The Church, Apostasy, Reformation,

and Restoration





In the city of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following His ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ established the divine kingdom or church, the record of which is presented in the second chapter of Acts.  This memorable event fulfilled certain prophecies of the Old Testament (e. g., Isaiah 2:2,3; Micah 4:1,2) and the Lord’s promise of Matthew 16:18, “. . . upon this rock I will build my church” Cf. Luke 24:47; Mark 9:1, Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; 11:15.

The church of Christ, as originally designed by Jesus, is a complete organization, divinely constituted.  Since the Savior is its head (Colossians 1:18) and chief corner stone of its foundation (Ephesians 2: 19, 20), only the characteristics He has set forth for it in His supreme authority, the New Testament, are approved of God.  “. . . the church is subject to Christ

(Ephesians 5:24).  No authority has been given by God to any man, set of men, or ecclesiastical body to change any of its features.  Let us observe a brief outline of the New Testament pattern of the Lord’s church.


1. Designations: “The church of the Lord (Acts20:28, A.S.V.), “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), “the body (Colossians 1:18), “the house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), “the church of God (Galatians (1:13), “churches1 of Christ” (Romans 16:16), “and the church” (Colossians 1:18).  Members of the church are designated as “disciples” (Acts 6:1), “saints” (Romans 1:7), “brethren” (Philippians 1:14), “Christians” (Acts 11:26), and “children of God” (Romans 8:16).


2. ORGANIZATION AND GOVERNMENT.  The supreme ruler of the church is Jesus Christ.  He is its sole head. Cf. Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:24.  No fallible man serves as head of the Lord’s church.  Serving under the Savior were the apostles.  Their ministry in the church is perpetual.  Their inspired teaching, contained in the New Testament, is the authority of Christ expressed to the church during all ages.  Since their ministry through the medium of the New Testament is complete and perpetual, they have no successors. Cf. Ephesians 4: 11-16; 1 John 4:6.

The sole unit of organization in the Lord’s church is the local congregation, which is free from the chains of ecciesiasticism.  Christ ordained no conventions, synods, nor councils to govern his church.  Each congregation is in dependent, with the oversight under the supreme headship of Jesus invested in a plurality of elders, pastors, or bishops—three different terms referring to the same class of officers.  See Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 11:30; 14:23.

The elders, bishops, or pastors have no authority over congregations other than the one in which they serve, nor do they have authority over the officers of other congregations.

Also in the divine organization of the church are deacons (Greek diakanos, servant) and evangelists (Greek euaggelistes, one who proclaims good tidings). See 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2; 4:5.

Religious titles, such as Father, Reverend, Right Reverend, His Eminence, etc., are not used by the New Testament to designate any class of church officers.  All graduations of authority, such as archbishop, cardinal, and pope, are also without foundation in the divine word.


3. CREED AND DISCIPLINE. The sole creed (Latin credo, I believe) of the church is belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.2 Cf. Matthew 16:16; Acts 8:37; 1 John 5:1.  The sole discipline (rule of practice) of the church is the authority of Christ, the New Testament.


4. WORSHIP. The New Testament plan of worship is remarkably simple and yet thoroughly conducive to the spiritual uplifting of its participants; the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:24, 25), prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:17), singing (Ephesians 5:19), and the contribution (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15).


5. TERMS OF ADMISSION. No one ever joined the church of Christ, but men are added to it by the Lord upon their acceptance of the gospel.  See Acts 2:41, 47. The gospel is received by belief (Mark 16:15, 16; Romans 10:17; John 20:30, 31), repentance (Luke 13:3; 24:46, 47), confession of Christ (Romans 10:10; Acts 8:36, 37), and baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 41).

The scriptural action of baptism is immersion, as all passages bearing on the point concur: Acts 8:38, 39; Romans 6:3, 4; Colossians 2:12, etc.3  The subjects of baptism are penitent believers (Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38; 8:12). The New Testament is silent about the practice of infant baptism.4


6. UNITY. The church of Christ, according to its New Testament pattern, is bound to the principle of unity: of mind, doctrine, and practice. See John 17:20, 21; Romans 15:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 1:10.  Denominationalism, with its many different organizations and divergent practices and doctrines, is diametrically opposed to apostolic teaching in favor of unity and against division.




For several years following its beginning on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s ascension, the church continued as one united body by maintaining the purity of its divine pattern as set forth in the scriptures; but with the passing of the years it gradually fell under the influence of false teachers and their erroneous doctrines, resulting in a general apostasy or falling away from the divine standard.

