Tag Archives: Christian Connexion

A History of the Christian Connexion

Yes, we are still alive and kicking (though not so high right now, after some of us got badly sunburned on the feet…).  We don’t have any news to report, except that God is taking care of us quite well (as always) while we are trying to figure out where he wants us to be.

Today, I realized that there are some books that I had already prepared to be added to the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, and simply forgot to actually add them.  So, today, you get a short book called “An Account of the Christian Denomination in the United States” by Simon Clough.  Clough was a preacher in the “Christian Connexion,” which boasted Abner Jones and Elias Smith as some of its most prominent early preachers.

In essence, it is a letter written in 1827 to explain their beliefs, history, and practices in response to the inquiry of the General Baptists of England.

It was just four years later that a large segment of the Christian Connexion (the part which worked with Barton W. Stone) formally united with the “Reformers” (including Alexander Campbell, Raccoon John Smith, and Walter Scott,).  Clough, however, was not a party to this union, and actually opposed it.

The book can be read online or downloaded by clicking the link below:

An Account of the Christian Denomination (Simon Clough)

Abner Jones – A Bonus!!!

If you read the other posts this week, you’ll know more about Abner Jones than 99.9999% of the people in the world.  But, if all those footnotes scared you away, today’s post will hopefully make things a bit easier.

What you see below is the text of a lecture given by Bradley Cobb on the life and work of Abner Jones.   The focus in the first section is on how he was never at peace until he actually obeyed the gospel.  If you’d rather just listen to the lecture, then just click here and select the Abner Jones lesson.

This will also be included in the upcoming book, Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 2).

Introduction:

Abner Jones is not a familiar name to most people. And even for those who are somewhat familiar with the Restoration Movement, he is usually nothing more than a name to them. We think about Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and others, but Abner Jones is usually only given a passing notice—perhaps a sentence or two, if anything at all. Today, we will try to remedy that. Obviously, there’s no way of covering everything he ever did, but we’ll look at his life and see the things that he did to help restore New Testament Christianity.

One thing that I want to make very clear—Abner Jones was working to restore New Testament Christianity almost a decade before Alexander Campbell ever set foot on American soil.

Birth and early life:

Abner Jones was born in 1772, four years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Both of his parents were hard-core Calvinist Baptists. In fact, his father was a Baptist preacher. Needless to say, the idea of religion and eternal torment was pressed into Abner’s head from a very early age.

When he was eight years old, in the middle of winter, their family moved to Bridgewater, Vermont, which was basically a wilderness. The closest neighbor was around two miles away. They built a house completely out of logs. And in his autobiography, he makes it very clear that there were no planks, no windows, nothing except for logs stacked on each other. One side of their new home was left open, and they had a continual fire going throughout the winter.

Throughout much of his early life—even up into his 20s—Abner suffered from depression. This was not a clinical depression or some chemical imbalance, but instead it was an immense depression brought on by the thought that he might not be one of the “elect”, and that he might burn forever in hell. Calvinist doctrine teaches that man has no control over his destiny—that God determined whether you are going to heaven or hell before you were even born, and that you have no choice in the matter. Even before he turned ten years old, Abner said that he was fully convinced that he must be born again or be damned. He desperately wanted it, but his Calvinistic Baptist upbringing warred in his mind, telling him that it didn’t matter how much he wanted it—if God planned to send him to hell, that’s what would happen. Because of this, his depression continued—feeling as though life was pointless unless God had chosen you to salvation. And with that depression, Abner was more and more convinced that God hadn’t chosen him.

When he was ten years old, he went to a meeting (having prayed his usual prayer for God to have mercy upon him), and the message he heard made him feel alive inside. For a time, he took this to mean that God had saved him, that God had made him alive. But the feeling went away, leaving Abner more depressed than before. He did not then realize it, but his feeling of joy came when he first believed in Christ.

Because of his uncertainty about this experience, he determined to keep it to himself. However, he made the mistake of telling his mother’s nosey friend that he had a secret, and she hounded him until he told her. However, after making his confession of faith, he again had a feeling of joy. But, as he did not continue on the path to salvation, his joy subsided once more.

