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Doctrinal Discussions:

Timeline of The History Of The Church Of Christ

May 02, 2007

Some folks aren't completing my article on the history of the Church of Christ. I don't know if they are bored, angry at what they read, or find it irrelevant. My intention when I wrote it was to spur church members to dig deeper into church history, and thereby discard man-made doctrines in favor of the doctrines taught in the scriptures. To this end, I have created this shorter timeline with names and dates, hoping to trigger an interest in research and study of these matters. Bernie Parsons

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Timeline of the History of the Church of Christ


by Bernie Parsons


May 02, 2007


Some find my article on the history of the Church of Christ too daunting to finish. Here I offer an informative and shorter timeline on that history. I use BC for “before Christ” and AD for “anno Domini” meaning “year of the Lord”). I reject BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era), as these are designed to remove Jesus Christ from the calendar.


Use this timeline as a jumping off point to study various movements and founders, and thereby understand the history of the Church of Christ. Once you understand the history, use that knowledge to abandon the trappings of the past 2,000 years and become a simple Christian like those in the early first century.




I culled these dates, names, and events from many articles found on the Internet. Some may be incorrect. For instance, during my research I found at least four different death dates cited for Alexander Campbell, spanning a period of 12 years difference! Sometimes, ambiguity is due to a lack of records or the evolution of a church or belief system over time. Use this timeline merely as a tool to do your own study and research.


Promise of A Savior Given


2100 BC to 1800 BC (estimated variously) Promise to Abraham that all nations of the earth would be blessed through his seed.



The Kingdom of God at Hand


3 or 2 BC (estimated variously) John the Baptist born


25 to 29 AD (estimated variously) John Baptist preached that the kingdom was at hand


1 AD (approximately) Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) born


23-27 AD (estimated variously) Jesus preached that the kingdom was at hand


33 AD (approximately) Jesus crucified, and resurrected (Promise to Abraham fulfilled.



The Kingdom Comes, The Time of The End of the Jewish Age


33-70 AD Apostles preached the kingdom and the coming judgment


64 AD Roman Emperor Nero persecuted Christians and Jews


67 AD or earlier (probably) the Revelation written by John


66-70 AD Romans quell Jewish uprising in Judaea, culminating in:


70 AD Jerusalem fell to the Romans under the Flavians, Vespasian and Titus (time of the end of the Jewish age, prophesied by Daniel and announced by Jesus and His apostles—temple in Jerusalem destroyed, Judaea disrupted, captive Jews carried away.) The ekklesia (called out assembly, church) came in full power with Judaism destroyed.


Gradual Apostasy


65-150 AD  The Didache gives detailed commandments not given by the apostles, and introduces the concept of the “eucharist”.


155 to 230 AD (estimated) Tertullian invented the doctrine, “Veiling of Virgins”.


160 to 200 AD (various estimates) Shepherd of Hermas used his dreams to concoct doctrine and prophecy.


185-232 AD Origen invented the doctrine of the Trinity and other concoctions, such as the power of “the church” to formulate doctrine, rather than taking the scriptures alone as the basis for instruction.



Roman Catholic Church


313 AD Edict of Milan by Constantine promoting religious toleration of Christians.


325 AD First Council of Nicea convened by Constantine to settle doctrinal disputes. Thus began a tradition of setting doctrine by councils.


354-386 AD Augustine promoted doctrine of Trinity, a church Creed, and ritualistic instruction. He was a trained orator, and he used his power of speech and writing to influence church doctrine.



Birth of Protestantism (Roman Catholic Reformation)


1517 AD Martin Luther (Roman Catholic Priest) posted his Ninety-five Theses


1521 AD Anabaptists (Re-baptizers) denied infant baptism, were re-baptized. They relied solely upon the Bible for their faith and doctrines. (Thomas Müntzer)


1523 AD Ulrich Zwingli (Roman Catholic Priest turned reformer) declared the Bible to the sole source for church doctrine and practice in Switzerland.


