13 Feb 2009

1835: Tares Among the Wheat … Roots of Sectarianism in Churches of Christ

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Baptism, Barton W. Stone, Church, Church History, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity
It seems that 1835 was, in hindsight, a pivotal year for the Stoned-Campbell Movement. By 1835 the Reformers of Campbell and the Christians of Stone had united. Campbell had been marked through the infamous Beaver Anathema (1829) … By the mid-1830s the Movement was growing and in search of an identity. An atmosphere of “bad blood” was being cultivated between “us” and “them.” Many decided they had a word for the “brotherhood” to help provide guidance.

Dr. John Thomas (1805-1871) was one such new editor. Thomas was a preacher among “us” first in Philadelphia and then Richmond, Virginia. In 1834 he began publishing his new voice in his Apostolic Advocate. By 1835 it became clear that he was promoting sectarian point of view. Stone-Campbell churches had always accepted those who had been immersed into the name of Jesus. Thomas believed this was grave error. Stone-Campbell churches were not simply Christians they were the only Christians! And apparently many even in his own fellowship were not Christians either. Many, like Alexander Campbell himself, had been baptized at the hands of Baptist preachers never understanding the “deeper” significance of baptism until years later. Campbell vigorously opposed Thomas who eventually left the Restoration movement to form the Christadelphians.

In 1835 other extreme positions bubbled to the surface as well. Matthias Winans, Arthur Crihfield, John R. Howard, and others, promoted a theory of the Holy Spirit that so closely linked the Spirit and the Word that they became nearly indistinguishable. Crihfield would throw his hat in the editor bishop’s chair in 1837 with a journal creatively titled The Heretic Detector … its task would be to root out any and all heresy. It was in the Heretic Detector that, as far as I can determine, we encounter for the first time the “marks of the one true church.” The spirit of this publication has been “reincarnated” in journals that yet remain among us.

Interestingly enough Stone, Campbell and even Robert Richardson seem to have sensed that something was afoot at the Circle-K (for those who remember Bill & Ted!). Alexander Campbell wrote a lengthy piece titled “The Crises” (Millennial Harbinger [December 1835], 595-602). Richardson published a letter in the same issue to Campbell under the heading “Reminiscences of 1835” (pp. 611-618). Campbell’s last words to his readers for the year 1835 was a plea for them to reread his article and even Richardson’s (p.622).

Barton W. Stone had already voiced distress over the direction of some within the movement. In the August 1835 Christian Messenger he shared some “Remarks.” Since it is brief, yet powerful, I will reproduce his entire “remark.”

The scriptures [sic] will never keep together in union, and fellowship members not in the spirit of the scriptures, which spirit is love, peace, unity, forbearance, and cheerful obedience. This is the spirit of the great Head of the body. I blush for my fellows, who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship; who plead for union of all christians; yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Vain men! Their zeal is not according to knowledge, nor is their spirit that of Christ. There is a day not far ahead which will declare it. Such antisectarian sectarians are doing more mischief to the cause, and advancement of truth, the unity of christians, and the salvation of the world, than all the skeptics in the world. In fact, they make skeptics.” (Barton W. Stone, “Remarks,” [Christian Messenger August 1835], 180)

Stone did not shy from voicing his concern over the direction of some within the movement he helped spawn.

Due to the vigilance of Campbell, Stone, Richardson, and Scott most of the extreme views that began to surface in 1835 were held in check. Yet after the Civil War these uprooted tares among the wheat began to bud again. There is a direct link between the “Texas Tradition” in the Churches of Christ and John Thomas. We might explore that some more soon … Those devoted to “truth” often have to point the search light back at their own heart. This is a legacy we can embrace from Stone, Campbell, Richardson and Scott.

