History Of The Church Of Christ
July 21, 2006
This is a revision of my 2002 article titled, "History Of The Church Of Christ". I noticed that most people never make it to the end of that article. I have decided to reverse the chronology, working backwards through the history, rather than forward. I hope that this encourages more people to examine the true history of the Church of Christ, as well as to see where we need to go from here. Bernie Parsons
History Of The Church Of Christ
By Bernie Parsons - May 30, 2002 Revised July 21, 2006
The American Restoration Movement
20Abner Jones was born in Royalton, Massachusetts, April 28, 1772. Reared in Calvinism, he first became a Baptist, but, like the Radical Reformers before him, rejected their doctrines in favor of the Bible as his only guide. Apparently, Mr. Jones did not base fellowship upon particular beliefs, but more so on "Christian character". This soon put him at odds with the Baptists, who would no longer allow him to preach among them. J. F. Burnett says of Jones, 20"It will be of interest to know that the first church he organized was at Lyndon, Vt., in 1801. This was before his ordination to the ministry. The second church was organized in the autumn of 1802, at Hanover, N. H., and the third during the winter of 1803, at Piermont, in the same state. The first meeting-house erected under his labors was at Salem, Massachusetts. It was situated on English Street, was twenty by forty feet, and bore the name Christian Tabernacle."
Of his departure from Baptist doctrine, Jones wrote of himself: 21"After this search, I denied the name of a baptist, and so I have continued to do unto this day. I was then willing to own the names disciple, friend, and christian, unto which I still hold."
22Around 1793, a Methodist minister in Virginia, James O'Kelly (1757-1826), urged the union of all Christians under the name of Christ, using the scriptures as guide, laying aside all of the man-made doctrines and creeds. He wrote, 23"Again as each Church is called by a different name, suppose we dissolve those unscriptural names, and for peace's sake call ourselves Christians? This would be--'The Christian Church.'"
Thomas Campbell is thought to be the pivotal character for what has become known by many in America as the Restoration Movement. 24Born in Ireland on February 1, 1763, his parents were Roman Catholics, who converted to the Anglican Church (Church of England). Thomas associated with the Seceder Presbyterians, and came to America on April 8, 1807. However, the Seceders did not affiliate with other Presbyterians, which Thomas Campbell did, partaking of the Lord's Supper (communion) with them. The Seceders cut ties with him in 1808.
Thomas Campbell was frustrated by the decades of dissent within the Separatist movements in England and Scotland. Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists fell out even within their own denominations, splintering frequently, often trying to reunite, usually to little avail. He desired that all Christians unite together in fellowship
24Joined in America by his family on September 29, 1809, and in their company on October 19, 1809, Thomas Campbell shared with son Alexander Campbell his Declaration and Address. Father and son discovered that both had renounced Presbyterianism, and both were determined to have only the Bible as their guide, abandoning all man-made creeds and church names.
24On May 4, 1811, the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania, constituted itself as the Brush Run Church, with Thomas Campbell as elder, Alexander Campbell as preacher, and four others as deacons. This church was begun by men schooled in Protestantism, but like the Radical Reformers before them, emerged as a group of Christians struggling to use only the Bible as their guidebook. 25The Brush Run Church, in 1815, became part of a nearby Baptist Association. Since the Reformers and the Baptists differed on key issues, by 1830, the Reformers cut their last ties with the Baptist Association and became known as "Disciples."
Barton W. Stone
25Parallel to the work of the Campbells was that of Presbyterian minister Barton W. Stone, born in Port Tobacco, Maryland, December 24, 1772. (He died in Hannibal, Missouri, November 9, 1844. ) Stone was educated as a school teacher and entered the ministry through the Presbyterian Church, serving a church in Cane Ridge, Kentucky. After being an important part of the historic Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, Stone and several others formed the Springfield Presbytery, denouncing all human creeds and appealing to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice.
They dissolved the Springfield Presbytery, publishing the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, whereby they dissolved their denominational ties to unite with "the body of Christ at large", simply referring to themselves as "Christians only".
25In 1832, Stone's "Christians" and the Campbells' "Disciples of Christ" agreed on basic beliefs and aims and united with a formal handshake in Lexington, Kentucky, and created a new Christian movement on the American frontier."
26"Several churches from the New England Jones-Smith, and Virginia O'Kelly movement, also became a part of the Stone-Campbell merger. After the Civil War the Christian Connexion churches which did not merge established headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. In 1931 they merged with the Congregational Church, then with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, to form in 1957 the United Church of Christ."
We see the hand of God at work that zealous men from these different denominations almost simultaneously, and apart from one another, rejected denominational doctrines and man-made church names, to be "disciples only", and "Christians only", with Christ the only head of the church--as indeed the Bible teaches.