Jesus, during His personal ministry on earth, warned His disciples about the coming of false prophets: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.   By their fruits ye shall know them.   Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?   Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Therefore by their fruits shall ye know them” (Matthew 7: 15-20).  And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray” (Matthew 24:11).

During apostolic times the satanic influence of false teaching was already beginning its nefarious work of changing the identity of the New Testament church, and the inspired apostles plainly foretold the coming of the apostasy: “Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together with him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?  And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season.  For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to naught by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and living wonders, and with all deceit of un righteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in un righteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord, which he purchased with his own blood.  I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30.

“But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as ‘with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats” (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

 But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Peter 2:1, 2).

The apostasy involved many departures from the New Testament pattern. Consider the following:


1. CHANGE IN CHURCH ORGANIZATION AND GOVERNMENT.  The first such change was the distinction made between the bishops and presbyters (anglicized form of the Greek word for elder).5  “What we find existing in the second century enables us to infer, respecting the preceding times, that soon after the Apostolic age the standing office of the president of the presbytery must have been formed; which president, as having preeminently the over sight over all, was designated by the special name of Episkopos (Bishop), and thus distinguished from the other presbyters.  Thus the name came at length to be applied exclusively to this presbyter, while the name presbyter continued at first to be common to all.”6

Not only did the unwarranted distinction made between the bishops and elders lead to the former assuming authority over the latter, which finally brought about the extinction of the office of the presbyter or elder, but the bishops also gradually extended their authority beyond the local congregation and assumed the control of a plurality of congregations in a district known as a diocese.  As the bishops assumed more and more power, they began to think of themselves as successors to the apostles; and by the middle of the second century they held almost complete authority in the government of the church.

In time the bishops of the leading districts became elevated above their fellow bishops and were given the title of patriarch (chief father).  At first only the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch were so designated, but eventually the title was bestowed upon the bishops of Jerusalem and Constantinople.  Since Rome was the leading political center of the world, and a place prominent in the labors of the apostle Paul (and supposedly of Peter), its bishop or patriarch assumed a position of special prominence not enjoyed by his peers, resulting finally in his being recognized as the universal bishop or pope over the church. Thus was completed the change in divine church government that created the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.  The complex organization of this body, from its lowest parish priests, graduated through its bishops, patriarchs, etc. to the pope, is as unlike the New Testament pattern as black is from white.

With the rise and extension of the authority of the bishops there came into being the synods and councils, the first trace of which is found toward the close of the second century.  Delegates from different congregations and districts were called together to settle disputes which were continually arising over matters of doctrine and practice.  These gatherings soon partook of the nature of legislative bodies,

called synods by the Greeks and councils by the Latins, and were presided over by the bishops.  The laws enacted by these assemblies were designated as canons, and were considered as coming forth from the Holy Spirit and therefore binding on all who claimed to follow Christ.7  In 325 the emperor Constantine called together the first General or Ecumenical Council, representing all of the Christendom then known.

With the rise of episcopal (bishop) power and the lawmaking prerogatives assumed by the synods and councils, there developed an arbitrary distinction between the so-called clergy and laity.  The laity became an inferior order, while the exalted clergy became the priests through whom, it was supposed, the people could have access to God.  We can easily under stand how the elevated position assumed by the clergy resulted in the use of such presumptuous, egotistical titles as Father, Reverend, etc.  Not only is the arbitrary distinction made between the clergy and laity unwarranted by the scriptures, but it is expressly condemned. Cf. Matthew 23: 8-10. Read 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:5, 6, where the priesthood of every true follower of Christ is affirmed.


2. CHANGE IN THE DESIGNATIONS OF THE CHURCH.  The designations given in the all-sufficient New Testament are the divinely authorized terms which faithful men can use in referring to the church.  But with apostasy came the rejection of scriptural designations and the acceptance of man-made appelations.  The term Catholic was not used earlier than the second century and therefore is not of apostolic origin:  Later the name used by the apostate church was Holy Catholic Church, and finally Holy Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, commonly called the Roman Catholic Church.


3. CHANGE IN THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM. The apostolic practice, as we previously noted, was to baptize penitent believers only.  But with apostasy came the practice of baptizing infants.  The first allusion to infant baptism was by Irenaeus in the latter part of the second century: “He came to redeem all by himself; all who through him, are regenerated to God, infants, little children, boys, young men and old.”8 It is supposed that the use of the term regeneration in this quotation means baptism.

