Praise God that we are a part of the glorious Body of Christ! The hobby of genealogy has been popular in recent years. It can be profitable to know one’s background historically. To the Christian it is also profitable to know from whence we came. We hope these writings will encourage all to study about the common heritage we share both biblically and historically.
In Matthew 16:18, Christ said, “…Upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The church of the New Testament never existed in the lifetime of the Savior. Only after His death could there ever be a church. The New Testament Church began on the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, when Peter, inspired of the Holy Spirit, delivered the first Gospel message. He proclaimed the terms of salvation under the New Covenant. When asked by the Jews what they must do to be saved, he gave the answer that should be proclaimed today. Acts 2:38 reads, “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Book of Acts tells of the spreading of the Gospel and the establishment of many congregations. We read how to live for Him who died for us. You would think that apostasy could not enter in. The Devil is still on the scene and is active today. Even while the Apostles lived there was false teaching going on. So, where from here? Apostasy was here to stay; but there will always be those who are true to the Ancient Order of Things.
Apostasy entered Christianity and has signed unto this day. Christianity was now polluted with the influences of a sinful world. We don’t have time to chronicle all the results of apostasy, but we want to mention two examples.
First of all, we see the emergence of the universal bishop concept. This was, and is contrary to the Word of God. The Bible tells us that three is no authority on earth higher than the elders of the local congregation. A universal bishop over churches is contrary to local autonomy. This concept evolved into the Bishop of Rome becoming the Pope.
Also, we see how false teachers changed the doctrine and mode of baptism. Biblical baptism is by immersion. In immersion we identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection and are added to the church of Christ. How can one be buried with Christ in baptism by sprinkling or pouring? This and many other false teachings brought about the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church claims to be the true church, but during the Middle Ages, instead of being the ones who distributed the Word to the people, they were the jail keepers of the Word of God. They instituted many practices contrary to the Living Oracles. As the years around 1500 came into view the situation looked dark. Was there hope on the horizon?
There arrived from within the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church those who wanted to reform it. We are thankful that these men saw the gross abuses that were taking place. Some just wanted to reform the Roman Church and not go back to the Bible and restore the practices of New Testament Christianity. Some started new groups.
We read of Martin Luther’s efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church. John Knox’s work in Scotland evolved into Presbyterianism. John Wesley’s efforts within the Church of England brought some reform.
One might think that there would never come men who would look beyond the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church and the many Protestant denominations and get back to a “thus saith the Lord” concerning New Testament Christianity. Was that too much to ask for.
Thomas Campbell, writing in the Declaration and Address, wrote the following words to the Christian Association of Washington (PA) in 1809, “Call Bible things by Bible names.” He also wrote, “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it is silent.” These brethren believed that the Church of Christ comprised all the Christians on the earth. Their aim was to teach and preach that we can be united upon Christ and conformity to His Word.
This was the beginning of what is termed the American Restoration Movement. It was as Thomas Campbell said, “movement to unite the Christians in all the sects.” The aim of these men was to go back beyond the many centuries of apostasy and try to restore New Testament Christianity.
Is there any value in studying about the Restoration pioneers? If we regard their teachings on a par with Scripture then there is no value. If we can remember that they were uninspired men, then we can reap the rewards of their experiences concerning Christian service. Restoration is a continuing work. May we get the restoration fever of the pioneers and do our best to teach and preach New Testament Christianity in our lives. Until next time, may we always be looking for the return of the Lord of Glory and be trying to reach the whole world with the whole Gospel before He comes! Maranatha! (1 Cor. 16:22)