This article has been completely rewritten. Many church of Christ members have pointed out that the original article did not encompass all of the different factions within the church of Christ, so when I was preparing my texts for the book "We're Just Searching for Truth," I rewrote this article to make up for the shortcomings of the original. Once the texts for this book were submitted to the publisher, I had to remove the PDF version of this book from my website; thus, the new and improved version of this article was unavailable on the Internet. I felt that the information in this article was too important not be freely available; therefore, I modified the book version of this article into the version you are now reading.
The answer to the question posed by the title of this article is actually more complex then one might expect. Assuming a correct understanding of which church is being referred to, the members of most Christian churches would say that the church of Christ is a Christian denomination. A few would say that the church of Christ is not Christian, and place them in the same category as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). Surprisingly, if you ask a member of the church of Christ if they are a Christian denomination, they would say they are definitely not. Clearly, the answer to this question deserves closer examination.
First, a definition of which church is being referred to must be established, as there are many churches that use the title "Church of Christ." All Christian churches refer to themselves as the Church of Christ, as the word Christian implies. It is also popular to refer to all Christian churches collectively as the Church of Christ. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have always officially referred to themselves the Church of Christ, and this term is found constantly throughout Catholic documents. As well, there are many churches that use similar names: Church of Christ Holiness U.S.A.; Church of Christ, Scientist; Church of God (there are many different churches using this name); Church of Jesus Christ; Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic faith, Inc.; Church of the Nazarene; Churches of Christ in Christian Union; and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church this article is referring to simply uses the title "church of Christ," and the name found on the building they gather in usually contains the location of the church with the title "Church of Christ." Examples of this are: Edmonton Church of Christ; Kentish Town Church of Christ; Highway 36 Church of Christ; Church of Christ in Hyde Park; or simply just Church of Christ.
This does not give a clear definition of which church is being referred to, so the historical roots of this church must be explained to distinguish this church from the others. The church of Christ is the largest of the four main churches that stem from the Campbellite movement. The other three are the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches, and churches of Christ. All four have very similar names, and are very similar in teachings, but the church of Christ is generally more conservative then the others, and denies any relationship with the other Campbellite churches. They also claim that they are the only Christian church. They say that they are "Christians only, but not the only Christians." However, they do not accept any other established churches as Christian, and some are so bold as to say that all other churches are "churches of Satan." This is why other Christians sometime form the opinion that the church of Christ is not Christian.
These churches come from the American restoration movement that evolved primarily from John Calvin's branch of the Protestant Reformation, specifically Presbyterianism. It was primarily an American movement that was founded on the frontier in the nineteenth century. The founders of this movement were Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, Walter Scott, James O'Kelly, Abner Jones, and Elias Smith, whom this article will collectively refer to as the "church of Christ Fathers." It was Walter Scott that popularized the term "restoration," which means to restore the church of the New Testament. Proof that this is an American movement is in the fact that the larger majority of the congregations of the church of Christ are found in the South and Southwest United States of America. All other congregations through out the world either are missionary churches or have grown out of missionary churches into independent and autonomous congregations.
It is often quite difficult to explain which church is being referred to at times. When Catholics hear the term "Church of Christ," they automatically assume it is referring to Catholic Church, which is correct. When Protestants hear this term, they automatically assume it is referring all Christian churches, which is also correct. When members of the particular church this article is dealing with hear this term, they automatically assume it is referring to the first century Christian Church, which is again correct. However, they also believe that they are the only continuation of the first century Christian Church, and that the use of this name proves this belief. Most are unaware that it is very common for the Catholic Church to refer to herself as the Church of Christ. It is all very confusing, but the church under discussion does not appreciate being referred to by the more descriptive and accurate term "Campbellites," so the confusion will remain. Throughout this article, the term "church of Christ" will only refer this particular church under discussion, and the term "Christian Church" will refer to the church established by Christ in the first century for the universal salvation of the human race.
Now that the specific church under discussion has been established, it can be determined whether or not it is a Christian denomination. First, it must be established whether it is Christian. To do this, the definition of a Christian Church must be identified. As the name implies, a Christian is a follower of Christ, that is, Jesus Christ of Palestine, who lived during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. As a true follower of Christ would accept all Christian doctrines and reject all doctrines invented by man, this definition would exclude all Christian churches except the Catholic Church, so the definition will be broadened to include all that believe they are following Christ. This definition is too broad, as it includes many churches that are definitely not Christian, so it will be restricted to churches that believe that this same Jesus Christ fulfilled the Jewish religion. By fulfilling the Jewish religion, Christ bore witness to the existence of the singular God of the Jews, and completed the public revelation of this God. By this definition, all churches that rely on further public revelations of God are not Christian. This definition excludes Christian Science, Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, and many other such churches, but does it exclude the church of Christ? This is debatable.
