The Church in History: The Church in America by Dr. T.Y. Hiter

Among the preachers at Cane Ridge were three who, though they had not previously worked together (and may not have even met), had similar visions for what the Church ought to be, especially on the frontier. The three were Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, both of whom had begun as Presbyterian ministers who had converted to Baptists, and “Raccoon” John Smith, a Baptist by both faith and ordination. All three believed that (1) there ought to be a movement to “restore” First Century Christian practice in worship, (2) that the Baptist ideals of adult baptism and congregational independence fit well with such a restoration scheme, and (3) that the Presbyterian ideal of keeping a strong intellectual component in Church education and preparation would aid in this restoration. As they worked together at Cane Ridge, the three came to share a mutual pledge: to call themselves nothing but “Christians”, to add nothing to, and take nothing away from the words of the Bible in worship, and, (3) to work to restore First Century Christian worship. They would have been deeply offended if anyone had suggested they were founding a new Church, themselves, for they rejected all forms of denominationalism. Yet, one of the things to come out of Cane Ridge was a movement that eventually became the Disciples of Christ, the Church of Christ, and the Christian Church.

After the Cane Ridge meetings finally wound down, all three were eventually expelled from the Baptist movement (“Campbellite” remains a sort of insult tossed about by Baptists yet, today), and all three pursued their missions independently, but in frequent association. All three, to a certain extent, grew his own movement by converting whole Churches at once. “Raccoon” John Smith was especially active in western Kentucky and Tennessee, and was perhaps the best known for his offering himself to small, independent Baptist Churches, gaining their confidence (he was said to be a most persuasive preacher), and then converting the whole assembly at once. It is said of him that he “baptized 3,000 souls and capsized 5,000 Baptists” in his career. Many of Smith’s Churches eventually found their way into what we today call “Church of Christ”. Campbell lived and worked mostly in Ohio and Virginia, and many of his Churches today call themselves “Disciples of Christ”, while Stone worked mostly in the Bluegrass area of Kentucky and Tennessee. His followers called themselves (and still do) simply “Christians”. The three were not, until well into the 20th Century, thought of as separate “denominations”, and many do not so think of themselves today. They saw themselves, as their founders saw them, as “restoring” the First Century Church and putting an end to denominations. Cane Ridge and the Second Great Awakening is where it started.