Did the church of the first century disappear after the first century and resurface out of the Protestant movement when Alexander Campbell left his Presbyterian roots to go only by the Bible in the 18th century?
There is no doubt that when the Lord came to establish the church during the Roman Empire, that trouble was soon to follow. Around the time of the Roman Emperor Nero (65-68), Christians were being burned alive just 40 years later, no more apostles remained which meant that the church was no longer under their purity and guidance which led to perversions and changes within the church (Acts. 20:28-30). However, this did not cause the church to disappear.
Between A.D. 100-150, the apostolic fathers (those who knew apostles) continued to keep the purity of the gospel even though Gnosticism (which relied upon man’s wisdom and not God’s) had broken out among the church. But, false teachers did not stop church growth even between A.D. 150-250, when Christians were forced to worship in secret and in underground Christian cities because Roman Laws declared the Church of Christ as an illegal church. In A.D. 260-311, Christianity was legalized and were given free rights to worship God, but it was not until A.D. 292 that persecutions stopped. This later made easy access for the Catholic Church to be born incorporating paganism into the worship of God while claiming that they are the church of A.D. 33.
This opened doors of the 1,000 year reign, sinful babies, infant baptism, Celibacy, Easter Celebrations, and many others, but the church survived. In A.D. 469, when the Saxons invaded Britain overthrowing Christianity, they killed the Christian king Arthur the Great who was known and written about to only go by the Bible. Even during the Crusades of 1073 to gain Jerusalem back from Mohammad and the Muslims, Christians such as Gundulphus 1025, Berengar of Tours 1088, Pierre de Bruys 1140, Henry of Toulouse 1150 and several others were still found being persecuted as recorded in the Catholic church records of persecutions for preaching the whole council of God. Furthermore, in 1166 Christians are seen persuading Henry II and teaching autonomous congregations, practicing baptism for the remission of sins (which no other church did) and called themselves the true church of Christ. This church as well as the Church of Christ in Oxford 1157, the Hill Cliffe Church of 1357, the Wales church of Christ in 1417 and many others were established before Martin Luther in the late 1490's, John Calvin 1500's, the continental Anabaptist movement of 1525, before the reformation of 1517, and before the English separation from the Catholic church in 1596. Also a Catholic priest Abraham 1428, Thomas Begley 1431 from London, Richard Wick 1439, Brabram 1499 were all charged with heresy for preaching the whole council of God and burned alive by the Catholic church. The fact is that restoration of the church established by Christ has always been in motion.
Now, in the 1600's denominations such as Presbyterians, Baptist, Quakers and many others fled to America after the Catholic church tried to destroy them all during 8 civil wars. But, while they were fighting, a famous preacher for the Lord’s church emerges in the middle 1600's in England, Henry Denne. Also, a book entitled ‘Believers Baptism from Heaven and of Divine Institution’ was written in 1691 by Hercules Collins, a minister of a church of Christ in Wapping, England who stated that the church of Christ had been practicing baptism for the remission sins for the past 2 centuries which was before the catholic church labeled the Anabaptist who rebelled against the church because of their differences in baptism. Now, In 1701 a picture is seen labeled the church of Christ in Monksthorpe, 1653. Other churches of Christ would include the church of Christ at Loughton (1663) and the Wall End church of Christ 1662 who still worships there today. Also, John Milton who wrote ‘Paradise Lost’ left his Presbyterian religion and became a member of the Lord’s church in the 1600's.
But, during the 1600's the Lord’s church was labeled as and independent, separists or dissenting church. Also, many confused it to be part of the Baptist movement or under other such names. However, none of these congregations practice what Baptist or others denominations practice today. In fact, it is completely opposite. Now, all of these churches that are mentioned is well documented in believing that: the body of Christ is the universal church, that it was founded by Christ and must wear a name that honors him, Christ is the only creed (the bible) and must be scriptural in organization, each congregation is autonomous and partake in the 5 commands of worship, no clergy laity allowed and that Gospel preachers wear religious titles, water baptism was the final act of the new birth of water and spirit, faithful local churches encourage members to live godly loves upholding biblical standards for morals, plead for complete obedience to Christ and seek unity based upon the apostles teachings including stopping religious error from flourishing. Now, this sounds exactly like the teachings of Churches of Christ today.
As to Alexander Campbell as well as others in the early 18th century, they did much work for the church, but this obviously is not the restart of the kingdom? In 1755, Robert Sandeman began to restore NT Christianity and by 1763, he established the Lord's church in Boston, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Danbury, Connecticut. Now Thomas Campbell did not arrive until 1807 and while Alexander Campbell believed it was possible to restore the church of the New Testament by using the Bible as a blue print, he did not come to America until September 29, 1809.
Now, when the Campbells’ came to America, they found men already involved in pleading for the complete restoration of the first century church of Christ, to speak where the Bible speaks, to be silent where the Bible is silent and renounce the practice of calling themselves names after their earthly leaders, that everyone obeying the Scriptures should be called "Christians." (Acts 11:26), and would be, by the Lord, added to His church (Acts 2:47) in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). So they did contribute to the cause of Christ, but so does everyone who is a Christian today. Also, there is tombstone evidence that shows William Rodgers joined the church of Christ in cane ridge by 1807, 2 years before Alexander Campbell came to America in 1809. Likewise the Old Philadelphia church of Christ in Mississippi began in 1804, in Arkansas state records for Davidsonville County have registered a church of Christ in 1806 as well as another church of Christ in Randolph county, Arkansas, 1806.
Matt. 16:18, “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.” So, the church has never disappeared and was never restarted by Alexander Campbell. It has always been here and it is proven in several documents, photos, church records and many other writing throughout history. Robert Notgrass