It can be argued that the church of Christ Fathers received a revelation from God that allowed them to interpret Scripture correctly, thereby re-establishing the Christian Church. This argument clearly puts the church of Christ in the same category as the previously mentioned non-Christian churches. It also give the church of Christ a legitimate reason to add the story of this revelation to Scripture, much like the restoration of the Jewish religion in 2 Kings chapter 22 and 23. By adding to Scripture, they would again be in the company of the previously mentioned non-Christian Churches. The church of Christ has not added to Scripture, and it would be very steadfast in preventing any such action. This argument then relies totally on the belief that the Christian Church was re-established in the nineteenth century, and would be correct in defining the church of Christ as being not Christian.
The discussion does not end here, as the belief that the Christian Church was re-established in the nineteenth century was not held by the founders of this church, nor is it held by all members of this church. The church of Christ is not actually one church, but a collection of autonomous congregations. Since each congregation is autonomous, there is no governing body to maintain orthodoxy among them, which results in each congregation varying in accepted doctrines. The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the bases of these churches, as it is in all Protestant churches, and is so strictly adhered to that complete orthodoxy is not even maintained in the individual congregations. This lack of orthodoxy within the church of Christ allows the acceptance of the doctrine that the Christian Church was re-established in the nineteenth century to vary from congregation to congregation, and even to vary among members of any particular congregation. With this variance of doctrine and the previous definition of a Christian Church, the conclusion is that some members of the church of Christ are indeed Christian; however, some are not.
The church of Christ is not completely without orthodoxy. While the acceptance of doctrines such as the re-establishment of the Christian Church, prohibition of involvement in inter-denominational organization, prohibition of musical instruments in worship services, and a number of other doctrines will vary throughout the church, there are a number of core doctrines that are accepted throughout Church of Christ. Obviously the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is accepted throughout the church, as is baptism after the age of reason, baptism only by immersion, congregational autonomy, the Lord's Supper is only symbolic, the Spiritual Gifts are dead, and a number of others. With the number of doctrines that vary throughout the church, members do not assume that a church using the name "church of Christ" is in fact a church of Christ. Members test other congregations against their own personal criteria as to whether or not these other congregations are a "true" church of Christ. Many will declare a number of church of Christ congregations as non-Christian, and in the same class as other Protestant churches and the Catholic Church.
The sect that accepts the doctrine of re-establishment of the Christian Church believes that sometime after the apostolic age, the Christian Church ceased to exist on earth. Some years are given for the death of the Christian Church, such as 313, 325, 606, 666, and 1054, but usually no specific year is defined, and a range is given such as between the second and seventh centuries, between the third and fourth centuries, or simply sometime after the first century. The generally accepted time of the re-establishment of the Christian Church is early in the nineteenth century when the church of Christ Fathers formed their new church. The church of Christ is actually a later development of the church formed by the church of Christ Fathers, which leads some to believe that the Christian Church was re-established at the end of the nineteenth century, or the beginning of the twentieth century. As well, there are churches in England, Ireland, and Scotland that were a major influence on some of the church of Christ Fathers. Some of these churches can trace their roots as far back as the seventeenth century, and so the seventeenth century can also be given as the time of the re-establishment of the Christian Church. It is often acknowledged that the church of Christ formed over a number of years, and so an exact year or date cannot be given for the re-establishment of the Christian Church. The accepted period of re-establishment could be anywhere from a few years in the early nineteenth century, or if the influence of Protestantism is acknowledge, to the time between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Regardless of the accepted years of the death and re-establishment of the Christian Church, this sect believes that the Christian Church was dead for at least five centuries, or as much as eighteen centuries, before being re-established.
A number of Scriptural passages express that Christ established His Church once, and that it would endure forever. The re-establishment sect of the church of Christ does not always ignore these passages. They maintain that the Christian Church was only dead on the earth, and that it continued to exist in Heaven. They will often not use the term "dead" and deny any belief of a dead Christian Church. Despite the terminology used or their belief of the exact location of the Christian Church, this sect does believe that the Christian Church was not physically present on the earth for at least five centuries.
