"Is The Church of Christ A Denomination?" - 3
It is important that you read the previous two articles if you wish to make any sense of this one. Briefly summarized, we defined a "religious denomination" and then showed that the church which Jesus predicted in Matthew 16:18 does not meet that definition. We further showed that the denominational concept of the church originated in a corruption of local church organization which culminated in what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church.
The "Carry-Over" To Protestantism
Martin Luther is recognized as the "Father of the Protestant Reformation." He was a Roman Catholic priest who seriously challenged many Catholic doctrines by nailing a list of 95 objections on the church house door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. After his excommunication in 1520, he and many of his followers formed churches throughout Germany. A similar movement against Catholicism spread to other nations. John Calvin, a young French Catholic lawyer, published the first edition of his influential Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, and became a Protestant leader. These and other courageous men of the "Reformation Movement" went a long way in renouncing their former doctrinal errors. But they unfortunately retained many other doctrines and concepts taught by Catholicism. While they rejected the Pope as the visible head of the church, the resulting Protestant churches retained something of the centralized organizational structure to which they had become accustomed. Thus, most Protestant churches today have "universal" organizations which are controlled by or function through a Synod, Council, Convention, or another coordinating organizational entity. They unabashedly admit and affirm that they are "denominations."
The American Restoration Movement
Near the turn of the 19th Century a number of Protestant teachers (Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, James O'Kelly, etc.) began advocating a rejection of the Protestant creeds and seeking to "restore" the church Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16:18. We must keep in mind that all of these men had been intimately associated with some of the major Protestant denominations and were, therefore, accustomed to the concept of the universal church being an "institution" or organization composed of congregations.
Campbell wrote: "The church is not one congregation or assembly, but the congregation of Christ composed of all the individual congregations on the earth."– Millennial Harbinger, 1834, p. 315. This is typical of his and other Restoration leaders' concept of the church, which you will recognize as virtually identical to the views of both Catholicism and Protestantism.
The consequence of this concept of the church was that Campbell and others began advocating a "more efficient" method of activating the universal church (meaning 'all the congregations'). This advocacy culminated in 1849 by the creation of the American Christian Missionary Society (to which Campbell was elected the first president). While the ACMS had no direct control over the churches, it nevertheless became the coordinating, organizational entity which tied the contributing congregations together. It was defended by the same flawed, denominational concept of the church which had been developed in Catholicism and was perpetuated in Protestantism. The acceptance and promotion of this concept by many of the "Restoration" leaders planted the seeds of division in this "Movement" which continues to bear sordid fruit to this very hour. (Conclusion in the next issue of The Milpitas Messenger.)