Campbellites and Mormonites: Competing Restoration Movements

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[Page 233]Abstract: In October 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson were the first missionaries sent to travel through the western states to the Indian territory at the far reaches of the United States. Pratt, a former resident of northeastern Ohio, suggested they stop in the Kirtland, Ohio, area and visit his preacher friend, Sidney Rigdon. It was Rigdon who had earlier convinced Pratt that the restoration of the ancient order that included faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit could be found in Alexander Campbell’s restoration movement. Within a few weeks, the four missionaries baptized Rigdon and more than 100 new converts into Joseph Smith’s restoration movement — many of whom had been members of Campbell’s restoration movement. Although both Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith called their movements restorations, the foundation upon which each was built was very different.

The title “Campbellites and Mormonites” refers to pejorative names for the religious movements founded by Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith. These two men were major leaders of restorationism in the 19th century. Most Latter-day Saints recognize Sidney Rigdon as a Campbellite preacher but don’t connect him to Alexander Campbell and his important restoration movement. Alexander and Joseph were contemporaries during the Second Great Awakening, an important American religious movement that began in the late 18th century and peaked between 1830 and 1840. Both men were idealists in a new democratic society that promoted religious freedom and the dissolution of state sponsored churches.

[Page 234]Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith were firm believers in restorationism — the effort to recover or recreate a pure Christianity like that which existed during the time of Jesus and the apostles, which had been lost, defiled, or corrupted. This definition assumes that at some point in Christian history an apostasy or loss of significant doctrines occurred.1 Many have sought for a restoration of the ancient Christian church since the time of Puritans and other early settlers of America. Roger Williams, the well-known 16th-century religionist, lamented: “After all my search, and examinations, and considerations, I said, I do profess to believe that some come nearer to the first primitive churches, and the institutions and appointments of Christ Jesus than others. … I professed that if my soul could find rest in joining unto any of the churches professing Christ Jesus now extant, I would readily and gladly do it, yea unto themselves whom I now opposed.”2 On a mission to Toronto, Canada, Latter-day Saint missionary Parley Pratt heard a prayer offered by a congregant at the close of a nondenominational church meeting that echoed this dissatisfaction: “We have neither apostles, visions, angels, revelations, gifts, tongues, ordinances, nor a Christian ministry; we acknowledge that we are destitute of everything like the pattern of the true Church, as laid down in thy holy Word, and we pray thee to send whom thou wilt.”3

Both Alexander and Joseph agreed on the same simple ordo salutis — order of salvation — faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Alexander called these the Plan of Salvation or Gospel Restored based on the requirements given by Peter on the day of Pentecost.4 Joseph called them the first principles [Page 235]and ordinances of the gospel from several Book of Mormon passages delineating the “doctrine of Christ.”5 In contrast to many other Christian churches of their day, they rejected the Creeds as postapostolic additions. They each held simple meetings on Sundays without any of the high church ritual or accoutrements but with weekly partaking of the Lord’s Supper.6 Theirs was the hope that in some way their restoration would help prepare for the Millennium. They saw the same passage in Revelation as referring to the Millennium they believed was imminent: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”7 Alexander printed this on the masthead of his monthly publication, the Millennial Harbinger beginning in 1830, to call Christians to unite in preparation for bringing forth the Millennium. Joseph saw himself as having experienced that messenger flying in the midst of heaven proclaiming the everlasting gospel in the coming of the angel Moroni in 1824 to show him the location of the plates he translated that became the Book of Mormon. At first glance they may appear to be two similar restoration movements led by different men; however, there were significant differences.

Alexander and Joseph diverge on many points, including when the pure beginning of Christianity occurred, how to restore the primitive church and which of the offices should be included, and when Christ would come as part of the Millennium. A foundational separation, and the difference upon which this paper focuses, is in their basic approach to how restoration should take place. Alexander approached restoration through the logic and rational thinking of the Enlightenment. Joseph approached restoration through what in the 19th century was called enthusiasm.

