Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 26, 1951

Campbell-Walker Debate Reprinted


On another page in this issue we give an excerpt from brother Earl West's Introduction to the reprinting of the Campbell-Walker debate. This first of brother Campbell's public discussions has been also the most difficult to come by in printed form. This is understood when it is realized that only a thousand copies were published of the first edition, and only three hundred copies of the far more valuable second edition. In the more than a century and a quarter that has passed since the printing of these three hundred books the few remaining copies to be found have become an almost priceless collector's item.

We believe brother West has rendered a real service to students of the restoration in reprinting this book; and especially so in his being able to issue a reprint of the second edition with its valuable addenda of the Ralston letters with Campbell's reply. This certainly enhances the value of the book immeasurably over what it would have been had he reprinted only the first edition without the Ralston material.

The Campbell-Walker debate was a signal triumph for the truth; not only did it have a tremendous effect in the little community where it was held (Mount Pleasant, Ohio), and among the people who quickly bought up all the printed copies of the discussion, but in the final analysis the effect of the debate on Campbell himself can hardly be over emphasized. It convinced him, for one thing, of the great value of such public discussions. But, even more than that, it set Campbell to such a close and earnest study of the whole question of baptism that his break with the Baptist denomination became inevitable. The close of the Walker debate found Campbell issuing a general challenge to any Pedo-baptists. This led to the lengthy correspondence with W. L. McCalla, which correspondence culminated in the Campbell-McCalla debate. And in this discussion, the design of baptism, though not included as a formal part of the debate, began to weigh heavily on Campbell's mind. Walter Scott and Sidney Rigdon (who later joined Joseph Smith in the Mormon cult) had talked much with him on the subject, and Campbell introduced as one of his arguments against infant baptism that baptism was "for the remission of sins,' and infants, having no sins, were no subjects for baptism. His thinking in this direction got its real beginning, its initial impulse, from the debate with Walker.

Reprinting The Pioneers

A word of caution seems in order now that so many books of pioneer literature are coming from the various book clubs and from individuals. Let it be remembered that Campbell, Scott, O'Kelly, and all this first generation of pioneer preachers had been reared in sectarianism. They were rooted and grounded in the errors of their denominational background; and it was only little by little, through long years, and often almost a lifetime, that they were able to throw off the false ideas and wrong attitudes of their earlier environment. Indeed, some of them held sectarian ideas and concepts on some things to the very day of their death.

Campbell's famous "Lunenburg letters' is a case in point. In this letter, printed in the Millennial Harbinger in 1837 Campbell shows clearly that he had not fully thought through and weighed the implications of his own preaching. If the principles he laid down were true, (and they were) there were certain applications of them, and certain consequences from them which Campbell himself had not yet come to accept. Let modern readers of the restoration literature keep this fact constantly in mind. The Millennial Harbinger is a story of growth and development. There is much in it that is sectarian and erroneous; much that is clearly recognized as being untenable from a standpoint of scripture teaching. It is unfair to Campbell and a distortion of the restoration movement to try to take some of the half-truths of these earlier years of groping out of darkness and pin them on the restoration movement as lasting attitudes and principles. Brethren were emerging from darkness, were coming out of error, were groping their way toward the light. And their writings should be read always with that in mind. The Campbell-Walker debate is no exception to this. There ere statements in it which Campbell would not have made twenty years later; there are positions and assumptions which were later repudiated, by implication if not by actual designation. The fair and careful reader will recognize these things, and will make allowances.

We commend brother West for the fine work he has done in making this book available. It should be read and studied by every gospel preacher in the land, as well as by all others who are interested in the heroic work of those who led the movement out of denominationalism and into the truth of a restored primitive Christianity.

F. Y. T.