Once the pioneer preachers of the Restoration Movement, such as Stone and the Campbell's, had formulated the basic principles of the Movement, they began to preach with a vigor that stimulated the church to a period of phenomenal growth. Estimates among the disciples themselves placed their numbers at 100,000 in 1836 and at 200,000 or even 300,000 in 1850. According to the census of 1850 the disciples constituted the fourth largest religious body in the nation. The census of 1870 placed it at fifth place. The zealous labors of the pioneer preachers, as well as the freedom from denominational shackles offered by the Restoration to liberty-loving Americans, powered this period of rapid progress. However, disruptive influences lay on the horizon, and they threatened to hamper, or even undo, all of this progress.
I. The Civil War
The Civil War was greatly disruptive to the American religious scene, and churches of Christ did not remain unscathed. Some churches were divided and others were so discouraged that they ceased to meet. The whole nation, including many brethren, were so caught up with war fever that little room was left in their hearts for spiritual concerns (I Tim. 2:1,2). Young men of the church went off to join the ranks of the Blue and the Gray, and not a few of them died in battle. Some preachers deplored brethren taking up arms against one another, while others, forgetting their calling and disclaiming their brethren in the opposing section, themselves unsheathed the sword. One preacher and college president by the name of James A. Garfield became noted for his valor, was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, and eventually became the twentieth president of the United States.
Two questions were brought to the attention of Christians by the Civil War or its issues. One was the slavery question. Could a Christian Scripturally own slaves? If so, how was he required to treat them? Though there were extremists on both sides of the question, it seems that most preachers were neutral and encouraged Christians in the North and South not to allow this to become a divisive issue. As a result, the church of Christ was one of the few churches in the nation that did not divide over this issue. The prevailing view among brethren seemed to be that slavery was a political, rather than moral, question. The Bible did not expressly forbid slavery but rather regulated it (Lev. 25:39-46; I Cor. 7:17-24; Eph. 6:5-9; Philemon). Most brethren, while wishing to avert religious division and war over this matter, probably hoped that slavery would eventually be brought to a peaceable and legal end.
The other question to attract Christian's concerns was the Christian's participation in carnal warfare. Again, the most devout and influential preachers were opposed to brethren's involvement in warfare and pled with brethren not to become involved, though their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears for the most part.
II. The Missionary Society
Since most denominational congregations during the Restoration Movement formed themselves into inter-congregational associations of some sort, the question of "cooperation" was soon raised among the brethren. While those in Stone's following looked with suspicion at such organizing efforts, those of Campbell's following seemed to think that some sort of extra-congregational cooperation or organization was well-nigh essential to the progress of the cause. Consequently, brethren at first began to meet in informal, district gatherings. However, as time went by these "cooperation meetings" increased in formality and scale. District meetings became state meetings, and state meetings became national meetings. At first, such meetings were defended on the basis that they were only intended to encourage, inform, and unify brethren, and promote evangelism. Alexander Campbell wrote extensively in defense of greater organization among local churches. Brethren finally met in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849 and formed the American Christian Missionary Society. Alexander Campbell was elected its first president. As soon as the Society was formed opposition to it began to mount. Interrupted temporarily by the Civil War, this opposition continued to increase until conflict over the Society gradually issued in an open breech of fellowship between the advocates and the adversaries in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.
The bases of objections to the missionary society have varied, but the most notable ones may be summarized as follows: (1) there is no Scriptural authority for it, (2) it is not needed, for the church is sufficient to do the spiritual work that needs to be done, (3) it supplants the church, and (4) it infringes upon the independence and autonomy of the local churches.
III. Instrumental Music
About the time that the American Christian Missionary Society got underway the question of instrumental music in the worship of the churches arose. Not long before the Civil War the church at Midway, Kentucky became the first church on record to introduce instrumental music into worship (supposedly to aid their deplorable singing). Practically every church and preacher of influence, including Campbell himself, stood united in their opposition to instrumental music in worship. However, following the Civil War churches began to use the instrument more and more and the battle over it was joined with increasing fury. The objections to instrumental music in worship have substantially been: (1) that it is an unauthorized addition to the singing directed by the New Testament (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), (2) that it is not instructive to the intelligence (I Cor. 14:15), and (3) that it is contrary to the spiritual character of the church's worship. The contentions over the missionary society and the instrument, as well as lesser ones, finally escalated into a division among the churches that was formally recognized by the Religious Census in 1906.
IV. Exercises(Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)
(1) What kind of impact did the Civil War have on churches of Christ?
(2) What two questions were raised by the Civil War, and what answers does the Bible give to them?
(3) What two issues were primarily instrumental in dividing the church following the Civil War?
(a) How did the advocates defend their innovations?
(b) What arguments did the opponents use against them?