“From all that appears within these costly domes and chapels”: Alexander Campbell’s Prescription for Christian Space

James Dupey

James Dupey is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Arizona State University.

Cite this Article

James Dupey,  "'From all that appears within these costly domes and chapels': Alexander Campbell’s Prescription for Christian Space," Journal of Southern Religion (18) (2016): jsreligion.org/vol18/dupey.

Open-access license

This work is licensed CC-BY. You are encouraged to make free use of this publication.
Creative Commons License

“From all that appears within these costly domes and chapels – from all that is seen or heard in them, one could never learn that ‘God is spirit, and that they who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.’”[1]

– Alexander Campbell

In nineteenth-century America, a multitude of competing versions of Christianity populated the American landscape. Each version was meant to prescribe a blueprint for good society.[2] Many of these Christian forms, like Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians, existed before this tumultuous period and were forced to alter components of their prescription to remain relevant in a changing world.[3] Others, most notably Mormons, Adventists, and Campbellites, were something new. Christian groups in this period argued, divided, and established new denominations on all sorts of grounds. Conflict, division, and conversion were based on everything from infant baptism to whether or not sexual relations could be anything but sinful. Out of the many possible reasons for hostility, an interesting and multifaceted point of conflict was Christian space.[4] The organization of Christian space, from the chapels of urban Presbyterians to the temples of the upstart Mormons, was a significant component in a given groups’ prescription for Christian living.

Space mattered, especially for new Christian groups in the midst of a period of ever-increasing Christianization.[5] As nascent groups such as the Campbellites shifted from dissenting sect to legitimate denomination, Christian space was an increasingly important piece of the transition.[6] In his recent work on religious liberty and the production of law in the trans-Appalachian west, Jeff Perry argues that local meetinghouses were frequently intense sites of ecumenical conflict.[7] Perry analyzes church property claims and conflicts between Baptists in Kentucky and congregants from the Stone-Campbell movement, demonstrating how congregants on both sides identified ownership of a space as corresponding to the legitimacy of their claims for “authentic” or “true” Christianity. For groups like the Campbellites, possessing Christian space was a practical piece of the sect-to-denomination transition. As private homes were increasingly too small and as access to other denominational buildings was restricted, the Campbellites began to build.

Alexander Campbell’s approach to Christian space was consistent with his distinct prescription for authentic Christianity. Through his monthly publication, The Millennial Harbinger, which he produced from 1830 through the 1860s, Campbell articulated a version of Christianity that existed in the tension between individual Christian discernment and the ecclesiastic structure that he believed created and sustained the opportunity for such discernment. Campbell believed that all people were equally capable of reading and understanding the divine mandates given in the Bible, and that if all Christians would approach the word of God with reason, then factionalism would be destroyed and Christian utopia would reign. He claimed that Christian liberty could be found only by applying the apostles’ functional order given in the New Testament and practiced by the first-century church. Campbell understood this first-century system to operate based on the premise of equal access through systematic order. He applied this systematic and rationalizing order to all things, from church governance to church music—and to church space, that is, the meetinghouse.

The humble appearance of Campbellite meetinghouses and Campbell’s early penchant for preaching wherever he could be heard conceals the importance that well-ordered space came to have in Campbell’s recipe for Christian community.[8] His recipe was premised on a tenuous balance of liberty and order and addressed issues such as governance, worship, and space. He argued that the first-century church had no hierarchy and that each congregation should be governed on a congregational level by a group of elders chosen by the congregants. Regarding Christian worship, he believed that musical worship should be done “a cappella,” since all people had a voice but instruments required financial means and training. And he proposed that the sacred interaction between worshippers and God could happen only in a space that was designed appropriately, where Christian worship was free from distraction and liberated from vanity.[9] Alexander Campbell’s understanding of properly ordered space was based upon the freedom of the person to focus on the experience of and participation in Christian practice—liberty facilitated by the proper order—and that Christian space was a visual statement of theology.

    “Troubled Geographies”

Although Campbellites were a part of the American Restoration Movement, it is a mistake to characterize them as a distinctly American movement.[10] In fact, Campbell’s movement was characteristically trans-Atlantic and his experience growing up in Northern Ireland unquestionably shaped his theology, including his thinking about Christian space. Campbell believed the United States was a divinely orchestrated transition point in a historic progression toward Christian utopia, largely because he believed the American political structure was in line with the type of ordered society that he found in the New Testament. But his understanding of space was built upon the same ideological premises and the same influences that shaped his perception and approach to Christian society more broadly: the experience of his upbringing in Northern Ireland, the example of his father, and the Scottish common sense realism that gave philosophical substance to his thoughts about Christian society.

Campbell was born in Northern Ireland to devout Christian parents. His father, Thomas Campbell, was a Seceder Presbyterian minister and his mother, Jane Campbell, was the only daughter of French Huguenots who fled to Scotland and then to Ireland. The Campbells lived in Ireland during an intense time of civil and religious unrest.[11] Dissent was more conspicuous and, at times, more acceptable in Northern Ireland than in other places, but Catholics and Protestant Dissenters were still second-class citizens in a region controlled by England and the Anglican Church. At the same time, Campbell lived in a region of Ireland that was more evenly balanced between Anglicans, Catholics, and Dissenters than most others and consequently one that offered an increasing opportunity for the growth and strength of public opinion.[12]

In 1798 Irish rebels unsuccessfully attempted to follow the path of the Americans and the French to establish their own republic, casting off the rule of the British. The contentious nature of civil society made Ireland a dangerous place to live; loyalties were potentially perilous. Campbell was ten years old during the Irish rebellion. He grew up in the maelstrom of late eighteenth-century Irish socio-politics and the inextricably connected civic and religious motivations for armed conflict. But his father, Thomas, refused to be involved in any way, in support of neither the rebellion nor the crown and English parliament. Campbell developed the perspective that Catholics were loyal to the Pope, Anglicans were loyal to the British crown and Parliament, and Presbyterians were loyal to their own church-state conceptions of “good society,” commonly a distinct brand of Scottish or Presbyterian Nationalism. Further, he considered the stately edifices of these established denominations to be representations of their desires and attempts to consolidate religious and civil power under a single degenerate roof.

As a member of the Seceders, a group that separated from the Presbyterian Church after Presbyterians gained political power in Scotland, Campbell was critical of the power exercised by religious bodies, power that more frequently seemed to be interested in self-perpetuation rather than universal Christian unity.[13] His criticism of the designs for power employed by Anglicans, Catholics, the Church of Scotland, and even his own dissenting Presbyterian sect, became centered on an effort to eradicate party loyalty. Campbell’s biographer, Robert Richardson, explains that Campbell “found the Catholics, numerous in his own country, for the most part an ignorant, priest-ridden, superstitious people,” but that it was

when he came to consider the history of the Presbyterian Church, with its numerous divisions, in one of which he was himself a member, that he was enabled to form a clearer conception of the power and prevalency of that party spirit which it became afterward the labor of his life to oppose and overthrow.[14]

It should not be surprising that Campbell held this perspective and that he viewed the United States as a place where new opportunities for unity might prevail. In Ireland, like many places in Europe, land ownership was a critical determinant of power. The political topography of nineteenth-century Ireland was tied to the distribution of land and, as the authors of Troubled Geographies have argued, “the way that space interacts with religion . . . is central to an understanding of the ways in which the island has developed.”[15] Campbell grew up in a place where religious affiliation determined power and where marginalized groups simultaneously yearned for the transfer of political and religious power—a transfer that was precisely associated with the control of space. In contrast, Campbell yearned for a place where church was not synonymous with state and where “Christian” could be extracted from national ambitions for power. Similarly, Campbell argued that Christian space could and should be wrested from the ambitions of power and party affiliation and be designed for the sole purpose of providing the proper order for authentic Christianity.

