Alexander Campbell and the Church of Christ: Did Campbell Really Start the Church of Christ?

Secular scholars of the Restoration Movement such as Douglas Allen Foster and Anthony L. Dunnavant, who wrote The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, claim that Alexander Campbell started the Church of Christ movement in the 1820s. As such, several in the Church of Christ have been mockingly called “Campbellites.” Those same members of the church usually respond with confusion having to leave the confrontation and ask their preacher or elders why they were called such because they have never heard of Campbellites, much less Alexander Campbell. When people claim that Alexander Campbell started the Churches of Christ several problems arise in this theory.

The history of the churches of Christ conflicts with the theory that Campbell founded the church. The Old Philadelphia Church of Christ in McMinnville, Tennessee (where my wife and I grew up) first assembled to worship in 1805. The local town historians have kept track of the church records and ledgers within Warren County. The church later built a building in 1830 that still stands today. Why is this relevant? According to the Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, he and his family never arrived in America until 1808. At which time, he was still an ordained preacher of the Old Light Anti-Burger in the Seceder Presbyterian Church. He and his family were Scots-Irish immigrants. Alexander Campbell devoted his life to preaching a new doctrine in 1809. At which time, he and his father helped to advance the Christian Association of Washington. This man was nowhere near Tennessee in 1805, and he certainly did not call himself a member of the churches of Christ at that time!

This is just one example of church history, but the churches of Christ can be traced from the 19th century American (“The Indestructible Church of Christ” by Wayne Jackson – https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1542-the-indestructible-church-of-christ), to the 13th century England (Traces of the Kingdom by Keith Sisman, 2011), to the 1st century Israel (Rom. 16:16).

This man was an ordained Presbyterian preacher; he was baptized by a Baptist preacher; he also preached at Baptist churches, and he taught pre-millennialism (a doctrine contrary to the Church of Christ). The man held several doctrines from numerous denominations. Those that would call Christians “Campbellites” or state that Campbell started the Church of Christ speak in ignorance!

Campbell led many biblical and godly defenses for the Lord and the church (that was already in existence), but he also did many things wrong. His parachurch organizations nearly tore the church in half, and his stance on interdenominational relations allowed false doctrine to leak into the church. Ultimately, Campbell was not fit to start any church. When those in ancient Corinth wanted to create divisions and faction from the church that Christ established in the name of those who taught them the gospel such as Paul, Peter, or Apollos, Paul responded in frustration by asking, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13). The apostle likewise started that not only do Christians not have the right to create divisions with the names of their teachers, but Christians do not have the right to create ANY divisions from the Lord’s church (1 Cor. 1:10). Campbell was not crucified for mankind, nor are believers baptized in the name of Alexander Campbell. No true followers of God would make the claim that anyone but Christ started the church where they attend (1 Cor. 3:11)!

During the 1810s, Campbell studied himself into the truth on baptism. Campbell’s legacy connects with the Church of Christ because of his stance on baptism. Campbell held many public debates on baptism. His teachings on the purpose of baptism, to wash away sins, is the same teaching the Church of Christ preaches (Acts 2:38; 22:16). He also believed that to baptize someone already saved served no purpose (1 Peter 3:21). The Church of Christ taught that baptism washes away sin, and that baptism allowed God to save and to add individuals to the church long before Campbell started preaching or holding debates (Acts 2:36-42)! Through obvious historical records, the Church of Christ did not start with Alexander Campbell. Wikipedia (not the most reliable source) stated that Campbell established the Christian church, the churches of Christ, and other assemblies during the Restoration Movement. Anyone that has a Bible should know that Campbell did not start the Church of Christ.

The churches of Christ are mentioned in the first century in Romans 16:16. The Church of Christ began on the day of Pentecost mentioned in Acts 2. The true church has been preaching the same doctrine since that day (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 16:17; 15:5-6). The doctrine preached today in the church is the same doctrine established by Christ and His apostles in the first century (2 Tim. 4:2). The plan of salvation taught in the first century is taught in the churches of Christ today (Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:9; Acts 17:30), the same acts of worship practiced by the first-century church is practiced today (Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7; James 5:13), the same initiation into the church taught in the first century is taught by the church in the twenty-first century (Acts 2:41,47). The Church of Christ today is the church of the first century established by Christ.

3 Comments

  1. Mark Jay Roberts on January 28, 2023 at 4:50 pm

    from the Tennessee Bible College.

    It has been found that there were churches of Christ founded on New Testament lines as far back in Britain as the year 1669 in the reign of King Charles II in the days that this great nation, this great America, was still being colonized…it has been found that those churches…called themselves churches of Christ, that they practiced baptism by immersion, that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s day and that they had a clear view of congregational independency appointing to each of those churches—and there were eight existing in the Ulverston district of Lancashire in North West England—appointing to each one of those elders and deacons (ibid.).

    The Rock Springs church near Celina, Tennessee, was started in 1804—five years before Alexander Campbell came to America—and remains until this day. A brother Lowery found a document near Celina dated November 17, 1736…which tells of the organization of a church of Christ in that early day—fifty-two years before Alexander was born (pp. 44-45, quoting from the “Gospel Advocate,” July 27, 1939).

  2. Jack Mc on May 6, 2023 at 8:42 pm

    Please just read the KJV of the new testament and you will be able to find who started the Church of Christ. The answer is there a number of times right in front of you!!

  3. Brad on May 4, 2024 at 4:10 pm

    Christ purchased and started the Church of Christ When he died. John 19:34 the soldier pierced his side and out came blood and water. You can only reach the blood of Christ in baptism .Baptism is where you find the blood of Christ that washes away your sin Christ named his church after himself and called it the Church of Christ in Rom 16:16. You can only reach and find Christ in his Church, and in no other.

Leave a Comment