Restoration Stirrings Across the Water
Being a Christian has always involved risks. Loss of relationships, misunderstanding, persecution, and even death have attended those who seek to follow Christ. Being a Christian also involves great rewards. Through the centuries, many people took risks to gain the rewards of following “the way of the Lord more accurately” (Acts 18:26b). Several of these people made risks and changes by faith that impacted the growth of the churches of Christ in Canada and the United States. The goal of this short article is to better understand the lives and work of John Glas, Robert Sandeman, Robert Haldane, James Alexander Haldane, and Greville Ewing. These people sought salvation, unity for the body of Christ and to worship God as the early church did.
John GlasJohn Glas (1695-1773) was born in Fife, Scotland, to Thomas Glas, a Church of Scotland minister, and his wife Agnes. Following an M.A. at St. Andrews in 1713 and studies at the University of Edinburgh, John became a Church of Scotland, Presbyterian minister at Dunkeld and then Tealing in 1719, where he began preaching about the differences between Scripture and the Presbyterian Shorter Catechism. In July 1725, Glas separated from the Tealing church and formed an independent church with a Presbyterian society governance. He wrote The Testimony of the King of Martyrs Concerning His Kingdom in 1727, in which he expressed opposition to state churches and civil intervention in church matters.
To Glas, the true church is those who experience Christ’s grace and gather together, separating themselves from the world. Scripture is the ultimate authority, and contrary to popular opinion Great Britain, the kingdom of God is not of this world. Several synods from 1726-1728 called Glas to account for his beliefs and finally deposed him in 1728. He established a church in Dundee, then in Perth in 1733, against considerable opposition, and in 1734 he established another in Edinburgh.
Though historians call his followers Glasites, he called his congregations Churches of Christ. He stressed a return to primitive church polity with congregational autonomy under elders, weekly Lord’s Supper and offerings, agape feast, reading of Scripture, Psalms-only a cappella singing, church discipline, sermons and prayers.
Robert SandemanRobert Sandeman (1718-1771) was born in Perth to a linen merchant and magistrate. He became familiar with the teachings of John Glas as a young person and while studying in Edinburgh he attended a Glasite congregation. He met John Glas and married his daughter Katherine in 1737. From 1735-1744 he worked in the weaving business but in 1744 he devoted himself to church work fulltime, preaching at Perth, Dundee, and Edinburgh.
Sandeman’s influence expanded in 1757 when he wrote Letters on Theron and Aspasio, a critique of the Calvinist ideas of James Hervey. This lead to the establishment of many congregational churches and teaching opportunities in London where he went with his brother William in 1761. His Letters reached the American colonies along with a request from Danbury, CT, to visit. Sandeman’s travels lead to the establishment of several churches in New England. He died in Danbury in 1771. His churches of Christ closely resembled the polity of Glas’s.
Robert and James Alexander HaldaneAfter the death of their father, Robert Haldane (1764-1842) and James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851), were raised by their maternal grandmother, Lady Lundie, in Dundee. While in the navy, Robert met and was influenced by David Bogue, an Independent Church minister and brother-in-law of Greville Ewing. James moved to London where he came under the influence of a minister of the English Independent Church, William Innes. Following the ideas of Glas and Sandeman, the Haldanes, Innes, and Ewing began a congregational church in Edinburgh in 1799, known as the Tabernacle church which the Irish-American restoration thinker Alexander Campbell visited in 1847. They began other “tabernacle” churches emphasizing the authority of the New Testament as a pattern for Christian worship and life through all eras. They taught “restoration,” local autonomy, the leadership of elders, separation from state, weekly Lord’s Supper, and immersion (as of 1808).
Greville EwingGreville Ewing (1767-1841) was the son of Alexander, a math teacher. Greville studied at the University of Edinburgh and preached at Lady Glenorchy’s Chapel which was an “independent chapel of the Church of Scotland” (“Greville Ewing,” in Encyclopedia). He wrote on missions for Evangelical Magazine and became associated with David Bogue and William Innes. After leaving the Church of Scotland in 1798, Ewing was a founding member of the Edinburgh Tabernacle Church with Innes and the Haldanes where he became head of Robert Haldane’s seminary.
Between his 1808 shipwreck and his journey to America in 1809, Alexander Campbell became a friend of Ewing in Glasgow. Ewing helped Campbell get established in his studies and influenced Campbell on church governance and weekly Lord’s Supper. Ewing parted company with the Haldane’s on immersion of believers.
ConclusionGlas, Sandeman, the Haldanes, and Ewing made significant inroads to restoring New Testament Christianity in the British Isles and in the colonies. Michael Faraday, a Sandemanian elder, brought the Sandeman influence to New England. They worked through opposition and the winds of doctrine of their time to get closer to the primitive faith and practice of early New Testament Christianity. The Haldanes and Ewing made an impression on the thinking of Alexander Campbell, notably with respect to faith, congregational governance, and immersion. The impulses of these courageous Christians carried across the ocean to the churches in North America.