[Page 236]Enlightenment

This philosophical and intellectual movement began in the latter part of the 17th century and dominated European thought during the 18th and 19th centuries.8 It is defined as the “process of freeing human understanding from the accepted and customary beliefs sanctioned by traditional, especially religious authority chiefly by rational and scientific inquiry.”9 This philosophy was the enemy of superstition, mysticism, and religious enthusiasm. Reason and observation were sufficient evidence that a Creator existed, according to this natural religion philosophy, albeit a disengaged and non-interventionist God. Logic dictated that the universe was a self-sufficient machine that ran on its own.10 From this viewpoint, visions, visitations, revelations, and miraculous events were intrusions into the natural order and processes of the universe. Expressions of religious enthusiasm such as were commonly evident in the revivals of the 19th century were considered eccentric, marginal, misguided, or even “fanatical” and “extravagant,” causing some religious leaders to worry about the creation of a frenzied atmosphere leading to disorder, manipulation, and delusion of the audience.11

Alexander’s restorationist views focused on a rational and reasoned interpretation of the scriptures through the lens of Enlightenment philosophy, so it is not surprising he was alarmed by Joseph’s visions, revelations, additional scripture, and acceptance of some forms of religious enthusiasm. Alexander believed all churches could agree on the essential doctrines and ordinances and unite in one great Christian church if they would focus on the express teachings found in the New Testament. Alexander thought Joseph’s expanding ideas from revelation and more scriptures would prevent church unity. Therefore, Joseph’s restoration movement was to be condemned and disparaged. Alexander [Page 237]“launched a devastating attack on everything and everyone who did not agree with his vision of the ancient Christian faith.”12 As a defender of Christianity, Alexander was highly sensitive to ideas he believed did not fit within the proper order of rational religious practices. Alexander saw the claims of religious enthusiasm as threatening to the foundations of reasoned thinking upon which enlightened Christians based their beliefs. He warned that “enthusiasm flourishes, [and] blooms under the popular systems.” He exhorted his readers, “from all this scene of raging enthusiasm, be admonished, my friends, to open your Bibles and to hearken to the voice of God, which is the voice of reason. God now speaks to us only by his word. By his Son, in the New Testament, he has fully revealed himself and his will. This is the only revelation of his Spirit which we are to regard.”13 Sober-minded rationalists such as Alexander worried that religious excitement — and extreme emotionalism would manipulate truth and cause believers to be deluded into false forms of worship and, perhaps later, disbelief in “real” Christianity.14

To call Alexander strictly Enlightenment directed, however, does not recognize some of the nuances of his beliefs. He was not a traditional high church Christian leader; instead, he was an intelligent, highly educated, well-read, and reasoned thinker who believed that reading the facts in the scriptures provided the foundation for faith in Jesus Christ. He saw his approach to faith as rational and an alternative to the mindless piety he observed in the impassioned climate of revivalism. He opposed the idea that faith was a feeling or emotional experience that brought about conversion. Further, he believed preachers at revivals deliberately manipulated those present to encourage ecstatic expressions. He believed in revelation — past revelation — for the Bible was indeed the revealed word of God. He was, however, adamantly opposed to the so-called miraculous presence of gifts of the Spirit in the modern day. He believed that gifts of the Spirit were essential but unique to the apostolic era and should not be expected until Christ returns. As a cessationist, he believed that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit accompanying the conversion of thousands, as recorded in Acts 2:41, were essential for [Page 238]the establishment of the New Testament Church. Once it was formed in its pristine purity, however, the extraordinary gifts ended, and all who anticipated a restoration of spiritual gifts before the Second Coming of Christ became “liable to all delusion.”15


The etymology of the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek enthousiasmos and initially meant “possessed by a god” or “god within.”16 The little syllable “thous” in the middle of the word comes from the Greek word theos, meaning god. As the word enthusiasm developed in our language, it began to lose that meaning. By the 18th and 19th centuries it meant pretended inspiration, distinguishing it from true revelation. The term enthusiasm, derogatorily referred to as “fanaticism,” and “extravagance” was an epithet that lumped together all forms of revival and was part of an anti-revival movement.17 Today we don’t use enthusiasm in a religious sense, and it just means being excited about something.

The religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening spawned a new and dynamic religious fervor that was popular, evangelical, ecstatic, personal, optimistic, and widespread. By the early 19th century, such meetings included Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist ministers, preaching, singing, praying, and ecstatic experiences. The center point of the meetings was the delivery of a call to action sermon followed by communion. The “frontierization” of American Christianity had its own unique flavor with large numbers of families traveling distances of 30 to even 100 miles and camping to attend a multi-day revival meeting. The crowds of people exceeded the capacity of the inns and the homes of local Christians, which necessitated camping. Hence, the term “camp meeting” became synonymous with revival. For those involved in leading revivals, it was not just a venue to convert the unchurched, it was also an event to reclaim backsliders and reheat the lukewarm.18

Profound feelings of the Spirit were felt by many seekers at these meetings. Children, men, women, old and young, black and white were “struck down and exercised” by the Spirit in different ways. A neighbor reported that [Page 239]when Emma Hale was young, she “often got the power,” a phrase meaning to have or feel the power of God within you. “Getting the power was an important part of religious worship through[out] the Allegheny foothills where they lived.”19 Some of the camp participants manifested signs that were notable “for their intensity and variety and the astonishing ease and rapidity with which they were communicated (affecting at times an entire congregation).”20 Sometimes, those who were struck down awakened to deliver powerful sermons for an extraordinary “length of time, matter, and loudness of voice.”21 Others participated in what were termed “spiritual exercises” that included jerks, barking, dancing, visions, and happy, melodious singing that seemed to emanate from the breast.22

In this climate, visions, dreams, prophesying, and spiritual experiences became somewhat more acceptable.23 But not all claims to religion were tolerable. Some religious leaders were concerned that constitutional disestablishment of religion, separating the state from sponsoring religion, “had left too much room for religious expression” and that without the anchor previously provided by formalist state- attached religions, Christianity was left dangerously unmoored.24

Joseph was enthusiasm driven, with his acceptance of visions, revelations, visitations, healings, and the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. In describing his experiences with heavenly influence, however, he used phrases such as “[o]ur minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of,”25 and “[b]y the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of [Page 240]God … from the beginning, before the world was.”26 Joseph’s enlightenment was of a very different type. To characterize Joseph exclusively as enthusiasm directed is too simplistic. He described revelation as appealing to both the mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, as mediated through the Holy Ghost, and as “pure Intelligence” flowing into the mind and giving rise to strokes of ideas.27 Latter-day Saint historian Davis Bitton noted that Joseph’s revelations had much in common with the rationalism of Enlightenment philosophy: “Rejecting the traditional Christian creeds, Mormonism turned away from the mystery of the Trinity, the creation of the world ex nihilo, the depravity of fallen man, predestination, and a hell of eternal punishment to the Godhead as comprised of three individuals united in purpose, the creation of the world from previously existing matter, free will, the dignity and high destiny of man, and a graded salvation for all.”28

Joseph reported that as a young boy, while attending a revival meeting with his mother and several of his siblings, “he wanted to get religion too, he wanted to feel and shout like the rest but could feel nothing.”29 Nevertheless, within a few years he embraced visions, revelations, and gifts of the Spirit as part of his personal experience and the restoration of the primitive church. Later, he would acknowledge the existence of conflicting opinions regarding the gifts of the Spirit:

Some people have been in the habit of calling every supernatural manifestation, the effects of the Spirit of God, whilst there are others that think there is no manifestation connected with it at all; and that it is nothing but a mere impulse of the mind, or an inward feeling, impression, or secret testimony, or evidence, which men possess, and that there is no such thing as an outward manifestation. It is not to [Page 241]be wondered at that men should be ignorant … of the nature, office, power, influence, gifts and blessings of the gift of the Holy Ghost[,] when we consider that the human family have been enveloped in gross darkness and ignorance for many centuries past without revelation, or any just criterion to arrive at a knowledge of the things of God, which can only be known by the spirit of God.30

