Friday, October 10, 2008

Thomas Campbell: Man of the Book, Lester G. McAllister

Thomas Campbell: Man of the Book, Lester G. McAllister

While reading various works in Restoration History I have notices that sometimes writings on Thomas and Alexander Campbell often end up focusing more on Alexander than Thomas. Due to the vast accomplishments and amount of influence Alexander Campbell, this is partly natural. However, one should not lose site of Thomas Campbell and his contributions to the Restoration Movement. Thomas Campbell is a “bridge” figure from the Old World’s religion to the New World’s religion. Thomas Campbell was born on February 1, 1763 in County Down, Ireland, but he migrated to the area of Bethany, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1807. Lester G. McAllister explains the significance of Thomas Campbell’s place in Restoration History:

Historians, when they have mentioned him at all, have spoken of him along with Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott as one of the founders of the movement known today as “Disciples of Christ,” and as the father of Alexander Campbell. But Thomas Campbell was more than that. He was a transitional figure, forming a link between the religious traditionalism of the Old World and the spirit and zeal of the New—a man who, like so many in America, at that time, lived the first half of his life in Ireland and the last half on the American frontier. [McAllister, p. 12.]

Thomas Campbell was an exemplary educator for the time and was able to use this gift to complement the efforts he made to the restoring of New Testament Christianity in America. He was trained at the prestigious University of Glasgow and completed significant training in addition to this time at the University.

There are several contributions that Thomas Campbell made to the Restoration Movement. His writing of the Declaration & Address of the Christian Association of Washington in 1809 is one of the classical watershed documents of the Restoration Movement in comparison to the much earlier Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery from Barton W. Stone and others at Cane Ridge, KY. In the meetings leading up to the printing of the Declaration & Address, the slogan Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” was coined. Thomas Campbell also established the first school in Cambridge, OH but also worked in schools in Pennsylvania and Kentucky as well. Due to his work in education, some such as Robert Richardson, were actually brought into the New Testament Church. Probably the greatest contribution he made was the preparation he did in rearing Alexander Campbell. Thomas was his father, teacher, counselor, and often filled in for him as editor and writer for the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger. Thomas was first and foremost an evangelist of the one church founded Christ and governed by his constitution, the New Testament.

Lester G. McAllister’s biography of Thomas Campbell is an excellent work for reading and researching this period of history. At the time of publication, he was both Dean of Students and Associate Professor of the Department of Religion at Bethany College. He has done much research in Restoration History and this book is just one example of the fruits of his labor. His work is aptly cited and indexed for future study which is important because there are writings that have conflicting dates and details. If you are interested in serious study of the Campbells, then this is one work you will want to seek out.

On January 4, 1854 Thomas Campbell died at Bethany one month prior to his 91st birthday. He was buried in the family cemetery, God’s Acre, in Bethany, VA (now West Virginia).

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