Christianity Before Alexander Campbell

by David Padfield

In 1818 a church in New York sent a letter to "the churches of Christ, scattered over the earth," asking them for a statement of their views and practices. These letters were later printed in The Christian Baptist, a paper edited by Alexander Campbell (1788-1866). Since denominational preachers often claim that Campbell was the founder of the "church of Christ," I thought it would be interesting to examine some of these letters. Before printing the circular from New York, Campbell explained the importance of the correspondence between these churches. "The faults and blemishes of those who have attempted a better order of things, are not without benefit to us who inquire after the ancient order of things. Many of these societies have progressed well, all things considered: and their attempts and efforts, however they may be disapprobated, are of more real importance to be known that the doings of Luther and Calvin, and other reformers from ancient popery." (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 4, November 1827).

The Church In New York

In the letter sent out by the church in New York, it was stated they would bind only those things "which can be clearly adduced from the New Testament." Following the pattern of the early Christians they met together every Lord's day. The services started with a public prayer, after which the congregation sang a hymn, led by one of the elders. Then they would have a scripture reading, observe the Lord's supper and give of their means (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7). One of the elders or brethren would then give "exhortation from the word of God." After a period of praise, a prayer would be offered and the congregation dismissed. In accordance with the law of Christ they required "that all whom we receive into fellowship should believe in their heart, and confess with their mouth, that Jesus is the Christ; that he died for our sins, according to the scriptures; and that upon such confession, and such alone, they should be baptized" (cf. Acts 8:35-39). The letter was signed on March 1, 1818 by the congregation's two elders and three deacons. (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 4, November 1827).

Glasgow, Scotland

"The Church of Christ meeting in Morrisons Court, Glasgow" was established somewhere between 1772 and 1782. They had 180 members in 1818. This group also worshipped each Lord's day. As to the order of services, they followed the pattern of Acts two where "they continued in the Apostle's doctrine, and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Realizing the importance of doctrinal purity, they explained "it is necessary to guard both against too much and too little forbearance; and especially in respect to the external order of the society." (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 4, November 1827).

Edinburgh, Scotland

"The Church of Christ assembling in Leith Walk, Edinburgh" was planted around 1798. In 1818 they numbered 250, including three elders and four deacons. At one time they only observed the Lord's supper once a month. After careful examination of the New Testament, they returned to the "apostolic tradition" of a weekly observance (cf. Acts 20:7). During the services on Sunday morning "the names of those who had applied for fellowship are also read, and the result of the conversation which the elders and two or more of the brethren have had with them, is stated. If the church be satisfied, they are baptized in the course of a week, and received next Lord's day." This delay was longer than was practiced by the New Testament church (cf. Acts 16:33). They also met each Wednesday and Friday evening for prayer and public teaching. Modern churches could learn a lesson from this congregation. "From comparing the various passages on this subject, we learn that in partaking of the Lord's supper, we are not to satisfy our hunger, and that the place for doing so is our own houses, where we may exercise hospitality to our brethren, but that the church ought not to come together to eat and drink." Paul said, "But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home" (1 Corinthians 11:34). (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 5, December 1827).

Tubermore, Scotland

"The Church of Christ at Tuber-more" first met in May, 1807. Their 250 members met together every Lord's day to worship. Concerning fellowship they said, "We do not plead for forbearance as a useful scheme left to our own discretion, or justify it, as some have done, from that pleasing variety found among the works of God. Such language we hold in utter abhorrence. Variety in the works of creation is a beauty; but God is the author of that variety. Difference of sentiment upon every thing revealed by God is an evil, because it is the sinful ignorance of men. Can God command all his people to know his will, and shall it be a perfection to be variously ignorant of this?" (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 6, January 1828).

Manchester, England

This small congregation was established in 1810 with only three members. Elders and deacons were appointed in 1817. The next year they numbered 33. Aside from three meetings each Lord's day, they also met twice during the week for prayer, scripture reading and teaching. They attended to the observance of the Lord's Supper every Sunday afternoon. (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 7, February 1828).

Dublin, Ireland

The Stephen Street congregation in Dublin was established in 1810 and consisted of 100 members in 1818. Their order of services was almost identical with the church in New York. They had not yet appointed elders because they could not agree upon the necessary qualifications. While explaining why they were more tolerant of differing opinions on Bible themes, they said, "that all blindness, as to apostolic precepts, is chargeable on the folly and slowness of our hearts. The same folly and slowness of heart prevented the apostles from receiving many truths at the mouth of Jesus; but as their folly and slowness of heart was not indicative of a rejection of Christ, so neither in these days do we apprehend that in the folly and slowness of professors to receive many truths in the apostolic records, is in all cases indicative of a rejection of their authority; and as the Lord bore with the apostles, we see not but his example was recorded for our imitation." (Reference: The Christian Baptist, Volume 5, Issue 8, March 1828).

Conclusion

While these congregations were still lacking in some areas, the progress they made towards restoring the ancient order of things is important. One more item worthy of note is the tombstone of William Rogers at the Cane Ridge meetinghouse near Paris, Kentucky. It simply reads:

William Rogers
Born In Campbell Co., VA. July 7, 1784,
Removed With His Father To
Caine Ridge, Bourbon Co., Apr. 1798
United With The Church Of Christ
At Caine Ridge In 1807
Died Feb. 15, 1862
In The 78th Year Of His Age

At the time William Rogers "united with the church of Christ at Caine Ridge," Alexander Campbell was but a young man in his teens, still living in Ireland. The "church of Christ" was not started by Campbell, nor does it follow his teaching. The church of Christ (Rom. 16:16) was established at Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the death of Christ -- you can read of it in the second chapter of the book of Acts. The seed of the Kingdom is still the word of God (Luke 8:11).

  • Cane Ridge, Kentucky: Meetinghouse and Gravestone of William Rogers
    Near Paris, Kentucky (Bourbon County)
  • Cane Ridge, Kentucky: Gravestone of William Rogers
    "United With The Church Of Christ At Caine Ridge In 1807"
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  1. Cane Ridge Meetinghouse
  2. Grave marker for William Rogers

Alexander Campbell - church of christ

A Study Of Church History, by Gene Taylor. A study of church history is a study of the digressions that have plagued the cause of Christ down through the ages and how man struggled to overcome these apostasies. This thirteen lesson class book covers: The Establishment of the Church, Growth and Apostasy, The Reformation, The Causes and Roots of the Restoration, Early Leaders of the Restoration in America, Stone and Campbell, Cooperation Meetings and the Missionary Society, The Civil War, and Major Controversial Issues of the 20th Century (58 pages; PDF file size: 504k).