The first writer to expressly refer to infant baptism was Tertullian (immediately following Irenaeus in the first quarter of the third century), but only to condemn the practice: “The delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. . . . Let them ‘come,’ while they are growing up; let them ‘come’ while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have been able to know Christ. More caution will be exercised in worldly matters: so that one who is not trusted with earthly substance is trusted with divine!  Let them know how “ask” for salvation, that you may seem (at least) to have given ‘to him that asketh.”9

Contemporary with Tertullian was Origen, who was the first writer to advocate infant baptism as an apostolic tradition (but without a shred of evidence to support his conclusion).  He wrote: “None is free from pollution, though his life be but the length of one ray upon the earth.  And it is for that reason because of the sacrament of baptism that pollution of our birth is taken away, that infants are baptized.”10

Heinrich Meyer, the noted Lutheran commentator, declared, contrary to the doctrine of the denomination to which he belonged: “The baptism of infants, of which no trace is found in the N.T., is not to be held as an apostolic ordinance, as, indeed, it encountered early and long resistance; but it is an institution of the church, which gradually arose in post-apostolic times in connection with the development of ecclesiastical life and doctrinal teaching, not certainly attested before Tertullian, and by him still decidedly opposed, and, although already defended by Cyprian, only becoming general after the time of Augustine in virtue of that connection.”11

Another change made by the apostasy in the ordinance of baptism was in the substitution of affusion (sprinkling or pouring) for the scriptural action of immersion.  The first case of affusion found in church history is the case of Novatus (Novatian), not earlier than AD. 251, probably 253: “Who aided by the exorcists, when attacked with an obstinate disease, and being supposed at the point of death, was baptized by aspersion (sprinkling), in the bed on which he lay; if, indeed, it be proper to say that one like him did receive baptism.”12 This method of applying water was used in such cases of illness and became known as clinic baptism, but never was in much favor for thirteen centuries.

The first time authority was given by ecclesiastical decree for the substitution of affusion for baptism, is described in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, Sir Edward Brewster, Baptism:  “Pope Stephen II being driven from Rome by Adoiphus, king of the Lombards, in 735, fled to Pepin, who, a short time before, had usurped the crown of France.  Whilst he remained there, the monks of Cressy, in Brittany, consulted him, whether, in case of necessity, baptism poured on the head of an infant would be lawful.  Stephen replied that it would.  But though the truth of this fact be allowed—which, however, some Catholics deny—yet pouring, was admitted only in cases of necessity.  It was not till the year 1311 that the legislature, in a council held at Ravenna, declared immersion or sprinkling to be indifferent.”


4. CHANGE IN CHURCH WORSHIP. The apostasy changed the primitive pattern of worship from its striking simplicity to a system of pompous and elaborate ritualism.

The Lord’s Supper, as revealed in the New Testament, was originally celebrated as a simple memorial feast.  But with apostasy came transubstantiation, the doctrine that “the whole substance of the bread is converted into the body, and the whole substance of the wine into the blood.”13

Another perversion of the Lord’s Supper was the development of the sacramental sacrifice known as the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Communion under one kind, a practice in which the laity is denied the cup, was first officially decreed at the Council of Constance in the year 1414.

Other changes made in worship or devotional life were prayers for the dead, sign of the cross, worship of Mary and the saints, use of images and relics, fabrication of holy water, and counting of prayers with rosary beads.  None of these practices were found in the New Testament church.


5. CHANGE IN THE CREED OF THE CHURCH.  The simple creed of the primitive church was belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the authoritative expression of that creed is contained in the New Testament, which is sufficient not only as to belief but also as to doctrine and practice.  But men were not satisfied with apostolic authority and felt that they had to express the main religious tenets, as they de fined them, in creeds of their own making.

One creed became known as the Apostles’ Creed, beginning: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ It does not appear in its present form earlier than 650, and it predecessors probably originated in the third century in Rome.14 The notion held by many that this creed was originated by the apostles is obviously false.  The Nicene Creed was prepared by the Council of Nicaea0, convened by the emperor Constantine in AD. 325.  It is an official creed of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and some of the Protestant denominations.

All such creeds as the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed were formulated by uninspired men as authoritative standards of faith, giving honor to the handiwork of man rather than to the divine revelation of God.15 The only in fallible, authoritative standard of faith advocated by the apostles and accepted by the primitive church is God’s revelation to men, the New Testament.