He admits in his autobiography that he felt the need for baptism pressing upon him, but he continually rejected it—likely owing to the teaching of his parents that baptism is of no importance. As he fought against being baptized, his depression grew more and more. One day he went to his mother and told her “I am going straight to hell.” Her response was that it was still possible that he was one of the elect. This caused even more depression, because as bad as Abner wanted to go to heaven, he felt he had no power to do anything about it.

For the next six years, he did everything he could to embrace universalism (the belief that everyone will go to heaven, regardless of how they live their lives). He went to dances (which he admits he knew was wrong), and spent his time with those who didn’t have any care for religion at all. But still there was a sorrow, a deep longing for heaven—and a depression because he had resigned himself to never being able to get there. And within there was also a fear of what his friends would say if he suddenly “got religion.”

It was during these years that he had a series of events happen that he describes as God’s judgments against him—judgments because he refused to be baptized. He got sick of fever so bad that he lost his apprenticeship in one place. While chopping wood, once, he missed and implanted the axe into his foot. During another incident when he was fighting even harder against God, he suffered a massive hernia that was never able to be completely fixed. From that point onward, he was unable to do any real physical labor.

Finding Religion

He went back home to Vermont, and there was quite the revival going on there. Abner felt ashamed of the life he’d been living, but still did nothing about it. His pride kept him from being able to publicly admit the need for salvation. Months went by, and finally he repented of his sins and determined to follow God. He began to pray a couple times at some Baptist meetings, but had not yet been baptized. He felt an intense inner feeling that he would someday have to preach.

It was upon reading his Bible and finally admitting to himself that baptism was a requirement of God for salvation that he finally submitted to the divine ordinance, in 1793. For months afterwards, Abner would occasionally preach the Calvinistic doctrines that he was raised with—but this didn’t last very long, because he was studying his Bible. He realized very quickly that the Calvinistic ideas of “predestination” and “election” were foreign to the Bible, and he rejected them.

It was shortly after this that he came to the realization that the name “Baptist” was never applied to the church in the Scriptures, and he rejected that as well. From that point on (1794), he determined only to use the name “Christian.” In his studies, he also realized the entire Baptist organization was unscriptural: the way one becomes a member of the Baptist Church, their confessions of faith, and their leadership councils. So he rejected all of them.

It was around this time that he got married and went into the practice of “physic” (he became a physic-ian). He began to build up some wealth with his medical practice, but he continued to feel the pressing urge: I need to preach. Eventually he completely gave up his medical practice.

The Christian Connexion

He went about preaching wherever he had the opportunity, calling people to follow only what the Bible says and nothing more. At this point, he was still aligned with the Baptist Church—though he expressly stated that he would not abide by any of their unscriptural doctrines or practices. In 1801, after ruffling many feathers in the Baptist Church, he planted a congregation of about 25 people, and they went by the name “Christians.” Later, Elias Smith joined forces with him, and they spread the wonderful news about the ability to become “Christians only.” These congregations were loosely joined together (like churches of Christ today), and as a whole, they were called “the Christian Connexion.” In 1802, A group of like-minded brethren came to him with an offer: We believe God has called you to preach, and so we are going to make sure your family is financially supported so that you can go about preaching wherever you feel God wants you to preach. Abner took this as a sign from God that preaching was what he was meant for.

Because he preached heavily against Calvinism, the Free-Will Baptists endorsed him, and even ordained him—though he refused to wear the name Baptist or to be associated with any of their confessions and practices that couldn’t be found in the Bible.

In 1804, and in the years following, Abner wrote and published quite a few hymnals—some of them with Elias Smith.

In 1805, some of the congregations gathered together and had a conference where they drew up articles of faith—old habits die hard. However, they quickly realized what they were doing, and “agreed that their articles were useless, and so they abandoned them, taking on the New Testament” as their guide.

Abner was content to let Elias Smith be the visible face in spreading the message of the Christian Connexion. Meanwhile, he was going around to churches, strengthening them and encouraging them. And these congregations grew, which Abner believed was God’s sign that he was doing the right thing.

He caused quite an uproar when he began preaching against drinking alcohol in any amount—but he held his ground. He also came under fire at one point because he joined the Freemasons. Because of the outrage of a few, he resigned his membership with that group, believing that Christian Unity was far more important than belonging to any social club.