All members of the church of Christ will firmly deny any Divine revelations, both public and private, after the first century, but this does not concur with the belief in the re-establishment of the terrestrial Christian Church. The doctrine of all revelations ending after the first century and the doctrine of re-establishment of the terrestrial Christian Church cannot logically coexist in the same dogma. It is believed that the re-establishment of the terrestrial Christian Church was through a legitimate interpretation of the Bible. While the Christian Church was not terrestrial present, the Bible was present, preserved, and even canonized. It was read by many and many different interpretations of it were developed. To believe that the Bible was present, preserved, canonized, and even read without the existence of the Christian Church is possible if we believe that the Divine knowledge of true Christianity was lost. If the Christian Church ceased to remain terrestrial present, it would be impossible for any human, or group of humans, to infallibly interpret the Bible and re-establish the Christian Church (Cf. Luke 24:25-27, Acts 8:30-31). Since the re-establishment of the Christian Church would be impossible without Divine intervention, Divine intervention must have taken place. This Divine intervention consisted in the bestowing of Divine knowledge to humans to enable them to interpret the Bible. The act of God giving terrestrially unknown knowledge to terrestrially present humans is called Divine revelation, and since this particular Divine revelation was necessary to re-establish the Christian Church, and therefore necessary for salvation, this Divine revelation was not private, but public.
It is thoroughly believed among this re-establishment sect that no one after the first century received a direct Divine revelation, including the church of Christ Fathers. An indirect Divine revelation would also be denied, but either an indirect or a direct Divine revelation must have occurred to terrestrial re-establish the Christian Church. There are no records of any conventional members of the church of Christ receiving direct Divine revelations, so the only conclusion is that it was indirect. The reception of this revelation could have been restricted to the church of Christ Fathers, men who refined the doctrines of the church of Christ Fathers, or slowly revealed to many, beginning with the Protestant Reformation until the church of Christ transformed into its present shape. Regardless of it means of disclosure and time, a public Divine revelation would be required to re-establish the Christian Church. Therefore, the church of Christ sect that believes that the Christian Church was terrestrially absent also believes, knowingly or unknowingly, that another public revelation was required in addition to Christ's Revelation in the first century. This belief places this sect in the same category as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons, which are defiantly not Christian churches.
Although this particular sect within the church of Christ is not Christian, their baptism remains valid, as does the baptism throughout the church of Christ. The dogma of the Catholic Church maintains that any baptism conducted in proper matter and form with the intention to perform what the Church performs is valid. This includes baptisms performed when the one receiving baptism, the one performing the baptism, or both, are heretics, apostates, or even infidels. The church of Christ baptizes in water with the intent to perform a Christian baptism, specifically using the word "baptize." If there is a sect within the church of Christ that does not specifically use the word "baptize" or a similar form of this word, and uses another word, such as "immerse," their baptism is invalid. They also baptize in the name of the Trinity, specifically mentioning the name of the three persons of the Trinity. If there is a sect that baptizes in the "names" of the Trinity, their baptism is invalid. As well, if the three persons of the Trinity are not specifically mentioned, or if other names are mentioned, the baptism is also invalid. The intention of a church of Christ baptism is the same as a Catholic baptism, making it valid. This is not the case with a Mormon baptism. Although Mormons use water and the correct words, the intention of their baptism is not the same as a Christian baptism. In this respect, the terrestrial re-establishment sect of the church of Christ is different from the Mormon Church. Since the baptism of this sect is valid, they do not require re-baptism when they become Christian.
This terrestrial re-establishment doctrine was not believed by the church of Christ Fathers, nor is it believed throughout the modern church of Christ. An original doctrine of this church is that they are "Christians only, but not the only Christians." This belief was held by the original members of this church, and is verbally proclaimed throughout the church of Christ today; however, few truly accept this doctrine in practice. The sect that truly accepts this doctrine acknowledges its Protestant roots, which are rooted in Catholicism. It acknowledges that the Catholic Church canonized and preserved Sacred Scripture, and that they are indebted to the Catholic Church for the existence of the New Testament. They also acknowledge that they are not the only Christians, and that Christians have existed, and do exist, in the Catholic Church and in the Protestant Churches. They believe that the Catholic and Protestant Churches have many false doctrines, and that the church of Christ is as close to the first century Christian Church as possible. They admit that there may be faults in their interpretation of the Bible, and therefore faults in their doctrines, but they believe that they have the fewest faults of any Christian church. This sect believes that Christianity existed in the Catholic Church, but through the Protestant Reformation and the restoration movement, Christianity returned to its original form.
