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Abner Jones – Part Four

Today’s installment concludes Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb).  If you missed the previous entries, you can click on the links below, or you can find this work in its entirety in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

His Final Years:

The Connexion’s Decline

While Elias Smith was busy being the visible leader of the Christian Connexion, Abner Jones was busy doing the work of a preacher. He moved to Salem, Massachusetts in 1809 where he traveled to numerous congregations in the area. He saw many converts, which helped to strengthen his faith. He believed that the people converting was proof that God approved of his preaching and was blessing it.[1] This mind-set led to problems down the road.

In 1815, He moved to Hopkinton, Mass. There he met with virtually no success, and the depression and doubt that plagued him as a younger man re-surfaced with a vengeance. Elias Smith’s return trip to Universalism “staggered the Christian cause in…the coastal areas.”[2] The departure of this very vocal leader proved quite the hurdle to overcome.

While in Hopkinton, Abner Jones stirred up quite a controversy in preaching on the evils of drinking alcohol, even in moderation. While there, he also joined the Masons. When public opinion began to sway against the Masons as a social group, Jones quit, although “he never believed them to be subversive to either Christianity or democracy.”[3]

The congregation in Hopkinton did not grow, and in fact became so weak that Jones was unable to support himself any longer. When an epidemic came through the town, he resumed his practice as a doctor. He moved back to Salem after six years of unproductive work in Hopkinton. What was left of the congregation in Hopkinton faded from what faithfulness they had attained and merged with the Baptist Church.[4]

Ups and Downs

Upon his return, he found the congregation in Salem in the throws of emotionalism. The majority of the congregation wanted nothing to do with a logical approach to the Bible, but claimed to be “moved by the Spirit.” The congregation was destroyed and Jones was left “to pick up the pieces” and rebuild a new congregation. After seven years, the new congregation was large and strong. During this time, Jones “practiced medicine, taught school, and gave instruction in singing.”[5] In 1830, this restorationist moved to New York in search of other fertile hearts.

His need for emotional reassurance weakened him in his stances on the truths of the Bible. He slowly drifted towards accepting emotional experiences as evidence of Christianity, contrary to his statements prior in which he described the emotionalists ones who “professed to be governed by the Spirit, and a most perverse spirit it was.”[6] In this, he stated that rash emotionalism was not from God, yet he was unwilling to stick with his convictions.

The movement started by Abner Jones, and for a time aided by Elias Smith, to go back to the Bible only had touched many people. But without solid leadership, it began to die out. The original congregation established by Abner Jones in Lyndon, Vermont had shut its doors and melted in with the denominations.[7] Many of the other congregations also faded from existence. However, in the 1830’s, there were signs of hope by more growth in certain areas.

The Death of a Dream

The original call was to leave denominationalism and go back solely to “the New Testament for their only rule of faith and practice.”[8] For a time, Abner Jones and company were well on their way to accomplishing it. However, because of various events and decisions, the group which came to be known as the Christian Connexion drifted off into denominationalism itself.

In order to deal with the effect of Elias’ Smith’s departure into Universalism, they convened a general council. This became a yearly event in which almost every congregation in the Connexion sent a delegation.[9] This yearly convention established a governing body similar to the councils which mark the Catholic Church of the first Millennia AD.[10] Smith did try to return, yet traveled back and forth with Universalism to the point where “his own brethren disciplined him because they refused to trust someone who was ‘blown about by every wind of doctrine’.”[11] By 1825, the conference of the Christian Connexion referred to themselves as “a denomination among denominations.”[12]

Another aspect where they left the pattern of the New Testament was in the organization of the local church. Many pleaded for a plurality of elders, although most of the congregations in the Connexion only had one elder, that being the preacher (this following the lead of the Baptists who referred to the preacher as an elder).[13] They also took to following the lead of other denominations in calling the preacher “reverend,” a word used in the Scriptures only in reference to God. Also, as early as the 1810’s, some of the congregations were promoting women to positions of preaching.[14] This was not widespread, but it was tolerated in many locations.

Perhaps the final blow to the dream of “Christians only” in New England was a man by the name of William Miller. This man claimed to have figured out the time for the return of Jesus Christ and pinpointed the date at “some time between March 1843 and March 1844.”[15] Because of his emotional speaking style and the direction in which the Christian Connexion was heading, Miller found ready listeners in those Christians. By 1839, nearly half of the Connexion had been taken in by his lies, and the other half was ostracized as faithless.[16]

Elias Smith was no longer a leader in the movement, but had completely left. Abner Jones’ own son was referred to as a “Unitarian minister.”[17] Daniel Hix, the preacher at one of the strongest congregations in the Connexion, had died in 1838.[18] The ones who had taken the abuse for trying to follow the New Testament pattern had gotten older and there arose a new generation that did not know what they had gone through, and were thus unprepared to combat this false teaching.

So caught up were the Christians (as well as others) in this prophetic end, that many farmers did not plant crops that year. The ones that did refused to harvest, for that would show a lack of faith. Many store owners simply sold out of merchandise and refused to re-stock. On the day in which the return was supposed to occur, the “faithful” who believed the sayings of Miller all gathered in church buildings. They prayed their hearts out for Jesus to return.[19] When the bells rang at midnight, it was like a funeral. Jesus did not return according to the false prophet’s timetable. People’s faith had died. They blamed Christ for not coming again. “Being misled by a false religion, they gave up searching for the true one.”[20] Those who bought into the lie couldn’t bear to face those who were wise enough to know better. Those who didn’t fall for the emotionalism of the Miller fiasco decided they couldn’t put their faith in those so easily led astray. The bridge between the two collapsed. As James Gardner put it: “the heart of the Christian Connection in New England died at midnight, October 22, 1844.”[21]

Thankfully, Abner Jones didn’t live to see that day. He died before he could see his dream of a unified church of Christ collapse. He died in 1841, in Exeter, New Hampshire. The Christian Connexion had become a perversion of what it was meant to be. In the years that followed, the Christian Connexion broke apart, and today various denominational groups claim the Connexion (and Abner Jones) as part of their history. Among these are the 7th Day Adventists, the United Church of Christ,[22] as well as perhaps Mormonism.[23] Some “Jehovah’s Witness” even claim Abner Jones was one of them.[24]


Abner Jones had the right idea, initially. He strove to become a Christian only, following nothing but what he could find in the pages of the New Testament. All who seek to be true Christians should emulate the principle for which he and other restorationists stood. In the end of his autobiography, Abner Jones gave a pleading warning to all of his readers to stop and look at their spiritual condition. The words which he gave were those of a hymn he wrote:

STOP, poor sinner, stop and think

Before you farther go.

Will you sport upon the brink

Of everlasting woe?


