Restoration Studies:


When the commitment was made to restore the religion of Christ to its original purity, men had to determine the name by which God’s people should be called.  At that time every religious groups identified itself by a name of its own choosing, such as Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.  While all thought of themselves as Christians, all preferred their human names to that of Christ.


In 1793 James O’Kelly and a band of dissident ministers broke away from the Methodist Church and the despotic leadership of bishop Francis Asbury.  At first O’Kelly’s group called themselves Republican Methodists. On Aug. 4, 1794, O’Kelly’s men met at the Old Lebanon Church in Surry County, Virginia to discuss the direction they would go.  Rice Haggard arose and stated:

“Brethren, this (Bible) is a sufficient rule of faith and practice.  By it we are told that the disciples were called Christians, and I move(d) that henceforth and forever the followers of Christ be known as Christians simply.”

The brethren proceeded to adopt “the name Christian to the exclusion of all party and sectarian names’ (W. E. McClenny, Life of Rev. James O’Kelly, p.  111).

In the opening years of the 19th century, Drs. Abner Jones and Elias Smith broke with the Baptists in New England and launched an independent movement to restore the original faith of the church.  Smith, in his autobiography notes:

When our number was some short of twenty, we agreed to consider ourselves a church of Christ, owning him as our only Master, Lord and Lawgiver, and we agreed to consider ourselves Christians, without the addition of any unscriptural name” (Elias Smith, The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels and Sufferings of Elias Smith, pp. 313-314).

About this same time (1804), a small handful of men broke with the Presbyterians in north-central Kentucky.  At first they organized themselves as the Springfield Presbytery.  In 1804, about a year after their beginning, the group met and dissolved their organization and pledged themselves to seek solid Biblical ground. They issued a document entitled, “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.”  Among their declarations was the following:
“We will that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God’s heritage, and his name one.”

Later, Barton Stone, leader of these brethren, tells us that it was Rice Haggard who taught them to take the Christian name to the exclusion of all others (John Rogers, Works of Barton W. Stone, p. 50).  They proceeded to publish a pamphlet written by Haggard entitled, An Address to the Different Religious Societies on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name.  Elias Smith, in 1809, published Haggard’s document in his Herald of Gospel Liberty which he issued from New England.

Modern historians have discovered that Haggard’s thoughts on the importance of the name Christian were not original to himself. He had evidently read and embraced the thoughts of a sermon published by Samuel Davies, a New Light Presbyterian, in his three volumes of Sermons on Important Subjects (see Colby D. Hall, Rice Haggard, the American Frontier Evangelist Who Revived the Name Christian, p. 51). Similar thoughts had previously been set forth by Bishop Grosvenor of Great Britain in 1728 (Lester McAlister and William Tucker, Journey in Faith, p. 56).

Rice Haggard offered six reasons why all disciples should wear the common name, Christian:


“Because it is significant...the word Christ means anointed.”


“Because the Scriptures favor that as the name most proper for the church. It was given by divine authority...”


“The Church of Christ is one body and one name is enough for the same body.”


“Because unscriptural names are spurious things, are divergent, having a tendency to disunite the body of Christ.”


“Because Christ and his church are...designated under the endearing relation of husband and wife. And there is a real propriety in a woman being called by the name of her husband...”


“The Church of Christ is...a spiritual house. Knowing that a house divided against itself cannot stand....” (Rice Haggard, An Address to the Different Religious Societies on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name, pp. 15-17).

It was Haggard’s view that denominational names arose only after men “had lost the spirit of the Christian religion and departed from the simplicity of the gospel...” Barton Stone in An Address to the Churches wrote:

We “have taken the Bible only as our standard. We have taken no party names by which to distinguish ourselves from others, but the general name Christian...”

