House On The Rock:
The 7 Building Blocks of Christianity
By Greg Taylor
Alexander Campbell used publishing to advance the restoration of the church. Had he lived today, how would he use media to move the restoration? What can we learn from Campbell’s use of media that can be applied to our use of media today as we advance our own understanding of restoration?
During his lifetime, Campbell wrote nearly a billion words, and his greatest legacy has been his published volumes of the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger.
These journals can be found online today. His words have a life of their own and have influenced generations. Gary Holloway said, “the growth of Campbell’s influence can be directly traced to his publishing activities.”  Further, Campbell’s writing and editing was a major factor in the spread of the restoration ideal from a regional to a national movement. Campbell also influenced his contemporaries throughout the United States between 1823 and 1866 to also promote the Restoration ideal.
Imagine if Campbell lived today. Would he have a blog? Millennial Blogger?
What can we learn about the spread of influence through writing from how Campbell’s publishing influenced an entire movement? How do blogs and similar interactive media reconstitute the potential for life-changing exchanges just as the debates, dialogues, and letters to the editor of Campbell’s journals did in their halcyon days?
This essay looks at Campbell’s publishing career and draws a few principles from that insight that might help set parameters for our own interaction in new media such as blogs, web applications and other church communication tools.
As editor of one of the journals traditionally connected with the Stone-Campbell heritage, this is of particular interest to me. I would like to think that the work I’m involved in will have an impact on others also upholding the Restoration ideal. In particular, Wineskins focuses on renewal in churches in a time when sectarianism and traditionalism have fogged over Christology, Biblicism, open thought in many churches. Wineskins models for believers how to lead with Christology then move into mission and eventually arrive at ecclesiology. In Churches of Christ in particular, Christology has given way to the radicalized concern for restoring the forms of church and worship. In other words, many churches are moving in the wrong order, from concern for ecclesiological forms to a mission for restoring those forms in all lands, and lastly Christology. This, in the opinion of our magazine, is in the wrong order. The order, rather, ought to be Christology that determines mission that leads to an ecclesiology shaped by Christ and his mission. So publishing is important to me, to the magazine, because we are trying to advance a restoration, use media to move and shape this generation of disciples.
So if a brief examination of Alexander Campbell’s publishing can somehow inform and cause dialogue about the role and impact of Christian publishing in the Stone-Campbell heritage today to return us to the absolute starting place of Christ and him crucified and revealed to us, rather than church forms, then I will be pleased with the outcome and impact of this essay.
Campbell’s Early Experience in Publishing
The first time Campbell seems to grasp the power of publishing to increase people’s use of reason and to promote ideas was after he published his debate with John Walker, with Campbell affirming adult baptism.
Campbell, much like a blogger, was a one-man writer, editor, proofreader. He had help with printing. In the next seven years, Campbell and pressman Robert Buchanan would print 46,000 volumes of books.
The cost of the Christian Baptist was one dollar a year, and Campbell often had difficulty getting subscribers to pay.  By the seventh year, according to Richardson, the Christian Baptist had nearly 2,700 subscribers. 
One of the reasons Campbell was able to send so many copies is because he had ‘franking’ privileges at the post office, meaning that as postmaster he could mail anything he wanted free. He did this from 1828, when he became postmaster, until 1830, when the privilege was revoked. 
Regardless, Campbell’s work was spreading widely by print and rail and horse and tale.
The list of Restoration preachers who were influenced by Campbell’s publications reads like a who’s who list of the Restoration. John T. Johnson said, “What I owe to Campbell no man can tell.” Raccoon John Smith, who felt the system he had so long preached was but a wind of doctrine without substantial basis, did not believe it was possible to be a Christian without belonging to a religious party. 
Chester Bullard was preaching a reform movement in the Virginia and Pennsylvania area without knowledge of the wider movement led by Campbell, but when Bullard’s brother accidentally picked up a copy of the Christian Baptist he read it before going to rest in a hotel in Pennsylvania and was so impressed that he advised his brother-in-law to subscribe to the journal, saying that editor was a half century ahead of his times.
