By Dudley Ross Spears
The church of Christ is very different from any other religious body or affiliation on earth. It is so different that often people have misconceptions about the church. It is so unlike the denominational concept of “the church” that it is often difficult for us to convince our friends that we are no part of denominationalism. We are sometimes called “Campbellites” by others, because some people think Alexander Campbell founded the church of Christ. This paper is written in the hope of clarifying and explaining why the church of Christ is not a denomination and not the child of any man, living or dead.
Anyone who thinks that Alexander Campbell founded the church of Christ must be mistaken – either honestly or otherwise. He was apparently quite a man in his day, but regardless of his greatness, he was still merely a man. Through his writing and preaching he sought to call men back to Christianity as it was from its infancy. He wrote a letter one time to the editor of the “Commercial Bulletin” in New Orleans and said, “I have always repudiated all human heads and human names for the people of the Lord, and shall feel very thankful if you will correct the erroneous impression which your article may have made in thus representing me as the founder of a religious denomination.” He denied till his death any connection at all with either the founding of or the participation in a human denomination.
Like all gospel preachers, Campbell and others associated with him, urged people to return to the New Testament as the only standard of religious authority. That is what those of us who are members of the church of Christ today are continuing to do. We preach that every creed of man, every manual of any kind of church, every catechism or any other human code of rules and regulations should be all laid aside. We preach that all people who want to be Christians and members of the church of Christ should discard human names, items of worship not found in the New Testament and human organizations. It is our plea that all of us return to the New Testament for our religious foundation.
It is true that Alexander Campbell had a great part in bringing New Testament Christianity to our land, but false that what he did makes the church today a “Campbellite Church.” Campbell was merely a sower of the seed, the word of God (Luke 8:11). The mere fact that he planted it by preaching it in its purity and simplicity would not make those who believed the preaching of the gospel and obedience to the gospel “Campbellites.” Brother W. Curbs Porter used the following illustration that says it very well. “The unadulterated word of God – the word of God as the only rule -when planted by Campbell, Stone, Scott, Curtis Porter or anybody else will produce nothing but Christians – members of the church of the Lord. The seed does not produce according to the man who plants it but according to the nature of the seed that is planted” (Porter-Myers Debate, p. 127). In his own very clever style he also said, “When Alexander Campbell planted that seed in the hearts of men, did it make them Campbellites? Not any more than an acorn, dropped by a woodpecker, would produce woodpeckers” (Ibid.).
The gospel is the seed which is planted in the hearts of men and women. Jesus said in Luke 8:13 that the “seed is the word of God.” When that seed is planted (preached) and received (heard with understanding), it will produce Christians today like it did in the first century when Paul. Peter and other inspired men preached it. In Brother Porter’s example, a woodpecker may drop an acorn in Kentucky that is picked up in Tennessee, but if and when that acorn germinates and grows it will produce an oak tree. It is still an oak tree because God promised that seed will always produce after its kind (Gen. 1:12).
The church of Christ began on the first Pentecost day after the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The beginning of the church of Christ is recorded in the second chapter of “Acts of the Apostles.” On the day, the first gospel sermon was preached, announcing the risen Christ. Men and women under conviction of sins, called for help from the Apostles. They asked, “What shall we do?” They were told to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38). They must have understood exactly what was necessary because verse 41 says, “Then they that gladly received the word (that Peter spoke) were baptized.” It continues to say that there were about 3,000 souls saved that day, all of which were added to the church (see verse 47). This is the first reference to the church as something to which people could be added. Before this time, the church is referred to in prospect, as something coming into being, but not yet established.
This church was no part of a denomination. There was no “joining” to do – no “church covenant” to learn simply a church. The word “church” meant to them and means to us simply “the called out” or “called together” people. One can easily see that the calling was done through the gospel of Christ (read 2 Thess. 2:14). Those who obeyed the gospel of Christ with true faith in their hearts answered the call and were members of the church. It was as simple as that. The complications have come in our day. We have made the matter so complex by the departure from the original pattern that it is difficult for people to get a clear grasp of anything like the church Jesus built, the church of Christ. Someone said, “Men today have cut the pattern to fit their cloth.” How true that is! The pattern, blueprint or what you please to call it, is simply the New Testament. While the gospel may be subjected to human interpretations, no human interpretation of the gospel is the blueprint. Nothing in addition to-nor in subtraction from the gospel can be the blueprint. We do not need interpretations of the gospel. We need only to read, study and practice what it says.
The church of Christ was founded by Jesus Christ. He said to Peter, “And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He promised to build His church – not your church or my church – but His church. It seems that men figured that He did not keep His promise so they began building “their” churches. If Jesus failed to build His church He did not keep His promise. Jesus did build the church. He purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). After He ascended to Heaven, He became the head of the church. “And hath put all things under His feet an(I gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). In the context of this passage, Paul is extolling the power of God that was demonstrated in the raising of the body of Christ from the dead. On such a demonstration of unleashed power is the church given a head – Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the head of only the church of Christ. Since He is head of only one church it is reasonable that He is head of only one body. It would be freakish and a monstrosity for one head to be attached in any way to a plurality of bodies. Men pay money to see such things in carnivals and side shows. Jesus is not a freak, nor a side-show oddity. The inspired writers did not paint such a picture of the Lord. He promised to build His church (singular), purchased the church (singular), became head of the church (singular), and will honor only one church (read Matt. 15:13).
Jesus Christ is the bride-groom of the church of Christ. The church is called His bride (2 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23). He was no polygamist, nor was He an unfaithful husband. He is the husband and groom of only one wife – His church. The church honors Christ by wearing His name. Any group professing to be the church of Christ and not wearing His name could not possibly make their claim valid. Different local churches were referred to as, “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). Every local church of Christ must be identified with Christ by name if they claim to be His bride.
It is not difficult for you to understand the church of Christ, if you are willing to lay aside all human ideas, prejudices and practices and just take the New Testament as your guide for the remainder of what future you have. You can be a member of the church of Christ by doing no more or less than sincere folk did on that first Pentecost after Jesus rose from the realm of the dead. As a member, you must meet with other Christians to worship God. This is done every first day of the week when Christians meet to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-27). In the worship there is also prayer, singing and giving of our means. God is honored in the worship by the teaching of His word (Acts 2:42; Col. 3:16). If you belong to something that is not according to the pattern, this article is written to urge you to be a Christian, a member of the church of Christ, nothing more or less.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 47, pp. 762-763
November 29, 1979