannot be reformed. Every attempt to reform christianity is like an attempt to create a new sun, or to change the revolutions of the heavenly bodies – unprofitable and vain. In a word we have had reformations enough. The very name has become as offensive as the term ‘Revolution’ in France.

“A RESTORATION of the ancient order of things is all that is necessary to the happiness and usefulness of christians. No attempt ‘to reform the doctrine, discipline, and government of the church,’ (a phrase too long in use,) can promise a better result … the thing proposed, is to bring the christianity and the church of the present day up to the standard of the New Testament. This is in substance, though in other terms, what we contend for. To bring the societies of christians up to the New Testament, is just to bring the disciples, individually and collectively, to walk in the faith, and in the commandments of the Lord and Saviour, as presented in that blessed volume; and this is to restore the ancient order of things.” (CB, vol. II, p. 136)