After I had referred to Thomas Campbell as “a founder of my own modern-day Churches of Christ,” a gracEmail subscriber responded: “Thomas Campbell never was, will be or claimed to be a founder of any church of Christ. It is Jesus’ [church], bought with His own blood, and you do Him a terrible injustice by claiming this. I hope you will be man enough to print a retraction.”
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I do confess to technical imprecision. Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander Campbell did not actually found the Churches of Christ as a distinct Christian group. The Campbells themselves were first Presbyterian clergymen, then Baptist preachers, and finally independent evangelists. Their primary message was a call to Christians of all persuasions to place the Bible above every denominational creed and to unite on the basis of matters which all Christians could hold in common.
For Thomas and Alexander Campbell, “the Church of Christ” meant the universal body of Christ, composed of all who belong to Jesus Christ, without regard to sect or denomination. Thomas Campbell thus affirmed, in his “Declaration and Address,” that “the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct . . . .”
The Restoration Movement, which grew out of the work of the Campbells, Barton W. Stone and others, has produced three modern fellowships: the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental), the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (instrumental), and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The first general public identification of Churches of Christ as a distinct body within the Restoration Movement came in 1906, following a division based as much on cultural, economic, geographical and political differences as on spiritual or biblical reasons.
If by “Church of Christ” we mean the body of Christ, the church catholic or universal, then indeed Jesus founded it and not Thomas Campbell. That church, however, includes far more people than those found in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, gathers both in and out of Christian meetinghouses bearing a wide variety of signs, and is not to be identified exclusively with any group listed in the telephone company’s Yellow Pages. I apologize for any ambiguity in my previous remark, and am happy to add this clarification.