- 1 Overview and Introduction
- 2 Origins of the Restoration Movement (Church of Christ)
- 3 Place of Water Baptism
- 4 Salvation hinges on believing, not being baptized
- 5 What do we call the people of God? Church names
- 6 Campbellism as a Source for the Cults
- 7 The more “Cultic” Side of the Church of Christ
Overview and Introduction
This post explains some distinctive points of the Church of Church. My purpose in giving this evaluation is not to refute every error ever mentioned in one of their books, but rather to outline the areas where I and others have seen doctrinal impropriety in the Church of Christ. My purpose and point is so that when you read Church of Christ authors that you can be on the look out for these particular problems, and “filter them out” (reject them).
(Note, I am using “Campbellite” here because this traces back to the founding of this group, although they probably do not like it. I mean no offense by this. Additionally, it is my understanding that the Disciples of Christ technically is a branch off of the main Church of Christ group, and the Disciples of Christ deny many of the fundamentals of the faith. They should be distinguished although they have a common heritage.)
I have read a lot of Church of Christ material, and a lot of it seems right down the line with the Bible. I have read the sermons of Mark Copeland, and most every one of them would seem to exactly something that I would preach. (Water baptism is one element that I disagree with him totally, see below.) But some of their teachings are definitely off in left field. I would also note that in my own personal opinion, the diversity in doctrinal positions is extremely wide in this group, and while some are pretty close to Baptist beliefs, others are far afield. Some seem to be pushing things towards a more biblical stance and practice, while others are just a cult and work towards making their beliefs and practices as different from other groups as possible, whether they misinterpret the Bible in doing or not.
I would point out here only those places where I, as an Independent Fundamental Baptist, would disagree with them. As I am able, I will update this post with more points.
The Church of Christ group is to be distinguished from the Disciples of Christ, a different group.
Origins of the Restoration Movement (Church of Christ)
The “Restoration Movement” began under Thomas Campbell, Barton Stone, Walter Scott, and Alexander Campbell (1788-1866). The distinction that these men wanted to impress upon this movement were:
1. Because the “real” primitive church had been corrupted and have false practice and doctrine, they were going to restore the primitive Christian church. They directly attacked ALL Catholic and Protestant denominations as being viewed as “corrupt” and not really “Christian churches”. They likewise rejected ALL doctrinal statements and creeds.
2. They goal was a restored “Apostolic Church” true to the New Testament. The millennium was going to come because of their restoration movement.
3. They identified the “true Gospel” as having water baptism as an essential part of every salvation experience (equating baptism regeneration with water baptism), and nobody is saved until after they have gotten wet in the baptismal waters. They likewise rejected all baptisms of other churches.
4. They rejected the modern use of denominational names in the names of their churches. At first they accepted the name “Reformed Baptists” but later rejected that (which the Calvinistic Baptists took up for themselves, and the present day Reformed Baptists are basically Presbyterians that are Calvinistic and calling themselves Baptists. These have nothing to do with the Church of Christ).
5. Some Campbellite theologians reject the Omniscience of God by teaching that God does not know the future.
The Church of Christ begs the point of their origin. If they say that Alexander Campbell did not found their group, but rather Jesus and the Apostles did, then why didn’t God keep a faithful few of these churches in each generation? If Christ proclaims that the gates of hell will not prevail over “HIS CHURCH”, then how come Satan did apparently prevail from the early church until 1827 when Alexander Campbell brought it back?
The issue here is to proclaim with a single statement that all churches since the primitive church until their group is to deny Christ’s guarantee that this is not how things would happen.
Alexander Campbell founded this group
Charles V. Segar, in his Life of Campbell, page
‘Alexander Campbell soon became chiefly and prominently known as the recognized head of a new religious movement, the purpose of which was to restore primitive Christianity in all its simplicity and beauty. Out of this movement has grown a people who choose to call themselves Christians or Disciples, now numbering not less than five hundred thousand in the United States.’
In Richardson’s Memoirs of Campbell, page 548, Vol. 2, is found a commendatory letter written by the great statesman Henry Clay, in which he uses the following words:
‘Dr. Campbell is among the most eminent citizens of the United States, distinguished for his great learning and ability, for his successful devotion to the education of youth, for his piety, and as the head and founder of one of the most important and respectable religious communities in the United States.’
Such historical statements could be multiplied, but these, coming from Campbellite authors, are sufficient.
Place of Water Baptism
Alexander Campbell – “Mr. Campbell himself said that ”regeneration is equivalent to immersion.””
