Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), author, editor, educator, and major figure within the Restoration movement, was born in County Antrim, Ireland. His father Thomas, a preacher and schoolteacher, emigrated to America and soon became involved in a number of squabbles with Pennsylvania Presbyterians over his insistence on Christian unity and cooperation. Alexander, after two years at the University of Glasgow where he was greatly influenced by the writings of Locke and the Scottish Common Sense philosophers, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1809. Ordained by his father’s Washington Christian Association in 1812, he aligned with the Baptists.
Known for his debating skills on issues of free will and baptism by immersion, his emerging views on the eclipse of Old Testament Mosaic Law by the New Testament covenant of grace foreshadowed coming troubles with his more Calvinistic Baptist brethren in the mid-1820s. In 1823 Campbell founded a journal, The Christian Baptist, which emphasized the superior nature of the Early Church as opposed to the state of the churches of his time. A convinced postmillennialist, Campbell believed that secular and religious progress testified to the coming of Christ’s Kingdom. In 1830 he began The Millennial Harbinger to broadcast his range of views, serving as its editor until his death. Throughout, Campbell continued to debate various denominational representatives and kept up a rigorous speaking schedule.
In 1832 Campbell and his reform-minded followers forged a union with a growing group of “Christian” churches in the Ohio Valley under the leadership of Barton W. Stone. In 1840 Campbell founded Bethany College in present-day West Virginia and served as its President until his death. At that time in 1866, Campbell’s “Christian” following numbered about 200,000 which ultimately separated into three related, but separate branches of the Restoration movement: The Disciples of Christ, the Christian Churches, and the Churches of Christ. Today, these three bodies and their worldwide branches number over 5,000,000 adherents.
For further reading see Richard J. Cherok, Debating for God: Alexander Campbell’s Challenge to Skepticism in Antebellum America (Abilene Christian, 2008); Richard Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Illinois, 1988).