A Brief Story of churches of Christ
Seeking to understand the philosophy and approach to Bible study.
The passage below expresses the concept of returning to the Word after straying away from God’s commands. It may seem hard to believe but Israel had totally lost all copies of scripture, then discovered a scroll of God’s law while remodeling the temple. Verses have been emphasized to enhance your reading.
2 Kings 22:1 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years…. Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it… 10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to… 13 “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”….14 prophetess Huldah said 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.'” So they took her answer back to the king.(NIV)
This passage portrays our attitude of going “back to the Bible” to be right with God.
Today the Bible has not been lost in the walls of the Temple, but its teachings have been hidden by centuries of tradition. The New Testament records the apostle Paul warning there would be a “falling away” (KJV) 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (NIV)
Falling away can and does still happen today. My serving Jesus is a case of continuous personal course correction. Daily I must draw myself back on course with the Lord and insure that I continue to walk in the light of His will.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Throughout the history of the church there have been occasions of those who felt the church had drifted away from the complete teaching of the New Testament. This would include, the Waldenses in the south of France during the 12th century, Peter Waldo or Valdes was a wealthy merchant, converted in about 1175. He gave away his wealth, had translations made into the common language of the people and a movement began when others followed his back to the Bible concepts. Their message was condemned in 1181 A.D. and adherents were excommunicated in 1184. William of Ockham clashed with the church powers in 1324. John Wyclif in England (1329-84) translated scripture into the common language and resisted doctrines not in agreement with scripture.
Other well known names who have sought corrections to commonly taught doctrines would be John of Weses (c1400-81), Wessel Gansfort (1419-89), Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536), William Tyndale (c1494-1536) 90% of his English translation of the Bible was passed to the Kings James Version in 1611, Martin Luther (1483-1543), Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531).
The period known as the Reformation Movement is marked as beginning in 1517 with Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the front door of the church building where he served as priest. As other religious leaders began to seek correction for religious errors, the term Protestant was given to those who “protested” against the Roman religion dominating Europe. Throughout the next centuries, there were religious spokesmen who sought to make corrections to doctrines not in agreement with scripture.
During a period sometimes called the Awakening, there were several preachers who began to think in terms of RESTORATION rather than REFORMATION. The idea being, it is better to lay aside the layers of tradition that have grown through the centuries and go back to the New Testament for all religious doctrine. One of these men was James O’Kelly, (c1735-1826) Methodist in North Carolina and Virginia. There was a pair of men in Vermont and New Hampshire, Elias Smith (1769-1846) and Abner Jones (1772-1841) Baptist. A father-son pair was Thomas Campbell (1763-1854) and Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) Presbyterian in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Barton Warren Stone (1772-1844) preached in Virginia and North Carolina.
When these men began to study the Bible without adding tradition and doctrines of men, they quit doctrines not in agreement with the teaching of scripture. What made these men alike was they followed and taught the same idea of “back to the Bible,” and let us be “just Christians and Christians only.” Developing different slogans, each had the idea of uniting all Christians by leaving behind the trappings of traditions and doctrines of men to unite on the teaching of the New Testament. O’Kelly saw that Wesley’s organization did not agree with the New Testament church organization. Campbell chafed at not being able to serve communion to others, even other Presbyterians.
This was during the early Frontier Days of America. Transportation and communication were slow. But eventually listeners from each preacher began to move around and tell these men with visions of unity – “you preach like…”
As time went by these different groups melded into a loose fellowship, without hierarchy. Each congregation is autonomous (self-ruled), each congregation seeks out those leaders qualified to serve the church as elders, deacons and evangelists.
No person or congregation claims to be perfect as Christian or as church. We still struggle with the problems of humanity. What we have in common is the desire to be saved and to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in the way he first intended. The way taught in the New Testament. We wish to be free from the traditions and doctrines of men. We have no creed or official book of doctrine other than the New Testament, and Jesus Christ is the only head recognized or obeyed. The New Testament is accepted as the only authority because as Jude 3 states it was once for all entrusted to the saints.
There is a great desire to be like the church you read about in the New Covenant of Christ. You may sometimes hear the phrases: “Apostolic church” or “New Testament church.” While there is no name given in the New Testament as the official name, it is common for congregations to use church of Christ from the Apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 16:16 churches of Christ salute you.
You may find some things that seem strange to you on first impression. The Lord’s Supper is eaten every first day of the week. (Acts 20:7). There is no priestly function (1 Peter 2:5, 9), neither are participants screened (1 Corinthians 11:28). The communion is distributed among those assembled, with each person serving himself and making the determination to partake or not to partake. The service is usually brief with joy and seriousness, we are remembering our Lord’s death, resurrection and coming return (Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:26).
The unity movement continues to find individuals who are seeking to return to the simple truth of the New Testament. There is large agreement with our religious neighbors about Bible doctrine, but there are important differences. Our wish is not to judge anyone but to teach only what is found in scripture.
Jesus compared his Word to seed (Matthew chapter 14) that is planted in the hearts of mankind. Seed will reproduce itself each time, it does not add traditions, it does not become “hybrid” unless man interferes is some way.
We seek to be neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jew. Our desire is to be simply Christian, by taking our stand on Jesus Christ and his New Testament. Will you join us as we seek to be Christians and Christians Only?
Charles M Clodfelter