It is the 9th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We have an unintentional theme this week, as today marks the 4th show in a row on someone or something that has been mentioned in passing or in conjunction with a larger movement, but today gets its own show. That’s right- we’ve talked about the Disciples of Christ, aka the Christian Church- although there have been- get this- splintering in the movement, making it sometimes hard to tell who is who… ladies and gentlemen, “American Christianity!” These are a fascinating bunch- you might know of some of the more conservative “Churches of Christ” that don’t use instruments or some of the “Disciples of Christ” that are today more progressive. They all share a similar root- the Second Great Awakening- particularly on the Western frontier (Western for that time, so think: Kentucky) and this “Restorationist” movement, called such as they wanted a “restoration” of the apostolic church is sometimes referred to as the “Stone Campbell Movement”. We’ve talked about the Campbells- so-called “Campbellites” after Alexander Campbell, and so today, we hit the first name in the movement: Barton W. Stone.
Stone was born in Port Tobacco to John and Mary Stone on Christmas Eve of 1772. John Stone died when Barton was only 2, and the family would move about, eventually to the Virginia frontier to be out of harm's way during the War of Independence. Using money set aside from his father's death, Barton decided he would go to school. He attended the Caldwell Academy in North Carolina with thoughts of becoming a lawyer. However, the early sparks of the Second Great Awakening were beginning to spread. Stone went with a friend to hear James Mcgready preach in one of the new “camp meetings.” These would be held in remote places such that most would have to sleep over and would spend days at the camp, listening, praying, and singing. While Stone and others smart his “true” conversion here, he was put off by some of McGready’s Calvinistic teachings. Nonetheless Stone decided to go into the ministry and requested a preaching license from the local Presbytery. He went on to serve as the pastor at both the Cane Ridge and Concord churches in Bourbon County, Kentucky. He would be ordained but was permitted to hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith “As far as it is consistent with the word of God.” This would give him the leeway to shift theologically as he became less enamored with the Calvinism of the Presbyterian Church and Westminster Confession. Near his church in Cane Ridge, one of the largest camp movements broke out in 1801 and lasted through 1803.
In this spirit of a new frontier, a supposed awakening to the truth after having been obscured, and the desire to institutionalize this new movement, Stone and these leaders were not far from both the new Americans and the European Reformers, both of whom they had their roots in. The spirit was of going back to a “simpler time” before modern corruption. For Stone and his compatriots, that meant the church of the New Testament before major divisions and denominations. It also meant a spirit of emancipation- now was the time to start something fresh. Old bodies could be dissolved and given independence. And finally, a spirit of individualism- just as the old monarch or the old church had confined the spirit of the individual to the institution, the new age would be marked by freedom of conscience. When the Presbyterian church sought to bring Stone and his compatriots up on charges, they left the Presbyterian church to form their own Springfield Presbytery. But after deciding that a “presbytery” wasn’t necessarily biblical, Stone and his followers signed the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” wishing that the presbytery “sink into union with the Body of Christ at large.”.
Stone would preach through 1832 in the region, eventually seeking union with the like-minded Alexander Campbell. They would unite on January 1st, 1832, although all churches would have autonomy and swear to uphold the exclusivity of the Bible for authority (that is, no creeds) and to strive for Christian unity.
Barton Stone would publish his “Christian Messenger,” a newspaper, until his death on the 9th of November in 1844. His body would be finally interred at Cane Ridge, the site of the revival that gave a movement its name and saw the birth of his new church movement. Barton Warren Stone, born in 1772, was 71 years old.
The last word for today is from an early Christian Latin Poet- Magnus Felix Ennodius- 6th c. Bishop, translated by John Brownlie- this is “Christ, the light that shines eternal.”
Christ, the light that shines eternal,—
Light that gilds the rolling spheres,
Dawn upon our night, and keep us
Pure as light when day appears.
Let no gin of Satan snare us,
Let no enemy oppress;
Wakeful aye with garments spotless,
May we walk life’s wilderness.
Keep our hearts in Thy safe keeping,
Be Thy flock Thy special care;
In Thy fold in mercy tend them,
Guard their footsteps everywhere.
And our souls shall sing triumphant
When Thy light our eyes shall see,
And the vows we owe are rendered,
God, the great Triune, to Thee.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose own church services resemble a frontier camp meeting- a calliope and anxious bench. He’s got it all, Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man happy to go to a camp meeting, so long as there are s’mores Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.