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
From Catholic Church To ProtestantismConstantine: The Beginning of the State Church
7Constantine Augustus, Emperor of the East, and Licinius Augustus, Emperor of the West, issued the Edict of Milan in 313, officially ending Roman persecution of Christians, and making "Christianity" the official religion of the Roman Empire, replacing the previous pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses. He bound church and state closely together, giving high rank and power to his local "bishop".
Those who had departed from scriptural teaching soon found themselves at odds with each other, as is common when men bind their own will as if to override the will of Almighty God. As word of these disagreements reached the ears of the convert Constantine, he apparently requested a 8council of these "bishops" to meet to iron out their differences in 325 A.D. In 381 A.D., a second council met to create what is now known as the Nicene Creed.
Even as history reveals that Emperor Constantine elevated Christianity from a state-persecuted religion to the state religion, we see how local autonomy of each church began to be swallowed up in a centralized state-run religion. The modern Catholic Church is the descendant of this early apostasy. Later pages show that this religion is apostate, so I shall not linger over the continuing digression from Biblical commandment and example by the Catholic Church over the centuries. Instead, let us examine the formation of the Protestant Movement.
An important shaper of Catholic doctrine, Augustine lived around 354 A.D - 430 A.D. He was a Catholic Bishop, and tried to set forth common doctrines, expecting that Bishops over other areas would follow them. He was partially successful, and contributed such unscriptural and damaging doctrines as "original sin" and "predestination". (Read the article, "Sin and Salvation".) He was an opponent of the doctrines of Pelagius.
As the Catholic Church's offenses waxed worse and worse, with the word of man supplanting the Word of God, there were open rumblings within that body. In the 91380s, John Wycliffe took exception to several teachings of the Catholics and their pope. By the early 101500s, Martin Luther had lashed out at the rampant corruption that had eaten up this Roman entity. 11In 1534, King Henry VIII of England, wishing to have his marriage annulled so that he might marry again, was forbidden to do so by the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. He declared the Church of England (Anglican Church) to be under his direct control, breaking away from the pope. This type of control from the top, practiced by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches is called episcopalian, or prelate, rule.
12John Calvin, a Roman Catholic Frenchman living in the early to middle 1500s, was a prolific writer for the Protestant cause. Calvin, in his obsession with contradicting Catholicism, and its attendant corrupt, man-made practices, resorted to perverting certain scriptures in order to make his point. Drawing heavily upon Augustine's attacks upon Pelagius, Calvin supposed that each person will be eternally saved or destroyed by the predetermined will of God, and that the individual has no control over the matter. This conclusion appears to have been a violent reaction to the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church about purgatory, prayers offered on behalf of the dead, payment of money for absolution of sins, and similar teachings. As men often do, in order to persuade their followers that a given system is false, they overreact by going to extremes in the opposing direction.
John Calvin, wishing to show that the Catholics were wrong to say that their leaders had the power to do away with sins upon payment of money, proclaimed that the power to take away sin lay only with Christ. However, in his zeal, he erroneously taught that man has absolutely nothing to do with his own salvation, all having been done by Christ. This absolves humans of any responsibility for their own behavior, placing the entire burden on Christ. The problem is that his followers often treat sin as a given, and trust that the blood of Jesus will continue to "cover" their multitude of sins. Contrary to scripture, this encourages would-be Christians to be lax in their lives, succumbing to sin. This is akin to the Catholic practice of continually committing sin, then returning to the priest for instructions on how to obtain forgiveness for those sins.
This is contrary to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, which state that we are to flee sin, to remove it from our lives, to be holy as God is holy. Calvinists call this "works doctrine". They pervert the Apostle Paul's resistance to the Jewish "Christians" who tried to force Gentile Christians to keep the Law of Moses. Calvin, and his followers, misconstrue those writings to be against doing anything at all. They maintain that if we, ourselves, have anything to do with being righteous, then it is not of grace, and becomes a "damnable work" of man.
Any diligent lay student of the Old or New Testament writings immediately recognizes the error of this thinking. God has always demanded obedience to His will, which means that we do the work of the Lord, just as our Lord, Jesus, worked the works of God.
Salvation is by the grace, or unmerited favor, of God, as the scriptures plainly state. Salvation is by faith in (trust of) Jesus, the Son of God, as the scriptures clearly show. Salvation is also by our obedience to the word and will of Almighty God, which thing the Calvinists reject. (For more on this erroneous doctrine of Calvinism, see what the Bible says. Read: "Salvation: Grace, Faith or Works?")
13In the early 1500s, Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich (Switzerland) corresponded with Martin Luther about church reformation. He claimed the Bible as the sole source for doctrine--a radical reformation--attacking the Catholic Church's power. A colleague of his, Conrad Grebel, and a group of friends decided that infant baptism was not proper, and so instituted adult rebaptism. Their critics labeled them as Anabaptists, or "rebaptizers". The Anabaptist movement is seen as the forerunner of "restoration", the concept of taking the church all the way back to its early state described in the New Testament scriptures.