The Decline

When Elias Smith drifted into universalism and basically left the Christian Connexion for a time, it dealt a staggering blow to the congregations—and to Abner. He went about trying to keep encouraging the members, but the one who had been their unofficial leader had abandoned the cause—and the people became quite disheartened. Abner Jones did not know what to make of this, because if growing congregations were a sign of God’s being pleased with him, what did it mean when the congregations were shrinking?

Because of an outbreak of disease, he again took up his medical practice while working with the congregation in Hopkinton. After six years’ work there, he returned to Salem—only to find a congregation in ruins, having turned completely to emotion as their guide. It took seven years, but Abner rebuilt the congregation. Meanwhile, the Hopkinton congregation had merged with the Baptists.

By the 1830s, the Christian Connexion was having annual conferences (the first one was convened to discuss how to deal with the fallout from Elias Smith’s departure), and was showing the signs of drifting into denominationalism. Many of the congregations were being led by people who were Unitarians (denied the three-fold nature of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Jones’ own son identified himself as a “Unitarian minister.” Another thing that was taking place in a couple of the Connexion congregations was that women were being allowed to preach. This was not widespread, and there is nothing to suggest that Abner Jones condoned or accepted it, but it was happening.

Perhaps the final death knoll came when a man named William Miller—a charismatic man—famously predicted the coming of Christ would take place on a specific date in 1843. By 1839, he had taken in close to half of the Connexion members with his lies. The other half was derided as being “faithfless” for not believing him.

The former leaders in the Connexion were gone. Elias Smith was no longer among their number. Abner Jones was approaching 70 and was “well stricken in years.” Daniel Hix, preacher for one of the largest congregations in the movement, had died the year before. And without strong leadership in the congregations, they became ripe for the plucking.

When William Miller’s date came and went in 1843, he announced a miscalculation and said it should be 1844 instead. Undaunted, those who followed him were even more determined than ever. When the date came and went (an event, which by the way is known historically as “the Great Disappointment”), many of those who were taken in by his lies were too ashamed to go back to the brethren they had made fun of previously. The Connexion suffered an irreparable split. Those who bought into Miller’s lies were too ashamed to face the ones who knew better. The ones who knew better decided they couldn’t put their trust in those who were so easily led astray. Ultimately, the Christian Connextion split into two separate bodies. One of them joined forces with other “Christian Churches” (like those led by Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone) or “churches of Christ” (back then, they went by both names). The other group stayed independent and called itself “The Christian Church” (not to be confused with the group today called the Christian Church). This group later joined with the “Congregationalists Churches,” and that group has come to be known as the United Churches of Christ.

Thankfully, Abner did not have to live to see the day when close to half of the people that he had worked so hard to teach the true gospel would fall away. He passed away in 1841.

The Christian Connexion (and Abner Jones) have been claimed as part of the history of multiple religious groups including the Seventh-Day Adventists (one of William Miller’s followers started that group), the Mormons (who claimed his restoration movement was to prepare the way for Joseph Smith in New England), and even the Jehovah’s Witnesses (because a hymn book by a different man named Abner Jones used the name “Jehovah” repeatedly).

Throughout his life, Abner Jones’ main desire was to simply be a Christian and to go to heaven.

Abner Jones – Part Four

Today’s installment concludes Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb).  If you missed the previous entries, you can click on the links below, or you can find this work in its entirety in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

His Final Years:

The Connexion’s Decline

While Elias Smith was busy being the visible leader of the Christian Connexion, Abner Jones was busy doing the work of a preacher. He moved to Salem, Massachusetts in 1809 where he traveled to numerous congregations in the area. He saw many converts, which helped to strengthen his faith. He believed that the people converting was proof that God approved of his preaching and was blessing it.[1] This mind-set led to problems down the road.

In 1815, He moved to Hopkinton, Mass. There he met with virtually no success, and the depression and doubt that plagued him as a younger man re-surfaced with a vengeance. Elias Smith’s return trip to Universalism “staggered the Christian cause in…the coastal areas.”[2] The departure of this very vocal leader proved quite the hurdle to overcome.