Hell beneath is gaping wide!

Vengeance waits the dread command,

Soon to stop your sport and pride,

And sink with you the damn’d.


O be entreated now STOP,

For unless you WARNING TAKE,

Ere you are aware you’ll DROP,

Into the BURNING LAKE.[25]



Ÿ  Burnett, J.F. Rev. Abner Jones: The Man Who Believed and Served. (unknown publisher, 1921) Electronic edition at: http://www.gravelhillchurchofchrist.com/ebooks/Burnett, J.F. – Abner Jones.pdf

Ÿ  Brumback, Robert H. History of the Church Through the Ages. (Mission Messenger, St. Louis. 1957)

Ÿ  Caldwell, G.C. “Baptism: the Core of Controversy in the Restoration Movement” Florida College Lectures, 1976.

Ÿ  Davis, A.M. The Restoration Movement in the Nineteenth Century. (Standard Publishing, 1913)

Ÿ  Gardner, James. The Christians of New England (Hester Publications, Henderson, TN 2009)

Ÿ  Gielow, Frederick, Jr. Popular Outline of Church History (Standard Publishing, 1926)

Ÿ  Haley, J.J. Makers and Molders of the Reformation Movement (Christian Board of Education, St. Louis, 1914)

Ÿ  Jennings, Walter Wilson. Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ (Standard Publishing, 1919)

Ÿ  Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching of Abner Jones. (Norris and Sawyer, 1807)   Electronic edition www.GravelHillchurchofChrist.com/eBooks/Jones, Abner – Memoirs.pdf

Ÿ  Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones (Crosby, Boston 1842)

Ÿ  Mattox, F.W. The Eternal Kingdom (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR 1961)

Ÿ  The New England Christians, www.ChristianChronicler.com/new_england_Christians.html

Ÿ  North, James. Union In Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement (Standard Publishing, 1994)

Ÿ  Olbricht, Tom. “Christian Connexion and Unitarian Relations 1800-1844” Restoration Review Vol. 9, No. 3

Ÿ  Phillips, Dabney. Restoration Principles and Personalities. (Youth In Action, University, AL, 1975)

Ÿ  www.PioneerPreachers.com

Ÿ  Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Beck and Foster, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816)

Ÿ  Vogel, Dan. Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1988), online text at http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/seekers/chapter1.htm

Ÿ  Watters, Randal. “Abner Jones – A Real Jehovah’s Witness.” http://www.freeminds.org/organization/pre-russell/abner-jones-a-real-jehovah-s-witness.html

Ÿ  West, Earle. The Search For The Ancient Order: Volume I (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR. 1950)

Ÿ  Womack, Morris. Thirteen Lessons on Restoration History. (College Press, Joplin, MO, 1988)



[1] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pgs 75-77.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid. Pg 78.

[6] Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones. Pg 81.

[7] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 91.

[8] Brumback, Robert H. History of the Church Through the Ages. (Mission Messenger, St. Louis. 1957). Pg 290.

[9] ibid. Pg 104.

[10] Mattox. Eternal Kingdom.

[11] New England Christians

[12] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 104

[13] ibid. Pg 105.

[14] ibid. Pg 106.

[15] ibid. Pg 146.

[16] ibid.

[17] Olbricht. Connexion and Unitarian.

[18] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg 150.

[19] ibid. Pgs 151-156.

[20] ibid. Pg 156.

[21] ibid. Pg 157.

[22] ibid. Pg 151-157.

[23] Vogel. Seekers and Mormonism.

[24] Watters, Randal. “Abner Jones – A Real Jehovah’s Witness.”

[25] Jones, Abner Memoirs. Pg 107.

Abner Jones – Part Three

This is from Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb) which is available in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

If you missed the previous installments, they can be found here:
Part One
Part Two

The Christian Connexion

Enter Elias Smith

In the years leading up to 1803, Elias Smith had basically come to some of the same conclusions as Abner Jones.[1] Like Jones, Elias Smith had turned to Universalism at one point, trying to find a way to soothe the sins of his childhood.[2] In 1801, Elias Smith (already a preacher) was convinced by his brother and was a Universalist for a period of 15 days before seeing he was embracing error.[3] Both Jones and Smith had determined that Calvinism was wrong and that there was no authority for the name “Baptist.”

During this time, Smith had also begun a congregation of five people. They acquired a meeting hall, but it burned to the ground in December of 1802. They were determined to carry on and to only “follow the New Testament order and wear the name, Christian.”[4] By the time he met Abner Jones again, the number of members had grown to ten. The small number was due in part to the fierce opposition to an independent “church of Christ…Christians without the addition of any unscriptural name.”[5]

Jones admitted to being influenced by Smith, yet it seems that when they met again in 1803, it was Abner Jones who did the influencing.[6] Elias Smith suffered from instability, not truly able to decide which path to follow. This is seen in that many times throughout his later life he flirted with Universalism. He thought that if Calvinism was false, “then universalism¾its polar opposite¾must be true. Smith accepted and repudiated Universalism five times.”[7] He had felt that he was the only one who had come to the conclusions against Calvinism. Smith says this about their meeting: “In June, 1803, about the time of this difficulty [fighting against Calvinism], Elder Abner Jones, from Vermont, came to visit me, and was the first free man I had ever seen.”[8]

Elias had some interesting religious experiences before, including the time when his mother tried to force him to be “baptized” by sprinkling. He took off running from the building in protest, only to be dragged back by his uncle. Thus he was forced into the Congregationalist Church that his mother attended. Within a few years, he reflected on that practice and went to the Scriptures for answers. He saw the New Testament truth that baptism was only for believers and was by immersion.[9] This was one of the main emphases that he brought with him when he and Abner Jones met once more.

The Union of Forces

Because of their similar beliefs and conclusions, Abner Jones and Elias Smith declared themselves in fellowship with each other. Thus the two small movements of just a few congregations, joined together and strengthened each other. Because they viewed themselves as Christians only, there was no need for a formal document to unify the forces. It was less than a year after this unofficial union that the congregation where Elias Smith preached reached 150 members.[10] In 1804, leaving Elias in the congregation at Portsmouth, Abner Jones started congregations in the city of Boston and places surrounding it.[11] The movement towards restoring the Lord’s church was moving forward.

