Friday, July 20, 2007

Reflections on the Church of Christ: The Great Apostasy

The church of Christ (cofC) shares with many Protestant sects that arose out of the 19th century Restoration Movement the belief that, between the end of the 1st century and the middles years of the 19th, there existed a period called "The Great Apostasy". In this period , it is said, the church fell away from the strictures instituted by Christ and the apostles and entered a time of deep heresy. The heresy came to an end, says the cofC, only when the church rejected mere human tradition and returned to the Bible as the foundation of all doctrine and practice.

I have little to say about this view - no subtle arguments, no lengthy refutations. I simply want us to think for a moment about a certain consequence of the view. This view entails that God abandoned the church for nearly two millennia. Do not answer that it was man who abandoned God. For we come to God only through his grace - the very first hint of faith is as much a product of grace as is the sanctity of Peter or of Paul. (We may resist that grace in our wickedness. But we cannot bridge that infinite divide that the Fall opened between us and God. God comes down. We do not go up except we take his hand.)

You, the cofC, do you think that you merit God's grace more than do all who came before? You, the cofC, do you think God so loveless that he would allow his church to simply cease to exist so soon after it began?

The Great Apostasy is great absurdity. You malign God if you hold to it.

(My objection here to the cofC is much like Augustine's objection to Donatism. Augustine argued that the Donatists, in their attempt to maintain a morally pristine church, maligned God and his power to heal the souls within it. Donatists, Augustine argued, make God out to be much weaker than in fact he is. I contend that the cofC does so as well.)


Erik said...

I like this little snippet. As a an ex-cofc to Catholic, I always enjoy learning more.

Thanks for it.

Franklin Mason said...

Our lives have taken similar paths. I'm ex-cofC Catholic too, but only recently have I begun to think in any depth about the religion of my youth. I really don't think it stands up well to scrutiny.

Adam said...

I quote from the Lunenburg letter, written by Alexander Campbell: "if there be no Christians in the Protestant sects, there are certainly none among the Romanists, none among the Turks, Pagans; and therefore no Christians in the world except ourselves . . . . Therefore, for many centuries there has been no church of Christ, no Christians in the world. . . . This cannot be; and therefore there are Christians among the sects."

This seems to directly contradict what you wrote, unless you are referring to other leaders of the RM. From what source can you prove that this is/was their position? Thanks.

Franklin Mason said...

I'm confused. What Campbell wrote seems to confirm what I said. It seems to be just what I said, said in a different way.

What have I missed?

Adam said...

The key to his statement is the "if....then" thinking. IF there be no Christians in other groups ("Romanists" included), THEN (here's the rest of the quote) "for many centuries there has been no church of Christ, no Christians in the world; and the promises concerning the everlasting kingdom of Messiah have failed, and the gates of hell have prevailed against his church! THIS CANNOT BE; and therefore there ARE Christians among the sects" (emphasis added).

Therefore, what he's saying is that if the CC/CofC/Disciples are the only Christians, then Jesus failed and Satan has won, which of course he did not believe, or, as he said, "This cannot be."

I hope that helps.

Franklin Mason said...

I read to quickly last night. I've got it now.

If I understand, Campbell thinks that only certain people in the "sects" were true Christians. The sects themselves - what I would call the Church (at least certain of the sects) - were not. Thus my point seems to stand. The cofC holds that there was no true Christian Church for nearly two millenia. This still seems absurd to me.

Adam said...

I kind of forgot about this blog for a while - oops. I think you are inserting ideas into Campbell's mind. Remember, before he was an independent, he was a Presbyterian and, later, a Baptist. He saw problems with their creeds and what he felt were misunderstandings of certain practices, but I don't think he ever swept away all "sects" (and I don't think he meant that word to be an attack) as unchristian. Thomas Campbell, in his "Declaration and Address", said, ". . . although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God." This indeed goes against your argument.

Re-read also my quoting of A.Campbell from the Lunenburg letter. He says clearly that if there are no Christians in Protestant sects, then there has been no church of Christ, which, in his words, "cannot be."