1509-1564 AD John Calvin (Roman Catholic turned reformer) wrote The Institutes of the Christian Church. Formulated doctrine of Predestination and Election, and salvation through the grace of God alone. (Justification by grace through faith.)


1529-1534 AD King Henry VIII of England established himself as head of the Church of England, breaking with the Roman Catholic papacy. Catholic doctrine and practices were otherwise observed.


1560 AD Scottish Reformation (John Knox) abolished papal authority in Scotland. The Church of Scotland adopted the Presbyterian system of government and was Calvinistic in doctrine.


1580’s AD English Separatist Movement rejects many Roman Catholic tenets in favor of detecting doctrine in the Bible. (Known as Pilgrims after landing in America.)


1612 AD General Baptists emerge in England, a derivative of the Anabaptists. They were known as General because they believed in General Atonement—salvation for all.


1630’s AD Presbyterians arrive in America. They are Calvinistic in doctrine.


1633 AD Particular Baptists (Calvinistic) arrive on the scene in England.


1634 AD The first Baptist Church in America in Providence, RI. (General Baptists)


1639 AD The first Particular Baptist Church in America (Calvinistic)


1739 AD The Methodist Church formed in England (John Wesley)(Calvinistic)


1760’s AD The Methodist Church came to America. (Calvinsitic)



The American Restoration Movement


1763 AD Thomas Campbell born in County Down, Ireland. (His father was a Roman Catholic turned Anglican.) Thomas became a Presbyterian (Calvinistic).


1772 AD Barton W. Stone born in Maryland. He later became a Presbyterian (Calvinistic).


1788 AD Alexander Campbell born September 12, in the County of Antrim, Ireland. He became a Presbyterian (Calvinistic). Son of Thomas Campbell.


1792 AD James O’Kelly turned from mainstream Methodism (Calvinist) to a Republican Methodist Church.


1794 AD James O’Kelly turned from Methodism (Calvinist) to a “Christian church”, declaring the Bible to be their only creed.


1801 AD Abner Jones, a Baptist, established an unaffiliated “free” church in Vermont.


1804 AD Barton W. Stone and others dissolved the Springfield Presbytery, wishing to be called simply “Christians”.


1805 AD Elias Smith, New England Baptist (Calvinist) turned “Christian only”.


1807 AD Thomas Campbell migrated to America as a Presbyterian (Calvinistic).


1808 AD Thomas Campbell helped found Christian Association of Washington, PA. "Where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." 


1808 AD Elias Smith began publication of the Herald of Gospel Liberty.


1809 AD Alexander Campbell came to America. Thomas Campbell issued his Declaration and Address.


1815 AD Thomas Campbell and Son Alexander established Brush Run Church, which became part of a Baptist Association in 1815.


1823 AD Alexander Campbell founded the periodical The Christian Baptist.


1830 AD Thomas and Alexander Campbell and the Reformers cut their ties with the Baptist Association, and became known simply as “disciples”.


1830 AD Alexander Campbell founded the periodical The Millennial Harbinger.


1832 AD Stone’s “Christians” and Campbell’s “disciples” formally united. (Often regarded as the Stone-Campbell Movement, or the American Restoration Movement.)


1840 AD Alexander Campbell founded Bethany College in Bethany, VA (now WV).


1866 AD Alexander Campbell died.


1889 AD Daniel Sommer issued The Sand Creek Address and Declaration, a divisive speech and paper that fueled the growing differences within the movement.


1891 AD David Lipscomb and James Harding founded the Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb University).


1906 AD Churches of Christ (or Church of Christ) (under the auspices of David Lipscomb) withdrew from the disciples and Christians in disputes about war, instrumental music, and missionary societies.


1968 AD Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) proclaimed itself to be an official denominational church. As a result, the Christian Church (Churches of Christ) split from the main body.


The Church of Christ


1906 AD Churches of Christ (under the auspices of David Lipscomb of Nashville, TN) withdrew from the disciples and Christians in disputes about war, instrumental music and missionary societies.


1906 AD Abilene Christian College began life as Childers Classical Institute. It was named Abilene Christian College in 1920.