The focus of this sect was, and is, to remove denominationalism from Christianity. This idea developed from Barton Stone's belief that Christians could unite in one faith, and do away with the division within Christianity. Barton Stone's attempt to accomplish this failed, and he abandoned all established churches to form a new church simply calling themselves Christian. He joined the other church of Christ Fathers, and his idea of "nondenominational" became a dominant one. The idea of nondenominational should not be confused with interdenominational. Interdenominational refers to a union between different Christian denominations, whereas nondenominational refers to the absence of denominations within Christianity.
This concept of nondenominational is a noble one, and is actually an attempt to bring the same unity that is found in the Catholic Church to Protestantism. The one major flaw with the attempt by the church of Christ at nondenominationalism is their additional doctrine of congregational autonomy, which does not allow a governing body to maintain orthodoxy. Even if they did have an authoritative governing body, they could not eliminate denominationalism without convincing other Protestants to submit to this governing body. The problem of Christian denominationalism only exists because of rebellion against the authoritative governing body of the Christian Church, namely the papacy. The only solution to denominationalism is submission to the Christly ordained authority of the pope.
While the idea of nondenominationalism failed, the idea became entrenched in the dogma of the church of Christ, and they refer to themselves as nondenominational. While in word the entire church of Christ proclaims that they are nondenominational, the sect that accepts that Christians exist in other churches implicitly admit that they are another Christian denomination, which is entirely correct. They do not accept, implicitly or otherwise, an additional public revelation after Christ's Revelation in the first century, and acknowledge their Protestant roots; therefore, they are truly a Protestant Christian denomination.
Like the remaining church of Christ, this sect will deny that they are Protestant, but this is a modern belief, and was not held by the church of Christ Fathers. Thirteen years after Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone joined forces, Alexander Campbell stated: "I appear before you at this time, by the good providence of Our Heavenly Father, in defence of the truth, and in explanation of the great redeeming, regenerating, and ennobling principles of Protestantism, as opposed to the claims and pretensions of the Roman Catholic Church. I come not here to advocate the particular tenets of any sect, but to defend the great cardinal principles of Protestantism." At this time, what would later become the church of Christ fully acknowledged that it was Protestant, and it was only later that the church of Christ began to deny that it was Protestant.
There is, however, another church of Christ sect that is also without the terrestrial re-establishment doctrine, but denies their Protestant roots. This sect realizes the implication of a public Divine revelation in the belief of a terrestrial re-establishment of the Christian Church. They also realize the implication of being only another Protestant denomination in acknowledging their Protestant roots. To avoid both of these implications, they simply deny history and replace it with fiction.
As previously stated, the roots of the church of Christ go back to the church of Christ Fathers, most of whom came form Presbyterianism, but all of which came from Catholicism through the Protestant Reformation. As also stated previously, some of the church of Christ Fathers, specifically Thomas and Alexander Campbell, were influenced by a number of churches in England, Ireland, and Scotland. These United Kingdom churches are the result of an earlier restoration movement that can be dated as far back as the seventeenth century, but like the American restoration movement, these churches are again a result of the Protestant Reformation. Since Thomas and Alexander Campbell were equally influenced by these churches as well as by Presbyterianism, the church of Christ can also legitimately trace her roots back to Catholicism through these United Kingdom churches. The church of Christ can only trace its root back to the first century Christian Church through the Catholic Church, as do all other Christian churches.
To avoid being a Protestant denomination, this third sect within the church of Christ denies their historical lineage and have invented a new one based on a number of unhistorical inventions, false claims, and false assumptions. The general theory is that the church of Christ was established in the first century, slowly moved throughout the world, including the United Kingdom, and eventually was brought to America by Thomas and Alexander Campbell. By claiming this as their lineage, this sect can truthfully profess the same nondenominational status as the Catholic Church without a supposed terrestrial re-establishment of the Christian Church. In this profession, this sect claims apostolic succession for themselves, and asserts that the Catholic claim of apostolic succession is false. They will not use of the term "apostolic succession," but by claiming that their church is the singular continuation of the church that Christ's Apostles belonged to, apostolic succession is exactly what they are claiming.
The first fault with this claim is that Thomas and Alexander Campbell did not believe it. All of the church of Christ Fathers believed that they were restoring the Christian Church. Therefore, if these men, whom this article refers to as the church of Christ Fathers, are acknowledge members of the church of Christ, the church of Christ must acknowledge it is the result of the American restoration movement. This presents a great deal of difficulty for this sect since there is such an abundance of evidence of their connection with the American restoration movement. To elude this difficult, it is simply ignored.
