TUNNEL HILL HISTORY
A new movement began to spread in the early 1800s. It was flamed by the hunger of the wild excitement of liberty and freedom in the young nation. Dubbed “The American Restoration Movement,” “The Second Reformation,” “The Restoration Movement,” or “An Experiment in Liberty,” a new way of “being church” in frontier America began to take hold. Determined, gritty Americans were hungry for a brand of Christianity which mirrored their own character — one that was individualistic, uncomplicated, free of corporate authority & unbound by tradition. In the summer of 1801, a revival was held at Cane Ridge, KY; hosted by Barton W. Stone, a Presbyterian minister. Stone and his followers called themselves simply “Christians” and laid out the framework for a church that:
1. Refused recognition of any organization above the congregation.
2. Pointed to Scriptures as the single source of authority.
3. Proclaimed union with all believers in Christ wishing to simply “sink into union with the Body of Christ.”
Thomas Campbell, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian preacher who had immigrated to America in 1807 and settled in southwest PA, also broke away from the Presbyterian church. He was hungry for reform and freedom when he formed the non- denominational “Christian Association of Washington, PA”. On Sept. 7, 1809, he released his now famous “Declaration and Address” which became a compass for the movement . Within weeks, Thomas Campbell’s son, Alexander, age 21, arrived fresh from his university studies in Glasgow, Scotland. He took over leadership of the small band of believers, and they called themselves the Brush Run church under the scriptural format of the “ancient order of things”, which included:
1. Christ was the bedrock of their faith and head of the church.
2. The Bible, with particular emphasis on the New Testament, was their sole source
3. Government was vested in congregational leadership.
4. There was no distinction between clergy and laity.
5. Baptism was by immersion and was for responsible believers.
6. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated weekly.
In 1828, Campbell had met Barton W. Stone and had exchanged correspondence. He then met an evangelist by the name of Walter Scott, whom he employed to promote the Restoration Movement. On January 1, 1832 at the Hill Street Christian Church in Lexington, KY, Campbell’s Disciples and Barton W. Stone’s Christians decided to become one. Their common ground included:
1. rejection of human creeds, (We have no creed but Christ!)
2. accepting the centrality of Christ in their faith,
3. recognizing the supreme authority of Scripture, (No book but the Bible!)
4. proclaiming their mutual desire for Christian unity.
Churches started spreading all over the nation, and “Campbellites” traveled the Oregon trail to the California and Oregon. In 1845, Campbell donated ground and founded Bethany College to train laity and clergy to deal with the growth. Out west, there were far more churches than there were clergy. What was unique about the Christian churches or Churches of Christ was that communion was still held every Sunday, because we believe that clergy are not required to be present in order to do so. Freedom! State conventions were being held, so Campbell formed the American Christian Bible Society in 1845, the earliest attempt at a general structure.
1866 – 1917: The founding fathers were in their graves. The nation was scarred from the Civil War and the Movement had to deal with its own internal struggles: Did the New Testament forbid the use of instrumental music in worship? How should the organization of missionary societies be structured? Disagreements arose surrounding the development of the professional ministry with title and authority. In 1906, the Churches of Christ which were concentrated in the former Confederate states, broke away. Those left were simply called Christian Church. Yet, even after this “split”, by 1909 the Christian Church numbered 1,250,000 members!
In 1968, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was formed – dividing the nation up by regions, overseen by a general office in Indianapolis. Prior to that move, Indiana numbered 791 Christian Churches.
Now, what about Tunnel Hill? Where in the world is Duncan, Indiana? Why is that important, because that’s where a group of people first met around 1855 to worship and fellowship. They decided to meet in the school house, which continued until 1863, at which time a little white frame church was erected at a cost of $1200, because they used voluntary labor. About 100 people attended. They continued to worship in this little frame building until 1969, when another group of dreamers decided to build the current facility. We still have the belfry and bell, which Eric Riley moved to its present location as part of his Eagle Scout project. In addition, some of the windows are used in the walkway towards the CAC.
In 1959, the women decided to do more than just dream. The “Building Booster’s Club” began by dispersing envelopes to give a little extra in order to build a new building. However, along with the request for money came the plea that each family begin to look outward and invite new people to church. Evangelism at its finest! 19 family units joined the organization. They held meetings on each 5th Sunday in order to “boost” the vision of a new church. Because of their faith, sheer guts and determination, within 6 years, the church was ready to hire an architect.
In 1988, another vision was born – a family life center. “Chicken, Fixns & Fun” was born in order to make that dream a reality. The Christian Activity Center was dedicated in 2005.
In 2013, the church voted to sever its relationship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but not from the Campbell/Stone movement!
Cummins, D. Duane. A Handbook for Today’s Disciples, Bethany Press, 1981.
Morgan, Peter M., ed., Disciples Family Album: 200 Years of Christian Church Leaders. St. Louis, MO: CBP Press,