The unity first and Bible-only perspective that he inherited from his minister father and that he understood through the lens of Scottish rationalism complemented Campbell’s aversion to church-state power as well as his perspective about Christian space. His reverence for the Bible, a reverence that placed the Bible above church hierarchy, above extra-biblical creeds and confessions, and certainly above state authority, remained central to his theology throughout his life. Campbell thought that reasonable people would read this foundational document and discover the same fundamental Christian principles or “revelations” that he had. He believed that all had been revealed through “the word,” subsequently ending any new revelation. His embrace of Scottish philosophy caused him to propose egalitarian access to divine revelation, that is the Bible, but it did not cause him to suggest that the church should also be egalitarian.[16] He believed that rational people would see that hierarchical structures as well as democratic ecclesiology were equally extra-biblical and tyrannical.

Campbell believed that Christian structure was designed by God to prevent tyranny of all kinds. His reading of the Bible led him to see Christian order as being based around principles of functionality, a perfect balance of liberty and order. To Campbell, a church that was controlled by an elite group of men, the clergy, was bound to pervert the gospel to serve their self-interest. However, a church where every one had an equal say, that is a democratic organization, was bound to splinter or would simply fail to make basic decisions. In 1839, Campbell wrote,

We want discipline; yes, brethren, we want discipline. The fierce democracy of the Baptist system, and the prouder aristocracy of Presbyterianism; and the still more supercilious despotism of high school Episcopalianism, are neither singly nor collectively the eldership nor episcopacy of Christ’s monarchy. A community where all are judges – where all are heads, is a monster; and that community where all are body and no head is also a monster . . . We neither plead for the unanimity of the whole body nor for a lean majority in cases of discipline; not indeed for making the whole church a Court of Oyer and Terminer to decide such matters.[17]

He believed that Christianity had to be ordered in a manner that was effectively functional to help usher in the millennium. In the same way that observation revealed a functional order in the natural world, Campbell believed rational observation revealed functional order in ecclesiastic matters.

Campbell condemned the governance and worship practices of groups such as Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Mormons, and Presbyterians, and he vehemently criticized the space they claimed was for God. Campbell articulated an inverse understanding of Christian space that explained the types of space that God could not, or would not, inhabit, or more often, space that did not represent Christianity accurately. In other words, Campbell does not typically make a positive argument (in the philosophical sense) for Christian space, instead he articulates a negative argument: this is what Christian space is not. For Campbell Christian space was not transcendent, it was simply the ordering of a given area to be functional for Christian activities. Beyond that, Campbell articulated a clear notion of “un-sacred” for space that was expressly designed for Christian purposes but violated what Campbell believed were explicit biblical principles. He criticized Catholics and Protestants alike for their ostentatious places of worship. Interestingly, he also criticized those who invested little in their meetinghouse. He believed that a place of worship should be built, “so that all who visit . . . may feel perfectly at home.”[18] According to Campbell, a meetinghouse should be built to function appropriately. The important issue was facilitating the activity that took place inside, not drawing attention to the façade of the entryway, the splendor of the pulpit, or the value of the respective pew. Campbell believed that a church building should be ordered (designed) in such a way as to allow anyone the freedom (comfort and access) to worship God without distraction.

    Houses of Splendor

Architectural historian Marilyn Chiat argues that, similarly to the diverse nature of Christianity in the United States, “One can travel throughout the United States and view a stylistic panorama of religious buildings more diverse than anywhere else in the world.”[19] Campbell was dissatisfied with all of them. He largely criticized two interconnected issues, a desire for legitimacy and a propensity for vanity, and he spared no denomination from his criticism of their spatial theology. Though he found the Quakers’ buildings to be the most acceptable. He argued that, “No greater satire could be inscribed on marble against the religion of Jesus Christ, than are many of the houses called churches.”[20] Of the many groups he criticized, the Baptists were the most similar, in a number of ways, to Campbell’s followers. In fact, after leaving Presbyterianism, the Campbells had spent several years under a Baptist association and had only recently separated from them when Alexander began to publish The Harbinger in 1830. From the beginning however, there were several areas of contention between Alexander and the Baptists, including Campbell’s condemnation of Baptist meetinghouses. He argued:

There is no difference between the Baptists and other sets in this particular. Opulent communities amongst them have stately edifices, with lofty steeples and ponderous bells. There are some Baptist cathedrals on which more than 40,000 dollars have been expended for the sake of proving that the Baptists would be as respectable as any other sect if they had it in their power.[21]

In Campbell’s mind, a meetinghouse that was intended to make a statement about comparative Christian legitimacy was a meetinghouse meant to serve men and not God. Campbell believed that meetinghouses should be plain and inexpensive and that it was deplorable to spend more money than was absolutely necessary. He argued that such spending indicated a “spirit or temper repugnant to our profession,” an aspiration that betrayed the purpose of a building as well as the avocation of the church.[22] He wrote to his followers that God “has promised to dwell with the man who is of ‘an humble and contrite spirit, and who trembles at his word.’”[23] Campbell did not believe that God would dwell in a house that was not humbly built for the purposes of Christian practice. In his eyes, there was no difference between personal vanity and congregational vanity; both were sin.

Episcopalian cathedrals were typically more extravagant than the meetinghouses of the Baptists, and Campbell’s criticism of them was particularly biting. In his discussion of
St. Paul’s Episcopal congregation in New York, a well-known example, Campbell concludes, “if Jesus Christ spoke the truth, Christianity it is not.”[24] His critique of St. Paul’s is particularly valuable because he meticulously detailed how the construction and ordering of the building were meant to honor man and not God. He begins, as with the Baptist meetinghouse, with money, stating, “Thousands of dollars are squandered in all the pomp and pageantry of the pride of life.”[25] But it was more than the mere spending of money that bothered him. He was concerned with what the money might otherwise be used for. Campbell believed that such great amounts of money should be used to clothe, feed, and educate the poor.[26] To a man who was determined, convicted, from the moment he committed himself to becoming a minister to serve without being paid, it was confounding that anyone claiming to follow the Jesus found in the New Testament would spend twenty-two thousand dollars on a pulpit and pews. He argued that these people did not present their worship to the God of the Bible but to “that god who delights in a splendid house – in the ornaments of crimson and scarlet – in gold and silver – in the melodies of organs, and the sounds of unbelieving and unsanctified choristers . . .”[27] Campbell stressed to his readers that buildings like these were not built to God and nothing about God could be learned inside them, and learning, in Campbell’s opinion, was a central function, if not the central function, of the meetinghouse.