Despite the evidence that shows Alexander Campbell fully developing such doctrines such as congregational autonomy for the American church of Christ congregations, the apostolic succession sect merely claims that this doctrine was included with all church of Christ doctrines that was brought to America by both Alexander Campbell and his father, Thomas. History does not agree with this claim. Both Thomas and Alexander Campbell were influenced by the United Kingdom churches, but Thomas Campbell began the American church, and three years later was joined by his son who developed the doctrines of the American church. They did not bring a collection of doctrines to America, but developed their own in America. The doctrines initiated by Thomas Campbell and then fully developed by Alexander Campbell are: congregational autonomy; that creeds, clerical titles, authority, and privilege are unacceptable in Christianity; the Lord's Supper should be served every Sunday; and baptism after the age of reason and only by immersion. Alexander Campbell also argued for Christian unity, something unnecessary in a pre-existing church of Christ, and also implies that Alexander Campbell accepted other denominations as Christian. As well, after developing all these doctrines, both Thomas and Alexander Campbell joined an association of Baptists, again something unnecessary if the church of Christ was the true Christian Church from the first century. These historic facts must be completely ignored by this sect because if they acknowledge them and exclude Thomas and Alexander Campbell from the church of Christ, they lose their connection with the United Kingdom churches. This sect cannot claim that Thomas and Alexander Campbell brought the church of Christ to America and later abandoned it because it was after they had done these things that they joined the other church of Christ Fathers, which led to the development of the church of Christ and the other Campbellite churches.
The United Kingdom churches that influenced Thomas and Alexander Campbell are very similar to the American church of Christ, but like the other Campbellite churches that the church of Christ denies as Christian, there are differences between the American church of Christ and these United Kingdom churches. Some of these United Kingdom churches use the name "church of Christ," which allows the American church of Christ to make a simple and direct connection between themselves and the older United Kingdom churches. The apostolic succession sect will deny other Campbellite churches as Christian, as well as other church of Christ congregations that do not pass their personal criteria, while at the same time disregard any difference between themselves and the United Kingdom churches. This double standard is necessary for this sect to create a history beyond the nineteenth century.
An apostolic succession sect also exists within the United Kingdom churches, and so the church of Christ can attach herself to the alleged apostolic succession of the United Kingdom churches. The bases of this alleged apostolic succession is a select group of historical heretics that share some doctrines with the church of Christ. Again, the apostolic succession sect is willing to ignore differences in doctrines between themselves and these older heretic sects. When these same differences are found between themselves and other modern churches, these other modern churches are classified as non-Christian. This double standard is again necessary for this sect to create a history beyond the seventeenth century.
Earlier heretics often cited by the apostolic succession sect as church of Christ members are: Henry Denne, in middle of the seventeenth century; Edward Wightman of Burton, at the end of the sixteenth century; William Tyndale, in the sixteenth century; Henry of Toulouse, in the middle of the twelfth century; Pierre de Bruis, in the early twelfth century; and Gundulphus, also known as Gundulf, in the early eleventh century. Aside from these few names, rarely are any other names suggested. These few heretics show the most similarities with the church of Christ, and the apostolic succession sect admits that all other heretics are too different from themselves to accept them as member of the church of Christ.
The apostolic succession sect does not rely on historical facts, but more on the absence of historical facts. If they discover a name of an earlier heretic with out any evidence of this heretic's beliefs, they will immediately declare that this heretic was a member of the church of Christ. The main doctrine they look for is immersion baptism of adults. They are willing to overlook most other doctrines that they would call non-Christian.
One historical fact about these earlier heretics that the apostolic succession sect continually ignores is that they separated from the Catholic Church, or a Protestant church. There is absolutely no evidence that these heretics joined an existing church of Christ, but there is evidence that they left established churches to establish their own church. This is one of the most difficult things for the apostolic succession sect to explain; all Christian heretics can someway be traced back to the Catholic Church.
There is another problem with these earlier heretics, which is shared with the church of Christ Fathers: they all preached a return to the Bible. By preaching this, they acknowledge that there was no church following the Bible according to their understanding of it. By these earlier heretics' own acknowledgement, there was no existence of an alleged church of Christ. They all wanted to create their personal idea of what the Christian Church was by convincing others that their personal interpretation of the Bible was the correct one. As well, one cannot return to something they never had; therefore, they accepted other churches as Christian, only in need of reform. By preaching a "return to the Bible," they are preaching a reform in the existing churches, and not the acceptance of a different church.