In 1805, the congregations had a meeting “to draw up church articles.”[12] This was done because of the familiarity with church articles and creeds in all the denominations which surrounded them. Just as it was difficult to initially leave the ideas of their Baptist upbringing, it was hard to leave other things of which they were familiar and comfortable. However, this “Christian Conference…agreed that their articles were useless and so they abandoned them, taking only the New Testament” as the guide for all Christians.[13]

The brethren in New England were a connected group of Christians, and as such began to be recognized by the collective term “the Christian Connexion.”[14] This was not a term making them a denominational group, but merely a term to emphasize the fellowship between the different congregations. By 1807, there were 14 such known congregations in that area and twelve preachers working with them.[15]

In the southern states, as well as other places, more people had come to the same conclusions as had Jones and Smith. One such person was James O’Kelly, who led a group who left the Methodist Church, calling themselves “Republican Methodists.” At their beginning, in 1794, they claimed to have 1,000 members.[16] They had guiding principles for their movement, much of which mirrored what Jones and Smith were advocating. Soon afterwards, they decided to go by the name “Christian Churches.”[17]

Within the O’Kelly-led movement, there was dissention about the role of baptism. William Guirey was an influential leader in the Republican Methodists who believed in the necessity of baptism by immersion. He was very pleased to learn that others were going by “Christian” alone and that they also had come to the same conclusion as he had on baptism. By 1809, this group united with the Christian Connexion.[18] It is strange to note, however, that shortly thereafter, James O’Kelly tried to break up the newly-made union between the two forces because of his belief on baptism. It seems that he was holding on to his Methodist upbringing about faith-only being a “most wholesome doctrine and full of grace.”[19]

The Herald of Gospel Liberty

With Abner Jones spending his time preaching, Elias Smith became the leading voice in the newly-united movement. Though he had less than a year of formal education, Elias Smith was an able writer and speaker. He started a publication near the end of 1808 called The Herald of Gospel Liberty which he was the first religious periodical to ever be published.[20] It initially had 274 subscribers.[21]

That these Christians had become aware of some other restoration movements around the still-growing country is obvious from this periodical. On the back page of the first issue, Elias Smith printed¾in full¾“The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.”[22] The Springfield Presbytery was a small group of Presbyterians who realized many of the errors of Calvinism and of man-made religions. Unfortunately, in protesting one man-made religious body, they created another. They did see their error, and this document, written in 1804[23], was the official dissolution of their group, as well as a call to only follow the Bible.[24]

The Herald of Gospel Liberty was as unstable, however, as Elias Smith himself was. The publication was moved numerous times in the decade of its existence. At one point there were over 1,000 subscribers to the paper. In the final issue of this periodical, Elias Smith announced “that he had gone into universalism.”[25] There is some well-founded speculation that Alexander Campbell was familiar with that paper. Campbell was at the very least, acquainted with who Elias Smith was, as well as his doctrinal position. James North relays this:

The Stone Movement had been called “Christians.” But Alexander Campbell did not like that term. Because the Smith-Jones Movement also used the same term; and because the Smith-Jones Movement was tinged with a good deal of Unitarianism, Campbell was convinced the term was tainted.[26]

Smith did start another publication called the Christian Herald, which lasted a bit longer than his previous paper. With the changes in stances, Smith’s influence waned and the publication was bought out by a publishing company.



[1] Gardner, James. The Christians of New England (Hester Publications, Henderson, TN 2008) Pgs 19-20

[2] North, Union In Truth, pg 25.

[3] New England Christians

[4] West, Earle. The Search For The Ancient Order: Volume I (Gospel Light Publishing, DeLight, AR. 1950) Pg 14.

[5] Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Beck and Foster, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816). Pg 320-321

[6] North. Union in Truth, Pg 26.

[7] New England Christians

[8] Smith, Elias. The Life of Elias Smith. Pg 321

[9] Gardner. Christians of New England. Pg20.

[10] West. Ancient Order I. Pg 14.

[11] North. Union in Truth. pg 26.

[12] West. Ancient Order I, Pg 14

[13] ibid.

[14] Olbricht. Christian Connexion.

[15] North. Union in Truth. Pg 26

[16] ibid, Pg 16.

[17] ibid, pgs 18-19,

[18] ibid, pg 27.

[19] Caldwell, G.C. “Baptism: the Core of Controversy in the Restoration Movement” Florida College Lectures, 1976, pg 242.

[20] Phillips, Dabney. Restoration Principles and Personalities. (Youth In Action, University, AL, 1975) Pg 18.

[21] Womack. Thirteen Lessons. Pg 54.

[22] North. Union in Truth. Pg 63.

[23] Womack. Thirteen Lessons . Pg 62.

[24] Davis, A.M. The Restoration Movement in the Nineteenth Century. (Standard Publishing, 1913) Pgs 149-150.

[25] West. Ancient Order I. Pg 15.

[26] North. Union in Truth, Pg 164.

Abner Jones – Part Two

The following comes from Abner Jones: Christian Only (by Bradley Cobb) and is available in the book Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 1).

We continue our story, already in progress from yesterday

What to Preach?

Baptist Doctrine?

Slowly, he began to get involved and pray and to preach at some meetings, but as of yet was not baptized, which was not a surprise considering that it is not deemed necessary for salvation in the faith in which he was raised. The urge to be baptized, though, weighed heavily on him. He finally followed through with this in 1793 at age 20 by Elisha Ransom, a preacher from the Baptist Church.[1] Six days later, Abner Jones became reacquainted with Elias Smith, a friendship which would later lead to great strides towards restoring the New Testament church.[2]

After a few months, Abner was regularly preaching things he had been taught, all the while looking into the Scripture and wondering how some of the Baptist doctrines could be right. He searched for evidence to prove Calvinism was in the Bible, but “discovered that they [the Baptist preachers] preached complete contradictions on the subject.”[3] He was very confused about these things, and he took to seeking the inspired word’s message on the matters. He discovered, as did many others in the Restoration Movement, that many of the doctrines he had been embracing were not to be found in Scripture.

The first problem he noted was the name “Baptist.” He correctly discovered that there is no group of “Baptists” in the Bible. From that point onward, he determined to be called nothing but a Christian.[4] After that, he looked into how Baptists founded congregations. He looked at the articles of faith, the church covenants, their constitutions, and their leadership counsels and found that they were all, as he calls them, “anti-Christian” and “as popish and unscriptural as infant sprinkling.”[5] They were traditions of men, and not from God. When these things were presented before the minister of the Baptist congregation, Abner was told that those things to which he objected were necessary, though the man could not recall the Scriptures that commanded them, “because they were not in the Bible.”[6] Other Baptists acted as though he was insane and that he “had denied the Bible.”[7]

The Fight Against Calvinism

From that point, Abner Jones fought vigorously within his mind against the ideas of Calvinism,[8] especially that of predestination;[9] but he did not make his views public for almost five years for fear that he would be viewed as a castaway.[10] He assumed that he was the only one in the world who finally understood the simple truth contained in the Bible, not realizing that many other people in the United States were coming to that very same conclusion at around that same time.[11] During those five years, he felt lonelier and lonelier as he struggled against the knowledge which was in him. It is during this time that he became a medical doctor, practicing what was called “frontier medicine.”[12]

When he finally gave up fighting and turned back to the Lord in 1800, many asked “what has befallen Dr. Jones?” or said “he is a little deluded, he will soon get over it.”[13] After this return to following what he had found in God’s word, he proceeded to preach to whomever would listen. A man by the name of Peck invited him to come speak in his house to all the neighbors he could round up. He was shortly thereafter invited to many more houses in the area to preach. Many more requests of him were made in subsequent meetings.