6. CHANGE IN THE DOCTINNES AND PRACTICES OF THE CHURCH. As we have already observed, the New Testament was the sole rule of doctrine and practice of the primitive church. Colossians 3:17 declares, “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The authority of Jesus Christ, His Testament; “hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue.” (2 Peter 1:3)

The apostasy presumed to improve upon the plan of the New Testament by inventing practices and doctrines totally absent in the primitive church.  Some of these we have considered in connection with baptism and worship.  Others are the keeping of religious holidays, such as Lent, Good Friday, Holy Thursday, Easter, Palm Sunday, All Saints’ Day, etc., celibacy of the clergy, auricular confession to the priests, purgatory, sale of indulgences, penance, Immaculate Conception, wearing of Scapulars and medals, confirmation, infallibility of the pope, and ad infinitum.




As the centuries rolled by, the great apostasy predicted in the scriptures became more and more pronounced.  The Roman Catholic Church, the predominate religious organization, drifted farther and farther away from the divine pattern of the New Testament.  The Bible was virtually a sealed book, and the priest-ridden people were kept in ignorance of it.  Magnificent cathedrals, supposedly dedicated to God, were whited sepulchres, revealing the utter vanity of the substitution of human ways for those of the Almighty.  The power of Rome was seemingly unconquerable.

But the indomitable spirit of men who were groping for light in a world of darkness could not entirely be eradicated by the fulminations, threats, and persecutions of the apostate church.  Courageous voices advocating a reformation were raised against the corruption of Rome, shaking her to the very foundation—a shock from which she has never completely recovered.

John Wycliffe (1320—1384) has been called “Morning Star of the Reformation.”  He was a doctor at Oxford; for a time he was Master of Balliol; and he held various livings in the Roman Catholic Church.  Quite late in life he began a series of outspoken criticisms of the corruption of Rome.  He organized a number of poor priests, the Wycliffites, to disseminate his ideas throughout England.  His greatest contribution was to translate, with the assistance of Nicholas of Hereford, the Bible into English, thus giving the people the opportunity of seeing the contrast between divine revelation and Catholic corruption.

Wycliffe had supporters in high places and a widespread following among the people, and though Rome raged against him and ordered his excommunication, he died a parish priest at Lutterworth.  But the black and vicious spirit of apostasy would not let his bones rest in the grave.  The Council of Constance, in 1415, ordered that his remains be dug up and burned, which order was carried out in 1428 by Bishop Fleming at the command of Pope Martin V.  This was not the act of some individual fanatic; it was an official act of the Roman Catholic Church.

Although Wycliffe lived and died a member of the apostate church, his work was significant in that he gave the Bible to the people in their own vernacular and paved the way for the work of reformation later to follow.

Martin Luther (1483—1546) was the most prominent and influential of the reformers.  He was born in Eisleben, Saxony. As a young man he had begun to prepare himself for a career in law when a shock that deeply affected him emotionally—the combined experience of a friend’s death and a fearful storm—led him to become an Augustinian friar.  He began to zealously study the Bible. He became a lecturer in Wittenberg University, and in 1512 was made a doctor of theology.

When the friar Tetzel arrived in Wittenberg to sell indulgences, Luther attacked the practice on the grounds that it was contrary to the scriptures and degrading in its influence.  On October 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church his ninety-five theses, inviting debate.  He was called to Rome to answer a charge of heresy but was allowed, through the request of the elector Frederick of Saxony, to meet the papal legate at Augsburg.  Luther refused to recant, and appealed to the pope and to a general council.

In 1510 he had a disputation with Dr. Eck in Leipzig, resulting in a declaration of his stand against some of the doctrines of Catholicism.  Not long after, he wrote his famous treatises; The Address to the Nobility of the German Nation, The Liberty of the Christian Man, and The Babylonic Captivity of the Church.

In 1520 the papal bull Exsurge Dorrsine condemning Luther was publicly burned.  Excommunication followed.  After the Diet of Worms, in April, 1521, where Luther remained firm, his friends seized him, to protect him from treachery, and placed him safely in Wartburg Castle in Thuringia.  There the peace and quietude of his seclusion allowed him to accomplish his greatest work, the translation of the New Testament into German, published in 1522.  About ten years later, with the help of Melanchthon and others, he completed the German Bible.  The rest of his years were busy and fruitful, in spite of weakening health. He died in Eisleben and was buried in Wittenburg.

