Heroes of Conviction

A Review of the Christian Connexion and the Adventist Movements

By Jeff Mezera

Heros of Conviction

After the French Revolution, there was a new enlightenment in the thinking of the populace. People began to free themselves from chains of oppression, and from superstitions that had long prevailed over science, philosophy, and religious thought.

A different denomination sprang up in the United States at the dawn of the nineteenth century, which attempted to do just that. It was called the “Christian Connexion.” These “Christians” as they preferred to be called, had been dissatisfied with the creeds of the churches and were determined to return to the simple faith of the apostles and the Scriptures.

“The circumstances attending its rise and progress are somewhat peculiar. This sect recognizes no individual as its leader or founder. They have no Calvin, or Luther, or Wesley, to whom they refer as an authority for articles of faith and rules of practice. The denomination arose almost simultaneously in widespread parts of the country without preliminary discussions or concerted plan of action.”1

“The name Christian is the only name of distinction which we take, and by which we, as a denomination, desire to be known, and the Bible our only rule of faith and practice.”2

They “insisted on Christian character as the only test of fellowship, and their creed the ‘plain language, and understanding of the Bible according to average judgment.’”3


(1) Dow, C. P., Article: “Elias Smith,” The World’s Crisis and Second Advent Messenger, June 28, 1864.
(2) McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia
(3) Froom, Leroy Edwin, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 1954, Review and Herald, Volume 4, page 31.

Methodist preacher James O’Kelly (1735-1826) favored Congregationalist structure and founded the “Christian Church” or “Connection.”

Joshua V. Himes, one of the great Adventist preachers, who helped promote William Miller’s preaching about the second advent, was once a Connexion minister. He wrote about the Connexion, “Their leading purposes, at first, appear to have been, not so much to establish any peculiar and distinctive doctrines, as to assert, for individuals and churches, more liberty and independence in relation to matters of faith and practice, to shake off the authority of human creeds and the shackles of prescribed modes and forms, to make the Bible their only guide, claiming for every man the right to be his own expositor of it, to judge for himself what are its doctrines and requirements, and in practice to follow more strictly the simplicity of the apostles and primitive Christians.”4

Again, Himes wrote, “At first, they were generally Trinitarians; subsequently they have, almost unanimously, rejected the Trinitarian doctrine as unscriptural. We believe that there is one living and true God, the Father almighty, who is unoriginated, independent and eternal, the Creator and Supporter of all worlds: and that this God is one spiritual intelligence, one infinite mind, ever the same, never varying.”

“That the Holy Spirit is the power and energy of God, that holy influence of God … That Christ is the Son of God, the promised Messiah and Saviour of the world …”5

Christian Connexion Doctrine

The “Christians” believed that each congregation should be independent. They held that:
(1) The Scriptures are inspired and are of divine authority.
(2) Everyone had a right to interpret the Bible for himself. Therefore different views were no bar to Church fellowship.
(3) There is one God; the doctrine of the Trinity was not generally received.
(4) Christ is a divine being, existed as a spirit being before coming at his first advent, and became the mediator between God and mankind.
(5) Christ’s death atoned for the sins of all who, by repentance and faith, could be saved.
(6) Immersion was the only proper form of baptism, and believers the only proper subjects (rejecting infant baptism).
(7) Communion at the Lord’s table was open to believers of all denominations.
(8) Some believed in the destruction of the wicked, not eternal misery in hell-fire.

The “Christian Connexion” (sometimes “Christian Connection”) founded one of the first religious newspapers in the United States. Elias Smith (1769-1846) published the Herald of Gospel Liberty in Portsmouth, NH, from September 1, 1808. Smith sometimes flirted with Universalist doctrine, but many in the Connexion could not accept that position.

Other Christian Connexion Groups

At the same time, unknown to other Connexion groups, a Presbyterian Preacher, Barton W. Stone (1772-1844), resigned from his denomination and formed several Churches in the Kentucky area with the same ideal of restoring the doctrines of the early Church. In 1810, after hearing about the James O’Kelly and Elias Smith Christians, the three separate groups unified. In 1832, the Churches allied with Stone merged with another group led by Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) and his father, who called it The Restoration Movement. (Very few continued with the Connexion.) Stone was non-trinitarian, while the Campbells were Trinitarians.

