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Are the Churches of Christ a Denomination?

This lesson is part of a series entitled "Ready to Make a Defense."




A.      This charge is made because the churches of Christ believe and advocate the same doctrine that was advocated by Alexander Campbell during the so-called “Restoration Movement” of the early 1800’s.

                                                             1.      The Restoration Movement came about when many believers in the United States realized that the churches of their time had departed from the divine pattern of belief and practice for the church as revealed in the Bible.  Therefore, they sought to restore the original design for the church.

                                                             2.      Some other prominent individuals associated with this movement were:

a.       Thomas Campbell, Alexander’s father and an Irish Presbyterian

b.       Barton W. Stone, a Maryland Presbyterian

c.        James O’Kelley, a Virginia Methodist

d.       Elias Smith, a New Hampshire Baptist

e.        Dr. Abner Jones, a Massachusetts Baptist

                                                             3.      The doctrine advocated by these men in the Restoration Movement is summarized in these quotations:

a.       “…it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice everything that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Savior, and to believe and practice whatever is there enjoined.” (Alexander Campbell, The Christian Baptist)

b.       “…that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.” (Barton W. Stone and others, The Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery)

c.        “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” (Thomas Campbell, quoted at the home of Abraham Altars, near Washington, Pennsylvania)

                                                             4.      Thus, the doctrine that associates the churches of Christ with Alexander Campbell and others is that the Bible is to be used exclusively as a religious guide without addition or subtraction.

B.      The question that must be answered to determine if Alexander Campbell started a denomination known as the “church of Christ” is this: Did this doctrine of using the Bible exclusively as a guide in religion originate with Alexander Campbell and these other men?

                                                             1.      If the answer is “yes”, then these men would be the founders of the church that follows that same doctrine.  Any church that follows a doctrine formed by a man is founded by that man.

                                                             2.      However, if these men are not the originators of this doctrine, then those who follow this doctrine can no more be called “Campbellites” than those who followed the teachings of Paul could be called “Paulonians.”  Notice that Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

                                                             3.      If this doctrine did not originate with Campbell or these other men, who then is the author of this doctrine?  In this lesson, it will be demonstrated that God is the source.

                                                             4.      This is no “straw man” argument.  All of the points of contention that critics of the churches of Christ have with the church (such as baptism, instrumental music, the Lord’s Supper, grace, salvation, etc.) relate back to this core doctrine.  In each point, it is a matter of authority.



A.      Essentially, when considering any belief or practice, one should ask: What is its source?  Is it from heaven or from men?

                                                             1.      This is the question that Jesus asked concerning John's baptism when the chief priests and elders confronted Him, asking by what authority He acted (Matt. 21:25).

                                                             2.      The question by Jesus reveals two possible sources for authority in anything: God or man.

B.      As we approach this matter, let us do so with the conviction that the Bible is the infallible, inspired word of God.  See 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

                                                             1.      Space does not permit a validation of this conviction in this lesson, but it can be demonstrated convincingly with internal and external evidence.

                                                             2.      This conviction leads us to understand that if a doctrine can be found approved in the Bible, then it has its origin in God.  Even if the doctrine is brought to the surface after having been neglected for many years, it still has its origin in God.

C.      With that, let it be now demonstrated that the concept of “speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent” is found in the Bible and therefore has God as its source.  These passages are presented without commentary, but please notice that they commend compliance with God’s word only and rejection of the doctrines of men.

                                                             1.      “‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matt. 15:8-9; Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13)

                                                             2.      “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God…” (1 Pet. 4:11)

                                                             3.      “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8-9)

                                                             4.      “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)

                                                             5.      “Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in my word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” (John 8:31-32)

                                                             6.      “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

                                                             7.      “‘I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.’” (John 17:20-21)

                                                             8.      “‘If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.’” (John 15:10)

                                                             9.       “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4)

                                                          10.      “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19)

                                                          11.      “‘You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.’” (Deut. 4:2)

D.      This body of Scriptural evidence is sufficient to prove that the idea of using the Bible exclusively as a religious guide without adding to it or taking away from it originated in the Bible itself.

                                                             1.      In other words, this doctrine came from God.

                                                             2.      Campbell, Stone and others arrived at the same conclusion because they studied from the same revelation of God.

E.       The difference between Alexander Campbell and others like John Calvin (founder of the Presbyterian church), John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church), John Smyth (founder of the Baptist church), and Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon church) is that Alexander taught a Bible doctrine while these others formed doctrines and creeds not found in the Bible.

F.       With a proper understanding that the Bible alone is to be used to determine what God would have us believe, say, and do, anyone can understand:

                                                             1.      The divine Head of the church.

                                                             2.      The divine organization the church.

                                                             3.      The divine terms of entrance into the church.

                                                             4.      The divine design for the work of the church.

                                                             5.      The divine design for the worship of the church.

                                                             6.      The divine designations for the church.



A.      With all that being said, are we to believe that these things were lost or neglected from the first apostasy of the New Testament church until the early 1800's?