Upon his arrival in Kirtland, Ohio, in late January 1831, Joseph found that ecstatic worship and religious enthusiasm had become a significant issue among the new members. Lucy Mack Smith recalled that he found about one hundred members in the church: “They were fine brethren in general but that they had imbibed some very strange Ideas which it cost some pains to rid them of as the Devil had been deceiving them with a specious appearance of powe[r].” Joseph objected to the “strange contortions of the visage and unnatural Motions which they supposed as being occasioned by an operation of the power of God,”31 declaring that “the Lord had sent him there, and he or the devil would have to leave. … After he arrived the false spirits which had been operating through the members of the Church ceased for awhile.”32 Initially, there were no boundaries regarding extreme ecstatic experiences as part of missionary meetings or spiritual rebirth, perhaps because God had not yet revealed any and Joseph had not yet asked. In quick succession, between March and June 1831, three revelations clarified what God found acceptable.

In March 1831, Joseph received a revelation regarding the importance of directing all meetings by the Holy Ghost to prevent the problems they had been having with deception. In the revelation, every person was encouraged to earnestly seek after the best gifts by the power of the Spirit and receive them by that same power. Reviewing Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians and Moroni’s last words in the Book of Mormon, these gifts included a powerful testimony of the Savior, wisdom and [Page 242]knowledge, healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, and so forth. The next part of the revelation governed the source of such manifestations and whether they were truly gifts from God: “All these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God. And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.”33 In Joseph’s restoration, the gifts of the Holy Ghost were rational, meaningful, purposeful, consistent with scripture, and contrary to the wild and foolish ideas of men or women.34

In May 1831, Joseph received another revelation cautioning the church about “false spirits” and condemning some behaviors as “abominations.” He warned “deceivers and hypocrites” in the church that they would be detected and “cut off.”35 Rather than a list of accepted or prohibited behaviors, the members were to judge by the Holy Ghost what was true or counterfeit. In the revelation, God revealed guidelines and principles: “Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God. … [H]e that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God.”36

In a revelation received in June 1831, a pattern was given for identifying those who were under the influence of God, because there were some who through “gross wickedness and hypocricy … who by a long face, and sanctimonious prayers, and very pious sermons had power to lead the minds of the ignorant and unwary and thereby obtain such influence.”37 Talent in rhetoric or overwhelming emotion is not evidence of being under the influence of the Holy Ghost. God revealed how to discern spiritual character.

Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language [Page 243]is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances. And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you. And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me. Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens.38

As the result of the growing crisis brought about by unrestricted enthusiasm and emotionalism, Joseph, through revelation, “showed the brethren clearly the mistake under which they had been laboring”39 and explained the discipline God required. Thus, Joseph recognized not all enthusiastic expressions manifested in Kirtland were from God. Guidelines were given so members were empowered to discern what was from God, and what was not. Just as labeling Alexander’s restoration as strictly Enlightenment directed is not accurate; neither is labeling Joseph’s strictly enthusiasm driven.

Charismatic expressions of faith were characteristic of the Second Great Awakening. Criticism of this type of religious experience was also common. Alexander’s cessationist beliefs caused him to completely reject extraordinary spiritual manifestations as delusions. Joseph’s restoration claims, which included visions, visitations, and the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, did not fit within Alexander’s belief system. Joseph, on the other hand would not be bound by the limitations and restrictions of Enlightenment thinking. They were contemporaneous restorationists with very different approaches.

