Nearly two thousand years ago the Lord promised to build His church (Matthew 16:16-18). In AD 30 the church of Christ, the promised church, was established in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2). Jesus purchased this church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The church of the first century was united under the one Head – Christ, followed the same rule – the New Testament, and were of the same mind and same practice. The first century church was united in doctrine, in worship, and in organization.
For about two hundred years the church was true to apostolic teaching. But the church of the first century began to drift into apostasy. This came as no surprise, for it was foretold by the apostle Paul, “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” (1 Timothy 4:1), and he said there would be a “falling away” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). There were six basic developments that caused this “falling away.” First, there was the gradual development of a system of rulers, a hierarchy, patterned after the political organization of the Roman Empire. Secondly, there came extensive modification of Christian doctrine through Greek culture. Thirdly, there was the introduction of Jewish and pagan doctrines, customs and ceremonials into the church. Fourthly, there came the formulating of elaborate, uninspired church decrees. In the fifth place, there came the creation of a human priesthood, vested with spiritual powers and privileges. And finally, there was the assumption of both spiritual and temporal power by church leaders. These developments were foreign to the Bible, yet they were very prominent in the development of church history. Centuries of ignorance and superstition led to the birth of the apostate church.
Over the years there were many who had tried get back to the “old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16). Men such as John Huss and Huldrick Zwingli gave their life in such an endeavor. Later, other men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and a host of others, worked toward the old paths. The trouble with these men is that they did not reach all the back to Jerusalem – they tried to reform the church instead of restoring the New Testament church. Much good came out of the Reformation Movement – the Bible being translated in the language of the people, and the people being encouraged to study the Bible for themselves – but they did not go all the way back to AD 30 in search of the New Testament church.
Early in the nineteenth century there was a general unrest among the churches of America. In all denominations there could be found those who believed that the followers of Christ should lay aside the traditions of men and go back to the church described in the New Testament. Among this number were men like Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and John Smith. The aim of these men, and other like them, were to do things just as the Apostles had taught, and thus, being disentangled from the embarrassments of intervening ages of apostasy. Their desire was not to establish or start another church, but to call people back to the church of the New Testament. These restorers held up the Bible as their only guide in religious matters and restored the church of Christ.
It is important to realize that if we sow the same seed the apostles sowed in the first century – the word of God (Luke 8:11), the same harvest will be produced. Paul said, For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap…” (Galatians 6:7). Every seed produces after its kind. If we sow oats we will reap oats, and is we sow corn we will reap corn. When the seed of the kingdom was planted in the first century it did not produce various denominations – it produced the New Testament church – the church of Christ. Today, if that same seed is planted – the word of God, then the New Testament church will be the result. The church of the first century exists today because the very same seed is planted. The Lord’s church will never be destroyed as long as the seed – the word of God – exists. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” Mark 13:31).