Campbell’s analysis of the internal design of St. Paul’s revealed his intense concentration on the importance of order for determining function. Looking at the inside of the cathedral, Campbell explained how the design worked against any notion of Christianity being revealed. He argued that every aspect of the design corresponds to its function—promoting vanity. He began with the priest “enthroned under his canopy of ecclesiastic state, kneels or stands on the pride of life.”[28] For Campbell, the priest was the epitome of vanity in this ordered space. He had already pointed out that constructing the pulpit in St. Paul’s cost several thousand dollars and it is in this space that the Priest stands, high above his congregants, wearing clothes that indicate his special position. Next, Campbell referred to the wealthier congregants, calling them the “prime ministers of [the priest’s] dominions.” He illustrated that the space was ordered so that wealthier members sat closer to the pulpit in lavish pews and the further removed from the pulpit that a congregant sits, the lower status they had. He said that as they “recede from the pulpit, [they] equally recede from the golden sanctity of their superiors.”[29] He took time to point out that even the footstools provided for kneeling were ordered according to the hierarchical design of the room, with wealthier congregants kneeling on cushioned footstools and the “poor servants of the rich bend[ing] their knees on the hard oak, in token of their rank in Christ’s kingdom.”[30] He concluded, “Thus the god of this world, usurps and occupies the very houses professedly built for those who worship through him who was born in a stable.”[31]

A key term in considering Campbell’s analysis of St. Paul’s is “fashion.” He argued that congregations who built lavish meetinghouses were primarily concerned with fashion. As historian Mark Noll has explained, Christian denominations during the Second Great Awakening were forced “to construct revolutionary forms of Christianity or decline.”[32] Christian denominations, especially the established ones, were forced to consider the multiplying factionalism among Christians and, at the same time, the increased Christianization of the American populace. Campbell believed that the construction of these “fashionable” meetinghouses was an attempt to impress men into adherence rather than convince them of the value of the gospel message. He argued that a simple analysis of how such spaces were ordered revealed that they functioned primarily to glorify the men who built them and ruled in them. To Campbell, Baptists built impressive meetinghouses to prove that they were as legitimate as the old-line denominations and Episcopalians built ostentatious chapels to attest to their own continued greatness. Campbell wrote, “This pride of life, these lusts of the flesh, these lusts of the eye are at war with all that is in heaven, and all that descends from heaven is at war with them.”[33] Using the statue of Paul on the outside of St. Paul’s as a talking-piece, he argued that neither Paul nor Peter could ever feel at home in any Protestant meetinghouses of the day.

Campbell was not above poking fun at how ridiculous he thought some of these church-building practices were. In an essay he wrote in 1836, he utilized satire to condemn the denomination of his childhood. The Duane Street Presbyterian Church had just completed auctioning pews in their new chapel and Campbell’s sarcastic ridicule is worth quoting at length:

We are right glad to see so much spirit and competition in the matter of supporting handsomely religion. St. Paul and the Apostles did not indeed set up their pews at auction, and we doubt whether, if they had, they would have any premiums at all to be compared with those of Duane street Church. Besides, in those days the early Christians were not acquainted with the secret of selling at auction, or building elegant churches. The system of putting up the best seats in the House of the Lord to the highest bidder, is like the discovery of steam, a modern invention and characteristic of the civilization of the nineteenth century. Duane street Presbyterian Church is now decidedly the most fashionable and intellectual church in the city. Dr. Breckenridge is a superior man, of true piety and great eloquence. Trinity, St. Paul’s, and even our own favorite, St. Thomas, must now step behind. The impulse given to religion in Duane street, will we hope be carried into every church in the city. Let there be a general awakening – let the inside of every church be turned out – and let the comforts of Duane street be instituted and copied. There is nothing in the Scriptures that discountenances the system of going to Heaven in a genteel and comfortable way.[34]

This essay helps to illustrate how little Campbell thought of the “fashions” of the day. Dr. Breckenridge was a well-known and highly respected Presbyterian minister, who, like Campbell, was a friend of prominent people such as Henry Clay.[35] Breckenridge’s education at Princeton and his relative social importance were valuable points of emphasis for Campbell, as they allowed him to satirize members of high society in a way that revealed how little elite education and wealth mattered in the Christian context.[36] Dr. Breckenridge and the Duane St. Church helped Campbell to inform his readers how easily wealth and learning could delude people into praising themselves rather than practicing what he believed to be true Christian principles. Yet, Campbell’s criticism of wrongly-ordered space was not exclusively directed toward houses of splendor and notable chapels like St. Paul’s and the Duane Street Church.

    Houses of Squalor

Campbell frequently travelled throughout the United States on preaching tours and in 1839, after a tour through the South, he felt compelled to compose an essay to explain that the dilapidated shanties being used for meetinghouses were equally egregious slights against the Christian faith. He explained, “Those splendid, rich, and gorgeous things, called Temples and Cathedrals, fitted up in all the vanity and pride of life, are not a keener satire on the meek and lowly Jesus, than are these dilapidated, cheerless, cold, and ruined places, called Christian meetinghouses.”[37] It was just as important for meetinghouses to be suitably functional, i.e. “neat, clean, comfortable, convenient for winter and summer,” as it was for them to free from displays of vanity.[38] Campbell argued that a meetinghouse which was “open, leaky, tottering, windowless, [and] stoveless,” illustrated a lack of Christian dedication.[39] This “incongruity,” he wrote, “staggers my weak faith in the sincerity, spirituality, and devotion of those who cheerfully acquiesce in such accommodations.”[40]

Although Campbell’s criticism was directed at the distressed appearance and construction of these meetinghouses, the framework of this criticism centered, again, on what a space could reveal about the makeup of the congregation. Campbell was primarily referring to meetinghouses in Virginia, where he was familiar with the people who made up these congregations. His concern was that many of these congregants were relatively wealthy and despite living in what Campbell called “princely dwellings,” they had not seen it necessary or “prudent” to build serviceable meetinghouses. He juxtaposed them with the Israelite king, David, saying “it seems never to have occurred to them, as it did to David, how unseemly it is for them to dwell in houses of cedar while the ark of God sits under the ragged curtains of an old tent.”[41] Campbell argued, “ . . . that our houses of worship ought to be as comfortable places of meeting, to say the least, as the private dwellings of the average class that frequents them.”[42] This is an important point of distinction for understanding what Campbell was advocating. Even though many congregants in Virginia had substantial means, there were at least as many, though probably significantly more, who were not. This point helps to show that Campbell’s conceptualization of properly ordered space was organized in the same ideological vein as his broader prescription: proper order provides common access. For Campbell it was important that “all who visit . . . may feel perfectly at home, and, without distraction or inconvenience, attend upon the stated means of illumination and sanctification.”[43]