Because of this kind of widespread respect for Campbell’s ideas, calls for reprints of the earlier volumes of the Christian Baptist led Campbell to reprint many of those volumes and make them available to the public. This increase in the demand for the Christian Baptist was pushed even farther into Tennessee and Kentucky, when B.F. Hall returned from a meeting there, where he said many repentant sinners, or mourners, were left uncomforted. When he read Campbell’s discourses on baptism in the Christian Baptist he shouted “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” 
Campbell’s ideas, through the medium of the Christian Baptist even reached back to the continent he was from. William Tener, in a letter dated November 5, 1829, said he and some of his British, Scottish and Irish cohorts were too prejudicial to even take up and read Campbell’s writings. They read a few pages and initially decided to put it down and render it heterodoxy. Tener wrote, “When we gave you a hearing, however, we found that your sentiments were in general accordance with the revelations of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  Tener credited the “ably-edited periodical, the Christian Baptist” with changing his mind on many unfounded doctrinal views.
The Christian Baptist influence reached frontier states, Scotland, England, Ireland, and the states of the Eastern seaboard. Other men who credited the Christian Baptist for its impact on their lives are John Henry , William Hayden, and Walter Scott.  Hayden “became a reader of the Christian Baptist soon after its publication, and (sic) rejoiced in that freedom of thought and of investigation which it inculcated, and which was so congenial to his own mind.”  The year 1829 was an important year for Alexander Campbell and his impact through the written word. He was making a transition between the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger and writing “Essays on the Ancient Gospel and Ancient Order of Things.” Campbell was also writing articles on primitivism and dispensations, which, according to Richardson, Campbell’s biographer, “had a powerful effect in dissipating the confusion of thought which prevailed in reference to religion.” 
Like the Christian Baptist, the Millennial Harbinger had a great impact throughout the United States and even in England. William Jones, and elder of the Scotch Baptist Church in London, heard about Campbell through a young American Christian connected with the Restoration movement. Jones had, himself, in 1835 started a publication called the Millennial Harbinger and Voluntary Church Advocate. After reading Campbell’s work, he began disseminating the Millennial Harbinger in England and Scotland. 
With sketch of Campbell’s publishing history in mind, I’ll first make a set of observations—some but not all of which are also concerns—about today’s blogs, then I will pair each observation and concern with similar ones in Campbell’s publishing environment between 1823 and 1866.
My first observation is that blogs are a democratizing media. They allow anyone with a computer, typing skills, and an opinion to write about any topic. A reader can go to a person’s particular website and read those opinions and respond with a comment.
This same positive observation about the new open season for writers is also a concern. With the free and democratic flow of ideas comes a great relativistic ethos online that seems to shout, “My opinion about the Old Testament is just as valid as a Hebrew scholar’s opinion, though I don’t know the difference between a shabat and a menorah.”
About such leveling of the ground when cheap and reckless hacks join in the conversation, Campbell had strong opinions. He comes off sounding elitist. But for the purpose of this essay, his critique sounds like it could be leveled at today’s blogs and other new media that we might uncritically assimilate and encourage others to join with little thought to qualifications or prerequisites for being in a conversation. For those unqualified and reckless crackpots who put their preaching into writing and disseminated it worldwide, Campbell reserved some of his best vitriol, as in this example:
The unlicensed press of the present day, and especially in our department of reformation, is the most fearful omen in my horizon. We may have indiscreet preachers. Indeed, I know that we have more than a plurality of them, that ought to be somewhere else doing good than in the pulpit. But there are two consolations in their case—their voice does not extend over the continent, and soon ceases. But not so our editors and scribes. The picta tabula manet—the printed sheet remains—and after they have died the leaven lives and sometimes works . . . we have a brood of periodicals the most voluntary and irresponsible I have ever known. We have editors just out of the shell of conversion; a youth converted this year, the next a preacher, and the next a scribe, and then an editor! What a brilliant climax! But, alas, for the anticlimax. 
Campbell denigrated other editors for not having such openness to the attacks and comments of others. This excerpt from the Millennial Harbinger is a good example of Campbell’s feelings about those who abuse printed words.
And the printed sheet indeed remains, and who of the reformers could have guessed their work would be transmitted in the way this article will be emailed to Discipliana when it’s finished, how words with little effort can be transmitted worldwide with blogs and email?
Why is this important to note? When I was in seminary, we were required to read a set of papers and books that basically suggested that we not go into pulpits and write as rookie theologians. The conventional wisdom was that we’d be sorry later that we wrote and published when we were so young and we’d want all those thoughts back twenty years later. One wise scholar suggested we wait till we’re forty to publish. How does that advice land today with students who’ve already published nearly every stray thought they’ve had on MySpace.com or Wordpress.com or Blogger? Career counselors now suggest that college and graduate students use restraint in what they write. The offhanded comment, “I drank way too much beer at the frat party last night” can live a life of its own and be picked up from cache on some search engines when that commenter is ten years down the road seeking a ministry position.
