Most of us have probably at one time or another heard of the great union meeting between the Christians of Barton Stone and the Reformers of Alexander Campbell in Lexington, Ky from Christmas 1831 to New Years 1832. Most do not know the extreme difficulty of that miracle of the Spirit and that will be the story of another post.
However, there was an earlier union that has not received quite the press of 1831-2. But it was no less significant. It was the union of German Baptists who were sometimes known as "Dunkards", some "Brethren" (of a Mennonite background) and branches from Stone and Campbell's movements.
The "Dunkards" were a group committed to Primitivism and had the following distinctive characteristics:
1) they practiced trine immersion (face forward into the water)
2) they practiced the Lord's Supper in the context of a love feast
3) they washed feet as a required ordinance
4) they took the Lord's Supper only once or twice a year (and only at night else it would not be the "supper")
5) a few other quaint ideas (to me anyway)
In 1821 at the Brethren Annual meeting, which assembled in Somerset County, Pennsylvania addressed itself to the issue of trine immersion and "rebaptism." Article 6 of the minutes of that meeting questioned "Whether members might be received into the church who have been but once immersed (without rebaptizing them in the manner we believe it ought to be done according to the gospel.)?" The answer of the meeting is surprising, perhaps, in that it indicated the flexibility on the part of the eastern leadership. After affirming that trine immersion was the true baptism, the Brethren decided that "if such persons would be content with their baptism and yet acknowledge the Brethren's order as right, we would leave it over to them and receive them with the laying on of hands and prayer."
This shows both the "liberality" of the Dunkards and also the distinctive nature of what seperated them from "us" on this point.
Dunkard preachers like Joseph Hostetler and John Wright came into contact with some of Stone's folks in Indiana and Campbell's Christian Baptist about the same time. Hostetler is the author of a letter to Campbell that he reprinted and used as the basis of his "Restoration of the Ancient Order, XI." Campbell goes out of his way to call J.H. his brother, that he regards him -- even with his unique views -- as part of the family of God and that they were in fellowship on the gospel and not on our opinions.
In July 1828 a "unity" meeting was conducted in Edinburgh, Indiana. Two reports of this are recorded in Stone's Christian Messenger. We learn from Elder Joseph Hatchitt,
"The Wright Brothers, whose names you will see in the minutes have been formerly denominated "Depending Baptists," have laid that name aside, and now call themselves the "church of Christ." I judge there are six to eight elders among them and many churches. When we met in conference together, we could find nothing to separate us [AMAZING!!, B.V.] asunder. In fine, we saw as nearly eye to eye as any company of Elders who have assembled in modern times -- and there was such a sweet spirit of love."
By 1827 fifteen of the Dunkard congregations of Indiana had united with Stone and more loosely with Campbell. When the "Disciples" held their first state convention in Indianapolis in 1839 Barton Stone was the featured speaker and all the Dunkard congregations were represented.
Joseph Hostetler and John Wright are heroes of unity. The union of Stone and the Dunkard/Brethren is a remarkable event in our history one that we should "brag" about. It is an episode we should ask God for the courage to emulate. It shows that we can unite even with folks considerably different than ourselves if the core focus is upon Christ and we are committed to doing God's will.
If we, like our forefathers in the faith, believed that we are in fact one in Christ, that unity was a mark of faithfulness perhaps we would have more John Wrights and Joseph Hostetler's today.
In the Spirit of Unity,
Ut omnes unum sint (John 17.21, Vulgate, 'that they may all be one')