Even with the double standard of accepting historical heretics as members of the church of Christ that would be excluded if they existed today, there is still very little evidence of these alleged church of Christ members. The majority of these alleged members lived after the seventeenth century, which is understandable since they were a product of the Protestant Reformation a century earlier. All alleged members before the seventeenth century have fewer similarities with the modern church of Christ, and become increasingly scarce with each preceding century, until they become non-existent before the eleventh century. There are gaps of up to a century of any alleged evidence of the church of Christ, and ten centuries of Christian history before the first piece of alleged evidence. This too is understandable since many of the basic doctrines held by the church of Christ were not invented until after the eleventh century, most of which were invented after the sixteenth century.
Once such basic doctrine is "believer baptism." It was not until the Petrobrusians heresy, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, that the validity infant baptism was questioned. The Petrobrusians were later followed by the Henricians, Waldenses, Albigenses, Bohemian Brethren, and the Anabaptists. For the first ten centuries of Christianity, infant baptism was practice with no opposition. This and other doctrines make it very difficult for the apostolic succession sect to fabricate a history for the church of Christ.
The largest problem in claiming any historical heretics before the sixteenth century as church of Christ members is that they are not Protestant. The church of Christ is clearly a Protestant denomination, but all heretics before the Protestant Reformation are either too Catholic or too radical and even Gnostic. As mentioned earlier, Henry of Toulouse and Pierre de Bruis are often cited as church of Christ members, but their teachings are definitely not congruent with the teachings of the church of Christ. Both Henry of Toulouse and Pierre de Bruis teachings were based on the Gnostic doctrine that everything physical is evil, which forbid marriage and required abstinence from various foods. This doctrine is actually older than Christianity, and Paul condemns it in 1 Timothy 4:1-3. The church of Christ would not want to admit that any such teaching were held by its members, but this is exactly what must be done to create a history beyond the Protestant Reformation.
This acceptance of historical heretics with different doctrines as church of Christ members does not agree with early Christian thought. Origen wrote between the years 220 and 230 that apostolic teachings were handed down unchanged from the Apostles, but heretical doctrines can be identified by doctrinal changes. "Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition."
If Catholic doctrines are examined for uniform thought with predecessors, all doctrines are traced back to the Apostles, without any changes. If the same exercise is performed with the church of Christ, changes begin to appear as early as the twentieth century. These changes continue until the sixteenth century, where the church of Christ predecessors are traced to the Catholic Church. If doctrinal changes are examined within the church of Christ, the church of Christ is shown to be a product of the twentieth century.
This complete lack of historical evidence of the existence of the church of Christ before the nineteenth century, or even the twentieth century, is simply explained by the apostolic succession sect as a result of avoiding religious persecution. This simple explanation, like their fabricated history, does not withstand the simplest of scrutinies.
The Christian Church existed and flourished under total suppression for the first three centuries of her existence. There is an abundance of Christian literature from these three centuries; however, none of this literature describes the church of Christ, but only the Catholic Church. The existence of this early Christian literature also demonstrates that severe persecution did not remove Christianity from historical records.
The alleged perpetrator of this alleged persecution that removed the church of Christ from historical records is the Catholic Church. Between the fourth and sixteenth centuries, the Catholic Church was able to suppress many heretical sects; however, some of these sects, such as Arianism, formed the majority, and actually suppressed the Catholic Church. As well, there are historical records of these heretical sects, while there is no historical record of the church of Christ. After the seventh century, the Catholic Church's ability to suppress heresy was primarily restricted to Europe. Christianity existed in Africa and Asia, but the Catholic Church did not have the same power to suppress heresy in Africa and Asia as it did in Europe. Again, there is abundant evidence of Christianity in Africa and Asia at this time, but no evidence of the church of Christ. After the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the power of the Catholic Church to suppress heresy was restricted even more. There is evidence of many new Christian churches at this time, but again no evidence of the church of Christ until the nineteenth century.
There are sixteen centuries where the church of Christ could have existed under persecution, but there is no evidence of this. During this sixteen centuries, there are nine centuries where the church of Christ could have existed alongside the Catholic Church in Africa and Asia without persecution from the Catholic Church, but there is no evidence of this. After the first sixteen centuries of Christianity, there are three centuries where the church of Christ could have existed alongside the Protestant churches without persecution from the Catholic Church, but there is no evidence of this. There has been an ample opportunity for the church of Christ to have made its mark on history, but since it did not exist until the nineteenth century, it was not able to make any mark on history before this time.