On page 36 of ‘International Centennial Celebration of the Disciples of Christ,’ we read:
‘Walter Scott was the first man in modern times to give anxious inquirers the answer Peter gave on Pentecost. ‘Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ It was Walter Scott that discovered the place and function of baptism in the Christian system. He learned and taught that baptism is the culminating act in conversion; that baptism is the remitting ordinance. In baptism the penitent believer receives the assurance of the remission of his sins. That discovery marked an epoch in the history of the Restoration.’
I have friends that are/were in the Church of Christ group, and the issue with whether water baptism is actual regeneration (thus necessary for salvation) is an issue that today within the group is splitting it, so although this is very important issue, you need to be aware that two different church of Christ individuals or churches may have drastically opposite positions on this. Historically though they believed water baptism was necessary for salvation. They believed that faith was not enough to save a person. They conditioned a saving water baptism with it having to be by immersion, on an adult, and only by a Church of Christ authorized body. The main issue is that faith alone does not save, but you must have faith and get wet in the baptismal waters to be saved. (Rom 11:6).
As I understand the Bible, Scripture teaches a lot about Baptism. When we read part of that, accept it, and then close our mind to the rest of what Scripture says about the issue, that is where doctrinal danger comes to bear on us.
The Bible teaches two kinds of baptism, both valid. There is a spiritual baptism in the Holy Spirit, and there is a water baptism into the local church. The meaning of “baptism” or “baptizing” is to focus on a unity, or uniting. The spiritual union between us and Christ our head is done by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. As an aside, the Pentecostal group makes that a post salvation event (following Wesley’s second grace concept), and equates that with a spiritual emotional “event”.
Water baptism has the purpose of a public declaration of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. We must be clear here. Without a public declaration of faith as Scripture demands, we do not follow God’s requires for being saved. A public declaration of “confessing Christ” is always verbal, and sometimes, mostly, physical as set forth in the practice of the primitive church in the act of water baptism. The two events are undoubtedly very closely linked, but they are separate, not being the same thing.
The Church of Christ group is right in emphasizing that water baptism is extremely important in the life of a believer. EVERY new convert should be baptized in water in a local church, by some officer (“offical” person) of that church. I have no debate with that point.
The issue here is whether the person is not saved until he is baptized in water, or is baptism something that should be close to but directly AFTER salvation, or is it part of being saved. I would also criticize a lot of the Jack Hyles’ followers for baptizing people immediately upon being saved as if that was what “seals” and makes sure their salvation. People need to understand what they are doing before they do it, and a simple explanation many times is not sufficient. People who were in baptism=salvation religions need to be led through water baptism slowly with abundant explanation about it.
I have read proofs against the Campbellites because they place baptism before repentance and confession and belief. Perhaps some of the early founders did teach this, but I am not so sure if all modern day Church of Christ people would agree. See here.
Also note that Campbellites reject regularly the Gospels because of the “poor example” it sets in their view, i.e. in Luke 5 Jesus forgave the invalid’s sins without any baptism, Luke 7 where the wicked woman’s sins were forgiven without baptism, Luke 19 where Zaccheus came to salvation without any mention of salvation, or the thief on the cross being saved without getting wet either, etc. Campbellites say that these passages have nothing to do with present day Christianity, so they effectively throw out the Gospels as being normative for faith and practice. That in itself is wrong, but then they come to John 3:5, and when text says we are to be “born of water”, they make a major doctrinal declaration on the basis of that text.
Acts 16:30, 31 “what must I do to be saved? …Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,”
Where is water baptism in this command?
Gal 3:27 “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. “
The previous verse states that the people Paul is talking about are “the children of God”, and then he mentions baptism.
Salvation hinges on believing, not being baptized
1. The believer has everlasting life, John 3:36.
2. The believer is not condemned, John 3:18.
3. The heart is purified by faith, Acts 15:8, 9.
4. The believer shall not perish, John 5:24.
5. The believer is a child of God, Gal. 2:26.
6. The believer is justified, Rom. 5:1.
7. The believer is born of God, I John 5:1.
8. The believer is saved, Eph. 2:8-10.
These passages credit believing with causing one’s salvation, and baptism is nowhere in sight.
Campbellites believe that a man first believes, then he repents.
Scripture presents Repentance (Heb 6:1-2) and then believe.
Acts 3:19 “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;”
Scripture teaches that conversion (salvation) is after repentance.
What do we call the people of God? Church names
In 1886, Mr. Martin, in the Christian Review, said: ‘There is, perhaps, no question about which our people are more divided than that about the name. So divided are we upon this question that the census-taker cannot ascertain who we are, what we believe, or our number.’
