11 Mar 2007

Coming Together in 1827: The Unknown Union

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Church, Church History, Kingdom, Restoration History, Unity
Joseph Hostetler, 1797-1870

Joseph Hostetler, 1797-1870

Coming Together in 1827: The Unknown Union

Most of us have probably at one time or another heard of the great union meeting between the Christians of Barton Stone and the Reformers of Alexander Campbell in Lexington, Ky from Christmas 1831 to New Years 1832. Most do not know the extreme difficulty of that miracle of the Spirit and that will be the story of another post.

However, there was an earlier union that has not received quite the press of 1831-2. But it was no less significant. It was the union of German Baptists who were sometimes known as “Dunkards”, some “Brethren” (of a Mennonite background) and branches from Stone and Campbell’s movements.

The Dunkards

The “Dunkards” were a group committed to Primitivism (i.e. Restoration) and had the following distinctive characteristics they believed to be part of the NT pattern:

1) they practiced trine immersion (that is immersion 3x face forward into the water)

2) they practiced the Lord’s Supper in the context of a love feast

3) they washed feet as a required ordinance

4) they took the Lord’s Supper only once or twice a year (and only at night else it would not be the “supper”)

5) a few other quaint ideas (to me anyway)

In 1821, at the Brethren Annual meeting, which assembled in Somerset County, Pennsylvania addressed itself to the issue of trine immersion and “rebaptism.” Article 6 of the minutes of that meeting questioned “Whether members might be received into the church who have been but once immersed (without rebaptizing them in the manner we believe it ought to be done according to the gospel.)?” The answer of the meeting is surprising, perhaps, in that it indicated the flexibility on the part of the eastern leadership. After affirming that trine immersion was the true baptism, the Brethren decided that “if such persons would be content with their baptism and yet acknowledge the Brethren’s order as right, we would leave it over to them and receive them with the laying on of hands and prayer.”

This shows both the “liberality” of the Dunkards and also the distinctive nature of what separated them from “us” on this point.

Come Together … Sang the Beatles

Dunkard preachers like Joseph Hostetler and John Wright came into contact with Barton Stone’s folks in Indiana and Campbell’s Christian Baptist about the same time. Hostetler is the author of a letter to Alexander Campbell that he reprinted and used as the basis of his “Restoration of the Ancient Order, XI.” Campbell goes out of his way to call J.H. his brother, that he regards him — even with his unique views — as part of the family of God and that they were in fellowship on the gospel and not on our opinions. His words are worth quoting in fact.

DEAR BROTHER — For such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion which you express on some topics, on which we might NEVER agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of Christian union, I will esteem and love you as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hope in his salvation. And as to the evidence of this belief and hope, I know of none more decisive than an unfeigned obedience, and willingness to submit to the authority of the Great King” (Alexander Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. XI,” Christian Baptist, 1825, p. 223. Campbell’s emphasis).

In July 1828 a “unity” meeting was conducted in Edinburgh, Indiana. Two reports of this are recorded in Stone’s Christian Messenger. We learn from Elder Joseph Hatchitt,

The Wright Brothers, whose names you will see in the minutes have been formerly denominated “Depending Baptists,” have laid that name aside, and now call themselves the “church of Christ.” I judge there are six to eight elders among them and many churches. When we met in conference together, we could find nothing to separate us [AMAZING!!, B.V.] asunder. In fine, we saw as nearly eye to eye as any company of Elders who have assembled in modern times — and there was such a sweet spirit of love.”

By 1827 fifteen of the Dunkard congregations of Indiana had united with Stone and more loosely with Campbell. When the “Disciples” held their first state convention in Indianapolis in 1839 Barton Stone was the featured speaker and all the Dunkard congregations were represented.

Joseph Hostetler and John Wright are heroes of unity. The union of Stone and the Dunkard/Brethren is a remarkable, and overlooked, event in our history one that we should “brag” about. It is an episode we should ask God for the courage to emulate. It shows that we can unite even with folks considerably different than ourselves if the core focus is upon Christ and we are committed to doing God’s will.

If we, like our forefathers in the faith, believed that we are in fact one in Christ, that unity was a mark of faithfulness perhaps we would have more John Wrights and Joseph Hostetler’s today.