1908 AD A. G. Freed & N. B. Hardeman established the National Teachers' Normal and Business College, in Henderson, Tennessee, which is now known as Freed-Hardeman University.


1927 AD Pepperdine University established in Los Angeles, CA.


To see lists of influential persons and publications, examine the related documents.


Radical Restoration Needed to Become True, Simple Christians


The above timeline shows that the Churches of Christ, (identified these days as the Church of Christ), were formally split in 1906 from the Campbells “disciples” and the Stone “Christians”.  The Campbells urged the abandonment of all church names and creeds, using only the Bible as the source for doctrine. They believed in the immersion (baptism) of believers in Christ, for the remission of sins. They urged all Christians to unite as one. Sadly, three church names emerged from their efforts: Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Christian Church. So much for giving up formal designations!


Tracing backwards through the history, we see Stone and the Campbells influenced by their Presbyterian (Calvinist) education. Although they rejected and denounced Calvinism, my point is that their attempts to become merely disciples of Christ, or Christians, only, were hampered by their religious education. They carried forward some of the practices and doctrines from their past, although their effort was to find and obey what the Bible taught.


The Presbyterians came forth from the Scottish Reformation, which was influenced by the Anglican Church, or Church of England. The Church of England had broken from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholics were influenced by those whom they call the “Church Fathers”—most of whom have proved themselves unreliable by their deviations from the scriptures of the Holy Bible. They made up rules and doctrines.


The Church of Christ today is also influenced by the fact that Stone and the Campbells converted Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists to their way of thinking. Sometimes entire churches of these persuasions were converted and dropped their names. There is evidence that these often brought forward the vestiges of their former practices. This leads to a mixture in the Church of Christ of past doctrines of these three churches, all of which carried forward much of the Roman Catholic teaching and practice. You will see this in some congregations where elders have a lot of power and control, which is the Presbyterian system; or in the emphasis on a certain, “unflinching order of service”—an indication of Methodist background; or, a tendency to a more personal relationship with the Lord, which comes from the Baptist background. (You can also note that many Baptists were subsequently converted to the Church of Christ and became preachers, bringing some of the old doctrine with them.)


If the Church of Christ today is to break free of these encumbrances, we must forget everything that we “know to be truth” and that we practice, and bypass the past two thousand years of history in order to uncover the truth of the early church as found in the Holy Bible. Only then can we set aside our inherited Roman Catholic and Protestant (Reformer) doctrines, and know the truth. It will be difficult, but it must be done.


In the Church of Christ, we think that we have already accomplished this. Many of my brethren state that we are the “one true church that you read about in the Bible”. Some also insist “if you walk into a Church of Christ today, you will see us practicing worship just like the apostles did.” I challenge those statements.


I concur with Stone and the Campbells that we should drop all formal assignations and be simply Christians, or disciples of Christ. That means that we should rethink our assumed title, Church of Christ. For my brethren who scour the Internet or books looking for proof of the Church of Christ prior to David Lipscomb, you will find that phrase in many places. However, understand that the Roman Catholics refer to themselves as the Church of Christ, as do all of the denominations. You will find that they give this designation to themselves, and use it throughout their writings and documentation.


All Creeds and Confessions should be abandoned in favor of the scriptures only. We must follow God foremost, Christ next, and the apostles last. Beyond that, we have no inspired source of God’s instructions for us. God's Holy Spirit that now dwells in us only corroborates and reinforces what was taught by God in the past, and does not reveal "new" doctrine to us!


The Christian life is a simple life. On two commandments hang all the rest: Love God with every aspect of your being, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.


The gospel of Christ is preached, the willing receive it, repentance is accomplished, and baptism (immersion in water) is administered. The blood of Jesus cleanses the baptized believers of their sins. They are born again of the water and the Spirit, and grow as newborn babes upon the milk of the word of God. As they mature (toward perfection), they feed upon the meat of God’s word. Their lives are full of the grace of God, and they do the fruitful works of the Holy Spirit, such as are described in the holy scriptures.


Salvation is for all: “Let whosoever will, come!” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”

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