David Edwin Harrell, Jr. has argued that class was a significant factor in the simple designs of Campbellite meetinghouses. Harrell also points out that Campbellites, like so many Americans in this period, embraced the Christian gospel about the dangers of wealth while at the same time praising capitalistic success. Class was certainly a major factor in the ordering of Campbellite meetinghouses, especially in the South, where southern churches remained committed to what Harrell calls a “frontier lower class orientation” even after other Campbellite factions moved away from this perspective. But Campbell’s critique of meetinghouses in the South is particularly aimed at those members of the church who were not lower class, those Campbellites who had the means to build an appropriate meetinghouse and had not done so. Interpreting Campbell’s prescription merely on the basis of class analysis is a mistake.[44] In a number of ways, class dictated what was possible for Campbellite meetinghouses, but Campbell was not concerned solely with the vanity and ostentation of Christian space that other Americans who were critical of wealth would have agreed with. He also was troubled by the practical and theological implications of a shanty since a shanty could not facilitate the kind of comfort or durability necessary for proper Christian practice.[45]

In January 1834, Campbell wrote, “As the disciples are now engaging in the erection of houses of worship in various portions of the United States, it may not be unseasonable to offer a few remarks on this business.”[46] This sentence is informative in two important ways. First, it reveals that Campbell’s following had grown large enough to feel as though they had a need for buildings of their own, and, second, that they had begun building them. Before this essay, Campbell had written only once on the topic of “building houses for Christian worship.” After this essay, Campbell wrote at least nine more essays specifically on this topic.[47] It was important to him that his followers build meetinghouses that represented “authentic” Christianity. He pointed out that even pagans built temples to their gods and that “Jews could erect synagogues in every city and village,” but “some disciples are as fearful of spending money in this way as of committing sacrilege.”[48]

It should not be surprising that people who followed Campbell might be worried about how they spent their money; Campbell himself was quite preoccupied by it. It was well known that Campbell had never been willing to be paid for his ministry and that all of his efforts as a farmer and printer were meant to support him so the church would not have to do so. In an essay from 1831, while discussing what a group of Christians should do if they are small in number and have no place to meet, Campbell argued that they should meet in their homes and that

The simplicity, humility, and brotherly kindness which appear in these small assemblies, and the more rapid progress which the disciples make in christian knowledge, faith, and love, from more of the being called upon to take part in the christian worship, are far greater auxiliaries to the spread of the gospel, more powerful arguments for the truth, and recommendations of the excellency of the christian institution, than an immense pile of stone, or brick, or wood, with the ornaments of architecture, called a church or a meeting house, filled with an assembly of carnal worshippers, in all the pomp and pageantry of the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, waiting upon a Parson, all of whom, save one consecrated tongue, are dumb in the christian worship.[49]

His followers knew that, according to Campbell, it was better to meet in a private home than to participate in Christian practice in a building that glorified men. At the same time, basic practical considerations, such as having a large enough home, maintaining consistent meeting times, or avoiding inclement weather, made building meetinghouses indispensable to this group as they transitioned from being a sect to becoming a denomination.

    “Under the present political influences . . .”

Campbell did not believe that a meetinghouse was a New Testament mandate. In fact, he spent a significant amount of time preaching from underneath a tree, in a house, or any building that was available. This practice was well known in the United States and it was one that Campbell had experienced in Scotland and in Ireland. His father was involved in the “Evangelical Society” a loosely connected missionary society that sent missionaries to preach in the open air and he was influenced early on by other preachers who used the space available to them rather than the space that was designated as a denominational building.[50] The Stone-Campbell movement more broadly was directly linked to the notable open-air “camp meeting” at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, which historian Paul K. Conkin has called “America’s Pentecost.” What is often forgotten is that the Cane Ridge event happened during a centuries old Scotch-Irish Presbyterian communion festival, a tradition that was probably not familiar to many who eventually arrived.[51] Campbell was familiar with the communion festival and he practiced open-air preaching, but he opposed the emotionalism and disorder of the revivals as well as the individualized “conversion experience” that energized these meetings. Campbell, significantly, preferred the order of a public debate to the chaos of a revival meeting, and even when he used the shade of tree, a public building, or a private home to deliver a sermon, it was an ordered event.[52]

Campbell eventually concluded that meetinghouses were necessary for this growing body of “Disciples,” stating that:

Under the present political influences which govern society, it is necessary to have synagogues or meeting houses large enough for the accommodation of the disciples, who can meet in any one place . . . But for the sake of the humble founder of this our religion, and the author of our hope before God, let not the walls of the house, not any thing in it, reproach our profession.[53]

What Campbell meant by “under the present political influences” potentially refers to several things. Campbell expected to be heard in the meetinghouses of a variety of denominations, a practice that was relatively common in some sense among Presbyterian sects, Congregationalists, and Independents in Ireland. In the United States Campbell was usually denied this access—a fact that he frequently used to illustrate the fearful censoring of the established clergy. He pointed out that meetinghouses were especially important “because, without them, in many places, we cannot be heard at all. We are often forbidden to stand on the consecrated ground of sectarian orthodoxy; and are, therefore, under greater obligations to provide ways and means for the free and full proclamation of the word.”[54] Campbell argued that if Christians did not speak in places where people could listen, the gospel would not be proclaimed.

This phrase, “political influences which govern society,” might also refer to the legal battle between Disciples and Baptists in the South over who owned a given meetinghouse. When a given number of Baptist congregants in several Kentucky churches “converted” to “Campbellite” ways of thinking, the meetinghouse became a contested space. As historian Jeff Perry has argued, Alexander Campbell’s “religious insurgency” produced heated litigation over church property.[55] For Campbell, taking property that was not lawfully or ethically yours was a violent act that found no apologetic in scripture. However, when a congregation decided, collectively, to alter its perspective, he believed the property of the congregation remained in the possession of the congregants, regardless of any denominational affiliation, confession, or any other extra-biblical line of demarcation. Campbell’s effectiveness among Baptists in the South was so great that Baptist leaders began to refer to Campbell and his followers as an epidemic and several Baptist associations made concerted efforts to expel Campbellites from their ranks in an effort to maintain congregants and church property.

Campbell’s combative approach only increased the disdain that Presbyterians and Baptists, the two groups he had been closely associated with, held for him and his followers. By the early 1830s, when his movement had grown substantially, Campbell was too well known–and too disliked by Baptist leaders–to procure a hearing in Baptist churches. Campbell’s essay, then, refers to the practical necessity of having a space to gather for Christian activity that would not be censored by extra-biblical sources of power and that would be designed in accordance with Campbell’s understanding of proper order. Campbellites were not only claiming property rights in local courts; they also were starting to build meetinghouses of their own.