With the overwhelming amount of evidence of the church of Christ being established in the nineteenth century, the apostolic succession sect is reduced to one argument. They argue that since their interpretation of the New Testament describes the church of Christ, it must have existed since the first century. With no historical evidence to support their claim, they rely completely on their interpretation of the New Testament to prove their existence beyond the nineteenth century.
The Bible itself presents an obstacle to the apostolic succession sect, specifically the Canon of the New Testament. It is a well-established fact that there were a number of different catalogues of the New Testament by the time of the fourth century, and the Christian Church recognized the need for a universal catalogue. In 382, a synod was held in Rome that created a new catalogue of the New Testament from the more than two hundred and fifty possible inclusions. The apostolic succession sect would like to claim that the church of Christ was responsible for this new catalogue, but historical facts discredit this claim.
The most obvious fact that discredits the claimed responsibility of the apostolic succession sect of the church of Christ for the fixation and close of the New Testament Canon is their adherence to the doctrine of congregational autonomy. The act of fixing and closing the Canon of the New Testament is impossible in a church that accepts the doctrine of congregational autonomy. If the Christian Church had also believed in congregational autonomy, each congregation would have its own Canon of the New Testament, and no other congregation would have the right or authority to impose a New Testament Canon on another congregation. The fixation and close of the New Testament Canon was only accomplished and universally accepted because the Christian Church had, and has, a physically present authority. The physically present authority in the Christian Church in 382 was Pope Damasus, and this is why the commonly accepted New Testament Canon, including the one used by the church of Christ, is the Damasan Canon. The name of the New Testament Canon used by the church of Christ came from the name of the man that had the authority to make it the universally accepted Canon, Pope Damasus. The church of Christ has never had, and never will have, this type of central authority, and therefore could not have fixed and closed the New Testament Canon.
The very idea of a synod is counter to the idea of congregational autonomy, especially a synod were only bishops, who governed a number of congregations, could vote. The Canon of the New Testament that the church of Christ uses is the result of a synod, and became the universally accepted canon only as a result of the universal authority of the pope. The pope's canon that is used today was not immediately accepted, particularly in Africa. This is why four African synods had to confirm the pope's canon as the only one used by all African congregations. These four African synods were held in Hippo in 393, and the primary African See of Carthage in 393, 397, and 419. Again, the acceptance of the pope's canon in Africa was the results of synods, which could not have taken place in a church that believed in the doctrine of congregational autonomy. All historical facts surrounding the Canon of the New Testament show that congregational autonomy could not produce a universal canon; therefore, the church of Christ had no part in the creation of the New Testament.
Although the apostolic succession sect does attempt to rewrite history to present themselves as the Church established by Christ, they are unable to change the fact that they base their doctrines on a book that was created and preserved by the Catholic Church. As well, the church of Christ does not use the correct scriptural canon, but the Protestant Canon of the sixteenth century. This fact also demonstrates that their true heritage is Protestantism. These two facts show that the only link the church of Christ has with Christ and His Apostles is the Catholic Church, and this is only through the Protestant Reformation.
The history of the Bible cannot be acknowledged by the apostolic succession sect since this would place them in the same category as the church of Christ Fathers and all other Protestants. The apostolic succession sect can only close their eyes to history and logic, and believe that their interpretation of the Bible is somehow Divine without Divine intervention. Around the year 200, Tertullian stated that such an appeal to Scripture is empty without a historical connection to the Apostles, and without a historical connection to the Apostles, no one has a right to appeal to Scripture. "These things being so, in order that we may be judged to have the truth, - we who walk in the rule which the Churches have handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, - admit that the reasonableness of our position is clear, defining as it does that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without using Scripture, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures." The Biblical interpretation of the church of Christ is empty because it cannot be traced back to the Apostles, but only to the church of Christ Fathers of the nineteenth century.
Tertullian's test of authenticity of a Christian doctrine is in historically tracing the origins of that doctrine back to the Apostles, without any lapses in time:
Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origins of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles... Therefore, they will be challenged to meet this test even by those Churches which are of much later date - for they are being established daily - and whose founder is not from among the Apostles nor from among the apostolic men; for those which agree in the same faith are reckoned as apostolic on account of the blood ties in their doctrine. Then let all heresies prove how they regard themselves as apostolic, when they are challenged by our Churches to meet either test. But in fact they are not apostolic, nor can they prove themselves to be what they are not. Neither are they received in peace and communion by the Churches which are in any way apostolic, since on account of their diverse belief they are in no way apostolic.
