Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remembering Rice Haggard

On Monday, August 4th, 1794, a group of about thirty preachers met at the Old Lebanon Church near Surrey, Virginia. There just a few miles from the James River they searched together for truth.

The first and most important question before them was, "What should we call ourselves? By what name should we be known to the world?" Less than a year had passed since the group had adopted the name Republican (meaning "free" or "independent") Methodists. But standing by their commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, they searched for a name that was biblically approved. In the course of their meeting, they considered and debated several resolutions. Finally, a young man named Rice Haggard stood up with a copy of the New Testament in his hand and said:

Brethren, this is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, and by it we are told that the disciples were called Christians, and I move that henceforth and forever the followers of Christ be known as Christians simply.

The conference unanimously adopted the proposal, and from that time on they wore no other name. [1]


Most of the standard textbooks on Restoration history associate Rice Haggard with the Republican Methodists and their leading figure, James O'Kelly. And it is the story just told for which Haggard's name has barely been remembered. [2]

But the larger picture of Haggard's life and influence have all but been forgotten. Few people recognize his name. Even fewer recognize that of the three earliest attempts to return to primitive Christianity on American soil, he alone exerted a direct influence on each one. More than two centuries later, it's time we rediscovered this giant of faith to whom we owe so much.

More next time. . . .

Notes:

[1] Wilbur E. MacClenney, The Life of Rev. James O'Kelly (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1910), pp. 115-16.

[2] See, for example, Earl I. West, The Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 1, reprint ed. (Germantown, TN: Religious Book Service, 1990), p. 10, and Everett Ferguson, Church History, Reformation and Modern, 2nd ed. (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press, 1967), p. 68.
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The historical markers pictured above are located along Virginia Route 10 (also known as Colonial Trail West) near present-day Surrey, Virginia in Surrey County. Click for map.

Also, you can click on the lower photo in this post to get a better look at the text on the monument. I took these photos in the summer of 1998.

This post and the ones to follow about Haggard are an updated version of my article, "Rice Haggard: Unsung Hero of the Restoration," Gospel Advocate (March 1997), pp. 26-31.

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