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Reflections on History

Have there been members of the true church of Christ since Pentecost? Some answer yes, based upon certain biblical texts; others doubt it since there appears to be no continuous historical record of such.

In contrast is the common allegation that the church of Christ is a relatively modern phenomenon, substantially beginning in America with the Stone-Campbell movement of the early 1800s. To the people who profess being Christians only, sometimes the pejorative term "Campbellites" is attached—"ignorantly by the non-church public … viciously, as well as ignorantly, by the less enlightened members of less enlightened sects" (Vergilius Ferm, Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 116).

Daniel, in considering the future administration of the Roman Empire (63 B.C. - A.D. 476), declared:

    And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (2:44)

History at best is a sketchy record of human achievement. This is particularly so before the invention of the printing press (ca. 1445). There are many movements that cannot be traced in an unbroken line throughout the centuries of the post-apostolic age. The fact is, since God took his church into "the wilderness" during those bloody epochs of persecution, it is not to be expected there would be a definitive chronology of the historical movement. It clearly is the case, however, that genuine churches of Christ can be documented significantly preceding the Stone-Campbell movement, and far beyond this continent.

A widely-circulated quotation from Dr. William Robinson (1888-1963), principal of Overdale College in Birmingham, England, contains the following statement:

    In the Furness District of Lancashire in N.W. England there existed in 1669, during the reign of Charles II, a group of eight churches of Christ. Most of them are not now in existence. An old minute book has been found of the year 1669 and it shows that they called themselves by the name church of Christ, practiced baptism by immersion, celebrated the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day, and had elders and deacons. There was also a church of Christ in Dungannon, Ireland in 1804 and in Allington, Denbeighshire. In 1735, John Davis, a young preacher in the Fife District of Scotland was preaching New Testament Christianity twentyfive years before Thomas Campbell (Alexander Campbell's father) was born.

To suggest that non-denominational churches did not exist until modern times is the epitome of pseudo-scholastic irresponsibility. Just because one cannot exhume a written record from the trash heaps of antiquity with an unbroken listing of congregations of Christ affords no proof of the absence of such.