Because of filling these meeting requests, his medical practice suffered. His wife was worried about what would befall them and their family with the lack of funds coming in. He reminded her that, before they were married, he had told her that he knew he would eventually have to preach. He had told her that if that was not acceptable, not to marry him.[14]

It was in 1801, in Lyndon, Vermont, that Abner Jones began a congregation of “Christians only.” Disagreeing with the Baptists, they called their congregation a “Christian Church.”[15] Some historians argue for different years, some stating this took place in September of 1800[16], while still others present a date of September of 1802.[17] His son states that it was September of 1801.[18] This simple congregation of just over a dozen members set about to go back to New Testament Christianity.[19]

In February, 1802, a surprising event occurred. Three men among many to whom he preached pulled Abner Jones aside and stated “we understand that you have a family, and we believe the Lord has called you to preach. And we conclude it is our duty to take your family and take care of them, in order that you might be liberated to preach.”[20] After a time, he took them up on their offer and felt free to preach without concern for his family’s well-being.

One of the places where he went to preach was Hanover. The people of Hanover, New Hampshire responded well to the message of free-will that Mr. Jones preached. The only doctrine they had heard, perhaps in their entire lives, was that of Calvinism. They had taken that false doctrine to heart and understood it to mean that nothing they did mattered: if God wanted them to be saved, they would be, if God wanted them lost, there was nothing they could do to change His mind.[21]

His preaching against the tenants of Calvinism led him into great favor with the Free-Will Baptists. They ordained him a minister in 1802.[22] This was done, not because he agreed with them (for he still taught that the name “Baptist” was not scriptural), but because it gave him more clout and freedom to go about with places to preach. During this time, the Free-Will Baptists accepted him readily, even though he “refused to submit to their rules and regulations.”[23] He insisted that he was a “Christian only” and that the congregations he established were not Baptist, but Christian churches. Within the next few years, Jones established congregations in Bradford, Vermont and Piermont, New Hampshire.[24]


[1] New England Christians.

[2] Mattox, Eternal Kingdom, Pg 313.

[3] Jones, Memoirs, pg 59

[4] New England Christians.

[5] Jones, Memoirs, Pg 61.

[6] ibid, 63.

[7] ibid.

[8] Gielow, Frederick, Jr. Popular Outline of Church History (Standard Publishing, 1926) Pg 184.

[9] Olbricht, Tom. “Christian Connexion and Unitarian Relations 1800-1844” Restoration Review Vol. 9, No. 3 (1966).

[10] ibid, 66

[11] Womack, Morris. Thirteen Lessons on Restoration History. (College Press, Joplin, MO, 1988) Pgs 52-55.

[12] New England Christians.

[13] Jones, Memoirs, Pg 75.

[14] ibid, 99-100

[15] North, James. Union In Truth: An Interpretive History of the Restoration Movement (Standard Publishing, 1994)   Pg 26.

[16] Haley, J.J. Makers and Molders of the Reformation Movement (Christian Board of Education, St. Louis, 1914) Pg 43.

[17] Jennings, Walter Wilson. Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ (Standard Publishing, 1919). Pg 64.

[18] Jones, A.D. Memoirs of Elder Abner Jones (Crosby, Boston 1842)

[19] Haley, Makers and Molders, pg 43.

[20] ibid, 103

[21] ibid, 106-107.

[22] New England Christians

[23] ibid.

[24] Vogel, Dan. Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1988), online text (see Bibliography).

Abner Jones – Part One

Roundhouse started yesterday (and Happy Birthday, Brad!), and that means almost two full weeks away from the computer.  But we don’t want to leave you with nothing to read during that time!

So this week, we hope you’ll enjoy reading about a man named Abner Jones.  He was a preacher from the late 1700s/early 1800s who realized that his denomination was teaching and binding things that were not in the Bible.

By the time you read all the posts this week, you will have read the entire work, Abner Jones: Christian Only by Bradley Cobb (which is also included in Abner Jones: A Collection, Volume 1).


His Early Life

From Childhood to “Conversion”

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Four years earlier, in Royalton, Massachusetts, Mr. and Mrs. Asa Jones[1] had their fifth child, a son. The Jones’ had both been raised as “Calvinist Baptist[s],”[2] and proceeded to bring up their own children, including newborn Abner Jones, in the same way. Asa Jones was a preacher for the Baptists, whose “prayers and admonitions” weighed heavily on young Abner’s mind, even as a young child.[3] Abner himself later confessed that this time was spent with “much concern” about his eternal well-being.[4]

At age eight, amidst the War for Independence, Mr. Jones moved the family to Bridgewater, Vermont.[5] At this point, the area was basically wilderness,[6] and the family built their home out of trees that they cut from the area. Being the first family to move into that area, their nearest neighbor was at least two miles away.[7]

Throughout his youth, Abner was tormented by depression. He felt a constant struggle for inner happiness which could not be found. He sought for it in religion, desperately looking for peace. In his Memoirs, Jones says the following: “But to return to the situation of my mind…I know not a better similitude than the wilderness in which I then dwelt…dreary and melancholy.”[8]

One summer, a series of events happened in Woodstock, Vermont which turned many people’s minds towards religion. Indians plundered some nearby towns, worms destroyed most crops of all the farmers in the area, and a hunting accident involving the decapitation of a man caused the people¾including Abner Jones¾to think about their eternal life. These events caused him to reflect, but he felt “ashamed to let anyone know that [he] felt concerned about [his] soul.”[9] Because of this, he kept his thoughts secret.

This young child felt the need of religion, and was “fully convinced that [he] must be born again or be damned.”[10] At age ten, the need he felt was even stronger. He heard of a meeting wherein many people were converted, but this did not satisfy him, because of the depression he felt. He said that even at this time, “all was darkness and gloominess.”[11] He still fought against religion, thinking that even though he needed it, it would not satisfy his mind.

