By Eusebio Tanicala, Ph.D.
Among us in the Churches of Christ, there are three points of view about the history of the church. These are (1) Uninterrupted continuity from the first century to the present; (2) A complete falling away or complete apostasy and a re-emergence on American soil historically related to the Stone- Campbell Movement, (3) A complete falling away or complete apostasy of people but the church existed in the seed, the word of God.
Let’s explain and analyze the three points of view.
A. Uninterrupted Continuity
Muslims, the INC-1914, and the Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) believe in the complete apostasy of the church that the Lord Jesus established in the first century. Muslims believe that God sent Muhammad as the last prophet in the 6th century. The INC-1914 preachers, on the other hand, believe in the apostasy of the first century church hence the re-emergence of the Iglesia ni Cristo in 1914 with Mr. Felix Manalo as God’s last messenger. Mormons also believe that the Church of Christ in the first century fell away so there’s a need for a new prophet – Joseph Smith.
Filipino apologists of Churches of Christ generally take the uninterrupted continuity of the church that Christ built but are hard pressed to produce historical records. One time this writer in a gospel meeting open forum was challenged to produce historical records or documents to prove the uninterrupted flow of Churches of Christ believers. Or show documents when Eusebio Tanicala was baptized, when my baptizer was baptized, and so on back to one of the apostles of the New Testament. In turning the table on the INC-1914 preacher, I countered, “Mr. RZ, I want you to produce historical records or birth certificates that you descended from Adam and Eve or else I will proclaim that you descended from monkeys.” The poor interrogator stopped asking questions.
Passages that we use to support this “uninterrupted continuity” are Daniel 2:44; Daniel 4:3; Daniel 4:34; Daniel 6:26: Daniel 7:14: Luke 1:33; Matthew 16:18; Romans 11:2-6; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 4:4; Hebrew 12:28; Revelation 12:4-6.
In submitting the above passages we understand that God would preserve a portion or a remnant of the faithful in all ages. If God promised to preserve and if He didn’t preserve the remnant, then God is a liar. But God cannot lie says Titus 1:2. Because God promised to preserve a remnant, we have to accept that item by faith. To demand a historical and evidentiary document is to show disbelief in the promise of God.
B. Complete Apostasy and Re-emergence on American Soil
Many American members of the Churches of Christ are inclined to this concept of apostasy and re-emergence of the Church via the American Restoration Movement. This group is confused because while they believe in complete apostasy yet it points to some historical markers in Massachusetts that some Puritan groups had congregations in the 1600s called “Church of Christ” who they also claim to be part of the Churches of Christ. But these congregations in the 1600s in the English colonies antedated the arrival of Alexander Campbell in September 1809 in New York. Tom Mapalo submitted to our blog a short article (from the Iloco magazine Bagnos of the 1970s) a historical document regarding this Massachusetts Puritan Church of Christ). This writer was the one who put that in the Iloco magazine which was a cover picture/caption of the magazine Firm Foundation. Dino A. Roldan has also submitted historical documents in our blog that prove that there were other groups outside the movement that sprang up from the preaching of Barton W. Stone as well as from the work of Thomas & Alexander Campbell. You could also check up the biography of Alexander Campbell and you’ll find that when he visited Scotland after moving to America in 1809, there were Churches of the same persuasion as he had. Which means that Alexander’s movement in America was not a “re-emergence of the church” from apostasy. They planted the seed in their hearts. They believed, obeyed, and practiced commandments and ordinances that Christ gave in the New Testament. These Americans became members of local congregations as were obedient people in Europe were members of local congregations of the universal church. Many continental Europeans continued on faithfully. Many people in Great Britain stayed close to the NT teachings so they were considered members of the universal church of Christ.
Some American church members believe in the story of Dr. Hans Grimm. (See the article under another title.) Dr. Hans Grimm who came from Central Europe says that his clan were members of a group that are nearly identical in beliefs and practices with those in the American Restoration Movement.
In view of the above observations the “re-emergence/restoration” view of some American brethren is not consistent. It should therefore be dropped.
C. The Church Exists in the Seed, the Word of God
Several American tract writers state that the church continues to exist as long as the seed, the word of God exists. They say that even if all disciples died as long as the seed, the gospel, the Bible does not disappear, the church is said to be existing. That when the seed, the gospel is preached in any century in any locality it produces the same church or disciples as was produced in the first century.
This explanation is, however, not persuasive. First, we define “church” as called out PEOPLE from the darkness of sin into the kingdom of Christ. So church is people. The seed, the Bible, is NOT church. Your Bible is not a church. An evangelistic sermon is not a church. The thousands of Bibles printed by the Philippine Bible Society stored in bodegas displayed in many bookstores are not thousand churches of Christ.
When we talk about the continuous existence of mango trees in the Philippines, we talk about TREES with roots, trunks, branches, twigs and leaves. Any Pinoy who insists that mango trees never stopped growing in the Philippines since it was first brought in and then argues regarding the presence of seeds as the same as the existence of mango trees is not a believable agriculture historian. A mango seed is NOT a mango tree.
I hope that this article is of help to our young preachers and church leaders.