The Church of Christ has an issue with using any name at all, and they look very disparagingly on the use of “Campbellites” for themselves. But many people (antagonists) call them Campbellites after their founder. But the Church of Christ people are noted for their disdain for any denominational names and for denominations in general. They insist that denominationalism is unbiblical. If they mean by that, that the control of many local churches by a governing overlord group is wrong, that is the traditional Independent Baptist Fundamental position, and we have no argument with that.
They insist that the correct name is “THE CHURCH OF CHRIST” or “THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH”, neither of which is found in the Bible. Not even the phrase, “Disciples of Christ” was ever used in reference to a local group of believers. Rom 16:16 and 1Cor 11:16 (“churches of God”) are the closest thing to this, and in both passages, this is not a name for an individual church, but a reference to churches in general without using or acknowledging that this is their name (“denomination”). Even so they debate among themselves over this issue, and condemn everybody else for having a name.
It is sad to see that when they desire to “be like New Testament churches” yet they have twisted this to be some kind of spirituality only they have because they “use no name”. But very clearly, they fellowship or not on the basis of names. If a church names itself “something Church of Christ” then it is good, and otherwise it is bad. In essence the name of their denomination is “Church of Christ” and others of them prefer “Disciples of Christ”. But if a name identifies a group, then they are no different from anyone else on this matter. But the Church of Christ group as a whole makes their particular “being biblical” to be based on their rejection of any name for their local groups or group as a whole. They say that the Bible simply refers to Christians in local churches as “the Church of Christ”.
But the Bible uses many names for different local churches, as well as for all of the churches in a general way. The Body of Christ, the Church, etc are all “denominations” of the redeemed (yet another name). So we must be very clear here. God doesn’t have any problem with using names for the redeemed. Secondly we see churches identified as being in a locality, Corinth, Galacia, Ephesus, etc. So location names associated with local groups of the redeemed are also acceptable and common practice in Scripture. I would see the very basic premise of the Church of Christ in this matter both unbiblical and very difficult to handle.
As an observation, God called the first preacher of the New Testament period, “John THE BAPTIST“, a name in use today which the Church of Christ dislikes. It would seem like common sense to say that if you today are going to get baptized (which the Church of Christ puts so much stress on), and you go to a preacher who identifies with “Baptists”, then your baptism is by a Baptist preacher, and you most probably are going to be baptized into his group, and take his name, “Baptist”. The logic of rejecting all names is just not in the Scripture, and if we want to be picky, Baptist as a name is much better than “the churches of Christ” or “the churches of God”, both of which are not proper names, but “Baptist” is.
Why should we use a “denomination” for our local church?
By this heading I am not advocating that local churches join denominations, because I am totally against this as an Independent Baptist. What I am recommending is that we identify ourselves with words that tell the general public who we are. For example, many churches today want to be called something like “Community Chapel”. There is a movement for being “non-denominational” that is a denomination in itself, which most of these “non-denominational churches” are really Pentecostal at heart. So identifying yourself with some descriptive name is very necessary and “honest” to the general public. This issue has been debated within the Church of Christ group, and many of their churches are called something “Church of Christ”, like “Middletown Church of Christ”. The issue is one of not being deceptive or ambiguous. So even though they argue against any name, it is burdensome to not have a “handle” (technically a “denomination”) to call yourself.
I would make the point that denominations (the technical “label”) are difficult even though probably necessary. The problem is that being independent, anybody can call themselves by that label without needing an official approval from an authority. They can believe anything they want and use the label. I have come across Baptist churches that speak in tongues and do healings a la Pentecostals. I call them “Bapticostals” because they are not true Baptists in my opinion.
So in conclusion on this point, it is very necessary that we be open and honest in identifying ourselves, while we also need to always keep in mind that Satan will mix some people in “our” group that don’t hold to traditional group positions.
I would also note that many Baptist churches (not all) are “independent” local assemblies, and have no denominational ties. This is supposed the same position as the Church of Christ, yet they attack Baptists anyway.
- Cox – CH13 Why we are Independent – I wrote this tract explaining why we as a local Baptist Church refuse denominational ties.
Church salvation through them alone
Campbellites proclaim that they, and they alone, are the true church. For them this means that nobody CAN BE SAVED without being a member of their group, which remember, they deny being a denomination or formal group. Doesn’t make much sense.
But their principle thought is to deny all other groups any chance of salvation without coming under their authority and teachings. This is cultic in itself, and this is not what the New Testament taught.