It was about this time that he went to a meeting where a Baptist preacher named Snow was speaking. On his way there, he prayed for God to have mercy upon him. He desperately desired that he would receive some relief from his terrible condition that night. When he arrived, all appeared to be gloomy, and he resigned himself to knowing that this day would be no different than the rest. About this event, Jones relates:

I do not remember that the thought ever passed my mind that religion yielded any joy or peace; all the advantage I thought of, was that it would save the soul from eternal misery; and on that account I felt desirous to obtain it; feeling fully satisfied of my lost undone situation… (though I cannot say that I saw myself hanging immediately over hell as some have discovered themselves).[12]

At that meeting, however, Abner suddenly felt alive inside. He observed the preacher speaking of something not melancholy, but joyful. Asa Jones arose and spoke some more words which seemed to his son as something he had never before heard from his father. At the time, Abner thought the difference was not with his own perception, but with the speakers who spoke of joy and gloriousness. Inside, Abner finally felt peace.[13]

This inner joy was short-lived. The happiness crept away, and he did not understand why. Many days passed when the thought of Luke 15:24 entered into his mind: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found.” According to Jones, this is the first time that a Scripture went to his heart. He took this to mean that he had been dead in sin, but was at this point alive in Christ. He said “from that moment, a hope sprang up in my soul for eternal life.”[14] Many times afterwards, though, he did doubt that this was truly the moment of his salvation.[15]

Years of Rebellion

After the events previously described, Abner determined to keep his “conversion” to himself for the rest of his life. This did not last very long because he revealed to his mother and one of her friends that he had a secret. This knowledge led to the women harping at him until finally one of them guessed the secret. When he finally acknowledged it, he felt once again free from the depression that seemed to plague his early life. It was only later in life that he was able to see that the events of happiness coincided with his belief (as mentioned earlier), and here with his confession of Jesus before others.[16]

His joy remained for a short period of time, after which he realized that the Lord had commanded for all who believe to be baptized. Instead of obeying the command which he knew was from Christ, he shrunk back from it. This cast him into a deep depression, a “darkness that might be felt.”[17] This depression lasted for several months, and during that time his only happiness came from knowing that he would eventually die and be freed from this earth.[18]

He knew he needed to be baptized, but continually fought against it because he felt he was too miserable of a person. It was due to this refusal that he says of himself “I wandered in darkness.”[19] He went to other meetings trying to regain the hope and joy which he had earlier felt, but to no avail. One night, the realization sprang upon him that his “soul was eternally undone.”[20] He understood his completely lost condition at that time and knew God would be justified if He were to send Abner to hell at that moment. He spoke to his mother the next morning and told her “I am going right to hell.”[21] Being a Calvinist, his mother tried to convince him that he might be among those predestined, but he fell into a depression deeper than he had ever previously experienced.[22]

From this point onward, though there were moments of light, he began to stop caring about God, and he hardened his heart towards religion. When his father died in 1786, Abner’s heart was hardened even further. His oldest brother came to Vermont shortly thereafter. This brother was a worldly person, dedicating his life to the pursuit of merriment and arguing against religion. He was “in favor of universalism”[23] which is the doctrine that everyone will be saved, regardless of how they live.[24]

For the next six years, Abner did everything he could to embrace universalism in an effort to ease his conscience. As a result of embracing this doctrine, he “led a rather immoral life during his teen years.”[25] He set about to banish every thought of religion from his mind. He determined that if anyone should ask of him why he had changed, he would give no answer at all. This refusal to answer shows that he understood the things in which he involved himself were wrong. He was now determined to follow after “vanity and folly.”[26] Though he felt empty inside, his pride kept him in his sin. In order to quench thoughts of his need to follow God, he carried on even more in the vanity. There were times where he thought he should return to following God, but the thought of what his friends would say made him abandon the thought.[27]

His attempts at becoming rich all ended with sickness or injury. He tried being an apprentice, but a severe sickness incapacitated him and he had to return home. In January of 1791 while cutting wood, he accidentally chopped into his foot. It was at age eighteen that he exerted himself to the extent that he burst himself, apparently a reference to an extremely bad hernia. The surgeons were unable to adequately fix his problem, so from that point onward he was unable to do any physical labor.[28] He made one last go of business, but that ended with a terrible fever that lasted for weeks.[29] Abner viewed all of these injuries and illnesses as God punishing him for not being baptized. Yet still he ignored God’s command.[30]

He went back to Bridgewater, where a reformation of sorts had taken place. There were many new “converts” in the city, and finally he was convinced to go to meeting. Before the meeting was over, Abner Jones realized his completely “awful situation.”[31] This event, more than any other to that point, made him realize that he needed to turn to the Lord. He reflected on his past with shame, knowing he had ignored what he knew to be right. Even so, he did not do what he knew he must and remained in that situation for months.[32]

[1] www.pioneerpreachers.com

[2] Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching of Abner Jones. (Norris and Sawyer, 1807) Pg 4.

5 ibid, 5.

[4] ibid, 5.

[5] The New England Christians (see bibliography)

[6] Burnett, J.F. Rev. Abner Jones: The Man Who Believed and Served. (unknown publisher, 1921) Pg 6

[7] Jones: Memoirs, Pg 5.

[8] ibid, 7

[9] ibid, 10.

[10] ibid, 11.

[11] ibid, 12.

[12] ibid, 12-13.

[13] ibid 13-14.

[14] ibid, 15.

[15] ibid.

[16] ibid, 17-19.

[17] ibid, 19.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] ibid, 23.

[21] ibid, 24.

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid, 25.

[24] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

[25] New England Christians.

[26] Jones: Memoirs, Pg 27.

[27] ibid, 28.

[28] ibid, 33.

[29] ibid, 38.

[30] ibid, 29-33.

[31] ibid, 42-43

[32] ibid, 43-44.

Sermon Thursday – The Nature of the Church

This week, we continue our series on “Fundamentals of the Faith.”  This week’s topic: What is the Nature of the Church?


Want to be confused? Read these quotes:

“The church is a purely human institution created by man to control the minds of people.”
“The church is a divinely given institution created by God to bring people back to Him.”
“The church is a divinely given institution created by God when His first plan goofed up.”
“The church is comprised of every denomination that claims to believe in Jesus.”
“The church is comprised of some denominations, but only those who believe Jesus is eternal.”
“The church IS a denomination.”
“The church is comprised of those who come to God in faithful obedience to His commands.”
“The church is something you can join (choose the church of your choice).”
“The church is something you have to be voted into.”
“The church is something that God puts you in.”

Confused yet?

All these things are said by people about the church. Most of them are things said by various denominations about the church. All you have to do is look across the religious landscape of our country to see that there is a lot of confusion about the nature of the church.

But we’re not interested in what people say about the church; we should only be interested in what the Bible says about the church.

What does the Bible says about the nature of the church?
Who created the church and why?
Who is in the church?
How do they get into the church?