While in Hopkinton, Abner Jones stirred up quite a controversy in preaching on the evils of drinking alcohol, even in moderation. While there, he also joined the Masons. When public opinion began to sway against the Masons as a social group, Jones quit, although “he never believed them to be subversive to either Christianity or democracy.”[3]

The congregation in Hopkinton did not grow, and in fact became so weak that Jones was unable to support himself any longer. When an epidemic came through the town, he resumed his practice as a doctor. He moved back to Salem after six years of unproductive work in Hopkinton. What was left of the congregation in Hopkinton faded from what faithfulness they had attained and merged with the Baptist Church.[4]

Ups and Downs

Upon his return, he found the congregation in Salem in the throws of emotionalism. The majority of the congregation wanted nothing to do with a logical approach to the Bible, but claimed to be “moved by the Spirit.” The congregation was destroyed and Jones was left “to pick up the pieces” and rebuild a new congregation. After seven years, the new congregation was large and strong. During this time, Jones “practiced medicine, taught school, and gave instruction in singing.”[5] In 1830, this restorationist moved to New York in search of other fertile hearts.

His need for emotional reassurance weakened him in his stances on the truths of the Bible. He slowly drifted towards accepting emotional experiences as evidence of Christianity, contrary to his statements prior in which he described the emotionalists ones who “professed to be governed by the Spirit, and a most perverse spirit it was.”[6] In this, he stated that rash emotionalism was not from God, yet he was unwilling to stick with his convictions.

The movement started by Abner Jones, and for a time aided by Elias Smith, to go back to the Bible only had touched many people. But without solid leadership, it began to die out. The original congregation established by Abner Jones in Lyndon, Vermont had shut its doors and melted in with the denominations.[7] Many of the other congregations also faded from existence. However, in the 1830’s, there were signs of hope by more growth in certain areas.

The Death of a Dream

The original call was to leave denominationalism and go back solely to “the New Testament for their only rule of faith and practice.”[8] For a time, Abner Jones and company were well on their way to accomplishing it. However, because of various events and decisions, the group which came to be known as the Christian Connexion drifted off into denominationalism itself.

In order to deal with the effect of Elias’ Smith’s departure into Universalism, they convened a general council. This became a yearly event in which almost every congregation in the Connexion sent a delegation.[9] This yearly convention established a governing body similar to the councils which mark the Catholic Church of the first Millennia AD.[10] Smith did try to return, yet traveled back and forth with Universalism to the point where “his own brethren disciplined him because they refused to trust someone who was ‘blown about by every wind of doctrine’.”[11] By 1825, the conference of the Christian Connexion referred to themselves as “a denomination among denominations.”[12]

Another aspect where they left the pattern of the New Testament was in the organization of the local church. Many pleaded for a plurality of elders, although most of the congregations in the Connexion only had one elder, that being the preacher (this following the lead of the Baptists who referred to the preacher as an elder).[13] They also took to following the lead of other denominations in calling the preacher “reverend,” a word used in the Scriptures only in reference to God. Also, as early as the 1810’s, some of the congregations were promoting women to positions of preaching.[14] This was not widespread, but it was tolerated in many locations.

Perhaps the final blow to the dream of “Christians only” in New England was a man by the name of William Miller. This man claimed to have figured out the time for the return of Jesus Christ and pinpointed the date at “some time between March 1843 and March 1844.”[15] Because of his emotional speaking style and the direction in which the Christian Connexion was heading, Miller found ready listeners in those Christians. By 1839, nearly half of the Connexion had been taken in by his lies, and the other half was ostracized as faithless.[16]

Elias Smith was no longer a leader in the movement, but had completely left. Abner Jones’ own son was referred to as a “Unitarian minister.”[17] Daniel Hix, the preacher at one of the strongest congregations in the Connexion, had died in 1838.[18] The ones who had taken the abuse for trying to follow the New Testament pattern had gotten older and there arose a new generation that did not know what they had gone through, and were thus unprepared to combat this false teaching.