Campbell too was disturbed about the printed sheet that would live a life of its own, and the impact of that read and re-read and tattered re-read pamphlet or journal that new preachers were putting out might even outlast a particular young preacher’s opinion on the matter about which he wrote.
Yet, Campbell himself did much writing at an early age. Living in Washington, Pennsylvania, Campbell was twenty-two years old when a publisher of a weekly newspaper asked him to write essays on the moral order of the local society.  Campbell used a pseudonym named “Clarinda” and wrote articles that panned the community for its low moral standards. He didn’t finish this series of essays because he began in 1810 to focus on preaching.
A second concern about blogs and email forwarded writings is that they take time and energy from good-intentioned people on the writing and reading ends. Some draw energy and life and enrichment from these interactions, so I suppose that is the positive side and the observation. The concern, however, is that on any given day many of us receive many emailed, blogged writings from perhaps dozens of writers. How do we properly discern how to manage this overload of good intentions?
How did Campbell handle this barrage of mail?
Perhaps the best principle we could accept from Campbell’s publishing is his themed focus in his two major journals.  He resolved in the Christian Baptist to seek truth of Scripture and expose errors at all costs. He sought in the Millennial Harbinger to do as much plus proclaim the second coming of Christ.
I confess that I wrestle daily with focus. How do I choose what to give my energy and gifts? To what church matters, theological, missional, historical matters? To whom ought I to respond and with how much effort? Yet I continually return to similar concerns as Campbell: editing Wineskins Magazine means I daily lead a group of editors and writers to re-experience, re-think, re-practice our faith anew in each generation. This serves readers who seek transformation and deliverance from sectarian ways of thinking and want to explore the important voices outside and inside our the Stone-Campbell heritage and join that conversation as part of the larger body of Christ, and in so doing grow deeper spiritually and more vividly reflect the image of Christ in our lives as we discern Christ, culture, our communities today. That’s a mouth full but it helps me to re-state my purpose often in various ways to keep razor sharp in purpose.
My third concern is that blogs often don’t really deliver on the claim that they create community and lots of interaction. Often blogs attract like minds rather than being a place where divergent people can be convinced about important apocalyptic ideas and theologies. Blogs have brief moments of candor and conversation then attention is drawn elsewhere and serious conversation rarely takes place.
Still, I think it’s worth the effort for bloggers to be a Christ and Spirit-filled presence online. Often the first reaction of many is to pop off a response and the easily typed and “hit send” rejoinder is not often slept upon like a well-thought out letter to the editor might in the days of Campbell, when paper, enough ink, stamp, and a long journey to mail the letter or wait for the pick up day would engender reflection and slept-on ideas.
And Campbell would not shut out rejoinders, always allowing responses. He wanted a journal as free as the doctrines he promoted. The pages of his journals were open to “friend or foe, bother or alien, who has anything to offer worthy of being heard, and the ability to offer it in an intelligible and respectful manner. I will not, then, notice anything avowed, stated, or even hinted against my views, sayings, doings, measures, and by any brother who has not the manliness, candor, and good feeling to offer it to myself.” 
A fourth observation is that, like the Christian Baptist and Millennial Harbinger, some blogs have incredible influence today. Quite an obvious statement, but there are indeed today, as in Campbell’s day, better and more influential writers than others.
Winfred E. Garrison said, “The disciples of Christ do not have bishops; they have editors.”  This is a strong statement about the influence of editors in the Restoration movement. Could it be said today that “the disciples of Christ do not have bishops; they have bloggers”?
Judge for yourself by taking a look at some of the notable bloggers influenced by or writing on Stone-Campbell themes:
Bobby Valentine: http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/
John Mark Hicks: http://professingprofessor.blogspot.com/
Arron Chambers: http://christianstandard.com/MyLordandMyBlog.asp
Jennifer Taylor: http://christianstandard.com/WriteAboutNow.asp
Milton Stanley: http://transformingsermons.blogspot.com/
Larry James: http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/
Mike Cope: http://www.preachermike.com/
The only way to discern what blogs are good and what are bad are to read the content over time, just as readers perused Campbell’s and other’s writings for many years between 1823 to 1866. The blogger would be remiss to overstep or overestimate his or her influence and a principle to gain from Campbell is humility about the relative authority of such writing. As John L. Rowe, who studied under Campbell at Bethany College , wrote: “No journal has the right to assume ecclesiastical authority or exercise jurisdiction over any man or any congregation.” 
