The New Testament repeatedly warns about drifting; in particular, drifting away from the faith. This can be done either individually or collectively.
• The Hebrew writer warned the Christians to whom he wrote that they “must pay much closer attention to what [they had] heard, so that [they would] not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
• The Lord Himself rebuked the church in Ephesus because they had “left [their] first love” (Revelation 2:4).
There is always a danger that any one of us – or any one of our churches – could drift away from the faith. However, Paul also warned about a great apostasy that was coming not long after his lifetime.
“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the return of Christ, as] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-5).
Paul explained that this “mystery of lawlessness [was] already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). As he described this “man of lawlessness,” he was not referring to one person, but an attitude. This apostasy would take place over some period of time. It was a spirit of error, an attitude that led Christians to depart from the pattern revealed in the New Testament. It was “restrained” for a time (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7) by the persecution from the Roman authorities. However, once that opposition was removed, the departures from the faith would increase exponentially.
It did not take long after the time of the apostles for this wholesale departure from the truth to begin. It started with a change in the organization of the church. During the first century, local churches were overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5). By the time of the second century, churches began appointing one elder (bishop) to preside over the others. Eventually the authority of these bishops would increase over a certain territory rather than simply over a local congregation. This concept grew until you had a large hierarchy, legislative bodies, and eventually a chief bishop recognized as the head over the entire church (a pope).
This gradual progression gave rise to the Roman Catholic Church. Little by little, from one generation to another, the church drifted further and further away from the picture given in the New Testament until it was something completely unrecognizable when compared with the Lord’s church in the first century.
As this progression unfolded, other doctrines began to develop that were foreign to the New Testament. These doctrines included the concept of Purgatory (that some souls would be purified after death) and Transubstantiation (that the emblems of the Lord’s Supper became the actual body and blood of Christ). There were also practices which began to be introduced that were different from what the early church practiced under the guidance of the apostles. Building off of the evolution of church organization with the bishops and higher officials, a distinction was made between clergy and laity. Then celibacy was made a requirement for the clergy. Instrumental music was added to worship. Indulgences were sold as a way to raise money for the church with the promise that they would act as a substitute for penance or would free a departed loved one from Purgatory.
The Reformation Movement
The last practice – the selling of indulgences – helped launch the first of two major movements – the Reformation Movement. Pope Leo X authorized the sale of indulgences to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. John Tetzel was commissioned to sell indulgences in Germany. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and ordained priest, opposed this practice and challenged it by nailing his famous ninety-five theses to the door of a church in Wittenburg in 1517. He was later excommunicated because he refused to renounce his views.
Luther was not the first to try to reform the Catholic Church. There were other individuals and groups who challenged the doctrines and practices of the church and the authority of the pope. But Luther’s efforts seemed to be a catalyst for a larger movement.
The spirit of Luther and other reformers is commendable. They saw how the Roman Catholic Church had departed from the teachings of the New Testament and wanted to do something about it. However, the shortcoming of these reformers is that they were trying to reform the Catholic Church rather than restore the church of the New Testament.
The Catholic Church developed as it did because they adopted three sources of authority – the Bible, the decrees of the pope, and church tradition. The reformers, even though they protested against the Catholic Church (hence the reason why they came to be called Protestants) and rejected many doctrines and practices, still followed three sources of authority. However, instead of following the Bible, the decrees of the pope, and church tradition as the Catholic Church did, they followed the Bible, the word of man, and the tradition of man. This was evident in the adoption of man-made creeds that were used to codify their beliefs and practices and differentiate themselves from the church they were protesting.
Over time, this led to the formation of a number of different Protestant denominations. The movement began with an effort to reform the Catholic Church. However, it did not result in one “Protestant Church.” As other “reformers” would arise within the Protestant churches, they would see some error – real or perceived – that needed to be corrected and attacked it. As they developed a following, a formal statement of faith and practice would be adopted among them (a creed). This process led to the formation of the Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, Episcopal Church, Baptist churches, and many more. There continue to be hundreds of these “Protestant” denominations that exist today that came from this Reformation Movement.
The Restoration Movement
Just as the Reformation Movement was born as a response to the problems that existed in the Roman Catholic Church, another movement was born as a response to the problem of division that existed within the Protestant churches that were part of the Reformation Movement. This new movement which began in the 1800’s in this country was the Restoration Movement.
