It is commonly reported, and even recorded in some encyclopedias, that the church of Christ had its beginning with Alexander Campbell. Some, however do state the case fairly. The Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the most reliable on earth, states Camp- bell’s purpose as follows:
It was proposed to establish no new sect, but to persuade Christians to abandon party names and creeds, sectarian usages and denominational strifes—which at that time were intense and bitter—and associate in Christian fellowship, in the common faith in a divine Lord, with no other terms of religious communion than faith in and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (Supplement, Ninth Edition, Col. 1, page 701).
Moreover, Mr. Alexander Campbell himself stoutly denied having founded a denomination. He was intelligent, and honest, hence he would not have done a thing and then denied doing it. If Mr. Smith, a reliable man, denies building a certain house, I feel duty bound to take his word for it. I would respect his word, even if many uninformed men contended that Smith did build it. If all who had been tenants in the house agreed with Mr. Smith that he was not the builder, we would have additional evidence that Smith did not build the house.
Members of the church of Christ are usually honest, and pretty well informed concerning the church of which they are members. There is not one faithful member among them who will say that Campbell built the church. Yes, every member of the church of Christ on earth agrees with Mr. Campbell when he says he did not found the church. Should we disregard this evidence, and accept the word of those who are not so well informed regarding this matter?
Jesus Christ had a church on earth 1700 years before A. Campbell was born. It was identical with the church of Christ today in the following points, namely: name, organization doctrine and worship. If Campbell had started a church he would have done like other church founders. He would have given the new church a human organization, a human name, and a man-made creed. And he likely would have changed the worship at some point. He did none of these things. He preached the Gospel, and when men obeyed it. they became just what God wanted them to be—a church of Christ.
If a building burns, you can duplicate it by building again according to the original blueprint. During the Dark Ages the world lost sight of the New Testament church. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, reformatory movements were under way. These movements resulted in the founding of many Protestant denominations. But the New Testament church was not restored. About the beginning of the 19th century, many grew tired of religious division and strife. Great minds were turning away from creeds, and back to the Bible. This was before Campbell was ever heard of. Of this number were James O’Kelly of the Methodist Church, Dr. Abner Jones of the Baptist Church, and Barton W. Stone of the Presbyterian Church. These men, being prominent preachers, persuaded the majority in the congregations where they preached, to drop their human names and man-made creeds; and to return to the word of God as the only sufficient guide in religion.
They were building according to God’s blueprint. Neither of these preachers seemed to know the others’ views, since each lived in a different state. Remember, this happened a long time before the world had heard of Alexander Campbell. These men are nearer in line, as founders of the church of Christ, than Alexander Campbell who came afterwards! However, their sole aim was not to found, but to restore New Testament Christianity.
But why was Campbell said to be the founder of the church? The world, after the Dark Ages, did not hear of the plea until he began to state it. He was educated, wealthy and influential. He founded Bethany College and from his own office at that place published no less than 46,000 volumes of literature. He traveled extensively, and preached to large audiences wherever he went. Multitudes of people turned to the New Testament way. His motto was, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; and where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Selfish men, who loved division, opposed him. They sought to weaken his influence. This they did by publishing reports that Campbell, though opposed to denominations, founded one. This accusation was certainly not true.
The church of Christ today does not believe one thing peculiar to Campbell. If he preached anything not in the gospel, we do not accept it. He was not inspired, and was subject to mistakes. We agree with him only as he agrees with the inspired apostles. The apostles’ doctrine will make churches of Christ today as it did 1900 years ago If Mr. Campbell preached the gospel, which is the seed of the kingdom, the fruit was not Campbellites, but Christians. The Mormon doctrine will make Mormons. The doctrine of any sect will make members of that sect, wherever it is preached. The simple gospel preached will make Christians only, regardless of who does the preaching. Irrespective of Mr. Campbell and his work, the church of Christ is a New Testament institution. It is the only church on earth that is scriptural in origin, name, organization, doctrine and worship. Investigate the church of Christ in the light of God’s word, and see if this is not true.