Luther’s work was significant, principally, in that he freed the Bible from the bigoted control of the Roman Catholic Church.  And while we cannot but admire and appreciate this worthy accomplishment, we must realize that Luther was a reformer, not a restorer.  In attempting to reform corrupt, apostate Catholicism, it seemingly never entered his mind to go back over all the dark, dismal ages of apostasy, and taking the New Testament as his only guide, restore the church of Christ as it was in the days of its primitive purity.  But the religious principles he advocated resulted eventually in the establishment of a denomination, the Lutheran Church, an organization unknown prior to the sixteenth century and therefore not the church of the New Testament.

Contemporary with Luther was Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531).  In 1506 he was ordained a priest.  He became an ardent student of Greek so that he could read the New Testament.  At Einsiedeln he seriously contemplated the need of religious change, even before he had heard of Luther.  His preaching advocated the Bible as the supreme authority in religion, rather than the Roman Catholic Church.  He, as well as Luther, attacked Rome for the indulgences.  He was influential in having images and pictures taken from the churches, simplifying the services, and bringing the language of the people into the worship.

The difference between Zwingli’s attitude toward religion and that of Luther is worthy of notice: “Luther desired to maintain in the Church all that was not expressly contrary to the Scriptures, and Zwingli to abolish all that could not be proved by them.  The German reformer (Luther) wished to remain united to the Church of all preceding ages, and was content to purify it of all that was opposed to the Word of God.  The Zurich reformer (Zwingli) passed over these ages, returned to the apostolic times, and, carrying out an entire transformation of the Church, endeavoured to restore it to its primitive condition.”16 Zwingli himself affirmed, “I will never cease to restore the primitive unity of the Church of Christ.”17

We can see from the foregoing quotation that Zwingli nominally believed in the necessity of a complete restoration of primitive Christianity, even though the record of his life shows that there was a disparity between his ideal and his actual practice.  It is a pity that the ideal of restoration for which Zwingli stood was overshadowed by the reformation of Luther and, hence, did not obtain in what is known as the Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Another of the famous sixteen century reformers is John Calvin (1509-1564).  Born in Noyon, France, he became the founder of the Presbyterian movement of which were the Covenanters of Scotland, the Puritans of England, and the Hugenots of France.  In 1533 he renounced Catholicism and embraced the reformation.  In Basel, in 1536, he completed his Institutes of the Christian Religion.  In Geneva he enjoyed free rein in the development of his religious system, which included the following tenets: unconditional election, particular redemption, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the final perseverance of the saints.

Calvin, as well as all the other reformers, failed to return to primitive Christianity.  His efforts in the realm of reformation did not lead to the original purity and unity of the church of Christ but to the establishment of a denomination, the Presbyterian Church, about which nothing is said in the word of God.

Henry VIII (1491-1544), king of England, is not usually thought of as a religious reformer, but his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn became the occasion for the Catholic Church in England to break all ties with Rome and to become a distinct, separate body, the Church of England, later to be called the Episcopal Church in America.

When Henry, a Roman Catholic, failed to secure papal permission to divorce Catherine, he set out to end all papal jurisdiction in England.  In 1531 he obtained from the clergy recognition of his place as the supreme head of the Church of England.  In 1532 he arranged for Thomas Cranmer to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.  In 1533 Henry secretly married Anne, Parliament passed an act abolishing appeals to Rome, Cranmer declared the marriage to Catherine invalid, and Henry was excommunicated by the pope.  Parliament then

provided new ecclesiastical laws and enactments against papal authority, making the breach with Rome complete.  The separation of the Church of England from the jurisdiction of Rome was not a restoration of the primitive church but a reformation (very limited in both doctrine and practice) of Catholicism.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was perhaps the most influential reformer of the eighteenth century.  As a member of the Church of England, he was, strictly speaking, a reformer of the Reformation.  Wesley had not wished to find a new, distinct church but rather desired to reform the church of which he was a member.18 But the Methodist societies he had formed at Oxford, Savannah, Bristol, etc. resulted eventually in the establishment of the Methodist Church in England and the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.  John Wesley’s labors never led to a return to the primitive purity of the New Testament church but to the creation of just another denominational system, Methodism, unknown before the eighteenth century.

