12 August, 2022

THROWBACK THURSDAY: ‘Isaac Errett in Michigan’ (1969)

by | 7 July, 2022

For years, Christian Standard encouraged readers to attend and support the North American Christian Convention. During many years, the magazine shined a spotlight on the host city and state. Some articles served as a sort of travelogue of possible activities for individuals and families. Other times, the articles highlighted Restoration Movement history that occurred in that area.

This article from 1969 falls into that latter category.

Prior to becoming founding editor of Christian Standard in 1866, Isaac Errett served in ministry in Michigan. Here is an article about Errett in Michigan by James G. Van Buren from 1969.

_ _ _

Isaac Errett in Michigan

By James G. Van Buren
April 19, 1969; p. 9

WHEN the North American Christian Convention comes to Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan, July 8-11, it will bring friends of the Restoration movement to long familiar ground. It is ground especially familiar to the founder and first editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.

One of the most interesting chapters in the life and work of Isaac Errett took place in Michigan. It was a most germinal period, for it marked his emergence as a national figure through his position as Corresponding Secretary of the American Christian Missionary Society. This, too, was a period during which he became an associate editor of the “Millennial Harbinger” and contributed many valuable articles to its pages. It saw the flowering of his work as evangelist and local church minister and, at the close, marked the beginning of his great career as the editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.

Isaac Errett was one of our earliest leaders to be closely identified with cities. In an era when much of the stress of our effort and much of the strength of our people were concentrated in rural areas, Errett was oriented to cities. He was born and reared in New York City, spent his most formative years in Pittsburgh, preached effectively in Detroit, and became an editor in Cleveland and Cincinnati.


Yet his Michigan years began in a primitive and remote area of that state. He had left a successful pastorate at Warren, Ohio, to move with his large family to a home near Lyons, Michigan. This was about thirty miles east of Grand Rapids and was in an undeveloped pioneer lumbering area. Mr. Errett had become a partner in a lumber mill venture. He was not to assume an active part in the business, as such; but went with the understanding his energies could be devoted, most largely, to the work of preaching and evangelizing. There was a great need for such effort, since the main concern of the earlier settlers had been economic and little attention had been given to the spiritual needs of many persons scattered about through the tracts of timber and in the lumbering areas. Of Mr. Errett’s business venture little needs to be said, except that it was not successful and that he withdrew from it long before he left Michigan.

However, he began to preach and evangelize in isolated schoolhouses or wherever a group could be assembled. J. S. Lamar, who gives the only extended account of Errett’s Michigan experiences, writes in his “Memoirs of Isaac Errett”:

His going to this remote and comparatively wild country seemed very unwise . . . but God had called him, and His presence went with him. As the result of the divine blessing upon his faithful labors, about five hundred persons in the county, and about one thousand in that part of the state, were brought to the feet of the great Teacher, and organized into a number of strong and influential churches (volume I, p. 190).

When Isaac Errett moved to Michigan in 1856, it had been a state for only nineteen years. The section around Lyons was but little developed. After a time, however, as the lumber business expanded, a small settlement grew up near the Errett home and, finally, the village of Muir was organized. Isaac preached for a group of disciples who met in the schoolhouse. The congregation grew in numbers and, in 1862, dedicated its own house of worship.

Ionia, now a town of about 6,500, was the county seat. It possessed several churches and a number of people identified with New Testament Christianity, but no congregation devoted to “the restoration of the ancient order of things.” Several of these persons invited Isaac Errett to hold a meeting in Ionia with a view to the establishment of a congregation. The meeting was held and it was very successful. Many of the most respected individuals in the community obeyed the gospel and a strong church was organized.

In January, 1909, W. T. Moore spoke at the fiftieth anniversary of the establishing of the Ionia congregation. It was fitting that he delivered an address entitled “Isaac Errett; the Man and His Work.” This is printed in full in Moore’s “Comprehensive History of the Disciples of Christ” and covers twenty-eight large pages. Moore had been associated with Errett in the publication of a hymnal, had succeeded him in the pastorate of the Detroit congregation, and had ministered to a church (Central Christian Church) in Cincinnati for several years in which Errett served as an elder. Incidentally, it is Moore who gives the only physical description of Errett I have read. It is in his introduction to Errett’s sermon in “The Living Pulpit of the Christian Church,” which was printed in 1869. “He is about six feet one inch high, has dark auburn hair, light gray eyes, and a well developed physical organization.”