One of the key differences between these two movements had to do with what was appealed to as a source of authority. As we noted earlier, the Catholic Church appealed to three sources of authority – the Bible, the decrees of the pope, and church tradition. Protestant churches rejected the latter two, but did not repudiate the concept of the three sources of authority; so they followed the Bible, the words of men, and the traditions of men. This resulted in their creeds and the countless divisions among them.
Those who were involved in the Restoration Movement – men like Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell – called for unity among believers by simply following the Bible and rejecting all man-made creeds. The following statement by Thomas Campbell came to be known as the “motto” of this movement: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” (The Search for the Ancient Order: Volume 1, p. 47). As a result, these restorers left the churches of men in order to try to simply follow Christ and His word.
Barton W. Stone was one of the signers of The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. He and the others realized that in their response to the problems they saw in their previous denomination, they had formed another denominational body in the Springfield Presbytery. So in this document (The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery), they explained why they were dissolving that body and also called upon all Christians to reject the creeds and churches of men and simply read the Bible and follow it. Notice part of this document:
“We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”
“We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.”
“Finally, we will that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.”
This is not to say that the men involved in this movement perfectly returned to the doctrines and practices revealed in the New Testament in every way. The more we study about these men, the more we might see instances in which they adopted some man-made religious practice or held onto some teaching that was not in harmony with the pattern found in the New Testament. However, their goal was noble and they were on the right track regarding how to deal with the divisions and errors of the religious world – simply go back to the Bible. Alexander Campbell wrote the following:
“We have no system of our own, nor of others to substitute in lieu of the reigning systems. We only aim at substituting the New Testament in lieu of every creed in existence; whether Mohammedan, Pagan, Jewish or Presbyterian. We wish to call Christians to consider that Jesus Christ has made them kings and priests to God. We neither advocate Calvinism, Arminianism, Arianism, Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Deism or Sectarianism, but New Testamentism. We wish, we cordially wish, to take the New Testament out of the abuses of the clergy, and put it into the hands of the people” (Men of Yesterday, p. 78).
This desire to follow the Bible alone – without man-made creeds, papal decrees, or human traditions in religion – is what we have been called to do by the Lord’s apostles. Notice the following passages:
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).
“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
“Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
If we go beyond the teaching of Christ, we lose our fellowship with Him. If we are merely hearing the word but not practicing it, we are deceiving ourselves. We must strive to do all things by the authority of Christ and hold fast to the pattern found in His word.
Jesus also expressed the need for His followers to obey His will and not follow what seemed best to them:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
It is not enough just to call Jesus “Lord.” We must follow His teachings and those of His apostles who were commissioned by Him to make disciples and teach them to observe all that the Lord commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).
There is much to be learned from a study of the past. We can also find encouragement from the examples of those who saw the shortcomings in the religious world around them and had the courage to try to change. But in the end, our standard and authority is not anything these men said or did – whether they were part of the Reformation or the Restoration Movement. Our standard is the word of God.
Let us heed the warning we noticed at the beginning – do not drift from the teachings of Christ and the instructions revealed in His word. If we find we have done this, let us have the courage to change course and go back to the Bible to find what we need to do to please Him.
History is a great teacher. History reveals the result of the practices engaged in by people and nations. For this reason, everyone should embrace history. All history, the good or the bad, gives us insight into what we can expect from the decisions and actions we follow. With this in mind, we will discuss the church’s history by examining the beliefs and practices of those who have come before us as it pertains to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
First, we must look to the Scriptures and focus on what God has said regarding the church. The Scriptures inform us that the Lord established His church. When Peter gave voice to the truth about Jesus, He said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Another scripture important to our discussion is where Jesus gave a command to the disciples. The order was to carry the message of the gospel to all the world. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20) These verses establish that He built His church and that the sole authority for the church’s teachings and practices. He has never or in any way given humankind the power to remake the church into man’s opinion regarding His church’s teaching or work.
In the New Testament scriptures, we read there would be a ‘falling away’ from the teaching of Jesus. The apostle Paul rebuked the Galatian Christians for their departure from the gospel. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9) As we can see from these scriptures, the apostasy came early in the history of the Lord’s church. As with the Galatian congregation, other local churches were experiencing the same problem. This moment in the history of the church of Christ informs us of the need to restore local churches to the standard set by teaching the Scriptures.