14 Responses to “1835: Tares Among the Wheat … Roots of Sectarianism in Churches of Christ”

  1. Michael Greene Says:

    Why do you used the phrase “Stoned-Campbell movement” to describe the Restoration Movement? I called this to you attention in a previous comment. I can’t see the humor in its use for yourself, and I find it a little offensive when you apply it to the historical movement known for many more years as the Restoration Movement.

    It really takes away from what you have written.

    I do not want to see it as a back hand put down of the movement that gave many of us so much, you included, and for which I am eternally grateful, but that is how it comes across to me.

  2. johnmarkhicks Says:

    Excellent post, Bobby. Good insight into 1835 as a critical year in the movement.

    John Mark

  3. Keith Brenton Says:

    The Heretic Detector … I wonder if that’s been trademarked?

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Always glad to have you here on my blog. I do not mean to be offensive with the use of “Stoned” at all. I happen to think it is a humorous play on words and helps keep ourselves in proper perspective … we do have a tendency to take ourselves WAY to seriously. I wrote about the rational for it here in one of my first posts …


    Campbell did get “Stoned” when he united with Barton W. Stone. At any rate it is not a sign of disrespect and I am sorry you would think so … I use the same moniker for myself and I’m not dissin’ myself.

    Thanks for the kind words John Mark.

    Keith … yep the HD (not High Def) has been syndicated many times.

    Bobby Valentine

  5. Steve Puckett Says:

    Amen to Barton W. Stone’s comments! I often use the Carl Ketcherside quote to describe what I believe should be our attitude toward other believers no matter what sign they walk under when they attend the assembly of other believers: “Wherever God has a child, I have a brother or sister.”


  6. Anonymous Says:

    Steve, that still means you have to determine one of God’s children when you meet them.

    How do you do that?

  7. Keith Brenton Says:

    Well, durnation. I was a hopin’ I could trademark The Heretic Detector and take at least one old banner out of circulation ….

  8. David Kirk Says:

    I think “The Heretic Detector” would make a great blog title! Thanks for your research!

  9. Michael Greene Says:

    I didn’t think what I had to say about your using your “humorous” moniker to describe the Restoration Movement and it being offensive would have any impact on your thinking.

    I do find your use of it disrespectful to the men and women who gave so much of themselves in seeking the restoration of the ancient order of things. Which movement you claim to love and appreciate but your words and actions say differently.

    And I do not think Campbell got “stoned” when the two groups came together. Again your choice of the word, in my opinion betrays a disrespect for Campbell.

    But, in my humble opinion, that is consistent with the tenor of most of your blogs which I have read. And I admit, I have not read them all, but the ones I have only seem to find fault with the men, the movement and the churches of Christ.

  10. Jason_Crihfield Says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Jason_Crihfield Says:

    The Stone-Campbell Movement being a period of time that fell under the Restoration Movement was what gave real awakenment to many people that needed help seeing the truth. This movement started many churches, and one example being the Church of Christ.

    As for the Heretic Detector, by Arthur Crihfield, it served a purpose to prove denominational churches wrong. This goes to the age old argument… We are right and you are wrong, We go to Heaven and you go to… well you get the point with this.

    Now I must say that this was a well researched article, but the play on words or “Stoned” is disrespectful. I have no idea where you found this in research it is wrong. A man that is in a religious movement knows better than to use drugs. He would know that if he uses a mind-altering substance and then professes his love for God, he would have committed heresy.

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Delighted to have you reading my blog.

    but just so you know the word “Stoned” has nothing to do with drugs.


  13. Jason Crihfield Says:

    Well, I do appreciate that you made that clear. But also to make things clear to readers that may not have understood that, like I didn’t, that behavior was not and is still not condoned within religion. I still don’t like that play on words, but that is my own opinion. Thank you.

  14. Robert Limb Says:

    “ell, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good,
    They’ll stone ya just like they said they would.
    They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home.
    Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone.
    But I would not feel so all alone,
    Everybody must get stoned.”

    Being “stoned” nothing to do with drugs?
    Well I guess. But difficult not to make the inference if you were young in the sixties.

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