So caught up were the Christians (as well as others) in this prophetic end, that many farmers did not plant crops that year. The ones that did refused to harvest, for that would show a lack of faith. Many store owners simply sold out of merchandise and refused to re-stock. On the day in which the return was supposed to occur, the “faithful” who believed the sayings of Miller all gathered in church buildings. They prayed their hearts out for Jesus to return.[19] When the bells rang at midnight, it was like a funeral. Jesus did not return according to the false prophet’s timetable. People’s faith had died. They blamed Christ for not coming again. “Being misled by a false religion, they gave up searching for the true one.”[20] Those who bought into the lie couldn’t bear to face those who were wise enough to know better. Those who didn’t fall for the emotionalism of the Miller fiasco decided they couldn’t put their faith in those so easily led astray. The bridge between the two collapsed. As James Gardner put it: “the heart of the Christian Connection in New England died at midnight, October 22, 1844.”[21]

Thankfully, Abner Jones didn’t live to see that day. He died before he could see his dream of a unified church of Christ collapse. He died in 1841, in Exeter, New Hampshire. The Christian Connexion had become a perversion of what it was meant to be. In the years that followed, the Christian Connexion broke apart, and today various denominational groups claim the Connexion (and Abner Jones) as part of their history. Among these are the 7th Day Adventists, the United Church of Christ,[22] as well as perhaps Mormonism.[23] Some “Jehovah’s Witness” even claim Abner Jones was one of them.[24]

Conclusion

Abner Jones had the right idea, initially. He strove to become a Christian only, following nothing but what he could find in the pages of the New Testament. All who seek to be true Christians should emulate the principle for which he and other restorationists stood. In the end of his autobiography, Abner Jones gave a pleading warning to all of his readers to stop and look at their spiritual condition. The words which he gave were those of a hymn he wrote:

STOP, poor sinner, stop and think

Before you farther go.

Will you sport upon the brink

Of everlasting woe?

 

Hell beneath is gaping wide!

Vengeance waits the dread command,

Soon to stop your sport and pride,

And sink with you the damn’d.

 

O be entreated now STOP,

For unless you WARNING TAKE,

Ere you are aware you’ll DROP,

Into the BURNING LAKE.[25]

 

Bibliography

Ÿ  Burnett, J.F. Rev. Abner Jones: The Man Who Believed and Served. (unknown publisher, 1921) Electronic edition at: http://www.gravelhillchurchofchrist.com/ebooks/Burnett, J.F. – Abner Jones.pdf

Ÿ  Brumback, Robert H. History of the Church Through the Ages. (Mission Messenger, St. Louis. 1957)

Ÿ  Caldwell, G.C. “Baptism: the Core of Controversy in the Restoration Movement” Florida College Lectures, 1976.

Ÿ  Davis, A.M. The Restoration Movement in the Nineteenth Century. (Standard Publishing, 1913)

Ÿ  Gardner, James. The Christians of New England (Hester Publications, Henderson, TN 2009)

Ÿ  Gielow, Frederick, Jr. Popular Outline of Church History (Standard Publishing, 1926)

Ÿ  Haley, J.J. Makers and Molders of the Reformation Movement (Christian Board of Education, St. Louis, 1914)

Ÿ  Jennings, Walter Wilson. Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ (Standard Publishing, 1919)

Ÿ  Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching of Abner Jones. (Norris and Sawyer, 1807)   Electronic edition www.GravelHillchurchofChrist.com/eBooks/Jones, Abner – Memoirs.pdf

Ÿ  Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones (Crosby, Boston 1842)

Ÿ  Mattox, F.W. The Eternal Kingdom (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR 1961)

Ÿ  The New England Christians, www.ChristianChronicler.com/new_england_Christians.html

Ÿ  North, James. Union In Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement (Standard Publishing, 1994)

Ÿ  Olbricht, Tom. “Christian Connexion and Unitarian Relations 1800-1844” Restoration Review Vol. 9, No. 3

Ÿ  Phillips, Dabney. Restoration Principles and Personalities. (Youth In Action, University, AL, 1975)

Ÿ  www.PioneerPreachers.com

Ÿ  Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Beck and Foster, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816)

Ÿ  Vogel, Dan. Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1988), online text at http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/seekers/chapter1.htm

Ÿ  Watters, Randal. “Abner Jones – A Real Jehovah’s Witness.” http://www.freeminds.org/organization/pre-russell/abner-jones-a-real-jehovah-s-witness.html

Ÿ  West, Earle. The Search For The Ancient Order: Volume I (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR. 1950)

Ÿ  Womack, Morris. Thirteen Lessons on Restoration History. (College Press, Joplin, MO, 1988)

 

 

[1] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pgs 75-77.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid. Pg 78.

