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THE BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
Victor M. Eskew
There are some scholars and preachers within the church who are confused about the date of the establishment of the church. They teach that the church of Christ rose of out the Restoration Movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s. To hear them tell it, the church of Christ did not exist prior to this time period. In a tract entitled, “What You Can Expect When You Visit the Church of Christ,” Joe R. Barnett begins his discussion with “a brief description of our background.” He writes: “We are part of ‘The Restoration Movement.’” In the book, Decades of Destiny, edited by Lindy Adams and Scott LaMascus, we read the following on page 21:
“In New England, Elias Smith and Abner Jones rejected the Calvinism of their Baptist heritage and began establishing Christian churches in the early 1800s. A few years later in Tennessee, a group of Presbyterians, led by Finis Ewing, Samuel King, and Samuel McAdaw, also rejected Calvinism and formed the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It would be three other Presbyterians who would lead in forming the movement that produced the Churches of Christ.”
The word that troubles us in the above quote is the word “produced.” Did three Presbyterians form a movement that produced the churches of Christ? Some seem to think so.
The reality is that the church of Christ was produced, established, and built on the earth in the first century. The precise date of its establishment is the first Pentecost following our Lord’s resurrection. Peter and the other apostles preached the gospel for the first time on that day (Acts 2:14, 22). Those who gladly received their words were baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38, 41). At that point, they were saved (Mark 16:16). The Lord added these saved ones to the church. “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).
To which church were these individuals added? Not a single denomination existed at the time. Jesus, however, had promised to build “His” church. At Caesarea Philipp, He said: “And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Surely, this was the church to which the saved on Pentecost were added. Romans 16:16 confirms this to be the case. Paul wrote: “Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” If the church of Christ existed in the first century, it is impossible for three Presbyterians to have produced it in the 1800s.
Those who believe that the church of Christ is a development of the Restoration Movement also fail to understand the “seed” principle with regard to the kingdom. Plants exist in different forms. One of these forms is seed. Corn, cotton, beans, squash, peas, okra, and tomatoes begin each farming season as seed. When these seeds are planted in the ground and are properly cared for, they bring forth fruit after their kind. Tomato seeds produce tomatoes. Cotton seeds produce cotton. As long as the seeds exist, the produce exists. This principle holds true in the spiritual realm also. In Luke 8:11, Jesus said: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.” God’s Word is the seed of the kingdom. It is planted into the soil, that is, the hearts of mankind. In good soil, its fruit is produced (Luke 8:15). In the first century, the seed of God’s Word produced Christians, members of the church of Christ. If that seed is planted today, it will produce exactly the same thing. It is important to understand that as long as the seed exists, the church also exists in seed form. Jesus declared: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). If Jesus’ words are true, then the church has, and always will, exist, at least in seed form. Thus, the men of the Restoration Movement did not “produce” the church of Christ. They merely planted the incorruptible seed of God’s Word into the hearts of honest hearers and the church grew from its seed form into its mature state.
There are far too many within the churches of Christ that view the church as Christ as a denomination among many. They see it as the product of man’s efforts. They do not see it as the one and only body of Christ (Eph. 4:4; Col. 1:18). They fail to see it as the wisdom of God that existed in God’s mind from eternity (Eph. 3:8-11). We wonder if they believe that the church of Christ is the divine institution that was purchased by the precious blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). Dear readers, the church of Christ is not of man-made origin. It is not the result of the studies of good men of the 18th and 19th centuries. The church of Christ is a divine institution that was established on earth on Pentecost Day as recorded in Acts 2!