CAMPBELLITES AND MORMONS INTERSECT – Christian Restoration Series 02: Part 05

Because both Campbellites and Mormons shared the ideal of restoring a pure religion, they were destined to intersect. Campbellite ministers Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon began the contact. Rigdon was a dynamic preacher and a trusted follower of Alexander Campbell. Rigdon met the first Mormon missionaries as they passed through Ohio and was impressed enough with their message and the Book of Mormon to investigate the claims. He traveled to New York, met Joseph Smith, and was entirely satisfied. He not only joined the movement but quickly became one of the leaders of the new Mormon church.

By the time Rigdon returned to Ohio, he was as fervent a Mormon as he had previously been a Campbellite. His charisma and eloquence quickly multiplied converts. The center of Mormonism moved from upper New York to Kirtland, Ohio. Mormon success in Ohio came at the expense of the Campbellites and provoked Alexander Campbell. The Mormon-Campbellite intersection turned into an outright collision.

Alexander Campbell wrote one of the earliest and most scathing reviews of The Book of Mormon in 1831, titled “An Analysis of the Book of Mormon with an Examination of Its Internal and External Evidences and a Refutation of Its Pretenses to Divine Authority.” Campbell’s attack was written the year after the Book of Mormon was first printed. He called Joseph Smith its real author, ignorant, impudent, and nave, betraying the cloven foot by basing the entire book on a false fact or a pretended fact that makes God a liar. He claimed both Smith and his followers were deluded by false spirits.

Joseph Smith responded by saying that while Campbell was breathing out scurrility, he was showing the motives and principles that governed him, often causing people to investigate and embrace the Book of Mormon who might not have otherwise read it. Smith continued that he would turn the other cheek as commanded by their Savior and watch the great work of God continue amid opposition and falsehood.

Mormonism benefited from the attention Campbell brought it and continued to grow throughout Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Converts came from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Early Campbellite converts greatly influenced Joseph Smith. However, under Rigdon’s leadership, Mormonism changed. While initially modeled after the Book of Mormon, it shifted its priority to recovering the structure of the New Testament Church. Mormonism became preoccupied with organizational structure and administrative control, and authority became central, overshadowing direct revelation.

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