[6] Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones. Pg 81.

[7] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 91.

[8] Brumback, Robert H. History of the Church Through the Ages. (Mission Messenger, St. Louis. 1957). Pg 290.

[9] ibid. Pg 104.

[10] Mattox. Eternal Kingdom.

[11] New England Christians

[12] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 104

[13] ibid. Pg 105.

[14] ibid. Pg 106.

[15] ibid. Pg 146.

[16] ibid.

[17] Olbricht. Connexion and Unitarian.

[18] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 150.

[19] ibid. Pgs 151-156.

[20] ibid. Pg 156.

[21] ibid. Pg 157.

[22] ibid. Pg 151-157.

[23] Vogel. Seekers and Mormonism.

[24] Watters, Randal. “Abner Jones – A Real Jehovah’s Witness.”

[25] Jones, Abner Memoirs. Pg 107.

Abner Jones – Part Three

This is from Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb) which is available in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

If you missed the previous installments, they can be found here:
Part One
Part Two

The Christian Connexion

Enter Elias Smith

In the years leading up to 1803, Elias Smith had basically come to some of the same conclusions as Abner Jones.[1] Like Jones, Elias Smith had turned to Universalism at one point, trying to find a way to soothe the sins of his childhood.[2] In 1801, Elias Smith (already a preacher) was convinced by his brother and was a Universalist for a period of 15 days before seeing he was embracing error.[3] Both Jones and Smith had determined that Calvinism was wrong and that there was no authority for the name “Baptist.”

During this time, Smith had also begun a congregation of five people. They acquired a meeting hall, but it burned to the ground in December of 1802. They were determined to carry on and to only “follow the New Testament order and wear the name, Christian.”[4] By the time he met Abner Jones again, the number of members had grown to ten. The small number was due in part to the fierce opposition to an independent “church of Christ…Christians without the addition of any unscriptural name.”[5]

Jones admitted to being influenced by Smith, yet it seems that when they met again in 1803, it was Abner Jones who did the influencing.[6] Elias Smith suffered from instability, not truly able to decide which path to follow. This is seen in that many times throughout his later life he flirted with Universalism. He thought that if Calvinism was false, “then universalism¾its polar opposite¾must be true. Smith accepted and repudiated Universalism five times.”[7] He had felt that he was the only one who had come to the conclusions against Calvinism. Smith says this about their meeting: “In June, 1803, about the time of this difficulty [fighting against Calvinism], Elder Abner Jones, from Vermont, came to visit me, and was the first free man I had ever seen.”[8]

Elias had some interesting religious experiences before, including the time when his mother tried to force him to be “baptized” by sprinkling. He took off running from the building in protest, only to be dragged back by his uncle. Thus he was forced into the Congregationalist Church that his mother attended. Within a few years, he reflected on that practice and went to the Scriptures for answers. He saw the New Testament truth that baptism was only for believers and was by immersion.[9] This was one of the main emphases that he brought with him when he and Abner Jones met once more.

The Union of Forces

Because of their similar beliefs and conclusions, Abner Jones and Elias Smith declared themselves in fellowship with each other. Thus the two small movements of just a few congregations, joined together and strengthened each other. Because they viewed themselves as Christians only, there was no need for a formal document to unify the forces. It was less than a year after this unofficial union that the congregation where Elias Smith preached reached 150 members.[10] In 1804, leaving Elias in the congregation at Portsmouth, Abner Jones started congregations in the city of Boston and places surrounding it.[11] The movement towards restoring the Lord’s church was moving forward.

In 1805, the congregations had a meeting “to draw up church articles.”[12] This was done because of the familiarity with church articles and creeds in all the denominations which surrounded them. Just as it was difficult to initially leave the ideas of their Baptist upbringing, it was hard to leave other things of which they were familiar and comfortable. However, this “Christian Conference…agreed that their articles were useless and so they abandoned them, taking only the New Testament” as the guide for all Christians.[13]

The brethren in New England were a connected group of Christians, and as such began to be recognized by the collective term “the Christian Connexion.”[14] This was not a term making them a denominational group, but merely a term to emphasize the fellowship between the different congregations. By 1807, there were 14 such known congregations in that area and twelve preachers working with them.[15]

