Special Issue on the Church
Vol. 2 No. 4 (1958): 146-47
Special Issue on the Church
The present Quarterly is not a full and systematic discussion of that idea, but it presents, studies tending to support the validity of the plea. Especially does it deal with some basic questions about the origin of the church and the possibility of ideptifying the essential features of the apostolic church. It presents material to show how the church became apostate through the centuries and to point the way toward restoring the original church.
We believe that the Gospel of Christ is not an ideology, arising out of the concepts of the environment of the first century, but that it was founded by a saviour Jesus Christ, who conceived of himself as the founder of the church and of that church as the fulfillment of the expectations of the Old Covenant. The early apostolic church was the product of the representatives chosen by Jesus for the very work of establishing and building up that church. Its essential unity as the saved body of Christ constituted of baptized believers in whom the Spirit dwells is the main feature of the apostolic epistles and its final triumph the prediction of the apocalypse.
It is not obscurantism to believe that the New Testament is God's word. To be sure, that Testament was developed in the church, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Since these Scriptures are our Divine witness to the truth, they ought to be considered the final and complete revelation of God with respect to the church which is His body. They are the complete and final source of authority for the people of God.
Once this is accepted, there is a recognizable pattern of doctrine, organization, worship, and fellowship for the church.
The plea of the 19th century Reformers was that by restoring each local congregation to that original the unity which was the "essential, intentional, and constitutional" condition of the original church could be achieved. They recognized that to achieve this denominational creeds, names, organizations must be abandoned, since such control mechanisms of denominationalism are what stand in the way of unity. The pioneer work such as the O'Kelly-Elias Smith-Abner Jones (Christian Connection) movement; the Barton Stone work of Kentucky; and the Campbell movement of Pa.-Va.-Ohio of the late 18th and early 19th centuries needs to be studied anew. The O'Kelly-Jones movement first adopted a platform of  non-denominational Christianity with Christ as the only head of the church; the name Christian as the only name; and the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice. The Stone churches withdrew from Presbyterianism because they could not agree upon credal statements and formed their own synod only to dissolve it that they might "sink into union with the Body of Christ at large." The Campbellian churches joined the Mahoning Association only in turn to lead these churches to dissolve their association and leave themselves as free and independent churches of Christ. The step from there to the union and fellowship of parts of all these groups was only a short one; it consisted of the recognition that a common belief and practice made fellowship possible.
Present churches of Christ (including some million and a half in many countries of the world) are the rightful heirs of this work. They still insist, in spite of some difficulty in their own midst of recognizing the limitations of the pattern, that they are living proof that undenominational congregations of New Testament Christians are possible in an age of divided sects.
The editor regrets that a timely article by Pat Harrell on the Anabaptists, an early Protestant group with a plea for a return to the N.T. pattern, had to be omitted for lack of space. It will appear in a subsequent issue. Also an article on Jesus and the Church by the editor had to be omitted and will' appear in a later number.
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