No. 11 February 2002
The authoritative source
early churches in New Jersey
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Eglise ad Entiste Bethlehem,
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Fifth Baptist, Newark
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of the month
New Jersey's Campbellite churches
Google search for "Campbellite church" turns up several hundred
references, mostly to biographical data on 19th century figures, including
President Garfield; the note is often simply that "[person] attended
the Campbellite church in [town]." Many of those churches lie in
the south and in the Ohio Valley; I didn't trace them all, but none appeared
to specify a New Jersey church. Nevertheless,
there were more than a handful of Campbellite churches in the state, and
the history of their formation sheds some interesting light on a significant
movement in the country's cultural history.
The period from 1800 through
about 1840 was marked by more or less continuous revivals, largely led
by Presbyterian ministers in Appalachia, but often in concert with Baptist
and Methodist clergy. The Cane Ridge revival of 1801 in Kentucky is much
the most famous, but in many ways atypical. The religious fervor created
by the excitement of those revivals often led to a clash of interpretations
of the best (or only) way to salvation, as well as to many disputes about
baptism (infant or adult) and the sabbath (Saturday or Sunday). The upshot
was that the first half of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence
of a number of religious sects, usually as schisms and separations from
one of the mainstream denominations, but occasionally entirely new bodies
arose, like the Shakers and the Mormons.
Several of the breakaway groups
from Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist congregations coalesced by 1811
in western Pennsylvania under the leadership of a Presbyterian minister,
Thomas Campbell, and his son Alexander, who sought a union of believers
where the simple gospel rather than creeds
would be central. They intended to get away from denominational lines
and a church hierarchy, and called it the Christian church, but many congregations
became known as Campbellite churches, very likely because of the prominence
of Alexander Campbell's writing and debating skills. Adherents flocked
to his message, and the Christian church expanded rapidly; by 1832 there
were hundreds of congregations from New England to North Carolina. The
denomination continued to grow strongly after the Civil War, especially
in the west and midwest.
The term, "Campbellite
church," was a popular one, never an official name, and both Campbells
denied any intention to found a church. But that they did. Both the Disciples
of Christ and the Church of Christ trace their roots to the Christian
church begun by the Campbells.
I have identified six surviving Campbellite (Christian)
churches in the state, although I suspect
there are many more: in Locktown, Little York, Frenchtown (all Hunterdon),
Hopewell Mountain (Somerset), Finesville and Johnsonburg (Warren). Two
of the churches are deteriorating, two are residences, one hosts a evangelical
sect, and the another houses a Presbyterian congregation. The mother church
for the four in Hunterdon and Somerset is active as a United Church of
Christ congregation, but its nineteenth century building
burned in 1952.
At one time there were Christian churches in Baleville (Sussex), Irvington
(Essex), and Bridgeboro (Burlington). Some of the Christian congregations
merged in the 1930s with the Congregational church, and there is a suggestion
that Congregational churches in Jersey City, Bound Brook and Westfield
began as Christian churches.
churches, from top to bottom: Little
York Christian church, founded in 1842 and erected in 1844, is in
use as a barn. The Frenchtown Christian
church, founded in 1846 and built in 1861 , now serves as a residence.
Locktown's Christian church, founded
in 1829 and this, the second church on the site, built in 1864; it now
serves a Presbyterian congregation. The Christian church of Johnsonburg,
it's steeple sitting to the side, is unoccupied; it was founded is uncertain,
but this building was erected in 1846; The Hopewell Mountain Christian
church, founded in 1844 and build in 1847; it was rebuilt in 1895 and
held services into the 1960s; it now serves as a residence. The Finesville
Christian church (not pictured) was a union church, shared with a Lutheran
and Methodist congregation; it was organized in 1842 and the present structure
erected in 1877.