During the later part of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, a number of church congregations decided that creeds, regardless of whoever wrote them and whatever form they take, are divisive and not in accord with the teachings of the New Testament. They sought to end their denominational ties and become mere Christians with no separating labels.
Why should we base the church exclusively on the New Testament? Jesus chose from his disciples a special group of men called “apostles.” He not only taught them personally, he even promised that after his death, the Holy Spirit would come upon them and “guide them into all truth.” (John 16:13) From that we can conclude the scriptures are inspired.
What’s the extent of their authority? Jesus: “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18 NLT) That sounds authoritative, doesn’t it? Evidently, the early church agreed, for “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching.” (Acts 2:42 ASV)
Is there any real harm in adapting the church and its doctrine to fit in with the times? Paul thought so, “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9 NKJV) Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews assures us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) And Jesus himself told us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33)
But what of church tradition? How much authority should we bequeath to the traditions of the church? They are, in fact, nothing more than the traditions of men. Jesus may well ask us one day, as he asked the Pharisees and teachers of the law, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3)
We have heard it before in Isaiah: “The Lord says:
‘These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.’ ” Isaiah 29:13
Members from various denominations: Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians reached the same conclusion at about the same time. They simply wanted to be members of the church Jesus Christ said he would build; and, like the first century church, continue steadfastly in the apostles’ teachings. In the eighteenth century, as well as the twenty-first century, that meant following the inspired, authoritative, New Testament scriptures and nothing else. This back-to-the-Bible movement is called the Restoration.
In Great Britain congregations dedicated to New Testament Christianity were founded in Morrison’s Court, Glasgow, Scotland in 1778; Leith Walk, Edinburgh, Scotland in 1798; in North Wales in 1779; Tubemore, Ireland in 1807; Manchester, England in 1810, and other locations.
In America, James O’Kelley, a Methodist minister who favored the Bible as the only authority in faith and practice, established a church of Christ in Mankintown, North Carolina in 1793. Abner Jones, a physician from Hartland, Vermont, a Baptist who became dissatisfied with human creeds, started a church of twenty-five members at Lyndon, Vermont. At the turn of the century, other churches were established at Bradford and Piermont, New Hampshire.
In Kentucky, Barton W. Stone (1772-1844), a Presbyterian preacher, begin to question the Westminster Confession. He found the Calvinistic belief in total depravity inconsistent with New Testament scriptures. Stone denounced all human creeds and appealed to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice.
Other Presbyterian ministers, Thomas Campbell (1763-1854) and his son Alexander (1788-1866) settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania. They too raised doubts about their denomination. They became Baptists. Later, reading Acts 2:38 convinced them that baptism was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Both father and son left the Baptist church to preach New Testament Christianity.
Another Presbyterian, Walter Scott (1796-1861), arrived in America in 1818. He too came to reject human standards in religion and infant baptism and to teach Christianity only. Scott, who wrote his :”Essays on Teaching Christianity”, in the first volume of The Christian Baptist, became one of the most prolific writers of the Restoration.
Churches of Christ
This Restoration idea of returning to mere Christianity and the church we read about in the scriptures, secular historians call: “The Second Great Revival Period in American History.” The churches established solely on New Testament teachings came to be known as churches of Christ. It was never meant as a denominational title. The term “church of Christ” shows possession; the church belongs to Christ. It’s the church he built and paid for with his own blood.
Some detractors erroneously refer to these congregations as “Stone-Campbell churches.” Barton W. Stone, Thomas, and Alexander Campbell are certainly appreciated for the work they accomplished. However, they neither originated nor founded the churches of Christ.
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 ASV) “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NKJV) These independent congregations are not denominations; they strive to be strictly Biblical in organization, doctrine, and worship–without human creeds or names by Stone or Campbell or anyone else.
“Is Christ Divided?”
How about you? Do you belong to the church Jesus died for?
To paraphrase a quote by the evangelist preacher, Mack Lyon: “Oh, but you say, ‘I’m a member of the Lord’s church all right, but I am a member of such-and-such a denomination of his church.’ Oh, I see. Which one? Is it the one of Cephas? Or of Paul? Or of Apollos? As Paul asked the members of the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 1:1-13. Or is it the one of Luther? Or Calvin? Or Wesley? And let me ask you as the apostle did the Corinthians. ‘Is Christ divided?’ Did the man whose denomination you joined die for you? Were you baptized in his name?”
Christ Prayed for Unity
Christ prayed for unity among his followers. (John 17:11) Certainly, one thing around which Christians from all faiths can unite is — the Bible. Scriptures tell us that Jesus built his church. His apostles contributed detailed accounts of the organization, doctrine, and worship in Christ’s church. Today, many Christians are seeking to replicate that same church, the one Jesus built and his apostles describe, without denominational creeds or human traditions.
Peter, on the day of Pentecost in the first sermon preached, told those who believed his message: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit . . . . Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them . . . . And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:38-47 NKJV)
That was the way you became a member of Christ’s church in the first century, and the same is true today. It’s your decision. No one can make it for you. Just remember, it was Jesus who said: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord.’ and do not do what I say.” (Luke 6:46)
Quote of the Day: “It is my deepest conviction that New Testament Christianity — I mean undenominationalized Christianity — what you read in your New Testament — unpolluted with centuries of human tradition, and untainted with the newest novelties and fads, is the best thing that ever happened to the human race, and that’s our message.” Mack Lyon (1922 -) American Evangelist
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Note: All Scripture References are taken from the New International Version unless otherwise stated.
ASV – American Standard Version
NKJV – New King James Version
NLT – New Living Translation