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Christian Connexion or Connection

By Michael W. Campbell

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Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D., is North American Division Archives, Statistics, and Research director. Previously, he was professor of church history and systematic theology at Southwestern Adventist University. An ordained minister, he pastored in Colorado and Kansas. He is assistant editor of The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2013) and currently is co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Seventh-day Adventism. He also taught at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (2013-18) and recently wrote the Pocket Dictionary for Understanding Adventism (Pacific Press, 2020).

First Published: November 7, 2023

A restorationist or primitivist movement that emerged independently in several sections of North America about 1800. It is considered as the first truly indigenous American religious movement. The focus was a quest for apostolic purity. Restorationism believed that the Reformation begun in the sixteenth century would not be completed until the last vestiges of tradition were gone and replaced by a radical position of sola scriptura for all church beliefs and practices. The Restorationist movement coincided with the Second Great Awakening that peaked in the 1820s and 1830s.

The Christian Connexion was one of the branches of the broader Restorationist movement. The group in New England led by Elias Smith (1769-1846) and Abner Jones (1772-1841) was especially influential on early Adventism. They referred to themselves as “Christians” or the “Christian Connection” (or “Connexion”). Another important branch was known as the Stone-Campbell Movement that was led by Barton W. Stone (1772-1844) and Thomas (1763-1854) and Alexander Campbell (1788-1866). All began their ministries in Presbyterian churches. In 1801 Stone hosted the Cane Ridge camp meeting that espoused restorationist ideals. “In an attempt to make individual religious life more personal, active, and practical,” wrote Gerald Wheeler, “the Christian Connexion preached ‘gospel liberty,’ which meant that all believers must base their faith on what they themselves discovered to be the teachings of the Bible, and that their understanding would keep growing.”1

The most distinctive feature of Restorationism was fusing major aspects of existing Protestantism into its own unique synthesis. It blended Arminian theology (individual free will) from Methodism and adult baptism as well as congregational polity (they were fiercely anti-organizational and rejected any kind of church government beyond the local church) from the Baptists. In New England, drawing from the Presbyterian thought, they discouraged excessive emotional expressions and instead emphasized reasoning from the scriptures. They were suspicious about creeds and relied instead upon the Bible alone. Similarly, they rejected appeals to new divine revelation (as opposed to the Mormons). They also espoused a pacifist outlook, rejecting military service. Along with a contemporary British movement, known today as Christian Brethren, the Christian Connexion hoped to manifest Christian unity and overcome denominationalism. There does not appear to have been any direct connections between the two movements, however. Claiming to be non-denominational, they believed they had a correct understanding of the New Testament and insisted that others must agree with them in order to affiliate. In 1838, while Joshua V. Himes was a minister for the Christian Connexion, he described the purpose of the movement:

Their leading purposes, at first, appear to have been, not so much to establish any peculiar and distinctive doctrines, as to assert, for individuals and churches, more liberty and independence in relation to matters of faith and practice, to shake off the authority of human creeds and the shackles of prescribed modes and forms, to make the Bible their only guide, claiming the right for every man the right to be his own expositor of it, to judge, for himself, what are its doctrines and requirements, and in practice, to follow more strictly the simplicity of the apostles and primitive Christians.2

This democratic appeal to religion quickly took root within American Christianity. “The Bible-based Protestant Christianity that flourished so remarkably in the free atmosphere of the new United States never witnessed agreement on how the Scriptures should be put to use,” wrote Mark A. Noll. “The success of the Restorationist movement led by Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone highlighted strategies that rejected historical traditions of biblical interpretation.””3

The Christian Connexion was especially adept at harnessing the power of print. They developed numerous religious periodicals, including The Christian’s Magazine, Reviewer, and Religious Intelligencer (1805-1808), followed by the Herald of Gospel Liberty (1808-1817). An important aspect that united this movement was their hymnody. Elias Smith first published A Collection of Hymns, for the Use of Christians, that went through numerous editions in the early nineteenth-century.4 They tended to be egalitarian in their call to a return to New Testament Christianity and encouraged women to preach.

