Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Well folks, after re-editing and re-sending this two or three times to the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, it suddenly struck me that if you're willing to read my newspaper/radio/church newsletter column stuff, you might actually find this of interest. The request was for 4 to 6 ds pages (approx 1500 wds) on the history of one's religious tradition, with some focus on the state of Ohio, for a book (or CD-ROm, they're now saying) to go out to school libraries and such for the 1803-2003 state bicentennial.

Have you ever noticed that it's the stuff you write for free that is the hardest to get into print? Anyhow, i shudder to think how much total time has gone into this over the last year, but i hope that -- keeping the parameters in mind -- it works for you. Comments, as always, welcome at

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Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Ohio
By Jeff Gill

Restoration of “the ancient order of things” and building Christian unity make up the core teaching, or “plea” of Restoration movement churches. Even in the division between Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, and independent Christian Churches, all three branches of the Restoration Movement (sometimes called the “Stone-Campbell movement” by historians) still claim this essential plea, and look back to early leaders like Thomas Campbell with their affirmation that “the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”

How did a movement based on the need for Christian unity, and discarding creeds and doctrine for a re-emphasis on New Testament teaching as a model for church governance, end up becoming a denomination, let alone three? The Restoration Movement story is told in Ohio much as it might be for the United States and Canada as a whole.

From frontier areas of America as they were around 1800, the need for flexible church organization and the desire for leadership whether ordained or not, sent ripples of change through existing denominational structures. Starting in the Ohio River valley and other margins of settlement, preachers found themselves inviting Christians together who had not worshiped in one place back in Europe, or even along the Atlantic shore. People asked to join in communion celebrations who had not seen clergy of their denomination for months or even years, as well as needing baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Communities used to doing everything from barn raising to militia drill together wanted to hold revival services together, too. Pastors started to wonder, “Why not?”

Barton Stone, a Presbyterian pastor in northern Kentucky, hosted a revival at Cane Ridge in 1801. Methodists and Baptists and scattered other Christian groups were represented in both the preaching and hearing at this celebrated event which drew in thousands from both sides of the Ohio. Presbyterian authorities were highly critical after reports of the eclectic nature of the services, and their attacks led to Stone and others leaving their presbytery, or local organization of churches, and forming their own.

But even that they shortly dissolved, expressing their desire in 1804 to “sink into union with the Body of Christ.” This group, calling themselves simply Christians, acknowledged no organization above that of congregation, and pointed to the scriptures as their single authoritative guide. As Duane Cummins has pointed out, “the formalized church of the time. . .became irrelevant to the frontier settlers.” Tradition and distant formal authority was not a factor in their social setting, and carried little weight in how the settlers turned towards their God.

Not long after, and equally near the waters of the Ohio, a Scots-Irish preacher came by invitation to western Pennsylvania. Thomas Campbell was admittedly weary of the divisions in the Presbyterian church of northern Ireland, but hoped as he left family behind in 1807 that a new start for Christ’s church could be found in this New World. Instead, the disputes over doctrine had come with the other baggage into the frontier settlements along Chartiers and Cross Creeks, and Thomas was quickly embroiled in the same controversies over open communion tables and who was “fit” to serve and receive at the Lord’s table.

Like Stone in Kentucky, Campbell in Pennsylvania withdrew from denominational structures before he could be rejected, and organized on the local, congregational level. He defended his actions in a publication called “Declaration and Address,” which closed with thirteen propositions for the restoration of the New Testament church and Christian unity, starting with his declaration about the nature of “the church of Christ upon earth” and continuing in words best summarized by the reforming motto that predates both Stone and Campbell, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Almost immediately upon the publication of “Declaration and Address” in 1809, the rest of Thomas Campbell’s family came to Washington, PA. His 21 year old son Alexander had helped his mother Jane hold the family together through a shipwreck during their first attempt to reach America, and nearly a year in Glasgow, Scotland waiting for their next chance to seek passage aboard the “Hibernia.”

Alexander had used the unexpected delay well, attending college at the University of Glasgow, in part out of a commitment to Christian ministry made during the shipwreck that brought them there. He was exposed to Scotland reformers like Glas, Sandeman, and the Haldanes, whose ideas about congregational independence, weekly communion, and believer’s baptism by immersion (given at the “age of accountability” instead of baptizing infants) were to have a lasting impact on the Campbells.