These are the questions we will examine from the Bible today.

Who created the church, and why?

Matthew 18:16 – Jesus said, “I will build my church.”  It is absolutely true that there are some churches that were created by man—many of them for the purpose of getting rich (like the Mormons). But the church of the Bible was created by Jesus Christ, at the direction of God the Father.

Daniel 2:44 – In the days of these kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom (the church) which shall never be destroyed.  The church of the Bible—the ONLY true church—was created by Jesus Christ, and was in existence beginning in Acts 2.

Acts 2:47 – And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  We covered this in the last lesson, but just to repeat it, the church of the Bible was created by God through Jesus Christ.  This is why Scriptures refer to it as the church of God as well as the church of Christ.

But WHY was it created?

To fulfill prophecy.

Isaiah 2:1-4, Joel 2:28-32, and Daniel 2:44 were all fulfilled when the church was established in Acts 2.

Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter, and he specifically said that the things which were taking place on Pentecost were fulfilling that prophecy (Acts 2:16).

Isaiah 2:1-4 said that in the last days of Jerusalem, God’s kingdom would be established and His law would go forth from Jerusalem.

On Pentecost, 40 years before Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, God’s kingdom (the church) was established in Jerusalem, and the new law of God went forth from there.

Daniel 2:44 prophesied that the kingdom would be set up in the days of the kings of the Roman Empire—which is exactly the time that the church was set up.

To replace the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people.

Read the parable of the householder in Matthew 21:33-43.  Jesus said that the kingdom would be taken away from the Jewish nation and given to a nation that was bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom (21:43).

To the Christians, Peter wrote “You are a chosen generation, a holy nation, a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9).  Christians are the nation of God that brings forth the fruit of the kingdom—and they do that by spreading the word of God (Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 8:11).

Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.  This was spoken to Jews – and they were told that salvation only comes through Christ.  The Jews were basically told that being a Jew meant nothing anymore, because salvation is only through Jesus Christ.

God made the final rejection of the Jews permanent when He sent the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.  It has been physically impossible to follow the Law of Moses since that date.  There’s no temple to worship in.  There’s no altar to offer sacrifices.  There’s no priesthood—let alone a Jewish high priest.  There’s no genealogical records—no one could even prove that they are from the tribe of Levi.

The church is God’s only chosen people.

To proclaim God’s word, and to reveal the great wisdom of God.

Ephesians 3:10-11 – To the intent that now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jude 3 – contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. The faith, the wisdom of God, the PLAN of God which He purposed in Jesus Christ has been fulfilled in the establishment of the church.  And it the responsibility of the church to make that message known to the world (II Timothy 2:2, Mark 16:15-16).

Why is it important that we understand why the church was created? Because the Scriptures say that it was in God’s plan…

  • In the 500’s BC (when Daniel prophesied).
  • In the 700’s BC (When Isaiah prophesied).
  • In the 800’s BC (When Joel prophesied).
  • Before the creation of the world (Ephesians 3:10-11 – the “eternal purpose of God which was purposed in Christ Jesus,” the “Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world” – Revelation 13:8).

Yet a very prominent teaching in some denominations is that Jesus came to set up an earthly kingdom, but somehow God goofed and had to quickly come up with an emergency back-up plan because Jesus got rejected.  They teach that the church was put in as a temporary measure until God is ready to send Jesus back to try again.

So, which one is right? Man or the Bible?

What is the church?

The word “church” is used different ways today.  Is it the building (there’s my church…)?  Is it the worship service (“going to church”)?  Is it one specific denomination (the Catholic Church…)?

What does the Bible say?

The word “church” is used in two ways to describe God’s people.

The universal church, comprised of every saved person everywhere in the world.  Ephesians 5:23 – “Christ is the head of the church.”  This refers to all Christians everywhere, not just a certain group of them.  And it doesn’t refer to anyone who isn’t a Christian.

The local group of Christians, comprised of those who meet together in one certain location.  To Philemon our dearly beloved and fellow-laborer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church that meets in thy house” (Philemon 1-2).  Paul wrote “to the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2).

Who is in the church?

Truthfully, this is quite plain from the Scriptures.

Acts 2:47 – and the Lord added to the church daily, those who were being saved.  The church is composed of the people who have been saved.

Acts 20:28 – …the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  The church is composed of the people who have been bought with the blood of Christ (another way of saying “the people who have been saved”).

The church is made up ONLY of saved people, but just as important to remember, EVERY saved person is in the church.

There are no saved people outside of the church.

People who claim to be saved, but say they’re not part of the church are actually saying they aren’t really saved.

How does one become a member of the church of the Bible?

There’s lots of different ways to become members of man-made churches.  But we’re not interested in man-made churches; we’re interested only in the church of the Bible.

As we’ve seen, one becomes a member of the church of the Bible by being saved.  When you are saved, God adds you to His one true church (Acts 2:47).

So, the question that we really need to ask is this: How can I be saved?   And when we answer the question, “How can I be saved?” then we have the answer to “how do I become a member of the church of the Bible?”

In order to be saved, there has to be a Savior.  That Savior is Jesus Christ, and He has already done His part in dying on the cross so that we can attain forgiveness of our sins.

In order to be saved, we have to hear about his offer of salvation.  If you’re drowning, and you don’t know about the life-preserver that has been thrown out, you’re going to die.  But when you hear about that life preserver, you can start trying to find it.  You can’t be saved by Jesus Christ without first hearing about Him (which is made clear in Acts 2:22-24).

In order to be saved, we have to believe in Jesus Christ, and that He died and was raised up (Romans 1:16, 10:9).

In order to be saved, we have to repent of our sins (Acts 3:19).

In order to be saved, we have to confess Jesus Christ (Romans 10:10).

In order to be saved, we have to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

After, and only after we do those things, we are saved, and God adds us to the church—His church.

There are some denominations who say that being saved isn’t good enough to be part of their church—they have to vote on you, whether or not they want you as part of their church.  Any church that does that is not the church of the Bible.

When you are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ through baptism, you are a part of the church of the Bible, the church that belongs to Christ. Period. There are no extra steps.

The church is the spiritual body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23), the chosen people of God who have been saved by the blood of His dear Son (Acts 20:28).

Have you been saved?

Salvation is easy, and it is within your reach.


–Bradley Cobb

Sermon Thursday – The Establishment of the Church

Today, we continue our series on “Fundamentals of the Faith.”  Today’s topic is the establishment of the church.  Enjoy!


Everyone knows what the church is! Well, not exactly. Just like baptism (which we discussed in the last lesson), there is a lot of confusion about the church. This is even true about people who are parts of the many different churches that exist!

What kind of confusion, you may ask?

