THE ORIGIN OF CHURCHES OF CHRIST
In this lesson we study of some of the Ezras and Nehemiahs of the New Testament church.. Ezra and Nehemiah restored the Old Testament church, and there were men of like character who participated in rebuilding God's New Testament temple and restoring the true worship of God after it had become corrupted by the apostate church of the Dark Ages. These men inaugurated the fourth and final period of church history which has been designated as the Restoration period. The first period was the Apostolic period when it all began and extends from about 33 A.D. to 100 A.D. The second period is the Middle Ages, more correctly called the Dark Ages and extended from abut 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. The third period was the Reformation period which extended from 1500 A.D. to about 1800 A.D. The fourth is called the Restoration period because there was a great return to original New Testament Christianity, and this period extends from 1800 A.D. to the present day.
The purpose of this study is to acquaint you with some of these men to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Were it not for these men, the congregations in the world known as Churches of Christ would not be as prominent, as internationally recognized , and as successful as they presently are.
To begin this study, I call your attention to a man called Roger Williams who lived in the 1600's and was, so far as we know, the first man in early America to take a stand against sprinkling for baptism instead of immersion. He restored the New Testament practice of immersion. He was not associated with congregations known to today as Churches of Christ, for there were no Christians who called themselves simply Churches of Church in early America. Churches of Christ that did exist in the the world were probably family churches, so small they could make little impact on the divided condition of the Christian religion.
Two of the notable Bible scholars and preachers in early America were Thomas and Alexander Campbell. These two men are mentioned in the World Book Encyclopedia. The article says, “Churches of Christ are a group of religious congregations that trace their beginnings to the times of the apostles. Members believe that the first Church of Christ was established on Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They claim that the church spread through the Roman world, but later declined until the 1800's. Then Thomas Campbell(1763-1854), his son Alexander (1788-1866), and their associates restored it The Churches of Christ regard Christ as the Founder, Head and Savior of the church. They regard the Campbell's as the restorers of the primitive church.” These
men, and others like them, did not found the Church of Christ;, they only restored and revived it. Jesus Christ is the only founder of His church, and He founded it in 33 A.D. in the city of Jerusalem..
The World Book Encyclopedia is a recognized book of knowledge and history, and it makes the statement that Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander and their associates restored the primitive church in early America. It also makes the statement that Churches of Christ regard them as restorers, not founders, of the primitive church. This is a true and correct statement about present day Churches of Christ. The World Book knows more about Churches of Christ than many present day members. A study of early American religious history proves the World Book to be right.
In addition these words are found in the Encyclopedia Britannica,
“The first pronounced appeal for Christian unity in the United States came from Barton Stone, Presbyterian minister of Kentucky in 1804, and from Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander of the Seceder Presbyterian church in Western Pennsylvania in 1809.” It is a well documented historical fact that Churches of Christ represent a movement in the Christian religion to restore the primitive church of the first century. This is a distinguishing mark of those Christians today known as Churches of Christ. In this brief discussion of the origin of Churches of Christ, I can only give you a brief biographical sketch of the lives off Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Father and son came to America from Scotland in 1809. As members of the Presbyterian church both had been sprinkled, and by a study of the scriptures they decided they had never been scripturally baptized because sprinkling is not immersion. Forthwith, they were immersed into the death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins as taught in scripture in Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-6, and Acts 22:16. Alexander was more famous than his dad. He became a great preacher, teacher and debater. He was probably the greatest Bible scholar of the 19th century. Everett Ferguson, a noted preacher and writer in our brotherhood said, “There is no man this side of the apostles to whom we as religious people are more indebted than Alexander Campbell. Yet there is no man to whom we give less credit and recognition than Alexander Campbell. We covertly make use of his insights, perhaps not recognizing the source.”
