THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT AND WADSWORTH, OHIO — A CASE STUDY
By David R. Kenney
While doing some research on a person buried in the cemetery in Bedford, Ohio who attended Bethany College and graduated under Alexander Campbell, I came across the following information relating to the church of Christ in Wadsworth, Ohio. I thought you might find the following of interest as well.
Amos Sutton Hayden (1813-1880) wrote one of the classic texts on the Restoration Movement in Ohio entitled Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio in 1876. Hayden includes an account of the establishment of the church of Christ in Wadsworth, Ohio including a visit by Alexander Campbell. The following is Hayden’s account nearly in its entirety (except for a story of one of its members):
The church of Wadsworth was formed in February, 1829. The first day there were eight members: Obadiah Newcomb; his two daughters, Statira and Matilda, recently baptized; P. Butler, Samuel Green, A. B. Green, and John and Sarah Bunnell. Bro. Newcomb was appointed elder, and John Bunnell, deacon of the new organization.
This church soon became a strong pillar. William Eyles, late judge of court, soon united with his family. Conversions were almost constant. The opposition was active, vigilant, and often virulent, but overall the gospel made steady and triumphant progress.
The first yearly meeting held in Wadsworth was in September, 1833, in a new barn belonging to Bro. William Eyles. The meeting was noted for the numbers who attended it, and for the stimulus it gave to the cause of reformation. Being quite removed from the sources and center of the work, the proclamation was new to large numbers who came a long distance to attend it. A. Campbell was present; also William Hayden, John Henry, Marcus Bosworth, E. B. Hubbard, J. J. Moss, and many others. There were many converts.
An incident occurred at this time which displays Mr. Campbell's character for discernment and candor. Aaron Pardee, a gentleman residing in the vicinity, an unbeliever in the gospel, attracted by Campbell's abilities as a reasoner, and won by his fairness in argument, resolved to obtain a private interview, and propose freely his difficulties. Mr. Campbell received him with such frankness that he opened his case at once, saying: "I discover, Mr. Campbell, you are well prepared in the argument and defenses of the Christian religion. I confess to you frankly there are some difficulties in my mind which prevent my believing the Bible, particularly the Old Testament." Mr. Campbell replied: "I acknowledge freely, Mr. Pardee, there are difficulties in the Bible—difficulties not easy to explain, and some, perhaps, which in our present state of information cannot be cleared up. But, my dear sir, when I consider the overwhelming testimony in their favor, so ample, complete, and satisfactory, I cannot resist the conviction of their divine origin. The field of prophetic inspiration is so varied and full, and the internal evidences so conclusive, that with all the difficulties, the preponderance of evidence is overwhelmingly in their favor." This reply, so fair and so manly, and so different from the pulpit denunciation of "skeptics," "infidels," etc., to which he had been accustomed, quite disarmed him, and led him to hear the truth and its evidence in a much more rational state of mind. Within a year he became fully satisfied of the truthfulness of the Holy Scriptures, and apprehending clearly their testimony to the claims of Jesus of Nazareth as the anointed Son of God, he was prepared to yield to him the obedience of his life. At a two days' meeting held there by Bro. A. B. Green and A. S. Hayden, Mr. Pardee and four others were baptized….
The congregation in Wadsworth has been a light to all the region round about. It is mother of churches, and mother of preachers. The following proclaimers of the gospel received their earliest aid and encouragement there, and some of them were brought forth almost exclusively by this church: A. B. Green, Wm. Moody, Holland Brown, Philander Green, B. F. Perky, and Pardee Butler. Bro. L. L. Carpenter, also, from the church in Norton, a daughter and dependency of Wadsworth, gained his guiding impulse there to his distinguished usefulness. (Hayden, 366-368)
Notice the year was 1829 when the church began at Wadsworth. One may wonder what happened that the church of Christ which now meets at Good Avenue was started in 1955 by a group of Christians from the Kenmore congregation. Tragically, the church of 1829 did not remain true to the old paths in at least two particulars—music in worship and the missionary society.
There was no missionary society in the early days of the Restoration Movement, and when some advocated the formation of one, several opposed stating that such a society’s structure and mission usurped the work of the church. In spite of objections, Alexander Campbell reversed his prior convictions and served as the first president of the newly formed American Christian Missionary Society in October 1849 and served as its president until his death in 1866. According to Buckeye Disciples:
On May 7, 1850, at a special gathering of the preaching and teaching brethren held at Hiram it was decided to take steps to organize a Western Reserve Missionary Society. A delegate convention was announced for September 5, at Wadsworth. At the Wadsworth meeting, attended by thirty delegates, it was decided to have a plan or assembly to promote the gospel. (Shaw, 163)
Tragically, this course led to the establishment of the Ohio State Missionary Society in 1852. In the “List of Delegates and Congregations Represented at the First Convention” is the name of Aaron Pardee representing the church of Wadsworth from Medina County (Shaw, 171). This is the same Aaron Pardee who was converted by Alexander Campbell. Many churches were swept away in the missionary society movement including the one in Wadsworth nearly 25 years after its establishment. Those who opposed the missionary society were forced to leave congregations who advocated this arrangement.
Perhaps no greater issue divided churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) than the introduction of instrumental music. As some writers have noted, one can overlook a missionary society but one cannot ignore the instrument playing in their ears as easily. In the early days of Alexander Campbell, there were no churches of Christ utilizing the instrument. In fact, among the earliest recorded dates of the introduction of the instrument include the melodeon in Midway, KY by L. L. Pinkerton in 1860. According to Buckeye Disciples, the use of instrumental music became a major issue in the latter part of the 1960s. Some attempt to claim there was really no opposition to introduction of the instrument which is clearly false or chide those who opposed it. Notice this contradictory statement within the same paragraph:
Isaac Errett, who had no objection to the use of instrumental music in worship, nevertheless counseled his brethren to abstain from its use rather than divide a church over it. Though the older Disciples in Ohio, many of them, went to their graves protesting against mechanical music, most of the churches gradually began accepting it. Largely due to the constructive leadership of Errett, Garfield, Robison, Moffett, et. al., the organ controversy had no disastrous effects in Ohio. A few isolated rural churches, however, that had never cooperated with the brethren anyway, became anti-organ churches. (Shaw, 223-224)
The fact remains that many faithful members of the church were forced out of buildings they had labored to build by those who supported the digression brought by the instrument. It is apparent from the statement in Buckeye Disciples that the congregation established in Wadsworth in 1829 was swept away both by the missionary society and the use of the instrument in worship. The first step away from the New Testament pattern came 25 years after the church’s establishment with the missionary society and the other step occurred some 30 years later with the instrument. Thankfully, the church returned to Wadsworth in 1955 and continues to oppose both of these innovations seeking to continue in “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16). We plead with others to follow the New Testament pattern in worship and lifestyle! While some may think this history is unique to Wadsworth, in reality the same scenario played out in many churches across the land from this period of time. The names and places may be different, but the results were mostly the same.
Hayden, Amos, S. Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio; with Biographical Sketches of the Principal Agents in Their Religious Movement. Cincinnati, OH: Chase & Hall, 1876.
Shaw, Henry K. Buckeye Disciples: A History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio—A Centennial Publication of the Ohio Christian Missionary Society 1852-1952. St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication, 1952.
Wilcox, Alanson, A History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Company, 1918.