“Alexander Campbell was a great editor,” says Fredrick D. Power. “He was absolutely honest and he was highly intelligent. Therefore, he was able to see what should be considered, what should be published, and he was honest enough to let what he knew was right predominate." 
And this ought to be our attempt: to trust honest pursuit of the truth by all who participate in that high goal, and with editor-bloggers who help hone down content, point us to new vistas, explain theology in practical terms, engage doubts and dialogue, we too can let what is right predominate.
What journals will influence the churches of Christ in the twenty-first century? Will the internet have a role to play in keeping the Restoration plea alive in the 2000s? Will we become part of a ever-growing Christian world that has lost its distinctive plea for repentance, conversion, and a return to Scripture? Or, in the face of increasing dependence upon technology, will we depend more upon God?
John T. Brown, in 1904, said, “the disciples have no . . . court . . . but the court of public opinion, and the most efficient means of pleading before that court is the religious journal.” 
Could this be true today for the interactive court of blogs?
And where is today’s harbinger? Will we use media for all its worth? Will we use media with a passion to spread the restoration and advance the cause of Christ throughout the world? Or will we blithely watch others and critique them for their efforts? Certainly the printed word or the digital word does not replace the lived pastoral presence of disciples in pulpit and marketplace. What we can learn from Alexander Campbell is that a movement can be moved forward with writing and distribution of words well placed, both in sentences and in people’s hands.
Greg Taylor is Managing Editor of www.wineskins.org
- Gary Holloway, “Alexander Campbell as a Publisher,” Restoration Quarterly [Article was original online but is no longer available: www.rq.acu.edu/volume_037/rq0370/holloway.html] Accessed 8 November 1999. For a treatment of the influence of several Christian journals on the disciples movement, see Richard Hughes, Howard E. Short, Henry E. Webb, “The Power of the Press: Studies of the Gospel Advocate, the Christian Standard, and the Christian-Evangelist,” The Forrest F. Reed Lectures 1986 ( Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1986.
- Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell: Embracing a View of the Origin, Progress and Principles of the Religious Reformation Which He Advocated vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott and Co., 1868-70), 53; Holloway, 2.
- Alexander Campbell, The Christian Baptist (May 1828).
- Richardson, 2:285.
- Holloway, 3.
- Fredrick D. Power, Sketches of Our Pioneers, ed. John W. Wade (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1966), 44, 55.
- Richardson, 2:388.
- Richardson, 2: 294.
- Powers, 73.
- Richardson, 2:249-50.
- Richardson, 2:249-50.
- Richardson, 2:285.
- John Allen Hudson, The Man and the Movement: A Study in the Life of Alexander Campbell ( Cincinnati: Christian Leader Corp. Print, 1927), 60.
- Alexander Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, article on-line, Available from link at http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/acampbell/acb/BCB03.HTM, Internet, accessed 8 November 1999.
- Holloway, 1.
- Thomas Grafton called the Christian Baptist the “John the Baptist” in religious journalism, a continual call for repentance to Christians who honor denominational tradition over scripture. This prophetic call from the pages of the Christian Baptist was guided by four aims, which Campbell outlines in the first edition of the journal. These four aims follow: To espouse on the doctrines set forth in scripture:
To preach the truth and expose errors in doctrine and practice
To preach only what the Bible teaches
To be an impartial advocate of truth
Campbell’s monthly periodical started, not by accident, on July 4, 1823. Perhaps the symbolism of Independence Day gave a double meaning to Campbell’s efforts to write about Christian freedom and emancipation from denominational protectionism and control.
Campbell didn’t want Christians in the Restoration Movement to one day be known as the “Christian Baptists,” so he wanted to change the name of his journal. He also had a more positive, millennial, progressive, ecumenical, and protestant agenda that he wanted to promote with the Millennial Harbinger. As the name of the Campbell’s journal implies, Campbell wanted to proclaim the Second Coming of Christ. Religious reform and unity were an important part precursors to Christ’s second coming.
- Alexander Campbell, “Heretical Periodicals,” Millennial Harbinger (February 1840), article on-line, Available at http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/acampbell/acb/BCB03.HTM, Internet, accessed 8 November 1999.
- Garrison, in his book, co-written by Alfred T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History, who said this well-known phrase. William T. Moore said a more nuanced phrase in 1909: “The disciples of Christ have no Diocesan Bishops, and consequently their leading religious periodicals have practically occupied that place.”
- May have been noted from a class by Campbell.
- Hudson, 56-57.
- Richard Hughes, et. al., from the foreword.