Division in the Stone-Campbell Movement: A Case Study

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.

20 Responses to “Division in the Stone-Campbell Movement: A Case Study”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Sad! Have any of these congregations ever attempted in work towards unity? Do these congregations recognize each other as Christians?


  2.   WesWoodell Says:

    I doubt it, Rex.

    Also, I’d be suspicious of anyone affiliated with something called a Licking Association.

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Oh my, Wes, that is too funny! 🙂

  4.   Gardner Says:

    I lived in Mt. Sterling, just east of Winchester, as a young man in the late 1970’s and still have many friends in the area, so your analysis was especially interesting to me. An aged disciple there named Henry Ficklin studied under J.W. McGarvey. He said that as a student at the College of the Bible in Lexington his companions would discuss who they would go hear preach on Sunday night – Moses Lard or J.W. McGarvey? The consensus was that if Lard was on his “high horse,” no one could touch him. However, if not, McGarvey would be more profitable. So, they usually went to hear McGarvey. He had a lot of anecdotes about McGarvey’s visits in various churches in the area. Ficklin worked primarily in Montgomery and Bath counties, just east of Winchester from the 1930’s into the 1970’s.

    I have no doubt that many divisions in Winchester (and really it’s just one little town of many that could be given) have been unnecessary. The bitterness that accompanies the division is especially to be lamented. However, when some, because of their changing perspectives or social positions, want to impose new practices on others who cannot conscientiously accept them, the latter sometimes have no choice but to separate themselves from what violates their conscience. They must do so lovingly and without a condemning spirit (which all too often hasn’t been the case) but they cannot participate in what they believe to be presumptuous. Sometimes, just as in the first century (Rom. 16:17), we still have to separate ourselves, at least in some ways, from those that cause division. That’s a sad fact but it’s been true throughout history.

    Thanks as always and God bless,

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:


    Is there a difference between something I believe in my conscience is wrong but will not cost me my salvation and that which is wrong and by participating in it will jeopardize my salvation? I am not trying to defend those “because of their changing perspective or social positions” impoe practices that result in division. They certainly are responsible for division. But I believe equally responsibility lies with those who leave just because something is going on that they disagree with and believe is wrong.

    There are many things I am not in full agreement with among local churches that I have been a part of (some of which I felt were scripturally wrong) but I did not leave because those issues were not salvation issues. If every last little thing we disagree with or believe is wrong warrants division, how could we have unity with anyone besides ourselves?

    I believe it is a fair question to ask of those who impose change whether their proposed change is worth the cost of division. Growing up in the CoC, I alway heard that the instrumentalist were wrong because they forced division by adding instruments at the cost of division. But Perhaps there would have been no division if the acapella side would have taken the position of ‘disagreement without division’ meaning that even if the instrument is added, we will not let it divide us (if my memory is correct, we could learn a lot from T.B. Lairmore at this point). So I think it is an equally fair question to ask the acapella side if their “either/or” demand (either no instruments at all or division) is worth the cost of division.

    Basically, I believe both sides are equally responsible for division and continue to be equally responsible for the continued lack of unity. Neither what the progressive CoC (adding instruments) does nor what the conservative CoC (staunchly opposing instruments) does will effect my unity with either group of Christians.

    I should note as a disclaimer, that my in-laws are members of a Independent Christian Church (ICC) and the last two congregations I have served have had members who were raised in the ICC but attended a CoC since there was no local ICC. One thing I have learned from them is that they question why the acapella side feels it has the right to make an “either/or” demand on a non-salvation issue. I think it is a legit question. I know some will say that instrumental music is a salvation issue but historically speaking (if I am correct), instrumental music was not regarded as a salvation issue in the CoC in the late 1800’s or even in 1904. It only became a salvation issue after the bully pulpit told the people it was such.

    Any ways, take this just as a little dialogue in brotherly love.

    Grace and peace,


  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Interesting personal reflections, Gardner. Thanks for the tidbits on history.

    One of James A. Harding’s favorite texts in his discussions over innovations was Romans 16:17-18. It was not the innovation as much as the spirit of division that he though should mark the innovators. His own experience at Winchester contributed to his personal attitude toward those who brought in the organ over objections of some consciences, as it would any of us.