In the Spirit of Unity,
Bobby Valentine

Ut omnes unum sint (John 17.21, Vulgate, ‘that they may all be one’)

12 Responses to “Coming Together in 1827: The Unknown Union”

  1. laymond Says:

    Thanks Bobby I had never heard that before, but it is a proud event in history. I hope we have more in the future.

  2. preacherman Says:

    I pray for unity all the time just as Jesus did in John 17. I believe that it is definately his will. The question I have is in the future will we see more unity or diversity? Is it possible? I know with my generation (generation X’ers) we are preaching alot on grace. We seem more mission minded and less rigid than preachers of the past. Foced less on picky stuff of preachers of the past. What do you think

    Bobby, do you think it is possible for unity to occur in the near future? Is unity really possible?

  3. Bobby Cohoon Says:

    Nice job Bobby. i have a question for you; what two times a year did the drunkards have the Lord’s supper?

  4. Alan Says:

    That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Brian Nash Says:


    In my former home church we would get a decent number of people who would transfer their membership to the new congregation. If they were not baptized believers, they were given an opportunity based upon their confession of faith. If they were already baptized they were asked if they still held to the faith. The neat thing that would always happen is that the entire congregation would affirm their faith as well. We always wanted other believers to know where we stood in regards to the faith.

    In truth, I miss that tradition. Sometimes I sort of wonder what the response would be at Palo Verde for people to affirm as one “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, The Son of the Living God.” For me it held a lot of special meaning after I made the good confession to hear the congregation respond in kind.

    What do you think?

  6. Adam Gonnerman Says:

    That story was news to me, and I thought I had a pretty good basic grasp of Stone-Campbell history.

    I’m always struck by how glued to the rules the early primitivists were, or at least attracted to defining rules to know they had the correct faith.

  7. Beverly Says:

    Hey, my Grandfather was best friends with Marshall Keeble…

  8. Bob Bliss Says:

    Bobby, as with everyone else I don’t think I have ever heard of this meeting. Any follow up as to where they headed? Any follow up as to their contact with Stone, Campbell and company?

    Preacherman – I know you asked for Bobby’s opinion on unity but I thought I would give you my two cents while I’m here. I doubt seriously that unity will ever happen for more than a few minutes. I’m not being pessimistic just realistic. I think our imperfections (or better word sinfulness) will prevent it. Someone will do something to prevent it. However, having said that I do believe that we should strive for unity with all our being. I would hate to get to judgment and have the Lord look at me and ask what I did to further unity among Christians and shrug my shoulders.

  9. Danny Says:

    This was all news to me and I wish you would have posted it about a month ago. It would have been a great addition to the Restoration Revisited class I was teaching then.

    What a great story!

  10. john dobbs Says:

    Very very interesting post, Bobby. Thanks for that … and the message it contains.

  11. Raymond Perkins Says:

    Bobby, that is definitely a WOW!

  12. Ken Says:

    It doesn’t appear to be a union of Dunkard and the Stone Movement.

    Hostetler and Wright were already influenced by Campbell’s writings even before the 1827. Hostetler, in his letter to Alexander Campbell states that he read the CB vol. 1,2 and 3, and was in much agreement with what he read. He asked Campbell for his teaching related to several Dunkard distinctives, primarily triune immersion. Campbell’s reply was in Feb. 1826. Campbell specifically states that triune immersion was an invention of man and had no divine warrent.

    Apparently, Hostetler took his response to heart (I also think that Campbell may have sent Hostetler some private correspondance). In the spring of 1826, Hostetler was already disavowing Dunkard teaching. He called a large meeting of Dunkards and preached what appears to be the “Restoration plea”. His sermon caused such a ruckus that many of the Dunkard preachers present called for a heresy trial.

    Before the trial, Hostetler went to the Dunkard congregations preaching and many people responded by being baptized by Hostetler. That is critically important because these Dunkards would have already been baptized by triune immersion. Obviously, Hostetler was teaching that triune immersion was an invention of man and had no divine warrant (Campbell’s teaching). Eventually Hostetler was persuasive enough to carry the 15 congregation with him. I submit by 1827 they ceased being Dunkard in any theological way and aligned themselves with Campbell’s teaching.

    In fact, by Hostetler is described as a preacher of the “current Reformation” by 1828.

    The Dunkards were a rather large group in the midwest. They exist today. They never united with Stone or Campbell and were never a part of the RM.

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