While studying for the ministry, Henry Grew (1781-1862) came to understand that the Scriptures teach baptism by immersion. So he joined the Baptist denomination. In 1807 he was licensed to preach and became Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hartford, Connecticut. His tenure as Pastor dissolved because he adopted non-trinitarian views the Baptists deemed heretical. His piety was never questioned, and a portion of the church that sympathized with his views went with him.

Meanwhile, in England, proceedings of the Albury Prophetic Conferences were published in 1828-1829. Thereupon, Joseph Wolff (1795-1862), a Hebrew Christian, took the Second Advent message around the world. At the invitation of John Quincy Adams, he spoke the Adventist message to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, and then to the legislatures of two or three states.

William Miller, the Adventist Movement

After much study, William Miller came to a startling revelation: “Beckoning all these prophetic periods from the several dates assigned by the best chronologers for the events from which they should evidently be reckoned, they would all terminate together, about AD 1843. I was thus brought, in 1818, at the close of my two years’ study of the Scriptures, to the solemn conclusion, that in about twenty-five years from that time all the affairs of our present state would be wound up … and that, in the place of the kingdoms of this world, the peaceful and long-desired kingdom of the Messiah would be established under the whole heaven.”6

Soon Miller was asked to speak at other Churches and his predictions were published in newspapers nationwide, exciting many to the soon-coming of Jesus Christ.


(1) Dow, C. P., Article: “Elias Smith,” The World’s Crisis and Second Advent Messenger, June 28, 1864.
(2) McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia
(3) Froom, Leroy Edwin, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 1954, Review and Herald, Volume 4, page 31.
(4) Dow, C. P., op. cit.
(5) Joshua V. Himes, “Christian Connection,” Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by T. Newton Brown, Boston: Shattuck & Co., 1835, page 362.
(6) Bliss, Sylvester, Memoirs of William Miller, Published by Joshua V. Himes, 1853, page 362).

“From all the denominations it had drawn believers in the ‘advent near.’ One study analyzes the Millerites’ composition as: Methodists 44.3%, Baptists 27%, Congregationalists 9%, Christian Connection 8%, Presbyterians 7%, plus a smattering of Episcopalians, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Friends. Concentrating on the Lord’s return, especially as attached to a date, produced a stronger sense of unity than was warranted by the variegated views on doctrine and policy that characterized adherents.7

Miller’s expectations spread rapidly during the Second Great Awakening, when so many people had been revived to living a Christian life. Possibly a hundred thousand up to a million were excited about Miller’s views. (Many more were enraged by those estimates.)

After the Great Disappointment, these groups fractured. Many became Seventh Day Adventists, Advent Christians, Christadelphians, Church of God Abrahamic Faith, and other denominations. They began as non-trinitarian due to Connexion ties, but the Advent Christian Church and Seventh Day Adventists have since become Trinitarian. Some rejected these groups and “all pretensions to religion.”8

George Storrs, the Doctrine of Salvation

George Storrs was another Abolitionist preacher with roots in both Congregationalist and Methodist denominations. He found one of Henry Grew’s tracts on a train and was persuaded of his views on the state of the dead. Storrs started a new publication advocating his views, The Bible Examiner. It found its way to many Adventists. However, Grew and Storrs differed on whether the wicked would be resurrected, and they debated it for years. While William Miller criticized George Storrs’ views on the condition of the dead, many Millerites accepted them. Thus, most splinter groups of Miller’s followers do not believe in hell fire or the inherently-immortal soul.

Both Grew and Himes looked for the return of Israel to their homeland. Storrs opposed the idea early on, but promoted it in his later years, along with other positions not generally accepted among Adventist groups. In the early 1860s George Storrs and several like-minded others formed “The Life and Advent Union.” Storrs paused publication of The Bible Examiner and he and the Union published these views in a weekly newspaper called The Herald of Life and the Coming Kingdom.

Storrs reconsidered his views on the resurrection of the wicked and promoted future probation in his final tenure as editor of the Herald. He restarted the Bible Examiner to promote his newer views. Several groups all over the world, independently, developed future probation views and promoted them at the same time.

In the 1870s a J. L. Russell & Son subscribed to Storrs’ Bible Examiner. A letter from J.L.R. appeared in the December 1874 Examiner after Storrs visited the city and the Russell family the previous February. Storrs said, “Bro. Russell is one of our elder brethren, with whom I formed a most agreeable acquaintance while in Pittsburgh last May, and I think of him only to love and respect him. ‘When shall we meet again?’ The Lord bless him, and all lovers of Jesus [there] and elsewhere.” Joseph Lytle Russell’s son was Charles Taze Russell!