The reformation movement, although curtailing the power and influence of Roman Catholicism, never resulted in a return to the ancient order of New Testament religion.  Instead of presenting to the world the one, unified body of Christ, His church, it resulted in the creation of many different bodies known as denominations.  Instead of exalting the one, harmonious creed of the New Testament, it resulted in the making of many divergent and contradictory creeds, such as The Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church, The Thirty- Nine Articles of the Church of England, The Westminster Confession of the Presbyterian Church, The Methodist Discipline, and The Philadelphia Confession of Faith of the Baptist Church.

Although the break from Rome in the Reformation was complete from the standpoint of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and control, it was only partial as to doctrine and practice; for many of the dogmas and practices of Protestant denominationalism were borrowed from Catholicism; e. g., affusion for baptism, infant baptism, keeping of religious holidays (Lent, Easter, Good Friday, etc.), and the use of the religious title Reverend.




Thus saith Jehovah, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein) and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 8:16). “. . contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).


As the eighteenth century drew to a close and the nineteenth century began, there appeared on the religious horizon men who seriously and zealously sought for a return to “the old paths,” the primitive religion of Jesus Christ.  They saw what the reformers had failed to see the all-important truth that what the world needed was not a reformation of apostate religion but a complete, full return to the purity of the first century church.  They expressed boldly their dissatisfaction with Protestant denominationalism and its multiplicity of divergent creeds, names, doctrines, and practices.  They rejected the notion that man’s religious destiny depended on a choice between Protestantism and Catholicism; they held to the ideal that man’s eternal welfare depended on the unqualified acceptance of the pattern of New Testament Christianity.  It was their purpose to go back to the beginning—beyond all synods, councils, creeds, disciplines, sects, and parties— and, taking the church of Christ as it is fully revealed in the New Testament, restore it to the world precisely as it was at first.  Their work was expressly a work of restoration.

Let us consider the efforts, as space will permit, of some of the leading lights of the restoration movement in America, where the clear atmosphere of religious freedom gave the movement its fullest scope.

In 1792 James O’Kelly (1757-1826), a Methodist preacher who labored in Virginia and North Carolina, protested against the new and autocratic episcopal policy inaugurated by Francis Asbury, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  This protest resulted in O’Kelly and four other prominent men withdrawing from the regular Methodists and calling them selves at first Republican Methodists.  In 1794 they adopted the scriptural name of Christian in a general meeting held at Lebanon Church, Surrey County, Virginia.  Price Haggard, a fellow worker with O’Kelly, “stood up in this meeting with a copy of the New Testament in his hand and said: ‘Brethren, this is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, and by it we are told that the disciples were called Christians, and I move that henceforth and forever the followers of Christ be known as Christians simply.’ “19 The meeting at Lebanon Church also produced the adoption of a resolution to take the Bible as the only creed and sufficient rule of faith and practice, to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Head of the church, and to reject all party and sectarian names.20

From the foregoing information, we can see that the movement led by Thomas O’Kelly was in the nature of an effort to restore primitive Christianity and to reject the religious authority of men.

Just after the beginning of the nineteenth century two New England Baptists, Elias Smith and Abner Jones rebelled against Calvinist theology and began to organize congregations whose members were simply called Christians. The work of these men was entirely independent of the labors of O’Kelly and his associates.  In 1808 Smith established the Herald of Gospel Liberty, one of America’s first religious periodicals.  This paper advocated the following

principles: No head over the church but Christ; no confession of faith, articles of religion, rubric, canons, creeds, etc. but the New Testament, and no religious name but Christian.21

The work of Elias Smith and Abner Jones is another example of the efforts of men to re turn to the ancient gospel order.

Barton W. Stone (1772-1844), born in Port Tobacco, Maryland, must be reckoned among the most influential of those who have sought a restoration of the church of Christ.  He was ordained a preacher in the Presbyterian Church, but early expressed disfavor with certain tenets of this body, especially with the doctrine of man’s total depravity, which he could not reconcile with God’s command for men to believe and obey the gospel.  Stone said, “From this state of perplexity I was relieved by the precious word of God.  From reading and meditating upon it, I became convinced that God did love the whole world, and that the reason why he did not save all, was be cause of their unbelief; and that the reason why they believed not, was not because God did not exert his physical, almighty power in them to make them believe, but because they neglected and received not his testimony given in the Word concerning his Son.”22

In September, 1803, in Kentucky where Stone had gone to preach, he and four of his associates withdrew from the Presbyterian synod and formed the Springfield Presbytery.  But in June, 1804, they dropped their denominational name and became known simply as Christians.  Writing in the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, they declared:

Imprimis: We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.

