January 1, 1820
Reverend Metcalfe began to try to get his message across by publishing his religious ideas. "The words of the Bible, Bible Christians believed, clearly called for the abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, intoxicating liquors as beverages, as well as war, capital punishment, and slavery."
THE RURAL MAGAZINE, AND LITERARY EVENING FIRE-SIDE
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In 1820, Metcalfe began trying to appeal to a wider audience, utilizing the development of the printed press while connecting the ideas of the Bible Christian Church with those of a variety of reform movements.
Under Metcalfe’s guidance, ten prevailing principles of the Bible Christian sect were codified in a constitution, emphasizing the real world applications of a biblically guided life. While existing biblical interpretations were invaluable and even prophetic, Bible Christians argued that continued study and interpretation was necessary to avoid the pitfalls of narrow, sectdriven loyalties. The Bible, when approached with an open, scientific mind would continue to reveal new secrets to healthy, ethical living. The Bible Christians emphasized the power of revelation through concerted study rather than blind adherence to the dictates of religious leaders or sects. Meat abstention, temperance, and moral living served to transform an individual “conjoined to the Lord, and the Lord to him.” Thus believers had the capacity to be reformed, regenerated, and finally saved.
The Bible Christians argued that religion, like science, could be rationally understood—emphasizing the power of individual, lay study over bombastic sermonizing. The group downplayed the idea of heavenly revelation in favor of learned epiphany, even questioning the ultimate divinity of Jesus Christ in favor of strict monotheism. The group emphasized that right living in body, mind, and soul ensured salvation for the individual as well as the community at large. The words of the Bible, Bible Christians believed, clearly called for the abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, intoxicating liquors as beverages, as well as war, capital punishment, and slavery. The second coming of the messiah was not a literal, physical event but rather the personal attainment of the divine truths revealed by concentrated study.
There were, of course, ironies in the principles of Bible Christianity. At the same time that the Bible Christians criticized established churches led by cults of personality, the group was led by a vocal, gregarious personality in Metcalfe. And as church ranks grew, the group sought to build institutions that provided social legitimacy. While the religious and political views of the Bible Christian Church were radical, the group was decidedly conservative in its structure and notion of self-righteousness, sharing these values with other more established Philadelphia churches.
Metcalfe’s exhortations met harsh responses from Philadelphia’s established religious elite. Warning of the dangers of “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” one Philadelphia religious body accused the Bible Christians of having “attacked the most plain and important doctrines of our holy religion” while seeking to “impose their own creed upon mankind, and take away from us the doctrines for which martyrs bled.” Bible Christians were often met in the streets with accusations of heresy. It seemed apparent to the Bible Christians that meat did, in fact, stir up animalistic responses in its consumers.
Despite the angry reactions, the church and its membership continued to grow, thanks in part to a series of articles published in The Rural Magazine and Literary Evening Friend , an agricultural and literary-themed periodical headquartered in Philadelphia. In a series of “Letters on Religious Subjects” published throughout 1820 and 1821, Metcalfe expounded on a variety of reformist ideals, connecting them with religious justifi cations and explanations. In “The Duty of Abstinence from All Intoxicating Drinks,” he off ered one of the fi rst arguments in the United States for total avoidance of alcohol.