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ONLINE CHURCH BULLETIN

WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST?

The question is sometimes asked, "Didn't Alexander Campbell start the church of Christ in the early 1800s? And, if the church of Christ is of recent origin, would not older churches have more right to exist than it?" These are good questions. Let's look for good answers based on the Scriptures, church history, and common sense.

First, we observe that one can read of churches of Christ in New Testament times. Early in His ministry, Jesus promised to build the "church of Christ""His church" (Mt. 16:18). He kept the promise in 33 A.D. (see the record in Acts 2:1-47). Paul con-firmed the existence of such congregations in A.D. 57: "The churches of Christ salute you" (Rm. 16:16b).

Second, we observe that the same church exists today. Churches of Christ are in communities throughout the world and continue to be established each year. These churches seek to practice Christianity the same way it was practiced in the New Testament without addition or subtraction (Rev. 22:18, 19).

  • The same conditions for salvation are taught today as then: faith in the deity of Jesus (John 3:16; 8:24), repentance of sin (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38), confession of Christ (Mt. 10:32; Acts 8:37; Rm. 10:9, 10), and baptism for the remission of sins (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).
  • Worship is conducted today as it was in the early days of the church: studying the Scriptures (Acts 2:42), praying (Mt. 18:20), singing praises (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), financial giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:6, 7), and communion (Lord's Supper) (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-29). 
  • The same organization is foundbishops, deacons, and evangelists (Phil. 1:1). Jesus Christ is Head of His church (Mt. 28:18; Col. 1:18); He has delegated authority to thirteen men called "apostles" (Mt. 28:19, 20; Eph. 2:20; cf. 1 Cor. 15:8).
  • They exercise government through written documents collected in the New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:3). On the local level, elders (also called shepherds, presbyters, and bishops) see that their doctrine is taught and followed (Tit. 1:10, 11). These men have no legislative authoritythat is, they cannot make laws for God. They have delegated authority to enforce God's law (Heb. 13:7, 17) and to make decisions in matters of expediency (carrying out God's will).
  • Each local church is autonomous  that is, it has no higher body legislating for it (no board, conference, synod, or other hierarchy).
  • Members are taught to live the same holy lifestyle that early Christians exemplified (Rm. 12:1, 2; Tit. 2:12). 

Third, a historical line of succession back to the first century is unnecessary. The Bible predicted that there would come a "departing from the faith" (1 Tim. 4:1) and a great "falling away" (2 Thes. 2:1-10). It would come through the leadership (Acts 20:28-32). It would be characterized by wickedness (1 Thes. 2:3) and binding things which were not required by the apostles (I Tim. 4:2, 3). This apostasy began during the third century and developed into the Roman Catholic Church by the seventh century. History does not record if any churches of Christ remained during these "dark ages." This is not unexpected since those writing the history books were those in control and would not have known of groups that were trying to stay hid from them. It is possible that the church continued "underground" during those years. (Remember that Jesus promised, "...the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," Mt. 16:18).

Toward the end of the dark ages, the Catholic Church became so corrupt that Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Huldreich Zwingli led a popular movement to reform it. Their reformation efforts did some good but fell short of restoration. The end result was many different churches (the mainline, Protestant denominations), each separate from the other, and each teaching different things, contradicting each other and in many cases the Bible's teaching (cf. Jn. 17:20, 21; 1 Cor. 1:10).

A restoration movement followed this reformation movement. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, men arose both in Europe and America determined to go back to the Bible, leaving all human doctrines, creeds, and man-made organizations. It was never their purpose to establish a new religion, but to restore an old one--New Testament Christianity. In our country, Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell, and his son Alexander Campbell were early leaders.

These men approached their task differently from the reformers. Instead of correcting what they saw as mistakes in existing churches, they decided to start over. They recognized the Bible as the only sufficient guide (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) and the Word as the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). They believed that the seed always produces after its kind (Gen. U11). Just as corn always produces corn, the Word of God always produces Christians (Acts 11:26). Since we have the same seed (God's Word, 1 Pet. 1:22-25), the same soil (the human heart, Mt. 13:19-23), we can expect the same results (a Christian). Groups of Christians make up churches. What kind of church? Since Christ purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28), rules it through His Word (2 Pet. 3:16), receives glory through its work (Eph. 3:21; Col. 1:18), and will one day come to claim it as His bride (1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 5:25-33; Rev. 19), doesn't it make sense that these local groups be called "churches of Christ" (Rm. 16:16)?

Someone might object saying, "If you are the New Testament church, you should be able to trace a succession back to the first century." If we wanted to plant Kentucky bluegrass in Alabama, would it be necessary to plant a row of grass from one state to the other'? No, wherever the seed was planted, it would grow. With Christianity, we must simply go back and plant the same teaching and it will produce the same plant. Keep in mind, though, that if we plant any other seed (teach a doctrine different from the New Testament) we will receive a different crop. One would not expect to harvest beans if he planted watermelons. If we plant false doctrine, we will harvest false churches (cf. Mt. 15:13).

Consider another examplesuppose that football became unpopular and was not played for a thousand years. Then, men began to play what they called "football," except they used a round ball, six players on a team, and allowed no forward passes. They play this "football" for a hundred years. Then an archaeologist discovers the "Rules of American Football," and informs the world that they are not really playing football, and need to use an oblong ball, eleven players, and allow forward passes. True foot-ball would thus be restored.

God bless you in your continuing studies to learn and follow His Will to bring glory to His name.

Allen Webster