Item: We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

Item: We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel...”

Item: We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven.”

            “Item: Finally we will, that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and pre pare for death before it is too late.”23

This document reveals that the restoration of the ancient order was being undertaken in Kentucky, independent of similar efforts in other states.  Barton W. Stone and his co workers manifested a very definite awareness of the necessity of returning to “the old paths” by rejecting sectarian names and accepting the word of God as their sole religious guide.

Another leader in restoration movement was Thomas Campbell (1763-1854); an Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian minister who had come from Ireland to western Pennsylvania in 1807.  In Ireland he had tried unsuccessfully to unite the various factions among the Seceder Presbyterians, and in America he continued his efforts in behalf of religious unity, which became to him a magnificent obsession.

In refusing to accept the creedal requirements of his denomination pertaining to the communion service, he was suspected of being unorthodox. Charges were brought against him before the presbytery, resulting in his being censured.  His appeal to the Synod of North America, the highest governing body of the Presbyterian Church, was denied; he then withdrew from the presbytery, but continued to preach on his own.

In 1809 he drew up his famous Declaration and Address, which set forth the basic principles of the restoration movement.  Its sole purpose was to promote a return to primitive Christianity.  Among its worthy affirmations are the following:

“Our desire, therefore, for ourselves and our brethren would be, that rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men as of any authority.... we might forever cease from further contentions about such things, returning to and holding fast by the original standard; taking the Divine word alone for our rule; the Holy Spirit for our teacher and guide, to lead us into all the truth; and Christ alone, as exhibited in the word, for our salvation; that, by so doing, we may be at peace among ourselves, follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

“The church of Christ upon the earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him and in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.”

“…nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God.  Nor ought anything to be admitted as of Divine obligation. . . but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament church, either in express terms or by approved precedent.”

Thomas Campbell’s son Alexander (1788-1866) came to America in 1809. While studying in Glasgow University, the young man had been influenced by the teaching of certain men who were seeking the restoration of the ancient order in Britain, resulting in his separation from Seceder Presbyterianism.  Upon his arrival in America, he learned that his father had forsaken the Presbyterian Church and that the Declaration and Address was being published. He was delighted to find that his own views coincided with those of his father, and he soon made the momentous decision to devote his life to the cause of religious unity and the restoration of the primitive church.

In studying the scriptures; Alexander realized that neither he nor the other members of his family had been scripturally baptized when they were sprinkled in infancy.  On June 12, 1812, Alexander and his wife, father, mother, and sister were immersed upon a simple confession of faith in Christ, according to the New Testament pattern. See Acts 8:36-38.

Alexander Campbell had a larger field in which to work than his father and the other leaders of the restoration movement.  Gifted of God with a fine intellect and a magnificent speaking ability; under his leadership the restoration of the primitive order made its greatest strides.  With clarity, simplicity, and power he set forth the teaching of the New Testament concerning the church of Christ.  He believed that error could best be refuted and truth sustained by public debate.  It was in this field that he won his highest acclaim: defending immersion against John Walker (Presbyterian) in 1820 and William L. McCalla (Presbyterian) in 1823, the divine origin of Christianity against the celebrated infidel, Robert Owen, in 1829, and the principles of the restoration movement against N. L. Rice (Presbyterian) in 1843. His debate with Bishop John B. Purcell on the subject of Roman Catholicism in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1837, was perhaps the most celebrated of such discussions during the nineteenth century.

The charge has often been made against Alexander Campbell that he was the founder of a denomination.  Such a charge is expressive of a sectarian spirit and an ignorance of the gospel ideal of unity and the all-sufficiency in religion of the New Testament.  Campbell claimed to be nothing more than a preacher of the gospel.  His life was devoted to bringing to people the God-given principles of unadulterated, simple New Testament Christianity and the building up in the most holy faith of the church founded by Jesus Christ.  His splendid grasp of the ancient order is portrayed in the following exerpts taken from his writings:

“But a restoration of the ancient order of things, it appears, is all that is contemplated by the wise disciples of the Lord; as it is agreed that this is all that is wanting to the perfection, happiness, and glory of the Christian community . . . Now, in attempting to accomplish this it must be observed, that it belongs 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

Saviour, and to believe and practice whatever is there enjoined.  This done and everything is done which ought to be done.”

