Why Churches of Christ Got More Focused On Church Than Jesus

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Churches of Christ were started in the late 1700s to the early 1800s. At that time in the U.S. Some estimates of the religious landscape in the 1700s is that 80% of the U.S. population attended church.

In short. They agreed on Jesus.

What they didn’t agree on was church.

Thomas and his son Alexander Campbell experienced a lot of division that influenced them to search for a means to find unity in Christianity. They moved from Ireland to Pennsylvania. They were of the church of Scotland vs Catholic church. In the Presbyterian church in Ireland there was a lot of division. There was the Burghers vs Anti-burghers (Burgher was an oath). To further divide things there was the New Light (those who changed) vs Old Light (those who refused to change). Then there were the Seceders (a group of ministers who left) vs non-seceders.

Thomas was an “Old light, anti-burgher, seceder Presbyterian. Thomas ran into a problem with the Presbyterian church he was ministering in – he offered communion to another group of Presbyterians because they didn’t have a minister to help them out.

He was ex-communicated.

Thomas set out to come up with a more unifying approach to faith and church.

1809 – Declaration and Address explained some of his undergirding principles:

Thomas wrote the Declaration and Address to help bring unity to Christianity,

“Division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a p art of himself. It is anti-scriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is anti-natural, as it excited Christians to condemn to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work.”

Unity is not something we in Churches of Christ have been known for but it is in our DNA.

Here are some of the 13 principles of the D&A

  1. That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures
  2. That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them
  3. That in order to do this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God. Nor ought anything to be admitted, as of Divine obligation… but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament Church; either in express terms or by approved precedent.
  4. That although the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inseparably connected… one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will… [and] therefore in that respect can not be separated…, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church
  5. That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ… no human authority has power to interfere… by making laws for the Church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they observe these commands and ordinances… Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.
  6. That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection…. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion… Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.
  7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of Divine truths… be highly expedient, and the more full and explicit they be for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning… they ought not to be made terms of Christian communion; unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the Church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment… whereas the Church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.
  8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all Divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge; but… having a due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition… and of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ… is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church.
  9. That all that are enabled through grace to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, etc…. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.
  10. That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them….
  11. That (in some instances) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God, and (in others) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions and human inventions a term of communion… are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the Church of God….
  12. That all that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the Church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members but such as having that due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge described above… nor, secondly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their temper and conduct. Thirdly, that her ministers, duly and Scripturally qualified, inculcate none other things than those very articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God. Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all Divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive Church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.
  13. Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the Church.

They agreed on Jesus but not the church. You don’t debate your agreements. You debate your disagreements. Church became the focus and getting church right, the obsession. In time, we put church before Jesus. This is true even to the point of salvation – that salvation isn’t just found in Jesus but Jesus+the one true church.

This is one of the most problematic moves we have made and it all happened very naturally. But it must be corrected. If you put church before Jesus you will rarely find Jesus. If you put Jesus before church you will always find church too.

Do we trust in Jesus or church?

Are we saved by Jesus or church?

Can we find unity with others through Jesus rather than through church?

3 Responses

  1. Don’t agree with your conclusion. The thought was to get Jesus right was to get the church right. Many of the problems came later with Martin Luther’s teaching the doctrine of a invisible church vs. the visible church. Church unity came to be over emphasized, which often happens when the other side swings too far away from the normal. The second thing that happened was the revivalism of the predecessors to Billy Graham and their emphasis on personal and private relationship with Jesus with their private interpretation of Scripture. Without an anchor to the Scripture they kept getting too far away from common understandings. This came into the emphasis on pietist without the need for doctrine or things physical. Perhaps it was again an over reaction to pietism the Restorationist went into legalism, with its many sidedness of today’s ills.

    Conley Wilmoth

  2. A million murders here, a million murders there… eventually their psychological impacts begin to add up.


    Also, please see #Synods and #ClergyCredentiallingMafia and #Canon and #Control

    RE: the MILLENNIAL HARBINGER mentality

    People did not then understand the delegation of the nations to those members of the Divine Council (Deut 32 LXX / DSS) who would rebel and demand the worship of their citizens, nor that the gospel which Paul preached presupposed that the time of ignorant worship of rebellious national elohim was over and that the Most High God commanded that the nations turn their eyes toward the Messiah sent to Israel and the Nations (Acts 17; Acts 4). Early Christians and second temple Jews swam in this narrative.

    So A. Campbell expected USAn manifest destiny to produce a millennial paradise — just before the Civil War broke his heart and expectations. Theology and church history matter.

  3. I was privileged to hear Charles Holt at Plano, TX during the “Dallas Preachers Meeting” in the early 1990’s give a lesson “Out of the Church and into Christ.” It was magnificent. Charles was speaking to hundreds of folks who had quit meeting in CoC buildings and had formed less formal house churches throughout the Metroplex. I recall Arnold Hardin was also in attendance, but made a defense of the more structured asset based congregation.

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