The Problems With Campbellism
Alexander Campbell spent time in Glasgow, Scotland, in university studies. 27He seems to have picked up some of John Locke's philosophy regarding inductive reasoning. Campbell seized upon the scientific method as the basis for uniting all Christians in common faith and practice. While other Protestant religions employed "mystic" interpretation of the Scriptures in which the "spirit alone" rules, Campbell preferred reasoning upon the scriptures as the foundation for belief. Just as Calvin overreacted against the Catholic Church and swung to extreme positions of doctrine, so Campbell overreacted to Calvinism, and adopted extreme doctrines to counteract Calvin's errors.
In his efforts to deny the unbridled mysticism of Calvinism, Campbell leaned too much to the scientific side, using as his teachers the likes of John Locke and Lord Francis Bacon. Unfortunately, Campbell's Lockean and Baconian system of inductive reasoning encourages students of the Bible to choose snippets of scripture from which to build doctrine.
Having thus "discovered a truth", they declare that those who do not agree with them to be "erring brothers", requiring "disfellowshipping". They erroneously invoke the following scriptures to support their own perversion of the gospel.
Galatians 1:6-8 "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
Jude 1:3 "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
2 Thessalonians 2:15 "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."
These contentious church members and preachers suppose that any challenge to their personal or congregational traditions and private interpretation is to be rejected. They mark the challenger as an "enemy of the truth". Sadly, they create schisms in the body of Christ. When anyone attempts to heal the schisms, such a healer is branded as a "false prophet", a wolf in sheep's clothing, one who "does not hold the traditions which they have been taught". This results in a continuous fracturing and splintering of the church.
Born of a contentious Separatist and Reformist Protestant history, the Restoration movement's goal to unite all in the Spirit of Christ appears doomed to failure. This is evident in the 28Sand Creek Address and Declaration of August 17th, 1889, at Sand Creek, Illinois. The framers of this document set aside scripture in favor of their own concoction, which placed their stamp of approval upon contention and division within the church. The document closes with these words, "And now, in closing up this address and declaration, we state that we are impelled from a sense of duty to say, that all such as are guilty of teaching, or allowing and practicing the many innovations to which we have referred, that after being admonished and having had sufficient time for reflection, if they do not turn away from such abominations, that we can not and will not regard them as brethren." Thus was signed and sealed a declaration, not of union, as foreseen by the likes of James O'Kelly, Abner Jones, Barton W. Stone, and Thomas Campbell, but of dissension and division.
Which brings us to the formation of the present-day Church of Christ.
The Church of Christ
29Contemporary to Alexander Campbell was Tolbert Fanning, born May 10, 1810, an influential figure in Tennessee and Kentucky. He built Franklin College near Nashville, Tennessee, in the mid-1800s. He died May 3, 1874. He edited a magazine known as The Gospel Advocate. Writes A.R. Holton, 30"He had a profound influence upon three people who were to greatly influence the restoration movement in the years to come. These three were D. L. Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, and T. H. Larimore."
Fanning was opposed to the work of missionary societies, believing the church responsible for such an undertaking. He was also opposed to instrumental music in the church. He felt the need for colleges to educate Christian preachers, and felt that his magazine was a good way to spread the gospel. 31It is said the he drew his Christian education from listening to his Baptist mother, as well as Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian preachers, whom he occasionally heard. Later he fell under the influence of "Christian" preachers and thus was launched his preaching career. He traveled occasionally with Alexander Campbell, in that restorer's ministry.
32David Lipscomb, student of Tolbert Fanning, lamented the divisive spirit of the Sand Creek Address and Declaration, yet presided over a major split in the Disciples of Christ/Christian movement. In his writing, 33Christian Unity, Lipscomb condemned division within the church. However, he maintained that things not specifically forbidden in the Holy Scriptures still cannot be practiced. He stated that only those things found in the scriptures may be practiced.
He opposed the formation of a missionary society by the Disciples to preach the gospel abroad. He also opposed instrumental music in Christian assemblies. Thus, while condemning what the church convention at Sand Creek did, he presided over the fractious withdrawal of the Churches of Christ from the Disciples of Christ.
The Church of Christ was formally established during the 1906 U.S. Census (1916 Census record), when David Lipscomb submitted to the U.S. Census takers that the Churches of Christ had indeed separated themselves from the Disciples of Christ. He resurrected the Tolbert Fanning magazine, Gospel Advocate. He also founded a Christian college in Nashville, Tennessee, which today bears his name.
Since the breakaway of the Churches of Christ from the Disciples, those churches have seen many more divisions within their ranks.
A History of Secession and Division
We need to acknowledge our history, for that history lets us understand the root of our schisms within the church of Christ. Catholic Protestants attempted to "Reform" the Catholic Church, with that Reformation resulting in Calvinism and Presbyterianism. The "Restoration" of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and associates was their attempt to work with Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists to move these Protestant bodies into a common restored church with Biblical roots. Their aim is commendable and worthy of respect, for they desired that men drop all denominational names and practices, uniting in one general Christian body.