Several Millerite ministers, including Joshua V. Himes (1805-1895), Joseph Bates (1792-1872), and James White (1821-1881), all began their ministerial careers as ministers in the Christian Connexion movement. Himes wrote that every member had the right to be his or her own expositor of Scripture and that “diversity of sentiment is not a bar to church fellowship.”5 “The Christian Connexion way of thinking,” wrote George Knight, “became extremely important in early Seventh-day Adventism because two of its three founders had belonged to the Connexion—James White and Joseph Bates.”6 Ellen White’s family, while they were Millerites, attended the Casco Street Christian (Connexion) Church for a time while living in Portland, Maine. Ellen White’s understanding of the great controversy theme comes out of a Restorationist framework, and it is probable, that her understanding of conditionalism and annihilationism came from the Christian Connexion influence.7 Finally, as Gerald Wheeler has noted, a significant legacy of the Christian Connexion for Seventh-day Adventism is the fundamental conviction that truth is progressive.8

Sources

“Abner Jones.” In Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Gale in Context: Biography (accessed August 13, 2023).

Allen, C. Leonard and Richard T. Hughes, Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of the Churches of Christ. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University, 1988.

Allen, Leonard, and Richard T. Hughes, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Chrissutianto, Donny. “The State of the Dead and Its Relationship to the Sanctuary Doctrine in Seventh-day Adventist Theology (1844-1874): A Historical and Theological Study.” Ph.D. diss., Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 2018.

“Elias Smith.” In Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Gale in Context: Biography (accessed August 13, 2023).

Foster, D. A., et. al. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Fulop, Timothy Earl. “Elias Smith and the Quest for Gospel Liberty: Popular Religion and Democratic Radicalism in Early Nineteenth-Century New England.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1992.

Haloviak, Bert. “Some Great Connexions: Our Seventh-day Adventist Heritage from the Christian Church,” General Conference Archives, unpublished paper, May 1994.

Haloviak, Bert. “A Heritage of Freedom: The Christian Connection Roots to Seventh-day Adventism,” General Conference Archives, unpublished paper, November 1995.

Hatch, Nathan O. “The Christian Movement and the Demand for a Theology of the People.” The Journal of American History 67, no. 3 (December 1980): 545-567.

Himes, Joshua V. “Christian Connexion.” In The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by J. Newton Brown, 363-364. Battelboro, VT: Battleboro Typographic Company, 1838.

Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Hughes, Richard. T. Reviving the Ancient Faith. 2nd ed. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2008.

Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching. Exeter, NH: Norris & Sawyer for the author, 1807.

Jones, Abner. The Psalms of David, Rendered into English Verse of Various Measures, Divided According to their Musical Cadences, and Compriesed in Their Own Limit. New York: Mason Brothers, 1854, 2nd ed. 1860.

Jones, Abner. The Vision Made Plain: A Sermon on Election and Reprobation. Danville, VT: Ebenezer Eaton, 1809.

Jones, A. D. Memoir of Elder Abner Jones. By his son, A. D. Jones. Massachusetts: W. Crosby & Company, 1842.

Kenny, Michael G. The Perfect Law of Liberty: Elias Smith and the Providential History of America. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Knight, George R. “Christian Connexion.” In The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., edited by Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, 702-703. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2013.

Pedlar, James E. “Restoration Movement.” In Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States, edited by G. T. Kurian and M. A. Lamport, 4:1951-1952. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Smith, Elias. The Age of Enquiry: Christian’s Pocket Company and Daily Assistant: Calculated Also for the Benefit of the Rising Generation in Leading Them Into Truth. Exeter, NH: A. Brown, 1825.

Smith, Elias. The American Physician, and Family Assistant. Boston: B. True, 1832, 2nd ed. 1837.

Smith, Elias. Articles of Faith and Church Building. Portsmouth, NH: N.S. & W. Peirce, 1802.

Smith, Elias. The Clergyman’s Looking Glass: Being a History of the Birth, Life, and Death of Anti-Christ in Three Books. Portsmouth, NH: N. S. & W. Peirce, 1803.

Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels and Sufferings of Elias Smith. Vol. 1. Portsmouth, NH: Beck and Foster, 1816.

Smith, Elias. A New Testament Dictionary. Philadelphia: The author, 1812.

Smith, Elias. A Sermon on New Testament Baptism: In Distinction from All Others. Exeter, NH: Norris & Sawyer, 1807.

Smith, Elias. Sermons Containing an Illustration of the Prophecies to be Accomplished from the Present Time Until the New Heavens and Earth are Created, When All the Prophecies Will be Fulfilled. Exeter, NH: Norris & Sawyer, 1808.

Wheeler, Gerald. James White: Innovator and Overcomer. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2003.

Notes

  1. Gerald Wheeler, James White: Innovator and Overcomer (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2003), 29.

  2. Joshua V. Himes, “Christian Connexion,” in The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. J. Newton Brown (Battelboro, VT: Battleboro Typographic Company, 1838), 362-364. Accessed from https://webfiles.acu.edu/departments/Library/HR/restmov_nov11/www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/jvhimes/CC-ERK.HTM [8/13/23].

  3. Mark A. Noll, America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022), 246.

  4. Abner Jones, Church Melodies: A Collection of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: Adapted to Public and Social Worship, from Dr. Watts and Other Authors (New York: Moore & Payne, 1832, 1833); idem., Evening Melodies: A Collection of Sacred Music, Original and Selected, Adapted to Various Occasions of Social and Public Worship, to Which is Affixed an Appendix, Containing a New and Improved System of Elementary Instruction in the Art of Singing. 5th ed. enl. and improved (New York: J. S. Taylor and B. & S. Collins, 1834, 1836); idem., Harmonia Sacra: Being a Collection of Approved Psalm and Hymn Tunes: Comprising All the Different Metres Commonly Used in the Several Churches: Together with Anthems, Set Pieces and Choruses, Adapted to the Purposes of Public Worship and the Use of Schools: To Which is Prefixed, an Introduction to the Art and Practice of Psalmody (New York: Elam Bliss, 1831); idem., Melodies of the Church: A Collection of Psalms and Hymns Adapted to Publick and Social Worship (New York: H. C. Sleight, 1832); idem., The Melody of the Heart: Original and Selected Hymns for Social Devotion (Boston: Manning & Loring, 1804); Elias Smith, A Collection of Spiritual Songs for Spiritual Worshippers (Portsmouth, NH: Printed by Beck & Foster, 1815); idem., Hymns for the Use of Christians (Exeter, NH: Printed by Charles Norris, 1809); idem., The Melody of the Heart: Original and Selected Hymns for Social Devotion (Boston: Manning & Loring, 1804); idem., The Pilgrim’s Song: A Collection of Hymns (Portsmouth, NH: Sold by the Author, 1814); Elias Smith and Abner Jones, Hymns, Original and selected, for the Use of Christians (Boston: Manning and Loring, 1805, 1807, 1814, 1815, 1817).

  5. Joshua V. Himes, “Christian Connexion,” in The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. J. Newton Brown (Battelboro, VT: Battleboro Typographic Company, 1838), 362. Accessed from https://webfiles.acu.edu/departments/Library/HR/restmov_nov11/www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/jvhimes/CC-ERK.HTM [8/13/23].

  6. George R. Knight, “Christian Connexion,” in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., eds. Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2013), 702-703.

  7. For a discussion of this, see Donny Chrissutianto, “The State of the Dead and Its Relationship to the Sanctuary Doctrine in Seventh-day Adventist Theology (1844-1874): A Historical and Theological Study,” (Ph.D. diss., Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 2018).

  8. Gerald Wheeler, James White: Innovator and Overcomer (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2003), 30.

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Campbell, Michael W. "Christian Connexion or Connection." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 07, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=994E.

Campbell, Michael W. "Christian Connexion or Connection." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 07, 2023. Date of access April 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=994E.

Campbell, Michael W. (2023, November 07). Christian Connexion or Connection. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=994E.