QUESTION: There is a lot of buzz about the history of the church of Christ being the ''Campbell Movement.'' From a.d 33 to a.d 606 there is church history but then history seems to go silent concerning the church of Christ. Where did our history go? For almost 1300 years there is not much said about the "Church". Can we really account for the silence? Or has our whole belief/doctrine been fused together without accurate merits? - (Dwight B.)
The history of the Campbells and Barton Stone in the Restoration Movement is well documented.
What history looks like in the rear-view mirror is actually very similar to what we see happening today. There is the "visible" church -- those 501(c)3 religious franchises that dot the landscape. Within some, and outside of many, there are those blood-bought disciples who quietly live lives of Christian integrity and spiritual power. Inconspicuous, and often doing great works that are ignored by the culture because they are done in the name of Christ, these people are nonetheless a tremendous preserving and stabilizing influence.
Christ came in the fullness of time. Read ancient history -- The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Works of Josephus, the Inquisition, etc. etc. and realize how barbaric man is capable of becoming, and how human nature is unspeakably brutal when unrestrained and untamed. Then look beneath the surface at the people of Christian faith who have prevailed. Their names are rarely recorded, but the evidence of their lives is unmistakeable. What else could explain why fallen man has not destroyed himself and this planet in the 2000 years since Christ?
The early Christians and many since were not persecuted for their goodness, but for their allegiance. Read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and you will see that the church has always been here.
Having said that, if you look back before the Campbell/Stone Restoration, you don't see church buildings with "The Church of Christ" on them, or books and newspapers speaking of "The Church of Christ" as you do today. As it should be, I suppose. The phrase "Church of Christ" does not appear in the Bible, as you know. "churches of Christ" as a simple descriptive appears once, in Romans 16:16. Biblical Christians were not concerned with a "corporate name," that is, some name that would identify their group. Biblically, they were "followers of the Way." In John 15:15 we see that Jesus called His disciples "friends." (This is where the 'Society of Friends' got their name. Their detractors called them "Quakers" - they did not choose this name for themselves). The disciples were called "Christians" first at Antioch, and some think this was also a pejorative.
The "Church" was hijacked by the Roman Empire at about the time of Constantine. Remember, to the early disciples, Christianity was not a religion. It was a lifestyle grounded in a relationship with God through Christ. No one in those early days could stand up and say, "In the name of _________ (name your favorite 'deity' from the Roman pantheon), be healed" and expect anything to happen. But in the Name of Christ, things happened! Recognizing the power and desiring to either control it or muzzle it, they made Christianity the "official religion" of the Empire. Suddenly, to be anything in the culture or in the political system, one had to profess Christianity. And we see the same thing today: folks who speak "Christianese" ... who know the buzz words and speak our lingo and sing the same hymns .... whose lives are powerless at best, and often are counter-productive to Biblical truth.
It was, perhaps, for this very reason that the trappings of institutionalism were eschewed by the church fathers. They didn't have church buildings, real estate, elaborate church and para-church ministries, or any other sort of institutional hierarchies within which wolves could ascend into positions of influence and power. Their trademark was love, and their credentials were simply written on the hearts of those to whom they unselfishly ministered. They didn't set up seminaries, or denominational headquarters or any of the rest. They were ... simply ... followers of the Way. Their 'religion' was their life, not their Sunday morning and Wednesday night activity. Their ministries were simply the overflow of who they were.
These people knew something many of us have forgotten: that all authority in heaven and on earth was given to Christ. It's not a future event, with Satan running things down here until Jesus returns. They were absolutely convinced that Jesus was their King, that He would protect them as they remained in His will, and that they had a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. They knew that "faith" is not a belief that is maintained in spite of the evidence, but it is OBEDIENCE to Christ in all things, in spite of the consequences.
So where were the Christians before the Campbells? The same place they are now: overlooked and ignored in the world because of the compelling presence and distraction of visible religion. The TRUE church of Christ was commonly compared to things small, humble, insignificant, or unnoticed: the tiny mustard seed, or salt which flavors (and creates thirst) while becoming essentially invisible when used to season food. Spiritually, THE light of the world, reflecting the glory of God in Christ to a dark world. But alas! the world prefers darkness..... and religion. So while the picture of the church has been neglected, her footprints in history are impossible to ignore. If you're looking for a 14th century building or a 9th century manuscript with "Church of Christ" on it, you won't find it.