The Catholic Church and the heads of state under their control sought to wipe out the Anabaptist movement. Many of these radical reformers were drowned or otherwise murdered for their scriptural belief in adult baptism. As the later church "restorers" also discovered, the scriptures clearly teach that adult baptism, upon repentance of one's sins, is taught and practiced by Jesus and His Apostles. (Read "Baptism: Water, Spirit, & Fire")
The Church of Scotland--the Presbyterian System
14In the mid-1500s, John Knox of Scotland, a Catholic priest, and a student of John Calvin, turned Protestant. He authored the Scottish Confession of Faith in 1560, and was a key player in the Scottish Reformation. 15The Church of Scotland, with its presbyterianism, was born of this Calvinist reformation movement. 16"Presbyterians were among the earliest Reformed immigrants to America. They settled up and down the east coast, and began to push westward into the American wilderness, founding congregations as early as the 1630s."
Presbyterianism holds that churches are to be presided over by a group of presbyters, or elders, as opposed to the Catholic method of a single Bishop ruling over a church, or even a group of churches. (In the Bible, the idea of bishops seemed to be the same as that of ruling elders. I note later in this writing that within the first century after Christ, many claiming the Christian belief system wrote of a single Bishop over a church, an idea that is not at all scriptural.)
Philippians 1:1: "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:"
Titus 1:5-7 "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;"
1 Timothy 3:1-2 "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"
1 Peter 5:1: "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:"
We see the words elder and bishop being used interchangeably, and we also see that there was a plurality in each congregation. Therefore, the Catholic concept of bishop and pope is not according to the word of God. However, the presbyterian Protestants are also incorrect, in that they often have rulers over regions of a country, or over an entire country, or over the organization as a whole. This, too, is unscriptural. The Bible indicates several ruling elders (older men) working in the church in each city, making the leadership local, or at the single-church level. Each congregation is autonomous, free from any higher authority other than Christ, who is the head of the entire church, or body of Christ.
Colossians 1:18-19 "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;"
Colossians 2:8-10 "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:"
Ephesians 1:20-23 "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."
17From the state-sponsored Church of Scotland came the Free Church of Scotland, in 1843, which divorced itself from state sponsorship. Afterwards there were many separations and attempts at reunion within these bodies, and their offspring.
The Baptist Church
While all this was going on in Scotland, another 18separatist movement developed in England, in the Anglican Church (Church of England). Some of these men, such as John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, fled persecution by escaping to Amsterdam. There they mingled with Mennonites, a branch of the Anabaptists. In 1611, Thomas Helwys returned to England to set up the first General Baptist church. Says Leon McBeth, 18"They believed in a general atonement, baptism of believers only, religious liberty, and other doctrines still associated with Baptists. The General Baptists also believed that it was possible for one to fall from grace or lose his salvation."
18Another Separatist group, the Particular Baptists, holding more closely to the Calvinist doctrine of election to salvation, came into being. Historians have concluded that the first Particular Baptist church began about 1638. By 1640, at least two Particular Baptist churches became convinced that baptism should be by immersion. Prior to that, they practiced sprinkling and pouring. Again, McBeth says 18"The First London Confession of Particular Baptists, adopted in 1644, says of baptism, 'The way and manner of the dispensing of this Ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under the water.' The General Baptists were probably practicing immersion by 1650, but their first confession specifically calling for baptism by immersion only appeared in 1660."18By 1650, the Baptist association was well established, wherein Baptist churches in a given area would cooperate and fellowship one another. General Baptists were first to develop a national General Assembly, apparently around 1653. These assemblies made determinations that were disseminated amongst the various local Baptist churches, but were not binding, leaving local autonomy intact.
Leon McBeth has this to say about how Baptists view their origins, 18"Some have so emphasized the sense of continuity from Bible times that they find it difficult to face up to historical facts about Baptist origins. Some have even erected elaborate schemes, or "Trails of Blood," seeking to trace Baptists through all the centuries from Christ to the present. These theories are based upon assumptions, unreliable or nonexistent historical data, or faulty interpretation of Jesus promise that the gates of death should never prevail against his church. A Baptist today can have a real sense of identification with the teachings of Christ without trying to prove historical succession."
19Throughout the 1600s, Baptists exported their religion to America, starting in New England, then spreading to the American South by way of South Carolina. On May 18, 1814, Baptists in America met at Philadelphia and formed a national foreign mission society called the General Missionary Convention in an attempt to sponsor foreign missionary work, but still keep local church autonomy.
The Methodist Church
20Methodism grew out of the influence of John Wesley, a member of the clergy in the Church of England, in the mid to late 1700s. Methodism disagreed with Calvinism about predestination to salvation, and like the General Baptists, believed in free will--that is, each individual chooses to repent and turn to God. 20"The Methodist Church has a Connexional structure rather than a congregational one. This is where the whole church acts and decides together. It is where the local church is never independent of the rest of the Connexion." In the late 1700s, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke brought Methodism to America.