                                                             1.      Certainly not, but some have this incorrect impression.

                                                             2.      This impression has caused some to claim that members of the church of Christ are Campbellites because it is as if we teach that the church was recreated again at the time of the Restoration Movement led by Campbell.

B.      The fact is that the Lord's church has been in existence since it was first established in the first century.  There was never a time when it disappeared off the face of the earth.

                                                             1.      Unfortunately, before the New Testament was even complete, churches were already falling into apostasy. If fact, many of the epistles are written initially to stave off apostasy.  A sort of “restoration movement” was already beginning in the New Testament days (Rev. 2:1-5, for example, the church at Ephesus).

                                                             2.      That tendency to apostasy did not end with the close of the New Testament writing.  Instead, it magnified and multiplied, but not to the extent that there were no faithful Christians left.

                                                             3.      How do we know?

a.       The word of God has continued through the world to produce Christians wherever it has fallen into good and honest hearts.  See Matthew 13:23.

b.       “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.  For, ‘All flesh is like grass, And its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the LORD abides forever.’  And this is the word which was preached to you.” (1 Pet. 1:22-25)

C.      Even beyond this, we know that the church has continued in existence because of religious historians.

                                                             1.      In fact, it is largely in the writings of Catholic historians that evidence of these faithful Christians can be found.

                                                             2.      These records show charges and punishments for people who were following the Bible in opposition to the Catholic church hundreds of years before Campbell.  In general, these charges were:

a.       Rejection of infant baptism - Their defense was that infants are without sin and that a person through his own choice should decide whether he wishes to be baptized and wash away his sins.

b.       Rejection of the Eucharist as a sacrifice - Their defense was that the Lord's Supper was not a sacrifice but a memorial to be taken on the first day of the week.

c.        Rejection of the Old Testament as justification for practices in worship - Their defense was that they held all the Scriptures sacred, but the Word of God needed to be rightly divided.  For example, the formal priesthood of the Old Testament did not apply in the Christian era.

d.       Rejection of cathedrals and altars – Their defense was that any place was a suitable place of worship.

e.        Rejection of idols and images - Their defense was that this practice was contrary to the Word of God.

f.        Rejection of sprinkling or pouring as a mode of baptism - Their defense was that immersion was commanded in the Word of God.

g.        Rejection of a separate priesthood and clergy - Their defense was that all were equal in Christ, proclaiming the universal priesthood of believers.

h.       Rejection of prayers for the dead, holy days and good works (without faith, Ephesians 2:8-10) - Their defense was that these were contrary to the Word of God.

i.         Rejection of celibacy - Their defense was that this was contrary to the word of God.

j.         Rejection of the hierarchy of bishops - Their defense was that congregations were autonomous, being overseen by a plurality of elders (bishops).

***I refer you to a web site called www.traces-of-the-kingdom.org for a detailed and interesting history of the church in Europe from the first century until 1800***



A.      To that question, consider this quote from “Racoon” John Smith:  “Let us then, brethren, be no longer Campbellites, or Stoneites, or New Lights, or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights, but let us all come to the Bible and the Bible alone, as the only Book in the world that can give us all the light we need.” (Lexington, KY, 1832)

B.      Alexander Campbell was just a preacher, though he was prominent.

                                                             1.      He did a lot of good work in spreading the truth and defeating error.

                                                             2.      However, Campbell was susceptible to error, too.

a.       In 1823, he wrote that churches “dare not transfer to a missionary society, or Bible society or education society, a cent or a prayer, lest in so doing they should rob the church of its glory, and exalt the inventions of men above the wisdom of God.  In their church capacity alone they moved...”

b.       However, in 1849, Campbell became president of “The American Christian Missionary Society”.

c.        Such missionary societies or any other outside organization designed to supersede the work of the church violates the pattern of the church revealed in the Bible.

C.      Such is the way of men, but we must follow the way of Christ revealed in the Holy Bible.



A.      Members of the churches of Christ must be careful in their thinking.

                                                             1.      We sometimes come dangerously close to denominationalism.

a.       Some want to cling to persons like Campbell and Stone, or even more recent names.

b.       I have heard some who insist that the only Scriptural designation for the church is the church of Christ.  These persons want to wear “church of Christ” as a title rather than a description.

i.         Hence, there are sayings such as, “He is a church of Christ preacher,” or, “I am church of Christ.”

ii.        The Bible designates the church as simply “the church,” “the church of God,” “the churches of Christ,” “the kingdom,” “the household of God,” “the body of Christ,” “the church of the Firstborn,” etc.

                                                             2.      The truth is that we are only responsible for what we do right now.

a.       We are not responsible for those who came before us nor for those who may come after us.

b.       Regardless of what history may have occurred between the close of the New Testament and today, we can be what God would have us to be as a church now.

This is what matters now, that we are individually Christians as described in the New Testament and collectively the church as described in the New



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