1. Richard T. Hughes, “The Meaning of the Restoration Vision,” in The Primitive Church in the Modern World, ed. Richard T. Hughes (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1995), x.
2. Roger Williams, The Complete Writings of Roger Williams (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007), 37–3 8. See also C. Leonard Allen, “Roger Williams and ‘the Restauration of Zion,'” in The American Quest for the Primitive Church, ed. Richard Thomas Hughes (Urbana: University of Illionois Press, 1988), 40–42. “Queries of Highest Consideration” was a tract written to counteract the recommendations of the Westminster Assembly and to persuade Parliament to embrace religious liberty rather than the officially established Church of England or the model of Scottish Presbyterianism. Edwin S. Gaustad, Roger Williams (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 75.
3. Parley Parker Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley Parker Pratt (New York: Russell Brothers, 1874), 154.
4. Acts 2:38. The creator of a simple memorization mnemonic called the “five finger exercise” for these simple steps was Walter Scott in 1827, an evangelist for Campbell’s restoration.
5. 2 Nephi 31:2, 21; 3 Nephi 11:31–40; 3 Nephi 27:13.
6. Initial revelations on church organization, church government, and the Lord’s Supper gave few details for procedures in administering the Lord’s Supper, and early on, persecution, influence of converts from other religious backgrounds, and lack of church meeting houses, among other difficulties, caused “the sacrament to be irregularly and inconsistently administered.” Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79; 27:2–3; Justin R. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Mormonism,” in You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants, eds. Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan, and Rachel Cope (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 64–65.
7. Revelation 14:6–7.
8. Romanticism is considered the philosophical counter to Enlightenment and is cited by Church of Christ scholar, Richard Hughes, as Joseph Smith’s “defining intellectual influence.” Richard T. Hughes, “Two Restoration Traditions: Mormons and Churches of Christ in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Mormon History 19, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 44.
9. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. “enlightenment.”
10. Some seventeenth-century Enlightenment philosophers promoted deism as a comprehensive religion that would be an “intellectual and social improvement on traditional Christianity.” Ordinary human intelligence could understand God without the need for revelation, and this would “cleanse Christianity of its vulgar supernaturalist superstitions.” Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 143–44.
11. James D. Bratt, ed. Antirevivalism in Antebellum America: A Collection of Religious Voices (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006), xvii–iii.
12. Richard Thomas Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 22. See, for example, Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger 2, no. 2 (February 7, 1831): 85–96.
13. Alexander Campbell, “To the Readers of the Christian Baptist, Part IV,” Christian Baptist 1, no. 8 (March 1, 1824): 188.
14. Bratt, Antirevivalism in Antebellum America, xviii.
15. Alexander Campbell, “Queries,” Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 3 (March 1834): 143.
16. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. “enthusiasm.”
17. Bratt, Antirevivalism in Antebellum America, xvii–xviii.
18. Grant Underwood, “‘Awash in a Sea of Faith,'” in Lectures on Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: BYU Studies Quarterly, 2002), 100.
19. Mark L. Staker, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting for Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2009), 599, 127.
20. Catharine C. Cleveland, The Great Revival in the West, 1797–1805 (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1959), 87.
21. Reverend Thomas Moore, Massachusetts Missionary Magazine 1 (March 1803): 198–99, quoted in Cleveland, Great Revival in the West, 95.
22. Cleveland, The Great Revival in the West, 98–103.
23. Staker, Hearken, O Ye People, 12–13.
24. Spencer J. Fluhman, “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 9, 21.
25. Joseph Smith — History 1:74.
26. Doctrine and Covenants 76:12–13, emphasis added. The emphasized phrase was by Alexander Campbell as pursuing illicit knowledge or forbidden fruit. He mocked Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon as having “become wiser than any of the Prophets and Apostles of God.” Campbell, “Mormonism,” Millennial Harbinger 7, no. 8 (August 1843): 347.
27. Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1,” November 2, 1838– July 13, 1842,; Doctrine and Covenants 8:2.
28. Davis Bitton, “Anti-Intellectualism in Mormon History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, no. 3 (1966): 112.
29. Dean C. Jessee, “The Earliest Documented Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, eds. John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2005), 25.
30. Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 Addenda”, June 15, 1842,; Joseph Smith, “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” Times and Seasons (June 15, 1842): 823.
31. Lucy Mack Smith, “History, 1844–1845,” 10:12,; Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 506–7.
32. Philo Dibble, “Philo Dibble’s Narrative,” in Early Scenes in Church History (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1882), 78.
33. Doctrine and Covenants 46:26–27.
34. “Baptism,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 16 (June 15, 1842): 823,
35. Doctrine and Covenants 50:4, 6, 8.
36. Doctrine and Covenants 50:17–20.
37. Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1,” 872.
38. Doctrine and Covenants 52:15–19.
39. Smith, “History, 1844–1845,” 11:1; Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 507.

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