By 1834, access to space had become so important that Campbell argued, “Places of meeting are just as necessary as paper and ink for the spread of truth.”[56] This is a revealing and significant statement for understanding the centrality of meetinghouses to Campbell’s version of evangelicalism. Campbell was a remarkably prolific writer and publisher. And, as historian Gary Holloway has put it, “the Disciples did not have Bishops, but they did have editors.”[57] Campbell’s publication was the dominant periodical for the Stone-Campbell movement and through it he constructed and advertised his conceptualization of Christian society. Without it, Holloway suggests, “the three large Churches that came from the movement – the Disciples of Christ, the Christian Churches, and the Churches of Christ – would not exist.”[58] Holloway details the astonishing bulk of Campbell’s publications, revealing that, among other lesser-known and infrequent works, Campbell published a monthly periodical for forty-one years, he published his own translation of the Bible, many of his debates with other religious leaders went through his press, and he compiled and published his own hymnal.[59] Campbell had an understanding of the value of print for spreading his prescription for Christianity. For him to equate meetinghouses with print was the most significant comparison he could make and it calls attention to the other enduring “American made” movement that erupted in this period – the Latter-day Saints and their founder Joseph Smith.

    Building Zion

Gordon Wood has argued that the early nineteenth century was “ideally suited” for the birth and growth of Mormonism, calling the timing of the Book of Mormon’s publication in 1830, “providential.”[60] He argues that the Book of Mormon offered a “tangible document” and “concrete material evidence” to validate the prophesying of Joseph Smith at a time when Americans were reading and understanding more, and wanting “proof” of authenticity, but also at a time when scientific rationalism had yet to reach the masses. In compelling ways, the same could be said for Campbell and his followers. He began his major publishing effort, the Millennial Harbinger, in 1830, after publishing his Christian Baptist for seven years, and it became the most widely read and authoritative publication in the Stone-Campbell movement. Although Campbell and Smith offered very different prescriptive narratives (Smith offered a new revelation and Campbell suggested that new revelations ended with the canonization of the Bible), they both claimed legitimacy through print, they evangelized to similar groups of Americans (predominately the Ohio River Valley and its periphery), and they were simultaneously preoccupied with organizing Christian space.[61]

Campbell was one of the first critics of Smith’s work, writing a scathing and detailed review of the book of Mormon in the Harbinger in 1831. He argued that Smith’s work was a scattershot attempt at appealing to a large number of people, alleging that “Smith . . . wrote . . . in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years.”[62] Despite the heavy criticisms of religious leaders like Campbell and the frequent condemnation of Mormonism by society more broadly, Smith and his Book of Mormon compelled thousands to convert to this new faith, including many Campbellites, and to follow the prescription for good society that Smith claimed had been revealed to him—a prescription that was significantly concerned with the ordering of Christian space.

Campbell and Smith became concerned with Christian space around the same time, the early 1830s, and each had a significant influence on the way space was organized by their followers. The temples and communities built by the Latter-day Saints across the West reflect Smith’s design for the Nauvoo and Kirtland city plats and temples, and the southern faction of Campbellites, which eventually came to be known more formally as the Churches of Christ, adhered closely to Campbell’s functional design for meetinghouses up through much of the twentieth century. A comparison of these two prescriptions for Christian space reveals distinct differences between these two upstart movements and highlights the importance of Christian space for advertising a group’s values.

Like the Campbellites, a “house of worship” was not a primary concern for Mormons before 1830. Up to that point, they met in homes or in buildings that were available to them. As Hamilton Mark has argued, before Smith’s revelation in December of 1830, in which Smith said it was revealed that Jesus would “suddenly come to my temple,” Mormons had neither owned nor built a place to worship.[63] But as Mormon converts increased in number, it became necessary to prescribe the spatial contours of Christian gatherings. Like Campbell, Smith was specific about how and why space should be ordered. Where Campbell organized Christian space with functionality in mind, Smith organized Christian space to unite his followers around a common cause, “building Zion” —an eschatological piece of Smith’s particular type of millennialism—as well to drum up support and as impressive physical evidence of the “validity of Mormonism.”[64] Physical presentation was vitally important to Smith. Mormon temples and meetinghouses, like the Mormon city, were meant to reveal something beyond the physical, something explicitly sacred. While the city plats were intended to convey holy unity and purpose, temples stood as a “physical representation of God’s earthly presence” much like the Cathedrals and chapels of which Campbell was so critical.[65] These spaces were meant to appear different from the mundane, different from the ordinary.

For Mormons, the temple was understood to be “sacred space,” a space set apart, where access to the divine was for Latter-day Saints only and a space were divine revelation could and did happen. Campbell’s prescription for space, however, was premised on equal access to the divine and the belief that a building could not be designed to be sacred.[66] Even though Christian practice in each ordered space was similar, Mormons and Campbellites used their meetinghouses for everything from community meetings, to schools, for dining rooms, and for worship or devotional needs, Mormon space—from the meetinghouse to the temple—was intended to be different, to be exclusive, to be sacred. It is worthwhile to note that the Shakers, another religious group that entered the Ohio River Valley and the South at the same time that Campbell’s movement was growing in this region as well. The Shakers were also the other religious group that siphoned away the more radical Campbellites. Most notably the Shakers practiced a distinct ordering of Christian space that came to fruition in roughly the same period (1820s–1840s) and one that separated them from the rest of society.[67] Unlike these chronologically and geographically parallel movements, Campbell was concerned with how Christian space distinguished his movement from other professed Christians, not necessarily the world, and his prescription for this space was fundamentally organized around the convenience a building offered for Christian practice and the durability of its construction: its

    Campbell’s Prescription for a Proper Meetinghouse

As the Stone-Campbell movement shifted from sect to denomination, and converts found themselves capable and desirous of building their own meetinghouses, it became necessary for Campbell to explain his prescription for how meetinghouses should be ordered. The point, he argued, “is the mode or style in which Christian synagogues should be erected.”[69] Campbell argued that “a Christian meeting-house ought to be humble, commodious, and free from all the splendor of this vain and sinful world,” explaining in detail both what a meetinghouse should not be but also offering a prescription for what a meetinghouse should be.[70] While most of Campbell’s discussion of spatial order was concerned with spaces that he believed were inconsistent with authentic Christian devotion, Campbell also had a clear idea of the kind of space that was best suited for genuine Christian practice. Campbell argued that there should only be two foundational considerations for constructing a space for Christian practice, “convenience and durability.”[71] Durability was important for plainly practical reasons, but what Campbell understood by “convenience” reveals how his ordering of space was in-line with the rest of his thinking.