    No one, of course, should worship contrary to their conscience. What I would hope is that we could maintain a common fellowship/unity that transcends our differences of conscience if we recognize that some of our differences to rise to the level of rending the body of Christ. We can worship in separate congregations and even in different ways (instrument, treasury issues, etc.) without undermining a sense of family loved by God. Our differences might mean that for conscience’s sake we worship in separate assemblies but it would not necessarily entail we would thereby anathematize each other. My hope is for a unity that transcends these differences through fellowship but does not deny each other the right and need to act according to our consciences.

  7.   nick gill Says:

    Fellowship is broken by the elevation of “getting it right on Sunday” to a position of primary importance.

    If we are separate on Sunday AM, but together in the soup kitchens and the Habitat houses and the levees and the shelters and the workplace prayer meetings Monday-Saturday…

    I don’t know. We’ve got sort of the opposite problem that Paul had in Corinth — there everyone was worshipping together but there was no unity. Now, we’re worshipping all over the place, and there is little unity.

    Paul’s dream — the dream of God — seems to be for us to be together all the time — but only in a togetherness generated by love and peace and the unity of the Spirit.

  8.   rich constant Says:

    i was cleaning my comp sat. morn. and broke the c.p.u.
    don’t ask…
    you know the story of the peverbial block of wood and the guy that was going to make it better….

    go ahead laugh

    but if the church is gods block of wood

    we better all repent and not just be an objective observer of the carved up mess
    that has come about through ingorance or arogance and FIX IT.
    AS LONG as i can keep from cleaning em.

    anyway got to find a new c.p.u.
    for an old mother board

    at l.a. public libiary right now

    blessings all

    rich constant

  9.   Josh Jeffery Says:

    So, no divisions because of located preachers, sunday schools or multiple communion cups?

  10.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Not in Winchester, KY. 🙂 Although, the First Christian Church had a discussion and some disruption over multiple cups in the early 20th century. But it did not result in a split.

    The Fairfax Church of Christ finally accepted located preachers, but only after some debate in the Gospel Advocate about it. They were a “mutual edification” church for almost 25 years.

  11.   Josh Jeffery Says:

    It is interesting to me that an issue such as cups, which would manifest itself in the worship, didn’t cause a split, but that eschatology did cause a split, even though it wouldn’t manifest itself in the worship directly (unless preached on, I suppose). Obviously there was more going on there since there was issue with the Harding’s leadership, but I still find that quite interesting.


  12.   Gardner Says:

    I think that you and Nick are right that matters of conscience may have to divide us as far as some aspects of our assembling (even though that should be avoided as much as possible), though we may be able to work together in other areas and circumstances. There is a sense in which we have fellowship in these blogs in spite of our differences as we struggle to sort out issues that have historically been thorns in our sides and pray for each other as we read of each other’s personal challenges. Though I disagreed strongly with some of LaGard Smith’s labels, I think his basic point in “Who is my Brother?” was right – that there are various types of fellowship that are affected in different ways by our diverging points of view.

  13.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I thought LaGard Smith’s labels were more of a product of his own doctrinal construct being forced into scripture but that is my take.


  14.   rich constant Says:

    My hope is for a unity that transcends these differences through fellowship but does not deny each other the right and need to act according to our consciences

    very well said, john mark


  15.   Jeffrey Wade Says:

    Having graduated from Southeastern Christian College in 1978, I can assure you the college continued on until fall semester 1979. Also, it still exists today in the form of a college without walls known as Southeastern Christian Education Corporation and helps to educate many students each year. Also, the college began as Kentucky Bible College in Louisville, later moving to Winchester in the 1950’s after purchasing the old Kentucky Wesleyan College campus.

    Any division is from man, not God. For additional insight, you might want to read The Millenial Harbiner and The Word and Work. Both are available on-line and go back over 100 years.

  16.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Jeffrey. 1974 was a typo. I intended to type 1979. I have visited the buildings of the old and was aware of the SCEC. Thanks for filling in some details.

    MH is available on Google Books and Word and Work is available on Hans Rollmann’s website. I have read much of both and I appreciate your interest.

    Yes, all division is human in origin, not divine. And we are all human.

  17.   Roger Says:


    I am the Associate Minister at First Christian in Winchester. This is hilarious. Thanks for your thoughtful treatment.

    I believe our ecumenical relations are a little more charitable today. I think it is possible to have unity of spirit and enjoy the organic diversity of separate congregations.

    Grace and Peace,

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