“But the constitution of the kingdom of the Saviour is the New Testament, and this alone is adapted to the existence of his kingdom in the world.  To restore the ancient order of things this must be recognized as the only constitution of this kingdom…”24




The church of the first century, as revealed in the New Testament, is presented as a finality.  Almighty God who saw the end from the beginning, constituted the church in doctrine and practice to meet the demands of His cause in all times and in all countries.  This being true, it necessarily follows that the restoration of the church in every respect as it was in the beginning is the will of God.  Since the church of Christ at the beginning was a divine institution, its restoration is a divine work.  While this work lays the axe at the root of all denominations in religion, it elevates men infinitely above them.  He who labors to present to the world the church in its original purity can know of a certainty that his work receives the approbation of the Heavenly Father.

Let us be thankful to God that the church of Christ is in the world today, exemplifying the purity of New Testament doctrine, name, worship, and practice, and preaching to those dying in sin the gospel terms of admission into the church which our blessed Lord died to purchase.

We of the church of Christ plead with all men everywhere to forsake the doctrines, names, practices, and commandments of men and come to the primitive religion of Christ, speaking where God’s word speaks and being silent where God’s word is silent, “contending earnestly for the faith which was once for all de livered unto the saints” (Jude 3).


1 The use of the plural here obviously designates the local congregations composing the church. The term church of Christ is scriptural usage in light of the passages which portray the church as belonging to Christ; e. g. Matthew 16:18.

2 In popular usage the term creed Is used synonymously with discipline or rule of practice.

3 “Immersion, and not sprinkling, was unquestionably the original form.” Philip Schaff, History of the Apostolic Church, p. 568.

4 “We have all reason for not deriving Infant baptism from apostolic tradition.” Augustus Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, Torrey’s Translation, Vol. I, p. 311.

5 “That they (presbyters) did not differ at all from the bishops or overseers (as is acknowledged by Jerome on Titus 1:5 . . .) is evident from the fact that the two words are used indiscriminately, Acts XX:17, 28; Titus 1:5.7 and that the duty of presbyters Is described by the episkopein, 1 Peter V:1 sq Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (American Book do., New York, 1889). p. 536.

6Neander Op. Cit. Vol. I, p. 190.

7 The laws enacted by the synods and councils were doctrines and commandments of men, not those of Christ and His apostles.  The New Testament, with its perfect pattern for the church, was completed long before the first synod or council enacted a single law.  See 2 Peter 1:3.  Any doctrine or practice created after the completion of New Testament revelation is human and not divine in origin.

8Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book U, Chap. 22, Sec. 4.

9Tertullian, On Baptism, Chap. XVIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. III, p. 678.

10 Origen, Works, vol. I, p. 65.

11Heinrich Meyer, Commentary on Acts, (T.T. and Clark, Edinburgh, 1877), pp. 87, 8&

12 Eusebius Pamphilus, Ecclesiastical History, Translation by C. F. Cruse (Davis and Brother, Philadelphia, 1833), p. 366.

13Canon and Decrees of the Council of Trent; Sess. XIII. Canon 2.

14“The Columbia Encyclopedia. Creeds) (Columbia University Press, New York, 1946), p. 440.

15 “Human creeds are objectionable under any and all circumstances; First, because the Christian Scriptures are complete.  Second if a creed contains more than the Scriptures it is not right and is, therefore, objectionable.  Third if a creed contains less than the scriptures it is not right and is therefore objectionable.  Fourth, if a creed differs in any respect from Scripture it is not right and is objectionable.  And, fifth, if a creed is precisely like the Scriptures it is not needed for we have the Scriptures.  Therefore under any and all circumstances creeds are objectionable.” T.  W. Phillips, The Church of Christ, (Funk and Wagnalls Co. New York, 1909), p. 322   .

16J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, (Hurst and Co., New York), vol. III, p. 243.

17Ego veterem Chrzsti Eccteszae unitatem fnstaurare non desinan, Opp. III 47

18 Wesley never left the Church of England and was still a member when he died.

19 W.  E. Macdenny, The Life of James O’Kelly, pp.114. 115.

20 Ibid; pp. 12I, 122.

21“Elias Smith The Life and Conversion of Elias Smith, (Portsmouth, N. H. 1816), p. 14.

22John Rogers, The Biography of E Barton Warren Stone, p. 50.

23 Rogers Op. Cit., pp. 51, 53.

24Alexander Campbell, The Ancient Order of Things, quoted in Homer Hailey. Attitudes and Consequences (Old Paths Book Club, Kansas City, 1945), pp. 72. 73.