The cause to which he dedicated his life was the return of the religious world to primitive Christianity. There was little of primitive Christianity in early America. Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United
States and the author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote a letter to his friend, Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia and said, “To the
corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus Himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to His doctrines, in preference to all others, ascribing to Himself every human excellence; and believing that He never claimed any other.” Churches of Christ do not claim Jefferson as a restoration preacher, but the sentiment expressed in his statement is a restoration idea. The greatest thought of the heart of Alexander Campbell was the union of all of God's people on the simple basis of the truth. He charged the Protestants with making the same mistake as the Papal church. He stood for revealed truth, instead of the unwritten traditions of the Papacy, the unwritten traditions of the Protestants, in the form of human creeds, confessions of faith, disciplines etc.. Their traditions took the place of the law of Christ almost as effectively as the unwritten traditions of the Papacy. He maintained that these creeds and traditions must be swept away before the law of God could be restored and enforced on people or the world could be converted. He maintained that nothing short of a complete return to the original ground, occupied by the apostles and early Christians, in both faith and practice, would meet the approval of God. This had never been attempted before. Above this no human beings could rise.
One of the greatest contributions he made to the world was to restore the design and purpose of Baptism. No one believed that baptism was a saving act and that in that act all sins were forgiven. The Baptists recognized that true baptism was an immersion, and the Campbell's were associated with the Baptists for a time. because they practiced immersion. He separated from them because they rejected the truth that forgiveness of sins occurs in baptism and not at the point of faith.. His favorite expression was that baptism formally washes away sin; the blood of Christ really does so. Otherwise stated, faith is the reason why and baptism is the time at which forgiveness is obtained. We owe it to him for giving back to the world the true purpose and meaning of New Testament baptism. His Baptist friends, from which he separated, never did learn this great truth and have not learned it to this day. This was a false teaching of John Calvin, from which the Baptists have never been able to escape. They still maintain that baptism has nothing to do with salvation, it is not a saving act but only a symbol.
Another significant contribution he has made to the world was to restore the true names of the church-- Church of Christ and Church of
God. He was not the only one who had a part in doing this, but he was one of the earliest leaders. In the early 1800's there were no professed Christians who called themselves Churches of Christ. In withdrawing
from the Protestant denominational world, he and his followers agreed to call themselves by the name Paul used in Romans 16:16, “ Churches of Christ.” Not believing they were a denomination, they refused to use any denominational name.
There is one more great accomplishment that belongs to this early preacher. He was one of the first preachers able and willing to stand up against the false teachings of John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterian church. Calvin taught that in conversion the Holy Spirit acts directly on the heart and when that experience is felt, salvation occurs at that moment, and one is saved forever. He taught that neither baptism nor the Lord's Supper have any saving value. People are saved by the direct and irresistable operation of the Holy Spirit. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are only symbols, and that is the reason the Protestant world attaches little or no value to either baptism or the Lord's Supper. This was John Calvin's teaching, but not the teaching of the New Testament. Campbell had the Bible knowledge and speaking ability to oppose Calvin's teachings and overcome them. Here is quotation taken from some of his writings:
“I do believe and have clearly taught time after time, that the Spirit of God is the regenerator, and that Hee does it only by His Word....I do teach that the Holy Spirit renovates the human mind by the instrumentality of His word, while you and many others seem to me to contend that the Holy Spirit personally descends from heaven, enters the human heart and, without His Word, miraculously creates a man anew. I pretend not to separate the Word and Spirit. I do not say that the Word alone nor the Spirit alone enlightens, sanctifies or saves. With the Lord Jesus I would pray, “Sanctify them through thy truth; the Word is truth.
“The human heart must be changed and renovated by some cause; for unless the heart be reconciled to God, purified, cleansed, no man can be admitted into the society of heaven. ... But the question is, How is this moral change to be effected? By the Spirit alone? By the gospel facts alone? By the Word alone? I do not affirm any of these propositions. I never did affirm any of them.”
“How the Spirit operates in the Word, through the Word, by the Word, or with the Word, I do not affirm. I only oppose the idea that any one is changed in heart or renewed in the spirit of his mind by the Spirit without the Word.” This teaching was completely revolutionary in early America It swept away the false theory that faith and repentance are immediate gifts from God imparted by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart. The truth is, the faith and repentance are things man must do for himself with the help of God's word. Campbell severely resisted this idea that salvation was based on feelings, impulses, dreams, experiences better felt than told.”
This is the origin of those Christians in the world today known as Churches of Christ. Consider what I say and the Lord give you understanding.