As we advance into history, we come to the period when the apostasy arrived at a point where men were in complete control of what they called the church. This apostasy of the church becomes full-grown in what is called the dark ages of history. The Catholic church became Rome’s official religion and held sway over the people with an iron fist. Early in the Reformation period, or as sometimes called the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther criticized the sale of indulgences, insisting that the Pope had no authority over purgatory or the Treasury of Merit. It had no foundation in the Bible. Others followed suit by pointing out various doctrines of which they opposed. The flaw in the restoration movement is seen in the fact that these men did not attempt to bring the churches of men into compliance with the teachings of Jesus. They instead were set to reform certain doctrines of the Catholic church with which they disagreed. This conflict was the beginning of the creation of Protestant churches. The mission of changing the teachings of these churches continues even to the present day. When we consider what the scriptures teach regarding Jesus’s authority over His church, we understand their efforts’ fallacy.
As we proceed further in history, coming nearer to our present time, we find what has become known as the Restoration Movement. This movement lacks any centralized structure because it originated in several places through the leadership of different men. One of the prominent leaders was Alexander Campbell. Campbell’s essay titled “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things” had a strong influence over many of his time. Several names were associated with this movement; however, the term “Stone-Campbell Movement” became the one used by the end of the 20th century. Stone-Campbell Movement was a way to avoid the difficulty associated with other names being used.
This movement’s teaching was different from the Protestant Reformation teaching in that it was, as Campbell wrote, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things.” The prevailing motto was, “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” The emphasis is on biblical teaching that Christianity should not be divided; Christ built only one church. The only way to accomplish this end was through unwavering confidence in the New Testament scriptures’ teachings. In 1809, Thomas Campbell wrote in The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, PA, “The church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one.” The church’s oneness addresses the belief that there are many churches of which humanity may pick and chose the church of his choice. Remember, we have read from the scripture that Jesus built ONLY one!
One of the movement’s issues is the question of organizational structures above the local congregation level. Local churches have and do maintain an ongoing commitment to church governance that is congregational only rather than denominational. Local churches of Christ purposefully have no central headquarters, councils, or other organizational structures above the local church. Independent and autonomous local churches participate at their discretion in various means of service and fellowship. Christians within the Restoration Movement are linked by the salvation obtained through obedience to the gospel message. This obedience adds them to the one church that Jesus built.
Why Restoration and not Reformation? Given our study, it is evident that the Protestant Reformation does not bring people back to the truth taught in the New Testament scriptures. As its name suggests, it only succeeded in producing denominationalism. The Protestant Reformation believes that the body of Christ is divided into several different bodies with their belief system. It is the agree to disagree philosophy. On the other hand, the Restoration movement is a call to go back to the Bible for all we believe and practice. It is a movement that teaches respect for the Bible as God’s Holy-inspired words. It emphasizes that preeminence belongs to God, not man.
Dear friends, we hope that we have stimulated your desire to know the will of God. We all are the same in the eyes of God. God desires that all men come to Him in obedience because He wants all to receive salvation. Should you choose to study further, then contact us. We are ready to help in your studies.
Have you ever heard this statement before? Could your church agree to abide by it? Could you personally agree and live by it in your personal belief? Do you understand the far-reaching effects of such a statement?
Most people are familiar with the Reformation Movement which resulted in the formation of major Protestant churches. A dedicated reformer, Martin Luther, attempted to reform the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century. In 1517, he nailed the “95 theses” to the cathedral door in Wittenburg, Germany, and set in motion widespread rebellion against Catholic theology. Other like-minded theologians joined the battle and the result was a “reformation age” in which many different denominations were begun and continue until today.
Fewer people are familiar with the Restoration Movement which radically changed the religious experience in England and early America. Whereas every reformed church inherently has a “creed” or statement of corporate theology, some began to recognize the fact that each creed established a fence or wall against the unity of all believers. In a dedicated search for the unity of all believers in Christ, there began a movement away from creeds and insistence of total reliance on the Bible as a sufficient guide from earth to Heaven. Immigrants from Scotland, of the Presbyterian faith, began to enjoy the freedom of the New World and began to employ it in their Bible study. Forsaking all creeds, these students of God’s Word introduced a “return to New Testament Christianity.” Their foundation for this approach to religion was rooted in the fact that Jesus did establish a church that existed before any Protestant or Catholic church. Jesus not only promised to establish “His church” (Matt. 16:18) but it began as recorded in the second chapter of Acts. When Jesus chose His apostles and gave them the “Great Commission,” they went outward from Jerusalem with the gospel to the known world (Matt. 28:18-19; Mark 16:15, 16). Thus, New Testament Christianity became a reality, and salvation was proclaimed first to thousands in Jerusalem and then to Jews and Gentiles alike.