There is confusion about who founded the church (was it Moses? John the Baptist? Jesus? Peter? Joseph Smith? Alexander Campbell? Or one of the many other people since Bible times?)

There is confusion about when the church was founded (was it in the Old Testament? Did Jesus found it while He was on earth? Was it founded when Jerusalem was destroyed? Pentecost perhaps?)

There is confusion about where the church was established (Jerusalem? Rome? Mt. Sinai? England?)

And those questions all deal just with the “founding” of the church. With all these questions and disagreements, can we know the answers?  We can if we stop listening to what people say and let the Bible speak for itself.  Today, we will look at these questions and be able to come to a Bible-based conclusion, free from all opinions.

But before we do that, we have one thing that we must look at.  The church is the kingdom that was promised in the Old Testament. This is a subject of debate among some people, but the Bible is actually quite plain on it.  Some argue that the kingdom won’t exist until Jesus comes again, but we will prove that theory false with a few plain statements from the Bible.

First, look at Matthew 16:16-19.  And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus answered and said unto Him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…”

Notice that Jesus told Peter, “I will build my CHURCH,” and “I will give you the keys to the KINGDOM of heaven.”  Jesus was using the two words (church and kingdom) interchangibly. But, lest someone objects, let’s go a bit further.

Keys are for opening things (like doors) so that someone can enter. Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, so that means Jesus expected Peter to be able to open the door to the kingdom.  If the church isn’t the same as the kingdom, then Peter never got to use those keys—because he’s been dead almost 2,000 years.

It’s also worth noting that Jesus said Peter would do this while Peter was still alive—on earth.  “Whatever THOU (Peter) shall bind ON EARTH…”  Without any doubt, Jesus’ kingdom existed on earth while Peter was still alive.

The kingdom is the church—and we’ll see that even clearer as we go through the lesson.

Who founded the church of the Bible?

There are many different religious groups, all with different founders—can we know which one is right?  If we look to the Bible, we can.

Daniel 2:44 – “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.”  We will look at “the days of these kings” a bit later, but right now I want you to concentrate on the words “the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom.”   Who set up, built, or founded this kingdom? God did.

Matthew 16:18 – “I [Jesus] will build my church…”  Who did Jesus say would build the church? Himself.  Whose church did He say it was? His church.

This seems so simple that it ought to be obvious, but the fact is there are a lot of religious groups who claim to be the church (or part of the church) who claim different founders than Jesus Christ.  Joseph Smith is the founder of the Mormons.  Charles Taze Russell is the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Ellen G. White is the founder of the Seventh-Day Adventists.  John Wesley is the founder of the Methodists.  John Calvin is the founder of the Presbyterians.      Martin Luther is the founder of the Lutherans.

The Baptist Church claims that their founder is John the Baptist.  But if you read Matthew, you’ll see that John the Baptist was dead in chapter 14. And in chapter 16, Jesus said “I will build my church.”  This is in future tense, as in the church isn’t built yet, but it will be built. If John had founded the church, then one of two things must be true:  (1) John’s church isn’t Jesus’ church (because Jesus hadn’t built his yet). Or (2) Jesus was lying about the building of the church still being in the future.  Neither one of these options match with the Bible.  The fact is, John never established a church—Jesus did.

There is only ONE church in the Bible, and it didn’t come until after John the Baptist was already dead.

When was the church of the Bible founded?

Daniel 2:44 – “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.”  When Daniel said this, he had been explaining the meaning of a dream that the king of Babylon had.   It was of a big statue with a head of gold, chest of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. He said that the head represented Babylon (2:37-38). He said that the chest of silver was another kingdom that would come after them (Which, historically was the Persian Empire) (2:39).  And a third kingdom was represented by the belly and thighs of brass (historically, this is Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire). Then a fourth kingdom that would rule the world and break them like iron (historically, the next world empire was Rome) (2:40).\

And then Daniel says “in the days of THESE kings, God will set up a kingdom.”  So, based on Daniel’s prophecy, the kingdom (church) would be set up during the days of the Roman Empire.

Just for historical reference, the Roman Empire began around 100 BC (or thereabouts), and fell in the year 476.  The church—God’s kingdom—had to have been set up before that date.

Matthew 3:1-2 – In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  If something is “at hand” that means that it is near—very close.  In the days of John the Baptist (which was during the time of the Roman Empire), the kingdom was very near—but it hadn’t come yet.

Matthew 4:17 – From that time, Jesus began to preach and to say “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  This was said during Jesus’ life on earth—the kingdom was very close, but it hadn’t come yet.

Matthew 16:18 – “I will build my church…”  This is close to the end of Jesus’ life, and the church still hadn’t come.  Well, we’re seeing that it hasn’t been built yet at these points, but when did it actually begin to exist?

Acts 2:47 – “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”  This is on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus died.  This is when Peter started preaching (Acts 2:14)—giving people access to the church (using the “keys of the kingdom”).  According to this verse, the church existed at this point.  After all, you can’t be added to something that doesn’t exist.

Some people still say, “well, the church existed, but the kingdom still hasn’t come yet.”  Let’s let the Bible speak to answer this objection.

Colossians 1:13 – “[God] has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”      This is spoken in the past tense, describing something that has already happened.  God had already transported people INTO the kingdom of his dear Son.  You can’t be put into something if it doesn’t already exist.  The kingdom existed already when that was written.

Revelation 1:9 – “I, John, am your companion…in the kingdom.”  John said he was in the kingdom—and he died over 1900 years ago.   The kingdom had to already exist for him to be in it.

The church was established after Jesus died, and people began entering it on the Day of Pentecost (which was during the days of the Roman Empire).

Where was the church of the Bible established?

Isaiah 2:1-3 – “Concerning the last days of Judah and Jerusalem – and it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it…for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

According to this prophecy about the kingdom of God, where would it be established? Jerusalem.

Acts 1:4 – [Jesus] commanded them [the apostles] that they should not depart from Jerusalem.

Acts 2:5 – And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven.

Acts 2:14 – Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted his voice and said, “Ye men of Judea and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem…”

This is the chapter we looked at earlier where we saw the church was established.  Where were they? IN JERUSALEM.

Any church that was established somewhere other than Jerusalem cannot be the church of the Bible.


Any church that was founded by someone other than Jesus Christ is not the church of the Bible.

Any church that was founded after the day of Pentecost is not the church of the Bible.

Any church that was founded somewhere other than Jerusalem is not the church of the Bible.

I could spend a lot of time going through the various churches and when/where they were established and by whom, but the important thing to ask is “Am I a part of the church talked about in the Bible?”