In the southern states, as well as other places, more people had come to the same conclusions as had Jones and Smith. One such person was James O’Kelly, who led a group who left the Methodist Church, calling themselves “Republican Methodists.” At their beginning, in 1794, they claimed to have 1,000 members.[16] They had guiding principles for their movement, much of which mirrored what Jones and Smith were advocating. Soon afterwards, they decided to go by the name “Christian Churches.”[17]

Within the O’Kelly-led movement, there was dissention about the role of baptism. William Guirey was an influential leader in the Republican Methodists who believed in the necessity of baptism by immersion. He was very pleased to learn that others were going by “Christian” alone and that they also had come to the same conclusion as he had on baptism. By 1809, this group united with the Christian Connexion.[18] It is strange to note, however, that shortly thereafter, James O’Kelly tried to break up the newly-made union between the two forces because of his belief on baptism. It seems that he was holding on to his Methodist upbringing about faith-only being a “most wholesome doctrine and full of grace.”[19]

The Herald of Gospel Liberty

With Abner Jones spending his time preaching, Elias Smith became the leading voice in the newly-united movement. Though he had less than a year of formal education, Elias Smith was an able writer and speaker. He started a publication near the end of 1808 called The Herald of Gospel Liberty which he was the first religious periodical to ever be published.[20] It initially had 274 subscribers.[21]

That these Christians had become aware of some other restoration movements around the still-growing country is obvious from this periodical. On the back page of the first issue, Elias Smith printed¾in full¾“The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.”[22] The Springfield Presbytery was a small group of Presbyterians who realized many of the errors of Calvinism and of man-made religions. Unfortunately, in protesting one man-made religious body, they created another. They did see their error, and this document, written in 1804[23], was the official dissolution of their group, as well as a call to only follow the Bible.[24]

The Herald of Gospel Liberty was as unstable, however, as Elias Smith himself was. The publication was moved numerous times in the decade of its existence. At one point there were over 1,000 subscribers to the paper. In the final issue of this periodical, Elias Smith announced “that he had gone into universalism.”[25] There is some well-founded speculation that Alexander Campbell was familiar with that paper. Campbell was at the very least, acquainted with who Elias Smith was, as well as his doctrinal position. James North relays this:

The Stone Movement had been called “Christians.” But Alexander Campbell did not like that term. Because the Smith-Jones Movement also used the same term; and because the Smith-Jones Movement was tinged with a good deal of Unitarianism, Campbell was convinced the term was tainted.[26]

Smith did start another publication called the Christian Herald, which lasted a bit longer than his previous paper. With the changes in stances, Smith’s influence waned and the publication was bought out by a publishing company.

 

 

[1] Gardner, James. The Christians of New England (Hester Publications, Henderson, TN 2008) Pgs 19-20

[2] North, Union In Truth, pg 25.

[3] New England Christians

[4] West, Earle. The Search For The Ancient Order: Volume I (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR. 1950) Pg 14.

[5] Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Beck and Foster, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816). Pg 320-321

[6] North. Union in Truth, Pg 26.

[7] New England Christians

[8] Smith, Elias. The Life of Elias Smith. Pg 321

[9] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg20.

[10] West. Ancient Order I. Pg 14.

[11] North. Union in Truth. pg 26.

[12] West. Ancient Order I, Pg 14

[13] ibid.

[14] Olbricht. Christian Connexion.

[15] North. Union in Truth. Pg 26

[16] ibid, Pg 16.

[17] ibid, pgs 18-19,

[18] ibid, pg 27.

[19] Caldwell, G.C. “Baptism: the Core of Controversy in the Restoration Movement” Florida College Lectures, 1976, pg 242.

[20] Phillips, Dabney. Restoration Principles and Personalities. (Youth In Action, University, AL, 1975) Pg 18.

[21] Womack. Thirteen Lessons. Pg 54.

[22] North. Union in Truth. Pg 63.

[23] Womack. Thirteen Lessons . Pg 62.

[24] Davis, A.M. The Restoration Movement in the Nineteenth Century. (Standard Publishing, 1913) Pgs 149-150.

[25] West. Ancient Order I. Pg 15.

[26] North. Union in Truth, Pg 164.