The Advent Christian Church

Another Millerite splinter group was “The Advent Christian Church.” The Connexion and Millerite movements avoided starting a new denomination. But they did form an “Advent Christian Association,” to promote Conditionalism and further date-setting ideas.

A Second Adventist preacher named Jonas Wendell, who also wrote for their paper, The World’s Crisis and Second Advent Messenger, preached the imminent coming of Christ in a book titled Present Truth in 1870, projecting the date of 1873 for the second coming.

His preaching rekindled the faith of a young man, who “almost by accident” stumbled into a dirty, dingy hall when Jonas Wendell was preaching. He was so intrigued by his views that his faith in the Bible was restored. That man was Charles Taze Russell.

Wendell describes this Allegheny, PA, congregation in 1871 being “like sheep without a shepherd,” but “the meetings thus far have resulted in great good.”9 Young Charles Taze Russell was 19 at the time and would later become their elected teacher and pastor.

C. T. Russell associated with many on the fringes of Adventist splinter groups such as John H. Paton, Nelson H. Barbour, and William I Mann. Some Advent Christian members would become part of the Watchtower group— B. W. Keith, and George W. Stetson.

George W. Stetson (1814-1879)

For over forty years George Stetson followed Christ. He associated with Henry Grew and George Storrs in his early ministry, and later with Jonas Wendell and Charles Russell (R3821). He was a minister, a school teacher, and a physician. A member of the Advent Christian Church, he and Wendell worked together in churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio in the early 1870s. They wrote for Storrs’ magazine The Herald of Life and the Coming Kingdom, and for others, such as The World’s Crisis.

For ten months during 1872 Stetson pastored the church in Pittsburgh where he met young Charles Taze Russell. Then he led the Edinboro, PA, congregation for six years until his death. His dying request was that Pastor Russell give his funeral sermon (R46), where over 1200 attended and heard the good news of the kingdom of God.

Nelson Barbour, Herald of the Morning

Nelson Barbour (1824-1905) questioned the Adventist ending of 1843. “Why did we begin the [1335] years thirty years before the abomination was set up? Here is our mistake, and it is one of thirty years. The days end in 1873, not 1843. All this came in a moment.”10

Returning from Australia via London, Barbour discovered in E. B. Elliott’s Horae Apocalypticae, that 6000 years might end about 1873. That year came and went, and Jesus did not return as they expected. But had he returned in a cloud, invisibly? Late that year Barbour started a monthly, The Midnight Cry, to present his chronological and time prophecy date, 1873. Two years later he changed the title to Herald of the Morning, expounding that Jesus had returned in 1873-74, adding support from the Jubilees. By the time Barbour met Russell in 1876, he had extended the time to 1874/5. For a time, Barbour contributed articles on chronology and time prophecy to the Advent Christian publication, The World’s Crisis and Second Advent Messenger, until the Advent Christian Union disfellowshipped him for declaring that Jesus had returned invisibly in 1873-1874. (Barbour was also an inventor: bright and argumentative.)

Convictions

Russell was a co-editor of Barbour’s Herald of the Morning until in 1878-9 the two disagreed on the fundamental doctrine of the Ransom and Substitutionary Atonement. Conviction moved Pastor Russell for years to study Atonement, Conditionalism, Non-Trin­itarianism, opposing strong organization, celebrating memorial once a year, coming out of Babylon, and God’s plans for Israel, to ensure these truths originated from Scripture. He surrounded himself with those who assisted in bringing together the best ideas from various denominations and used his personal wealth to distribute the message of the kingdom for all. Conviction should do so for us. As we seek truth from the Scriptures, our convictions help lighten our way, as Jesus guides us in the paths of his righteousness (Psalms 23:3). Each individual and group highlighted here also sought truth, and to share that truth with the world. Convinced they were doing the will of God, they held to their deep-rooted faith in Scripture, to return to early Church doctrine, an understanding of Jesus’ return, and the hope that all men would have an opportunity of salvation in God’s Kingdom.


(7) Everett, N. Dick, “The Adventist Crisis of 1843-1844” (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1930), pages 132, 233. Cited in Dean, David A., The Origin and Development of the Advent Christian Denomination, Himes Publications, Revised and Updated 2020.
(8) Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1853, page 293.
(9) The World’s Crisis and Second Advent Messenger, December 27, 1871

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