Winchester, Kentucky, is a small town of only 16,000 in a county (Clark) of 33,000. The city lies in the heart of the origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Within a sixty mile radius are Lexington, Cane Ridge, Mt. Sterling, Georgetown and other famous cities of the early years of that history. The story of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Winchester, KY illustrates the progress and process of division within the movement.
Division One, Baptist-Christian: In 1812 the Strode’s Station Church (formed in 1791), a member of the North District Association of Baptist Churches, moved 1.5 miles to a lot on Lexington Road in Winchester and became known as the “Friendship Church.” In 1821 it reported 125 members led by Elder Quisenberry. In 1822 Quisenberry was dismissed by a minority in the church because of his interest in the teachings of Barton W. Stone (since 1814) and Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law” (given in 1816). Though Quisenberry withdrew his leadership, the result was two congregations known as “Friendship Church” in Winchester–one (ultimately the First Baptist Chuch) belonging to the Licking Association and the other (ultimately the first Stone-Campbell congregation) a member of the North District Association. The Stone-Campbell group renamed themselves “Christian Church at Friendship” in 1825 and moved their membership to the Boone Association.
Division Two, Baptist-Christian: In 1828 Elder William Morton, the regular preacher for the Christian Church, preached the introductory sermon for the Boone Association when it met at Winchester. At this meeting a resolution was proposed to abolish the Association’s constitution and accept the Bible alone as their rule of faith and practice. In 1829, the Christian Church at Friendship, along with five other congregations, withdrew from the Boone Association. These churches were now independent and informally associated with the work of John “Racoon” Smith and Jacob Creath, Sr. Elder Morton himself baptized 300 persons in the first six months of 1828 through his intinerant evangelism. The Winchester “Christian Church at Friendship” was clearly situated within the orbit of Alexander Campbell’s influence though Stone held a camp meeting at Winchester in 1832. Campbell preached at Winchester in 1834 (and later in 1851). Aylette Rains served as a monthly preacher for the Christian Church from 1834-1861. Raines lost favor with the congregation due to his unionist proclivities when the church essentially wanted to stay neutral. The congregation erected a new building in 1845 and became known as the “Court Street Christian Church,” started a Sunday School in 1850 ,and by 1865 numbered 300.
Division Three, Black-White: Prior to the Civil War the Friendship Church and its descendent the Court Street Christian Church counted some blacks among their members. Sometime after the Civil War an African-American Christian Church appeared in Winchester (there were only four in Kentucky prior to the Civil War), one of nearly seventy African-American congregations organized from 1865-1900 in Kentucky. The Broadway Christian Church obtained property in 1868. Little is known about the origins of this particular congregation. The congregation never grew above 100 and still exists.
Division Four, Instrumental-Noninstrumental: In 1887 the organ was introduced into the public worship of the church at Winchester (the same year it was introduced in Georgetown and Hopkinsville, KY). Trouble had apparently been brewing for a while. This is the home church of James W. Harding (1823-1919) and his son James A. Harding (1848-1922). J. W.’s mother and grandmother had been members of the original Friendship Church and J. W. was baptized by Rains in 1839. Though a local buisnessman, he was an Elder at the church and an intinerant evangelist in the region. He was close friends with Moses Lard and J. W. McGarvey. While the organ was originally introduced into the Sunday School as a compromise, when it was moved into the public assembly this “drove out a number of the oldest, wisest and best members” (according to W. F. Neal). The organ remained in the church despite a petition signed by “forty-five conscientious members.” They began a new congregation in the home of J. W. Harding with fifteen people and was known, after the erection of a building in 1891, as the “Fairfax Street Church of Christ.” By 1898 the membership was 378. At the turn of the century, the Fairfax Street Church of Christ (400 members) and the Court Street Christian Church (600 members) were the largest churches in Winchester.
Division Five, Premillennial-Amillennial: The Fairfax Church employed their first regular minister in 1912, H. C. Shoulders. When he was dismissed in 1917, 240 members organized a new congregation on January 19, 1918 known as the Main Street Church of Christ. Apparently, generational and leadership issues (growing dissatisfaction with the Hardings) as well as millennialism were the center of the tension. The Fairfax Church was only left with 68 members. Though briefly reunited in 1926 after the deaths of some of the Hardings and some agreement about toning down the millennialism, fifteen people began to meet at the Fairfax building by the end of the year (the same number that started meeting in 1887). Eventually the Fairfax church grew to 100 and has hovered in that neighborhood ever since. The division between the two churches was acerbated and written in stone by the debate on premillennialism held in Winchester between Charles M. Neal and Foy E. Wallace, Jr., from January 2-7, 1933. The premillennial movement within Churches of Christ operated a Bible College at Winchester from 1949-1979.
Division Six, Disciples of Christ and Christian Church/Churces of Christ: The Court Street Christian Church, now known as the First Christian Church, moved into a new building in 1908 and employed a well-known minister by the name of J. H. MacNeill. He became a board member of the College of the Bible (now Lexington Theological Seminary), ultimately its chairman, and was a major player in the formation of the United Missionary Society. Between 1917-1918, at the time of the heresy trials at the College of the Bible, MacNeill began reporting his work through the Christian Evangelist rather than the Christian Standard. However, a few in his congregation opposed his College associations and he resigned in 1923 (4 accepted, 2 abstained and 20 refused the resignation). The First Christian Church was well-entrenched in the direction of the Disciples of Christ, the United Missionary Society, and “liberal” higher education. It would not be until 1973 when an independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ congregation would be planted in the city (Calvary Christian Church) and another followed known as the Christview Christian Church (though three congregations in the County were listed in the 1960 direction of Christian/Churches and Churches of Christ: Log Lick, Antioch, and Ruckersville with Forest Grove added in 1965).
Division Seven, Institutional-Noninstitutional: Throughout the 1950s Churches of Christ nationwide debated whether churches should support Colleges, children’s homes, and sponsored missionaries. For one side (institutionalists) it was an expedient means, for the other it was the machinery of denominationalism (noninstitutionalists). In 1964 a small group in the Fairfax Church of Christ withdrew after several years of discussion when the church decided to support orphans homes out of their church treasury rather than simply providing an optional “non-worship activity” box for such contributions in the foyer. This group ultimately planted a new congregation in Winchester in 1966.
Winchester, KY, is Exhibit A for the history of division within the Stone-Campbell Movement. Within the city limits of this small town in the heart of Stone-Campbell history, are two Christian Churches, three Churches of Christ, and two Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. They number about 1600 out of a popuation of 16,000 people.