Thomas was relieved to find, when he and Alexander were reunited, that just before departing Glasgow, Alexander too had broken with the Church of Scotland, primarily over the practice of “testing” church members to determine their fitness to receive communion at one of the few times a year the Lord’s Table was set. Both father and son had come to see that baptism and communion are freely given gifts of God through the church to help make souls ready for grace, and that requiring signs of grace before permitting access to those sacraments (or “ordinances” in the language of the reformers) was putting human-made barriers in the way of God’s renewing activity in the world.

During the next year, father and son joined with other families in their area in forming the Christian Association of Washington, PA; meeting in a variety of locations, they soon felt the need to build a place of worship convenient to fellow believers who were coming from all along the valleys and ridges draining into the Ohio. At Brush Run in 1811, right up against the northern panhandle of what was still Virginia (now West Virginia), they built their first church. A fateful trip to borrow precious books, rare on the frontier, took Alexander across the Virginia border to what is now Bethany, West Virginia, where he would meet his future wife Margaret and the place where – when home! – he would live out the rest of his life. He would be ordained by the Brush Run elders on New Year’s Day of 1812, and married not long after.

The newly married couple almost made it to Ohio, now a state, when they considered a move in 1814 to the Zanesville area with a number of younger families out of Brush Run. The plan to pioneer a reforming community, worshiping together and educating their children in the light of “clear teachings of the Bible,” was put on a back burner when Margaret’s father offered his Buffalo Creek home and acreage to the young Campbells for one dollar.

Farming, raising a family, and leading a local congregation could have easily been the rest of Alexander’s story, but the desire to be part of a larger fellowship and supportive Christian community led the Brush Run reformers into and out of Baptist associations, which seemed at first a congenial home for their particular religious beliefs and practices. The frontier respect for autonomy and independence continued to attract supporters, and also kept them in conflict with church structures and traditions. These conflicts led them to a firm objection to doctrinal confessions and creeds “as a test of fellowship,” even when they might have agreed with the substance of their content. The “Christian Baptist” was a publication begun by Campbell in 1823 to share more widely their belief that a simple “Good Confession” of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior was the only requirement for membership in a fellowship of “Disciples,” which was scripturally his preferred name for their churches.

The final break with the Mahoning (Baptist) Association in Austintown, OH in 1830 led to a change in the title of Campbell’s publication, and a new self-understanding as “a Restoration movement.” Named from Alexander’s belief that the work of the church was to teach and embody the future millennium of Christ’s reign over creation, “The Millenial Harbinger” would carry the Restorationist message not just all across the frontier but ultimately around the world. A compelling preacher from Pittsburgh named Walter Scott joined the growing movement, and began in the Western Reserve area of Ohio to preach in existing churches and begin new congregations. In years to come, many of these northeast Ohioans would follow the frontier to Indiana and Iowa, or south through Missouri to Oklahoma and Texas, repeating the process of church planting they experienced back in Ohio and spreading their model of congregationally governed churches with lay leadership empowered to serve communion and baptize upon hearing the simple words of Peter’s Good Confession.

When Scott moved the center of his ministry down to the Cincinnati area, more connections developed between the “Christians” of Barton Stone and the “Disciples” who had been influenced by the Campbells. New Year’s Day 1832 brought these two streams together in a formal greeting at a worship service in Lexington, KY. While these currents brought strength and power to the Restorationist movement, they also introduced strong forces that Alexander was only just able to hold together until his death in 1866.

As the 1800’s drew to a close, issues of slavery and the Civil War, modernism and “innovations” such as musical instruments in worship, and resistance to co-operative mission work as “unscriptural” led the Churches of Christ down a separate path. Independent Christian Churches have loosely organized around the North American Christian Convention as they parted from the congregations and state societies that came together as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the formal name and structure adopted in the late 1960’s. The Christian Church in Ohio, one of over 30 regional bodies for Disciples’ congregations in this state, grew out of the state missionary and Sunday School societies whose co-operative work had grown out of the initial association started in Cincinnati in 1849, with Alexander Campbell as first secretary.