The necessity of proving apostolic succession existed in the beginning of Christianity, and continues today. The apostolic succession sect of the church of Christ recognizes the necessity of apostolic succession, without actually using the term "apostolic succession," but their attempt of fabricating an apostolic succession fails. This fabricated apostolic succession of the church of Christ requires the abandonment of historical fact, and as such, an abandonment of truth and intelligence.
All Christian churches acknowledge the historical fact that they have come from the Catholic Church, and although they are based in an abandonment of some Christian truth, they do not completely abandon the truth of history. The apostolic succession sect in the church of Christ completely abandons the truth of history, and replaces it with fiction invented by humans. With this requirement of nineteen centuries of fiction, this sect is also placed in the same category as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Unification Church, and other churches that require their members to abandon their intellectual abilities. God gave humans intelligence so they could find Him; to abandon this intelligence is to abandon the path to God. This intellectual abandonment therefore places the apostolic succession sect with the other churches that masquerade as Christian, but are clearly not Christian.
Intellectual abandonment should not be confused with the acceptance of doctrines that are beyond the intellectual capacities of the human mind. Christ asks us to accept many doctrines that we cannot fully understand; however, He makes an appeal to our intellect to accept these doctrines, and never asks us to abandon our intellect. All of the epistles in the New Testament consist primarily of appeals to human intelligence to accept Christian doctrine. This same human intelligence that Christ appeals to must be abandoned to accept fiction over history, which causes the apostolic succession sect of the church of Christ to be outside the broad definition of Christianity.
A simple answer cannot be given as to whether the church of Christ is Christian since it depends on the doctrines accepted by each individual member. This is true of all Christian churches, but unlike most other Christian churches, the church of Christ has no official standard of orthodoxy, and therefore a categorical answer cannot be given for these particular denominations.
With this lack of an official standard of orthodoxy, the church of Christ cannot be called a denomination, but is a number of denominations. The exact number of denominations cannot be determined unless some doctrinal standard is used, which would allow definite categories to be established. This article has done this on a small scale, defining three distinct categories, but without an official doctrinal standard, this categorization can only be unofficial.
This article has argued that two of the three categories it has identified are not Christian; however, this argument can change with the definition of Christianity. As previously stated, the strictest definition of Christianity will only allow the Catholic Church to be defined as Christian. The definition of Christianity can be broadened to include churches that have separated from the Catholic Church, but still retain some Catholic doctrines. It is debatable as to which Catholic doctrines are necessary for a church to be Christian in this broader definition. It can be argued that the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Unification Church are all Christian, but this is not commonly accepted. By classifying these churches as non-Christian, two of the three categories this article has identified in the church of Christ can also be classified as non-Christian.
The arguments can vary, and the conclusions will vary accordingly. The selection of criteria to determine whether a church is Christian is difficult. There are many churches that believe they are Christian, but are not Christian. There are many churches that accept the New Testament Canon, but are not Christian. Likewise, there are some Christian churches that accept a different New Testament Canon, such as the Nestorian Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Baptism cannot be the sole criteria to determine Christianity since some churches do not require baptism, but are still commonly accepted as Christian. Churches that require adult baptism are also commonly accepted as Christian, although their children have not been baptized. The only fact that is sure is that Christianity can only be completely fulfilled in the Catholic Church.
The church of Christ should be applauded for recognizing the error of denominationalism, which resulted from the rebellion against the Catholic Church. This is one of the issues that unites the church of Christ with its mother, the Catholic Church. The mistake of the church of Christ is in looking for the solution to denominationalism within the rebellion that created denominationalism. Rebellion cannot be solved with more rebellion, but only with submission. Only in total submission to Christ and His one holy universal and apostolic Church, can true nondenominationalism be achieved. Once members of the church of Christ understand this, they can actually become nondenominational as members of the true church of Christ, which is the Catholic Church.
1 Alexander Campbell and the Right Reverend John B. Purcell. A Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion. St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1837
2 Jurgens, William A. "Origen's The fundamental Doctrines." The Faith of the Early Fathers. 1st vol. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1970
3 Jurgens, William A. "Tertullian's The Demurrer Against the Heretics."
4 Jurgens, William A. "Tertullian's The Demurrer Against the Heretics."