“We have taken the name Christian, not because we considered ourselves more pure than others, but because we know it was the name first given to the disciples of Jesus by Divine Authority” (James Mathes, Works of Elder B. W.  Stone, vol. 1, pp. 158-159).
When Alexander Campbell launched his Christian Baptist journal, he declared:

“The Christian Baptist shall espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting the ancient sect, ‘called Christians first at Antioch’” (Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol II, p. ;50).
When the forces of Campbell and Stone came together in the Hill Street Church in Lexington, Kentucky, on Jan. 1, 1832, Racoon John Smith made the following exhortation:

“God has but one people on the earth.  He has given to them but one Book, and therein exhorts and commends them to be one family... Let us, then, my brethren, be no longer Campbellites or Stonites, New Lights or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights, but let us all come to the Bible, and to the Bible alone, as the only book in the world that can give us all the Light we need” (John August Williams, Life of Elder John Smith, pp. 452-454).
Enemies of the back to the Bible movement  delighted to insult the restoring brethren by calling them Campbellites.  Alexander Campbell, responding to the question: “What is Campbellism?” replied,
“It is a nickname of reproach invented and adopted by those whose views, feelings and desires are all sectarian–who cannot conceive of Christianity in any other light than an ism...if they slander us with the name and epithets which we disavow they must answer to him who judges righteously” (Christian Baptist, Vol. 5, p. 270).

The pioneers frequently preached on “The Christian Name.”  Elijah Goodwin made the following points in his lesson on the name:


“The word ‘Christian’ is derived from the term “Christ” which means “anointed.”  Since every Christian is a royal priests (I Pet. 2:5), and has an unction, i.e., anointing (I John 2:20) it is proper that we wear the name Christian.”


“Christian is a name of distinction, intended to distinguish those who wear it from all other people” (II Cor. 7:1).


“The term ‘Christian’ is intended to point out those who bear it as the property of Christ” (I Cor. 6:19-20).


“The name ‘Christian’ is a catholic (i.e., universal) name which is acceptable to all and should replace all human names.  Ask any disciple of any of the sects of Christiandom if he is a Christian, and he will proudly claim the title.  If he is a Methodist, ask him if he is a Baptist, and he would promptly deny it.”


“Christian is a patronymic is intended to refer to the founder of the church and the author of our holy religion” (Matt. 16:18).  “We glorify God in this name (Christian)” (I Pet. 4:16).


“The name Christian seems to have been given by divine authority.”  Adam Clarke says, “The word creematisai...which we translate ‘were called’ appoint, warn, or nominate by divine direction.” Philip Doddridge translates the passage, “and the disciples were by divine appointment first named Christians at Antioch” (The Family Expositor, p. 418).


“We glorify God in the name Christian (I Pet. 4:16).  Each time the
Hebrew called themselves Israelites, they produced the name of God (El) so each time we call ourselves Christian, we set forth the name of Christ.”


“The prophet predicted a day in Messiah’s age when Jehovah would “call his servants by another name” (Is. 65:15).  When the disciples were called Christian at Antioch, this was fulfilled (Acts 11:26).”

We are not alone in pleading for the general use of this glorious name:

Martin Luther said, “I pray you to leave my name alone, and call not yourselves Lutherans, but Christians....cease my dear friends to cling these party names and distinctions. Away with all; and let us call ourselves only Christians after him from whom our doctrine comes” (Stork, The Life of Luther, p. 289), as quoted by Leroy Brownlow in Why I am A Member of the Church of Christ, p. 33).
Charles Spurgeon, the greatest of all Baptists ministers said: “I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ’s name last forever” (Spurgeon’s Memorial Library, Vol. 1, ; 168).

John Wesley reported a dream he had in which he found himself at the gates of hell. Knocking at the gate he inquired if any of the various denominations were there calling by their sectarian names. “Yes” was the answer, a great many.  He then visited paradise and asked if any of those groups were there:
Wesleyans? No.  Roman Catholics? No. “Whom have you here then?” He asked in astonishment. We know nothing here of any of these names you have mentioned. “The only name of which we know anything here is ‘Christian’ was the reply” (J. P. Bennett, Centennial of Religious Journalism, p. 20).

Adam Clarke, noted Methodist commentator wrote, “When all return to the spirit of the gospel, they will probably resume the appellative Christian” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 5, Matthew-Acts, p. 773).

May God hasten the day when all of those who love Jesus will duly honor him by laying aside every human name and wearing with holy pride the sacred name  “Christian.” 


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