Bible-based | Christ-centered | Family-focused | Mission-minded
Continuing our discussion concerning, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” Some might ask a more specific question, in light of the first question, ”Is the church of Christ one of those denominations that grew out of the Reformation and Restoration Movements?” (See last week’s article on the historical background of denominations). The answer is rather simple. We are striving to be the church that one can read about and easily identify in the pages of the New Testament, nothing more, nothing less. To elaborate on that thought, let’s look at how the church of Christ we know today came about.
Our own history may have added confusion to those who think we are just another denomination. This is because several of our early, prominent leaders were all men who had come out of various denominational backgrounds. They were preachers such as James O’Kelley, Abner Jones, and Thomas Campbell who had arrived at the decision to reject all religious creeds, doctrines, and institutions made by men. This has often been viewed as constituting yet another denomination. But instead, these men simply wanted to return to the Bible as the sole authority for the church. They wanted to follow only the Scriptural examples in order to reproduce Jesus’ church among themselves, just like the one they had read about in the Bible. This same ideology lead to the Christian Church emerging from among the two simultaneous movements of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. They decided to call themselves “Christians” only and would speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent in regard to religious authority. It was/is therefore, not another denomination, but rather, an attempt to return to, or “restore,” the original, apostolic church of Christ.
To add to the confusion, we have also been called “Campbellites,” which implies that just as the “Lutherans” follow Martin Luther’s doctrine, we simply follow Alexander Campbell’s doctrine. However, Campbell and other Restorationists, such as “Raccoon” John Smith, Walter Scott, Jacob Creath, Sr., Moses Lard, J.W. McGarvey, and David Lipscomb all rejected the man-made, denominational doctrines and simply held the belief that Christianity should be restored to that which was known in the early apostolic church. While denominationalism is a distorted facsimile of the apostolic church, Restorationist were in search of a purer and more ancient form of the religion – only that of the Bible!
With this as their basis, the true doctrine of the apostles slowly came to the forefront of the church over time. Don’t forget that centuries of religious confusion had to be undone. So, just like those ancient Bereans of Acts 17:11, they searched the Scriptures to discern all matters of religion. Alexander Campbell was seen as a radical for preaching about the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, especially that Christians are no longer bound by the Old. Walter Scott is credited for exegeting the “Plan of Salvation” from the Scriptures. He simplified it to five points. He would ride into a town and teach the children to hold up their hand saying, “Repeat after me, starting with your thumb, ‘Faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Now, run home and repeat that to your parents and that a man will present the Gospel tonight at the local school house!” These men and others concluded that the only creed of the early church was Jesus Christ Himself.
The quest for restoring the church of Christ has continued now for almost 200 years. Every aspect of doctrine has been scrutinized and compared with the Bible to bring us back to the original (1 Peter 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). This is why we use the name we use (Romans 16:16). It is why we have no headquarters anywhere on earth (John 18:36). It is why we don’t use musical instruments in worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It is why we have a plurality of elders as our leadership and not a “pastor” (Acts 15:23; 1 Peter 5:1). It is why we believe salvation comes after baptism, not before (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 3 Peter 3:21). It is why we put Jesus as the only Head of the church and no one else (Ephesians 1:21-23; Colossians 1:18). Everything listed here can be supported and justified by Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). Religious elements that are not supported by a “book, chapter, and verse” approach are to be rejected. And, that is why we are not a denomination! …. Continued next week.