Campbell’s 1834 prescription began with the claim that a meetinghouse built according to “reason and religion” would be something that has never been seen. Certainly, such a building existed, but perhaps Campbell meant that while he believed other Christian buildings were built for the impractical flattery of human vanity, such as the Episcopalians and even the Baptists, or tyrannical democracy, like the Shakers or Quakers, his conceptualization was designed to be functional in a way that equalized the experience of proper Christian practice for all attendees by holding on to proper order. In his 1839 article, he argued that meetinghouses were “indispensible” in times of “external ease” to fulfill the Christian obligation of proclaiming a “free and full” Christianity to the world, a deliberate implication of the censored and empty proclamations of the “the denominations.”[72]

Campbell’s description of a proper meetinghouse is highly detailed, calling for a building that is “a one story house, without steeple, galleries, or pulpit,” and even suggesting the slope of the floor: “The floor should be an inclined plane, descending from the entrance one foot in every eight or ten.”[73] The slope would ensure that the people leading the worship service could be seen and heard effectively from any vantage point in the building. Campbell suggested, “To those acquainted with the philosophy of sound it would be unnecessary to say any thing on the superior ease of speaking and of hearing in a house so fashioned . . .”[74] He argued that “more than half the expenses of erecting a meeting house would be saved on this plan, inasmuch as the fashionable columns, galleries, and pulpits of this age constitute the chief items of expense,” and concluded, “These arrangements are not only rational, and in accordance with the common sense of mankind, but would contribute much to the edification and comfort of the congregation.”[75] He believed that the most important design attributes were the ones that made a building useful.

Surprisingly perhaps, given his distaste for the hierarchical order of other chapels, Campbell also prescribes a seating arrangement for the auditorium. At the front of the auditorium, “opposite to the entrance,” he places seats for the elders to sit, and then divides the pews that face forward between “members of the church” and “the attending public,” providing that they should be “equally well accommodated.”[76] But Campbell in no way believed that his division of the auditorium resembled what he perceived to be the hierarchical or self-aggrandizing order of a Chapel like Duane Street or St. Paul’s. However, it is also important to point out that Campbell did not argue for equal status among attendants; rather, he advocated equal access. The elders who sat at the front were chosen by the congregation to lead the group in Christian thought and worship and therefore were given a status and place different from the congregants in the pews. Nevertheless, their placement at the front, according to Campbell, was still intended to be a practical measure since they would be the men leading the service and, he was quick to point out, they would be seated at the lowest place in the building—a space, he suggested, for humble service rather than pretentious authority. Furthermore, the division between members and the public was intended to be accommodating. He believed that a separation between “members” and “auditors” would help to avoid confusion and would allow guests the freedom to watch and listen without feeling forced to participate.

Historian Jeanne Halgren Kilde’s work on Christian architecture helps to place Campbell’s concern with being “seen and heard” as well as his concern with the “convenience of the space” within the genealogical context of Christian architecture. His prescription for Christian space was clearly a descendant of the divided aesthetic that emerged in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, but within this long narrative, Campbell’s prescription is situated chronologically with the emergence of the evangelical camp meeting and the architectural response to it. It has already been noted that Campbell despised the emotionalism of revival meetings, but he also disliked their potential for ineffectiveness. Campbell frequently preached in open spaces, but these meetings were far more intimate than camp meetings like Cane Ridge. The camp meeting was problematic for Campbell both because of its emotional appeal to listeners and because of its potential for disorder. Kilde explains that revivalist preachers depended on their ability to project their sermons to potentially thousands of listeners in open air spaces that were often inhospitable acoustically. Because so many preachers had difficulty projecting, interest grew in constructing buildings that met these acoustic and organizational needs. Kilde argues that evangelical antiformalism led to the camp meeting but the problems of the camp meeting led to a particular kind of evangelical Christian architecture: Christian space that attempted to solve the problem of camp-meeting acoustics while embracing what Kilde calls the central component of evangelical worship – its social or communal nature.[77]

It is obvious that Campbell’s space shared the long held antiformalist perspective regarding ornamentation and that his conception of Christian space included the evangelical organizational principles that were a reaction to the practical problems of revivals, but Campbell’s space was not ordered with a concern for the kind of “social interaction and fellowship” that was a significant component of the designs for evangelical space. Campbell embraced the evangelical importance of the individual, but he did not embrace “experiential” Christianity and he did not believe Christian space should be designed to showcase the experience of individuals to the rest of the congregation. Somewhat paradoxically then, Campbell embraced the formalist, forward-facing design for church buildings while embracing an antiformalist stance on ornamentation and an antiformalist approach regarding Christian practice and individual access to the divine. He believed that his prescription for Christian space was ordered to facilitate the most equitable access to authentic Christian practice.


In the religiously tumultuous years from the American Revolution to the Civil War, religious buildings, such as chapels, sanctuaries, meetinghouses, and temples, were a means of establishing and projecting identity for American Christians. In the same way that their “religion” made them “set-apart” and different from other “religions,” they understood their religious space to set them apart from other spaces.[78] Campbell’s prescription for what a Christian meetinghouse was is indicative of his approach to authentic Christianity. Further, it provides an entry point into analyzing the material culture of his followers, particularly the southern faction of Campbellites who remained rigidly committed to this architectural orthodoxy even when Campbell himself became more flexible in this regard. Campbell’s concern was that meetinghouses should be useful for spreading Christianity. In the same way that Campbell believed Christianity ought to be unencumbered from extra-biblical doctrine, he believed that Christian space should be unencumbered from the trappings of vanity or the indignity of laziness. He was concerned with what the building was intended to accomplish. For Campbell, any space that housed proper Christian practice, from a field to a community building, was sacralized in the moment of its use; in every other moment is was nothing more than wood, paint, mortar, and nails.

As the rapid growth of his movement paralleled the completion of disestablishment in the United States and, at the same time, corresponded with an antiformalist architectural development that was largely a response to the problems of camp meetings, Campbell started to formulate a prescription for Christian space. He criticized gaudy meetinghouses, extravagant spending, and spatially ordered vanity as anything but authentic Christian space. Even though Episcopalians, Baptists, Latter-day Saints and all other Christian denominations had reasons for ordering Christian space the way they did, Campbell’s idiosyncratic reading of scripture, combined with his experience in Ireland, Scotland, and the United States, compelled him to see these buildings as improper at best and sinful at worst. For Campbell, a meetinghouse could never be essentially or inherently sacred, but it certainly could be made profane. He made the claim that if a meetinghouse was designed to house congregants comfortably – to avoid confusion over who sat where and what was required of them, to have no adornments that would distract from the purposes of the assembly, and, perhaps most of all, was not built to make a statement of grandeur or status – then it would liberate the congregation to participate freely and equally in Christian practice. A building that was too lavishly designed and decorated was more about celebrating human glory and greatness, while too little investment suggested a lack of concern for a proper place of worship. Campbell believed that only when the proper structure was provided would Christians be free to practice authentic Christianity.

[1] Alexander Campbell, “Turning out the Apostles,” The Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 1 (Jan., 1834), 17.

[2] “Good society,” in this context, is meant to articulate that each of these competing forms had a prescriptive cosmology that articulated a manner of right-living for more than just the individual.

[3] Mark Noll argues that established denominations were forced “to construct revolutionary forms of Christianity or decline.” See Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[4] The term “Christian space” is intended to refer directly to the material space used by Christians, which includes everything from the fields of Cane Ridge, Kentucky to the grand chapels and cathedrals of the largest urban areas.