Memorable figures from our past still inspire us today, reminding Ohio Disciples of their traditions of honoring education and public service: embodied by names like James A. Garfield, the only ordained minister to serve as President of the United States, and earlier president of Hiram College, a Disciples’ foundation following in the example of Campbell’s Bethany College. During the last century, notable figures like Gaines Cook, Herald Monroe, and Howard Ratcliff have led the evolving institution that we now call the Christian Church in Ohio, made up of 200 congregations around the state. Today, Ohio Disciples look with pride to their camp and conference programs for youth and adults celebrating over 50 years of vital ministry at Camp Christian near Magnetic Springs, and honor the leadership role our denomination continues to play in ecumenical bodies like the Ohio Council of Churches and Churches Uniting in Christ. With Barton Stone, we still affirm that “Christian unity is our polar star.”

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Hebron Crossroads 9-08
by Jeff Gill

You don’t have to spend all day Wednesday watching TV. Actually, that’s good advice any day, but there is a growing impression that to properly honor the anniversary of 9-11, you should watch saturation coverage of commemorative events on the tube.

Personally, I like my commemorations up close and personal, and in small doses. If you feel the same way, then early and late on this Sept. 11 you can attend a gathering which remembers the attack, the rescuers, and our honored dead, and in between you can do something, which feels like the best commemorative event of all.

There’s plenty written elsewhere about it, but let me remind you of the County Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast at 5:45 am in Adena Hall at OSU-N, with an amazing guest speaker who has done relief work in Afghanistan and always a wonderful time of worship. Tickets are at Park National Bank branches as well as Moments for Majesty at the mall for $10. See for more details.

Not to be outdone by the mayors of Licking County, the County Commissioners ask us all to observe a minute of silence followed by church bell ringing at 8:45 am.

“Respond To The Call” is the community effort to honor this first anniversary of 9-11 by helping our fire department get all Hebron’s fire hydrants painted between noon and 6 pm. Hebron Christian Church is helping co-ordinate and feed folk who turn out. A staging area behind the church off Cully and Church Sts. will be a good place to start, whether you can go around and help paint, want to drive a crew around in your pickup, or want to stay and work with the food and drink part of the plan. And to further repeat, we’ll paint ‘em the reflective yellow provided by the department, and then go back around and add at the base a simple “In Memoriam 9-11-01.”

Doug Amspaugh tell me that the American Legion will hold their commemorative ceremony at the post at 6 pm, and the closing prayer time for the entire community is at Licking Baptist Church on Beaver Run at 7 pm.

Patriots wear a variety of uniforms, and in Hebron for 9-11, the badge of honor will be yellow paint splots! Next year, we may have some other form of service to offer, but fire hydrants feel awfully appropriate for this year.

Changing course rather drastically, if you have evergreens, you may want to check for some fairly innocent looking football shaped dangles about an inch long or so. They look like needle-covered cones or pendants, and they contain “bagworms” which will, I promise you, kill your plants. West Nile is vastly overblown (the flu kills tens of thousands more a year than this virus will), but bagworms are very common this year, and they are guaranteed destroyers of greenery.

While I like writing about the unappreciated, underestimated glories of nature, these bad boys have to go, and I do mean dead. . .just try not to enjoy killing them, and we’ll all be OK.

Reschedule note, due to Labor Day: the Hebron Historical Society, who just got their signs up at the village limits, wants you to know that you didn’t miss the Sept. meeting, since it was postponed to Mon. the 9th, at the usual 7:30 pm in the Masonic Building on High St. Drop by for a cup of coffee and a quart of history!

We’re all hoping for a good harvest, and something to harvest. Devine Farms is optimistic in the pumpkin department (yep, that time’s coming up soon), but the corn and beans are looking puny, at least around the edges of the fields. We’ll see within a week or so what’s cooking in the middles. Meanwhile, be careful around those corners until the crops come down, and next week we’ll hear about how “Respond To The Call” went around our Hebron Crossroads.

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and plans to be splattered with yellow paint come next Wed. If you have local news or events, call him at 928-4066 or e-mail