The church talked about in the Bible was founded by Jesus Christ, and follows the laws given by Him.  If you want to be part of the church talked about in the Bible, then you have to do the things that the people in the Bible were told to do in order to be a part of it.  Hear about Jesus (Acts 2:22-24).   Believe (Acts 8:37).  Repent (Acts 3:19). Confess (Acts 8:37).  Be baptized (Acts 22:16).

When you do what they did, you will be added to the same church that they were added to, for God’s church will never end, never be destroyed.

The way into the church has never changed!  Come join the church of the Bible today!

-Bradley Cobb

Is the Church a Denomination?

James Bales wrote a tract with the above title many years ago (my copy is so brittle that is didn’t survive the scanning process).  We present it here for your enjoyment and consideration.

Is the Church a Denomination?

We are faced with religious divi­sion and the denominational conception of Christianity. These various denominations did not always exist. Secular history records their origin and they are not mentioned in the New Testament. They exist in spite of the New Testament, for Christ prayed for unity which would be based on His Word (John 17:20). Yet when people today discover that you are a Christian they ask you to what denomination you belong. They cannot conceive of one who is just a Christian without being some particular brand of a Christian. This is in contrast to the fact that in the days of Paul if one said that he was a Christian no one would then ask him, What denomination do you represent.

I. Denominationalism: Its Meaning, Cause, Curse, Naming and Cure

The Meaning of Denominational­ism.

Denominationalism as it exists among professed Christians is the organization of professed Christians into different religious bodies. These bodies do not claim to be the whole church, but only a part of it. It means that people regard the church as something which is divided, with various groups with different faiths and practices in many instances. Denominationalism conceives Christianity as divided into sects.

The Causes of Denominationalism.

First, the party, self-centered, spirit which attempts to build up a certain group instead of the church as a whole. These look away from the Bible and walk more or less by their own wisdom. Second, mis-interpretations of the scriptures which are pressed and bound on others to the point of divisions. Third, a division over personalities. People form groups around certain individuals (Acts 20:30). Some in Paul’s day tried to form parties around various preachers and Paul condemned that condition (I Corinthians 1:1042). Fourth, some do err and form denominations because they are ignorant of the Scriptures and of the power of God. Fifth, others build a sect on one passage of the Scripture, or one doc­trine, to the neglect of other passages and doctrines. Sixth, at the root of all denominationalism is sin in one form or another. Once a denomina­tion is formed it is perpetuated by the ignorance of its adherents of Bible teaching, by pride and by the party spirit. Children often take the religion of their parents without even once comparing what their denomination teaches with what the Bible teaches.

The Curse of Denominationalism.

First, it opposes the prayer of Christ for unity (John 17:20). Second, it is a cause of infidelity and brings reproach on Christ for people discredit the Bible by saying that it cannot be right and teach so many conflicting doctrines. However, the conflict is in the ignorance of the people and not in the Bible. Jesus prayed for a visible unity on earth that the world might believe (John 17:20). Third, such division is condemned by Paul (1 Cor. 1:10-12). Fourth, It is a mark of carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-4; Gal. J :19’21). Fifth, it consumes time and money because of the duplica­tion of work. Sixth, it hinders world evangelism because each tries to build up his own sect rather than convert the world.

The Source of Denominational Names,

First, names of persons. Second, names of countries. Third, names of ordinances. Fourth, names drawn from forms of church govern­ment. Fifth, some are named from a certain doctrine which they stress.

The Cure for Denominationalism.

First, the proper respect for Christ and for the word by which we are to be judged (John 12:48; Acts 17: 30). Second, a sincere effort to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where it is silent (1 Pet. 4:11). Third, a study of the New Testament to determine what constitutes the church. Fourth, a study of our own faith and practices in the light of the New Testament with the willingness to change wherein we fail to abide by the New Testament. Fifth, love and forbearance which do not press and bind differences of opinion (Rom. 14).

II. Is The Church of Christ A Denomination?

The Meaning of the Term “church.”

The Greeks used the term to design­ate an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate author­ity. In the Gospels, Christ said that I will build my church (Matt. 16: 18). The term is used, when speaking of His church, with reference first to individual congregations (Acts 8:1; 9:22, 26; Rom. 16:1, 4, 5; Gal. 1:2) and second the whole body of believers or Christians (Matt 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:10; Heb. 12:23). (Samuel W. Barnum, Smith’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the Bi­ble, 1868, p. 175).

The unbelieving Jews referred to it as the sect of the Nazarene and as the sect which was everywhere spok­en against (Acts 24:5; 28:22). They believed it was a division which had been cut off from the Jewish faith or church. However, that which they regarded as heresy (Acts 24:14), and as everywhere spoken against, constituted God’s church and God’s only church in this dispensation. The church, it is true, was named and cut off, separated, from all other reli­gious bodies. However, it was not a denomination in the modern sense of the term which defines a denomina­tion as a religious organization con­taining a part of the saved; a group which constitutes a part of the church instead of the whole church. What the Jews called a sect was in reality the church.

The church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18, 24; Eph. 1:22, 23). The saved are in Christ’s body, in His church, and they got there by being baptized into Christ (Eph. 5:23 Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:40, 41, 47; John 3:5). They are born into it (John 3:5). The church of Christ is not a part, it is the whole. It has done nothing to break itself off from those who are Christians and Christians only. It is not a denomination because: First, it is the body of Christ, composed of the saved, and there are no saved people outside of it. One cannot be a Christian with­out being a member of Christ’s church. Second, it was founded by Christ’s apostles and it is the only church founded by them. Third, it is characterized by the names which are set forth in the New Testament. Fourth, it does not preach a denominational message. Fifth, its head is Christ. Sixth, its creed is His word. Seventh, its wor­ship is in spirit and in truth. Eighth, it is entered by the new birth (John 3:5). Ninth, it is both undemoninational and anti-denominational.

There are those who deny that it is possible to be only a Christian. They assert that one must be denom­inational Christian. However, the disciples of Christ in Paul’s day were Christians only and we today can be Christians only by following God’s word. The seed, which is God’s word, when planted by itself in a heart, produces a Christian only (Luke 8:11). It takes something more or less than the Word of God to make something else.

It is true that some Christians have wandered into denominations. All who have been born of water and the Spirit have been added to the church by God Himself (Acts 2:38-47). However, those who have wandered into denominationalism ought to forsake it and be just Christians. They ought to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4).

It is true that members of the body of Christ often fail to live perfect lives. Thus at times they may adopt a denominational attitude and fail to respect both the voice and the silence of the Scripture. However, such shortcomings do not mean that de­nominationalism is approved or that the goal and message of the church of Christ is wrong. It means that in­dividual Christians fall short and that they ought to try to do better.

Friend, why not be a Christian and a Christian only? This is possi­ble, desirable, necessary and scriptural.