[5] On this point, it is important to note that the rapid growth and relative homogeneity of Christianity in America and the frequent and sometimes large-scale cooperation of Christian groups, obscures the reality that many of these new Christian groups identified themselves primarily against other Christian denominations rather than against non-Christian cosmologies. It is a mistake to view this period as a cosmological homogenization. Several denominations emerged that looked strikingly different than the Protestantism of the past and even those that did look similar to established denominations often stressed their differences, sometimes denying any substantive connection to old-line Protestantism.

[6] There are two important points of distinction that need to be made here: 1. The term “Campbellite” was not embraced by followers of Campbell and recent scholarship has embraced “Stone-Campbell” movement over other possibilities such as Disciples of Christ, Christians, or Churches of Christ. I prefer to use the term Campbellite for two reasons. First, while Stone and Campbell brought relatively similar numbers to the Stone-Campbell union, it was Campbell who dominated the movement thereafter, and, especially in terms of the Southern faction of this movement, the Churches of Christ, it was Campbell’s prescription that dominated their thinking. Although Richard Hughes has argued that Churches of Christ were formed by the combination of Stone’s apocalyptic perspective, Hughes admits that by the official separation of the movement at the turn of the twentieth century Stone’s premillennialism was replaced by Campbell’s rationalistic postmillennialism and that the Churches of Christ remain committed to Campbell’s radical sectarianism. Richard Hughes, Nathan O. Hatch, David Edwin Harrell, Jr;, and Douglas Foster, “The Apocalyptic Origins of the Churches of Christ and the Triumph of Modernism,” in American Origins of the Churches of Christ: Three Essays on Restoration History (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2000) Second, particularly as it relates to Christian space, it was the Churches of Christ in the South who substantially embraced this piece of Campbell’s prescription. 2. The second distinction that needs to be made is that Campbell and his followers detested the term “denomination.” In significant ways, their hatred of “denominationalism” kept them from doing the organizational and identifiable things that other groups did and has made studying them challenging. Despite this challenge, David Edwin Harrell Jr., among others, has shown that this amorphous group did follow the well-trodden path from sect to denomination. David Edwin Harrell Jr., Quest for a Christian America, 1800–1865: A Social History of the Disciples of Christ, Vol. 1 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003).

[7] Jeffrey Perry, “‘Courts of Conscience’: Local Law, the Baptists, and Church Schism in Kentucky, 1780–1840," Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 84, no. 1 (March 2015), 124–158.

[8] I have specifically chosen not to use the term “sacred space” because, for Campbell, no space was inherently sacred. Therefore, saying he was concerned with sacred space is misleading and somewhat incorrect. Campbell’s concern was how the ordering of space did or did not allow for access to the divine and the experience of the sacred.

[9] This distinction did not preclude private homes, already existing and accessible buildings, or the fields of the early movement. In fact, the useful components of private homes, community buildings, and even fields are evident in Campbell’s descriptions of a proper meetinghouse.

[10] Nathan Hatch has argued that “Whatever Alexander Campbell may have brought to America of Scottish and Presbyterian heritage, he found much of it convenient to discard for an explicit American theology” (Hughes et al., American Origins, 18). This idea disregards the significant impact of growing up in Ireland during a period of attempted Revolution and fierce political-religious unrest, the lifelong influence of his Scottish father, the impression made on him by the Scottish philosophers in Glasgow, and finally, the example provided by James and Robert Haldane and the Independents in Scotland.

[11] The most recent narrative of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 is Daniel Gahan, The People’s Rising: Wexford, 1798, (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1995).

[12] See Ultan Gillen, “Ascendancy Ireland, 1660–1800,” in The Princeton History of Modern Ireland, ed. Richard Bourke and Ian McBride (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[13] Unlike the official Church of England, which was Anglican, the official Church of Scotland was the Presbyterian Church. These terms are relatively synonymous, though it is important to distinguish between various Presbyterian sects and the Church of Scotland which they opposed.

[14] Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell: Embracing a View of the Origin, Progress, and Principles of the Religious Reformation which he Advocated, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: R.W. Carroll and Co., 1872), 49–50.

The best biography on Campbell is still Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, a two-volume tome, over one thousand pages long, that was first published in 1868, only two years after Campbell died. Since then, much of what has been written about Campbell has continued Richardson’s hagiographic tone, often functioning as an apologetic for Campbell’s eschatology, and is usually based on Richardson’s work.

[15] Ian N. Gregory, Niall A. Cunningham, C.D. Lloyd, Ian G. Shuttleworth, and Paul S. Eli, Troubled Geographies: A Spatial History of Religion and Society in Northern Ireland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 7.

[16] This point is, to some degree, at the center of a major source of contention in the historiography of American Christianity in this period. Jon Butler affirms that the emphasis on “the rights of ordinary persons to make decisions for themselves in matters of religious belief and church government” echoed “the ideal of President Andrew Jackson, which emphasized the right of ordinary people to make crucial decisions for themselves in matters of political belief and civil government.” Yet Butler also points out that despite the egalitarian rhetoric of Christians like the Disciples, this period is characterized by a move toward greater order and increased homogeneity rather than a move toward a more heterogeneous democracy. Nathan Hatch, on the other hand, argues that evangelicals like the Disciples of Christ were part of a relatively egalitarian movement in this period, a period, he claims, that did more to Christianize America, and simultaneously democratize America, than anything before it or since. The tension between these two perspectives serves as a framework for the construction of much of this essay. An important qualification, perhaps, is what is meant by “democratic.” Seth Cotlar argues that the radical democracy which was so prevalent before the Revolution, was ultimately squelched by the unification of Federalists and Democrats against Jacobinism in the election of 1800 and thereafter. The democracy that emerged was strikingly similar to the republican ideology that Campbell used shortly thereafter to construct a “primitive” Christianity. Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life: A Short History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) 203; Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); and Seth Cotlar, Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011).

[17] Alexander Campbell, “Incidents On a Tour of the South, No, VII.,” The Millennial Harbinger 10, no. 7 (July, 1839), 310.

[18] Alexander Campbell, “Incidents On a tour to the South, No. II.,” The Millennial Harbinger 10, no. 2 (February, 1839), 56.

[19] Marilyn Chiat, America’s Religious Architecture: Sacred Places for Every Community, (John Wiley and Sons: New York, 1997), 4.

[20] Alexander Campbell, “Building Houses,” The Millennial Harbinger 3, no. 5 (May, 1832), 229.

[21] Ibid. Campbell’s critique is interesting because it expresses a similar idea to what is present in contemporary analyses of evangelical groups in the Second Great Awakening - groups that begin as relatively democratic or even egalitarian are forced, by a variety of factors, to consolidate power and establish rigid orthodoxy in order to sustain their existence.

[22] Alexander Campbell, “Meeting-Houses,” The Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 1 (January, 1834), 9.

[23] Ibid. Campbell here is quoting the Old Testament book of Isaiah 66:2.

[24] Alexander Campbell, “Turning Out the Apostles,” 18.

[25] Ibid., 17.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Noll, America’s God, 191.

[33] Campbell, “Turning Out The Apostles,” 19.