Jones, O'Kelly, Stone, and the Campbells urged Christians to abandon unscriptural church names and to be "Christians only", or "disciples only". Out of this "Restoration Movement" came the Disciples of Christ. In 1906, David Lipscomb submitted to the U.S. Census bureau that the Churches of Christ had parted company with the Disciples of Christ, primarily over the Disciples' use of instrumental music in the "worship service" (read "Church Assembly" and "Five Items Of Worship"), and their formation of a missionary society to spread the gospel. Prior to this, they were all considered part and parcel of the same Christian body.
The Church of Christ purports to "speak where the Bible speaks, and is silent where the Bible is silent". I wish that this were so. I have dealt with many factions and sects within the Church of Christ, many of whom will not affiliate with other groups of the Church of Christ. This is because some man, or group of men, creates a new doctrine, using the Campbellite "science" of induction to ascertain the true Bible "pattern" for the church. When they are unable to persuade their "erring brethren" to come over to this newly devised doctrine, in the bitter spirit of the Sand Creek Address and Declaration, war is declared, and the new group shuns the old group. This is often done through "disfellowshipping", akin to Catholic excommunication, or Amish shunning. Many bitter personal battles have been waged among brethren in the name of "unity". The bitter fruit is more secession, and more division.
Yet, as an entity known as the "Church of Christ", they tenaciously cling to certain traditional doctrines. Some say that a thorough study of the Bible yields to every student the same teachings and commandments, producing doctrinal uniformity. This sounds good on the surface, but is not the absolute truth. There are ideas and concepts taught in the Church of Christ that one cannot substantiate with book, chapter, and verse. They are simply passed down verbally from one generation of preachers to the next--the traditions of men. Anyone who questions these doctrines is "disfellowshipped", and is viciously attacked. I speak from personal experience.
The word "disfellowship" is not in the Bible--nor is it in the dictionary. It is a rather loose concept that allows any group or individual to abuse their relationship with other Christians. It is a traditional, man-made church doctrine. (Read "Disfellowshipping".) Through this practice, dissent is not tolerated. Worse, larger questions relating to the salvation of our souls are swept away in favor of heated discussions over hermeneutics. This has been adopted by Campbellitish religionists as the "science" of Bible study.
The early "restorers" had a couple of interesting mottoes. One is "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.". Another is, "In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; and in all things, charity".
The first statement is ostensibly a rendering of 1 Peter 4:11 "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
The second statement is often purported to be based upon Romans 14, although I see it as a condensation of various scriptural principles. The unity in the faith seems aptly described in:
Ephesians 4:11-16 "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
Regarding opinions and liberty, Romans 14 is indeed a good study of the subject, but I include 1 Corinthians 8:9 "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your's become a stumblingblock to them that are weak." (Read the surrounding verses--the context is similar to Romans 14.) Also consider, 1 Corinthians 10:29 "Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?" (Again, read to know the context.)
2 Corinthians 3:17 "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Galatians 5:13 "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."
James 2:12 "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."
Charity (read "That Which Is Perfect") is best described in 1 Corinthians 13 and surrounding verses.
If we understood charity in the Churches of Christ, we would not constantly be at one another's throats. We would instead concentrate our efforts on a return to scriptural behavior and character, as well as the effort to bring all Christians into one fold in Christ Jesus. Jesus tore down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. We have built a wall of arrogance and self-righteousness between our own local congregations and the rest of the world.
The Modern Church of Christ
Regrettably, in the Church of Christ today, we have inherited the Seceder, or Separatist, spirit of partisanship, of contention, and of bondage to the opinions and musings of men. We forget the Apostle Paul's admonition in :
Ephesians 4:1-6 "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
And our Lord's words in:
John 17:20-23 "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."
The Apostle Paul decried such contention as we see in the modern church in his writings.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
1 Corinthians 11:16 "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
Romans 2:8-9 "But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;"
If we truly followed the guiding principles of the early Restoration Movement, there would be little contention and no factions. Our problem lies with the fractious secessionist history of the movement, as well as the very methodology that the Campbells employed, drawing heavily from the works of John Locke, and the school of Scottish Common Sense Realism. Alexander Campbell attempted to apply science and logical induction to the Bible, following the concepts of Francis Bacon. From his attempts are derived our present dogma of "command, example, or necessary inference".
Our current lack of cohesion in the churches of Christ lies with the use of hermeneutics to find "inferred commands" in the scriptures. Unfortunately, each person being schooled differently, coming from various cultures and environments, and at different stages of spiritual development, brings his or her own opinions into play when ferreting out these "inferred commands".
Contrary to what the Bible teaches, many in the Church of Christ allow for no opinion whatsoever, no leeway in matters of conscience. To them, everything is a matter of faith. If we cannot agree with them, then there can be no unity of faith--therefore, they "withdraw fellowship" from us. While these people abhor the apostasy of Catholicism, and renounce the incomplete results of the Protestant Reformation, they become apostate themselves in that they reject many of the teachings of the Bible. Most of them are stuck in the incomplete teachings of Alexander Campbell and his associates and students. This is why Calvinists derisively refer to them as "Campbellites".