While it is true that the main focus of Errett’s work was in the relative isolation of Michigan, he was traveling widely each year because of his work for the American Christian Missionary Society. He also was well known because of his writings and, in addition, held successful evangelistic meetings in such places as St. Louis and Baltimore. In the course of his career he had become well acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hawley of Detroit. These people were quite wealthy, well educated, and accomplished. They were members of the only Christian church in existence in Detroit at that time. It met in the city hall and had no regularly employed minister. Its elders were good and devout men, but could not give the extended time to study or to pastoral work which a church in a rapidly developing urban situation required. Further, while there was no question as to the orthodoxy of the congregation, its leadership seemed to be actuated by a narrow, dogmatic, and exclusivistic spirit.

In October of 1862, Isaac Errett was entertained in the Hawley home and they opened their hearts to him about their great concern for the future of the church in Detroit. They bore no ill will toward any in the congregation and were faithful in its attendance and support. Nevertheless, they and a considerable number of others felt that another congregation, housed in its own building and exhibiting a spirit of kindness and conciliation, would be very successful and could accomplish much for the Lord.

It so happened that a church building which had belonged to the Congregationalists was for sale and it was felt it would make an excellent home for the proposed new congregation. Mr. Hawley and another interested man, Colin Campbell, had decided that, if Isaac Errett would agree to come as minister, they would buy the building, themselves, and refurnish it. This they later did at a cost of about $10,000. After considering and praying about this, Errett decided to accept the offer and move to Detroit.

It was in January, 1863, that the church was organized in the new building at Jefferson Avenue and Beaubien Street. Seventeen persons became members at that time. The opening of the church was quite an event in Detroit; a large group gathered for the occasion, and W. K. Pendleton of Bethany gave the opening message.

The two years Mr. Errett worked as minister of this congregation were full of trials and triumphs. He was assailed by many who felt his attitude was in some way a compromise of the “old Jerusalem gospel.” The idea of a church building with cushioned pews, well-shined furniture, etc., was anathema to many. When the congregation issued a statement as to its religious position, this was attacked as a “creed.” In addition, there were many tensions as a result of the Civil War. Errett’s oldest son James, had enlisted in the Union army; his brother, Russell, was a major, and he made no secret that his sympathies lay in the direction of the Union cause. Since several prominent leaders in the Detroit church were Democrats, and cool to the whole war effort, some tensions developed.

However, the work went forward with great success and the influence of the Restoration movement in Detroit expanded constantly. The leadership qualities of Isaac Errett were widely recognized in the city and the outreach of the congregation constantly widened. When, at the end of two years, he once more returned to his home in Muir, the church had grown from its original seventeen to one hundred twenty. Many of these members were among the most respected people in the area.


It was less than a year later that Errett was made aware of a movement to start a new weekly periodical. This had been a need long recognized among the concerned brethren in many areas of the nation. In fact, Errett had done considerable work looking toward the possibility of beginning such a publishing venture in Detroit. Now the Phillips brothers of New Castle, Pennsylvania; General James A. Garfield; and several other prominent brethren were seriously considering this project.

It was on December 22, 1865, that a group consisting of Isaac Errett, J. P. Robinson, W. K. Pendleton, J. A. Garfield, C.H. Gould, J. F. Rowe, J. K. Pickett, J. B. Milner, O. Higgins, E. J. Agnew, J. T. Phillips, C. M. Phillips, T. W. Phillips, and W. J. Ford met at T. W. Phillips’ home in New Castle and passed resolutions to found a new weekly religious paper and to form a joint stock company to raise the money to publish it. Several business matters were arranged, legal steps were projected, and Isaac Errett was unanimously elected as the editor of the new publication, which, on February 14, 1866, was named the CHRISTIAN STANDARD.

This marked the end of Isaac Errett’s direct involvement with the Michigan work. From now on, first in Cleveland and then in Cincinnati, his entire energies were devoted to the editing of that periodical through which, for twenty-two years, he exerted an incalculable influence for good—for the movement to which he had dedicated himself, and for the cause of Christ, in general.

When the North American Christian Convention assembles in Detroit this summer it is not going into an area which has never known the vigorous advocacy of the Restoration plea. It was in Detroit that Isaac Errett did some of his greatest work, and in Michigan that he labored for nearly ten years in the prime of his life, establishing congregations, and writing many valuable articles and books, including the widely circulated “Walks about Jerusalem” and “Linsey-Woolsey.” It was while he was still a resident of Michigan that he participated in the founding of the CHRISTIAN STANDARD. No greater tribute to the memory of Isaac Errett could be paid than to hold a great and powerful convention in the city where he labored, over a hundred years ago, to plant the standard of simple, apostolic Christian truth. That message which, preached with winsomeness and warmth, was effective in the establishing of the work of God amid the turmoil of civil conflict and ecclesiastical debate can, even now, come to the area with an authentic note of authority, arousal, and hope.

Mr. Van Buren is a member of the faculty of Manhattan Bible College, Manhattan, Kansas.

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com


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