Remembering Pioneering Disciple James Challen
Remembering Pioneering Disciple James Challen

James Challen wrote a number of articles for Christian Standard during its first dozen or so years of publication. The articles were good, but the most interesting essay to feature Challen likely was his obituary, written in 1878 by founding editor Isaac Errett, with whom Challen was sharing a pulpit in Cincinnati when Challen was struck ill late that year.

As you’ll read, Challen “shared the fellowship and the labors of all the leading spirits of the Reformation” during his lifetime. Also interesting to note, Errett referred to the man, who was 18 years his senior, as “Father” Challen.

Here is some of what Errett wrote in that editorial.

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Death of Elder James Challen

December 14, 1878

Father Challen has gone home. He took his departure on Monday morning, December 9, at five o’clock. . . . His last sermon was preached in the Central Church, Oct. 20, and his last speech in public was made to the Missionary Convention. Throughout his illness, his mind was clear, his faith firm, his hope bright, his spirit resigned—if, indeed, resignation is the proper word to describe that state of mind which constantly repeats, with untrembling faith, “There remaineth a rest for the people of God.” . . .

James Challen was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, January 29, 1802, . . . In 1809, when James was seven years old, the family removed to Lexington, Ky. . . . Here, in early life, after having been for some time troubled with skepticism, he was led to place a firm trust in Jesus as a Divine Saviour. . . . He united with the Baptist Church under the ministry of James Fishback, and soon commenced preaching. Realizing the need of a better education, he entered Transylvania University, then under the presidency of Dr. Horace Holley, and while here he had conferred on him the honor of delivering the speech that welcomed Lafayette to its halls. . . . [B]efore he entered his senior year he was called to take charge of the Enon Baptist Church in Cincinnati . . . until in consequence of the growth of the church, it was deemed expedient to form a new church, of which he became pastor. Shortly after this, Alexander Campbell visited Cincinnati and preached in the house occupied by Bro. Challen. He had heard Mr. Campbell in Lexington, was a subscriber to the “Christian Baptist,” and was prepared to listen again with a heart already largely in sympathy with Mr. Campbell’s plea for reformation. The church to which he ministered was soon brought into sympathy with this effort to restore primitive Christianity. . . . All this resulted in the establishment of what has ever since been known as the Sycamore Church—the first of our churches in Cincinnati, and the fruitful mother of churches throughout the West. Bro. Challen was instrumental in building up a large and flourishing church, which became famous throughout the land, and Cincinnati became, for the Disciples, a center of influence. . . .


During his ministry in Cincinnati he spent much time in evangelizing at various points in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, made many converts, and planted many churches—among the rest, the church in Covington [Ky.], and that at Rising Sun, Ind. In 1834, after the death of his father and younger brother, he returned to Lexington, Ky., and finding a few disciples there, assembled them as a church and presided over it for some years. This is now known as the Main Street Church. In 1850 he went to Philadelphia, and remained some eight years in that city. . . . In 1860 he removed to Davenport, Iowa, and spent several years in pastoral and evangelical labors in that city and vicinity. About 1870 he returned to Cincinnati and spent the rest of his days amid the scenes of his early labors and triumphs. . . . After Bro. Wm. T. Moore left for England, he arranged with me for joint pulpit labors in the Central Church, and we preached alternately until Oct. 20, when he preached his last sermon. . . .

Father Challen shared the fellowship and the labors of all the leading spirits of the Reformation—the Campbells, Scott, Richardson, Burnet, Johnson, the Smiths and Rogerses, the Creaths, the Powells, Shepard, Jameson, O’Kane, Coleman, Henshall, Fall, and many more that we cannot mention. None had better opportunities to know fully the master minds of the religious movement to which he gave the strength of his days. In addition to his pulpit labors, he did much with the pen, not only in contributions to our periodicals, but in editing periodicals and writing books. . . . He edited for several years “The Ladies’ Christian Annual,” and “The Gem,” a Sunday-school paper, and also a Sunday-school library.

. . . He was among the founders of the American Christian Missionary Society. . . . He was from the start identified with our Foreign Missionary Society, a faithful member of its Executive Committee, and at the time of his death its first Vice President. He was also one of the founders of the College of Teachers in this city. . . .

Our personal relations to Father Challen, for many years, have been intimate. We knew him as few were permitted to know him. He was ever a fast friend of the Standard, and contributed freely to its columns. . . .

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Errett then went on to salute Challen’s many qualities.

The following essay—written by Challen and published on April 25, 1874—distinguished itself by being so unlike the other half-dozen writings by Challen that were reviewed.

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The Frightened Disciple

By James Challen
April 25, 1874

Fear is a very necessary thing, when there is real danger; but when one is frightened at a shadow, it seems ridiculous, unless the shadow portends something alarming. But our disciple was wonderfully given to fright.

1. I have known him to be frightened at a cloud; not often, however, on the working days of the week, but on the first day—on Sunday. It was near the hour for service, he was dressed and ready to leave for church; but when he looked out of the window he saw a cloud. It was not much of a cloud; there was no thunder or lightning, but simply a cloud. He was afraid he might get wet. Poor man! That would be a serious thing, to get wet. Rain is a terrible thing on Sunday! He went in-doors, and put aside his hat, and sat down to read the Sunday papers and smoke another segar, and wonder what “Old Probabilities” would say about Monday. Hoped, if it did rain, he might not get very wet then! It was dangerous to one’s health to get wet on Sunday.

2. He was very much frightened at the prayer meeting. He often thought he would go to one; but he feared that he might be called upon to pray, and that would be more than he could stand. He started, however; but as he went a few steps, he became so much alarmed, that he called in to see his neighbor, who was making ready to go to the social meeting, and detained him so long that neither of them went. He thought that prayer meetings were a little too old fogy.

3. He was more than once alarmed at the idea of going to hear a missionary discourse. He liked the preacher very much. He didn’t like the Louisville plan. He was always glad to hear of the conversion of sinners. He thought the heathen ought to have the gospel sent them. But then he feared that a collection would be taken up, and he did not like to give. He mustered up courage once and went; but took his seat near the door, and just as the preacher closed his sermon he fled in terror, and was not seen in church afterwards for a long time. This disease of fright has assumed a chronic form, and is very difficult of cure. Unless he can get some relief, I believe he will make [a] shipwreck of his faith. If some fresh danger shall threaten him, such as giving a little money to our orphan school, or a pledge of five dollars to aid in repairs of the old church, or two dollars a year for the Standard, it may go hard with him.

The only cure for this panicky disciple is to always act contrariwise. . . .

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Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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