With this knowledge of church history secure in their minds, denominational preachers began to abandon creeds and to return to the unity seen in primitive Christianity. Men such as James O’Kelly, Abner Jones, Elias Smith, Barton Stone along with Thomas and Alexander Campbell diligently abandoned creedal doctrine and returned to a “thus saith the Lord.” From this crucible of honest search came the resultant plea: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Thus, was born the attempt (largely successful in early America) to “restore New Testament Christianity.”
Of course, not all religious scholars accepted the concept and clung to their creeds. Today, there continues a struggle among creeds to return to New Testament Christianity, totally identifiable in the New Testament. Churches of Christ today, owe their existence to men and women of American descent, wholly immersed in faith and obedience to God through Jesus Christ. While some local churches have regressed into denominationalism and some have decided to be “progressive” liberals as they adopt denominational ideas and practices, there remain congregations who are committed to following New Testament Christianity and welcome all who profess a common faith. An authentic Restoration Movement continues around the world today. You are invited to study this movement with us as we explore the history in more detail in the future at: https://northsidecofc.us
When discussing the church of Christ with others, we sometimes hear the comment made that the church of Christ was started by Alexander Campbell. Mr. Campbell was a well-known preacher in America in the 1800’s; but did he start the church of Christ, or any other church for that matter? The short answer is no. Unfortunately, the teaching that Mr. Campbell established a church is made because people do not know the simple teaching of the New Testament concerning the church.
To begin, please understand that Alexander Campbell could not have started the church of Christ. This is because folks who lived in the first century, like Mary, Peter, James, John, Phoebe, and Paul were among the members of it (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:47; I Cor. 12:28; Rom. 16:1-16; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:9). Saved people have been added to the Lord’s church since it began on the Pentecost following the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:47). To this day, all those who submit to the Lord’s plan of salvation continue to be added to it! Alexander Campbell did not live in the first century. Nor did he die to purchase a church (Acts 20:28). Mr. Campbell lived from 1788 to 1866. In other words, he was born almost 1800 years after the Lord’s church was established in Acts 2.
Therefore, he did not start the Lord’s church. Nor did he start the church on this continent. He did not start any church.
Have you been to Paris, Kentucky and visited the Cane Ridge meeting house? If not, you need to go there and look at one of the grave markers in the cemetery. In the cemetery, you will find the grave marker of Mr. William Rogers. Mr. Rogers’ headstone looks like many others of that era except for the inscription found upon it. William Rogers’ headstone reads as follows: “Born in Campbell Co., Va., July 7, 1784, removed with his father to Cane Ridge, Bourbon Co., April 1793. United with the Church of Christ at Cane Ridge in 1807.”
A significant date mentioned on this headstone is 1807. This date is significant because 1807 was two years before Alexander Campbell came to America from Ireland. 1807 is three years before Campbell preached his first sermon in America. How could Alexander Campbell have started the church of Christ if William Rogers was already in it in 1807? Further, in Celina, TN, there is a church of Christ who can trace the congregation’s beginning back to 1805. If Mr. Campbell started the church of Christ, how could this church have already been in existence? Mr. Campbell wasn’t even in America at the time! The answer of course is that it is possible because Mr. Campbell didn’t start the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16). The church of Christ began in this country when Christians came here simply preaching and teaching about the church found in the Bible! As was noted above, such things happened long before Alexander Campbell was in this land. Mr. Campbell did much in his life to spread the gospel, but there is nothing the church of Christ does or practices that had its beginning with Mr. Campbell, or any other man (Gal. 1:6-9). The church of Christ follows what Christ has revealed in the New Testament (Jn. 12:48).
-- Jarrod Jacobs
"For I determined
not to know any thing
save Jesus Christ,
and him crucified. "
1 Corinthians 2:2