[34] Alexander Campbell, “Duane Street Church – Auction Sale of Pews,” The Millennial Harbinger 7, no. 4 (April, 1836), 178.

[35] Letters about Dr. Breckenridge, including one by Henry Clay, are recorded in a book written shortly after his death. William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit: or Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations, from the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Five, (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1858) 645–651.

[36] It should be pointed out that Campbell’s perspective seems a bit paradoxical - on one hand, he was a major advocate of universal education, but on the other, he did not believe an elite education was required to understand the revelations of the Bible. Campbell believed that literacy was crucial to the spread of the gospel but that elite education frequently resulted in arrogance and vanity.

[37] Campbell, “Incidents, No. II,” 55.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid, 55–56.

[42] Ibid, 56.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Harrell Jr., Quest for a Christian America, 62–67.

[45] Class analysis of Campbellite meetinghouses is, in some sense, tautological: poor people could only build poor meetinghouses, so they built poor meetinghouses and understood them as being theologically correct, because . . . they were poor. This kind of analysis, while valid in a certain regard, ignores the fact that Campbell himself was wealthy and well educated and that, at least by 1840, the Campbellite ranks were filled with prominent men and women. Furthermore, such analysis fails to explain why Campbellites in the South—poorer than in the North to be sure—rigidly adhered to these principles, even when they had the means not to and when other Campbellite factions did not. This Campbellite heritage, embraced by the southern churches, is part of a larger cosmology that made sense to Southerners in ways that were not as compelling in the North, ways that are inextricably tied to class but cannot be solely explained by class analysis.

[46] Campbell, “Meeting-Houses,” 7.

[47] Again, it should be noted that Campbell referred to concerns and issues about meetinghouses in a number of essays that were not intended to be focused on the meetinghouse itself.

[48] Campbell, “Meeting-Houses,” 7.

[49] Alexander Campbell, “Incident on a Tour to Nashville Tennessee, No. II,” The Millennial Harbinger 2, no. 1 (Jan., 1831), 19.

[50] Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 74.

[51] See C. Leonard Allen, Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church, (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1999); and Paul K. Conkin, Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).

[52] Campbell’s preference for a debate instead of a revival helps to illustrate the growing importance of the meetinghouse in Campbell’s progression as a minister, editor, and movement leader. Campbell came to evangelism through debate. After the popularity of his first public debate, Campbell was convinced that a compelling argument, presented in a hospitable environment, could compel rational thinkers to “see the light.” While the conversion experience was arbitrary and ambiguous to Campbell, he believed that a rational argument offered a consistent and readily accessible avenue to salvation.

[53] Alexander Campbell, “Building Houses for Christian Worship; Extracts from Correspondents in Eastern Virginia,” The Millennial Harbinger 3, no. 5 (May, 1832), 229.

[54] Campbell, “Incidents, No. II,” 55.

[55] Perry, “Courts of Conscience.”

[56] Alexander Campbell, “Meeting-Houses,” The Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 1 (Jan., 1834), 7. Between 1832 and 1855 Campbell wrote eleven essays specifically about meetinghouses. Although the total number is relatively small in comparison to other topics he wrote on, the fact that he dedicated any time to a consideration of meetinghouses is significant. Campbell realized that those who followed him were going to use and construct buildings and he wanted to ensure that the building didn’t interfere with the message. Rather, the building should reflect the message, or, at a minimum it should not distract from the message in any way.

[57] Gary Holloway, Restoration Quarterly, “Campbell as Publisher,” Vol. 37, No. 1 (1995)

[58] Holloway, “Campbell as Publisher.”

[59] Holloway, “Campbell as Publisher.”

[60] Gordon Wood, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” in Religion in American History: A Reader, Jon Butler and Harry S. Stout, eds., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 192, 191.

[61] The simultaneous concern of Campbell, Smith, and other nascent Christian leaders with the organization of Christian space, is arguably tied to a number of things, but perhaps, as Jeanne Halgren Kilde has argued, the completion of disestablishment in the 1830s (Massachusetts being the last state in 1833) was a significant moment where church buildings “became commodities to be promoted, or at least placed on display for interested ‘buyers,’ or potential members.” Kilde, Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture and Worship (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 132.

[62] Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” The Millennial Harbinger 2, no. 2 (February, 1831), 92. Several Campbellites abandoned the movement to join Joseph Smith and the Mormons, most notably Sidney Rigdon. Although this disturbed Campbell and likely caused his concern with Mormonism to be greater than it would have been otherwise, David Edwin Harrell Jr. argues that Mormonism and Shakerism worked to drain the Stone-Campbell movement of “the most radical fringes.” See, Harrell, Quest for A Christian America, 37.

[63] Hamilton Mark, Nineteenth Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning, (New York: Oxford, 1995) 34.

[64] Ibid., 23–24.

[65] Ibid., 30.

[66] The point here is not to say whether or not their respective prescriptions of Christian space actually became “sacred space.” Rather, the essential point here is to say that Smith intended for his followers to understand the temple, the tabernacle, meetinghouses, and even the city plat as something sacred, while Campbell fundamentally did not.

[67] Stephen C. Taysom argues that “the most dominant traces [of Shakers] . . . are their villages.” He explains that even though Shakers remained substantively involved in the communities around them, their ordering of their space was intended to serve as an identifiable boundary between the spiritual community and the evil world. It was not until 1828 that Shakers solidified this ordering of space as a vital piece of their theology. Stephen C. Taysom, Religion in North America: Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).

[68] Leonard C. Allen argues that convenience, or “comfort,” is the underlying component that made Campbellism so compelling to Americans in the South and West. He claims that “the comfort gospel,” a gospel that was premised on an individuals ability to achieve salvation without the help of clergy or the ambiguity of a conversion experience, provided intellectual and emotional security to Americans living in a “troubled” time and making their way in the rugged Ohio River Valley. See Leonard C. Allen, Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1999), in particular see Chapter 5, "The Comfort Gospel."

[69] Campbell, “Meeting-Houses,” 8.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Campbell, “Building Houses,” 229.

[72] Campbell, “Incidents, No. II,” 56.

[73] Campbell, “Meeting-Houses,” 8.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid, 8–9. When Campbell uses the word “comfort” he is not referring to a notion of pleasurable amenities – though he did think it was important for congregants to be sheltered from the elements. His use was meant to indicate both a theological and a practical application. The practical association has to do with limiting distractions and providing the proper conditions for congregants to see and hear what is going on. The theological association has to do with congregants accepting or affirming that the building they are worshipping in was built efficiently and without concern for vanity or self-glorification.

[76] Ibid, 8.

[77] Kilde, Sacred Power, Sacred Space, 148, 154.

[78] It is important to point out that the Protestant Reformation articulated a view of sacred space as “the church,” that is the people” vis-à-vis a Catholic view of sacred space as “the cathedral.” However, it should also be pointed out that, despite Reformation theology and ecclesiology, several Protestants, certainly in the early nineteenth-century United States, practiced an ideology of sacred space that elevated the formal worship place as a material space of elevated “spiritual” significance.