Campbellism as a Source for the Cults
Once Campbellism had started the thought process of “reforming Christianity because it had erred without possibility of internal repair” this thought mentality was exactly what other unscrupulous men needed to start their own movements, and draw many thousands of Campbellites into their own movements.
The Mormon church was called “The Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints” showing their common source and kinship. The Mormons likewise believe and profess that the “church” (modern Christianity) had apostatized since the early centuries, and only until they arrived on the scene was the “true church” (them) then reclaimed. They both act as cults claiming salvation is for their own group instead of faith in Jesus Christ, and they both claim that the Holy Spirit is not received until they are baptized in water.
Campbellites see a great need to baptize with the purpose of salvation (remission of sins), so they accept Mormons, Adventists, and Christadelphians as “brothers” of a sort, while condemning Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians to hell because they don’t.
The early preachers of Mormonism started their careers in Church of Christ churches. The very same Restoration line was used by Joseph Smith. Alexander Campbell lost so many members to Mormonism that he called it “Satan’s counterfeit of the Disciples of Christ”. Mormons first called themselves “Church Christ”.
Dr. John Thomas, a Disciple of Christ, took things one step further, not only throwing out the Creeds and Confessions as well as the “non-biblical names” for churches, he decided to throw out the Trinity also, and in doing so, denied Christ’s deity, and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. He also rejected the resurrection, and Christ’s second coming, taught “soul sleep” and that hell wasn’t biblical either.
Benjamin Wilson (originally a Baptist) was Disciple of Christ that followed Dr. Thomas into Christadelphianism, and published a Greek-English interlinear call the Emphatic Diaglott. Wilson taught Alexander Campbell as well as founded the Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith. This was an Assemblies of God group (not Pentecostal but more akin to Seventh Day Adventist and Church of Christ groups. This Emphatic Diaglott was purchased by the Jehovah’s Witnesses original group Bible Students Association. A lot of the particular doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were held by Wilson.
The more “Cultic” Side of the Church of Christ
Like I said before, there are factions of the Church of Christ that is just an outright cult. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, I have met Baptists (I am Baptist) that are cultic and follow the same path. So I would like to clearly state that this “cultic side” is something that many individual churches and preachers can take irregardless of their beliefs, associations, etc. But here, these attributes have taken hold in the Church of Christ from the beginning, and it seems to have characterized much in the history of the group.
Below I am going to critic Major Errors of Campbellism on Salvation / Bob L. Ross
1. Only Campbellites (Church of Christ) are saved. I would say that salvation is defined by those who repent and have faith in Christ’s work on the cross to save them from their sins. We cannot move our definition of salvation “off of that” and onto an “external” like a name or what church one belongs to.
- “The Bible teaches that there are no Christians who are not members of the church of Christ”-Thomas Warren, SS 4/85, p. 6.
- “The Bible teaches that every one who enters a denomination sins in so doing and that those who remain in a denomination until death will be lost”-Warren, SS 4/85, page 10.
- “’There are sincere, knowledgeable, devout Christians scattered among all the various denominations.’ I kindly, but confidently, deny his affirmation”-Garland Elkins, SS 10/85, page 28.
- “There are no Christians who are not members of the church of Christ”-Warren, SS 10/83, page 1.
- “Parents MUST teach their children that the ONLY Christians are found in the church of Christ”-Bill Jackson, SS 10/84.
While this is a very definite cult attribute (we alone are saved), I find this difficult to find in most Church of Christ people I know.
2. Campbellites deny the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. While Ross provides some very serious quotes by Campbellite men, I also find that this would seem to be a particular view of some Church of Christ people, though not all. Maybe . It would be an element to watch out for in their writings (but which I have not seen).
3. Campbellites deny that any one is truly saved in this life. Again having talked with people in the Church of Christ, and reading their literature, I would not see this as a widespread concept among them. I have not read great numbers of their books, but I have read some, and I just never came across this at all.
4. Teaching that believers can lose faith and therefore their salvation. I definitely disagree with this, and note that some or many Campbellites may believe this. The original founders may have laid this false doctrine in the beginning. Having said that, I would also like to condemn equally so the Baptist easy believism churches that teach the same doctrine. I note that I strongly and vigorously disagree with this, and I argue with fellow Baptists over the same issue, so I would not fault the Campbellites as a group for this point, but individually.
5. Kip Keen and the Boston Church of Christ – This fraction of the movement is definitely cultic in their teachings and practices, being excessively controlling. I would not hesitate one minute in identifying them as being cultic and extremely dangerous.
- Jeter. J.B. – Campbellism Examined
- Folk – Why Baptist and Not Campbellite