The church began in the first century just as Christ had planned it. Men and women became members of the church by the thousands! By following the teachings of the inspired men of God, the Christians began to establish the church wherever they went.
The New Testament writers were aware that men would depart from the pattern which Christ has given and so they warmed against it. However, as the centuries progressed, human innovations were added to the plan of Christ and the apostles doctrine was replaced by tradition.
The religious leaders had access to the scriptures but most of the people had no ready access to the Bible so that they could study it for themselves. This lead to the Dark Ages in the history of the church. The religious organizations which existed at this time bore little resemblance to the church which has existed in the first century. The Protestant Reformation which began in the sixteenth century emphasized the authority of the Bible. Men wrote creeds and confessions in an attempt to specify their beliefs but then they began to follow these creeds instead of the Bible.
The result of the Reformation was the production of hundreds of denominations. The formation of denominations continues today where men are trying to make the acceptance of human creeds the basis for church union. By the end of the eighteenth century many had realized the need for Restoration rather than Reformation. From small beginnings in England, Scotland and America the move to restore the church of the New Testament began to grow.
It was a great step for them to give up the hundreds of years of church tradition, but they realized that they could only have Christian unity by uniting on the Bible. Acting on such principles as, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak. and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent," small groups in many places began to preach and practice New Testament Christianity.
These small groups gradually discovered each other.
Although they had begun independently they realized that they where one in Christ. Soon it was apparent that the movement would involve not just hundreds but thousands of believers throughout the world.
This growth has continued so that now the church has been established in more than 120 countries on all the five continents. More than 2,500,000 people have embraced the Christ of the Bible and are members of His church!
There is no way we can know exactly when the church was first established in Australia, since when one obeys the gospel God adds him to the church.
However, as far as known history in concerned, the restoration movement in Australia originally came from the British Isles.
In 1843, an English Christian by the name of Thomas Jackson went to New Zealand, where he converted Thomas Magarey.
Margarey came on to what is now South Australia. He first met with the Scotch Baptists and then in 1846, he withdrew himself to begin breaking bread with several others after the New Testament order.
From this small beginning, the church began to grow, swelled by English immigrants, especially as the "gold rush" began in the '50's.
As the church grew, it was felt that the colony churches needed help. At first the help that came was a real asset. For instance, there was H.S. Earl, who preached to crowds up to 2000 and who baptized 279 in one year.
But something happened in the Movement in other places. Some wanted to change the original plea--to become like the denominations about them. For various reasons, those of conservative convictions found themselves unable to send men to other places. More and more, those who came to Australia were of a "progressive" persuasion.
Changes started occurring in the Australian movement. In 1866 (twenty years after the church was established in Australia), the first "conference" was held. Other changes also began.
But the Australian brotherhood mainly heard only one point of view. It was largely unaware that a substantial portion of the world-wide movement was against the innovations.
There were some voices against the changes. Stephen Cheek spoke out with a powerful voice. But he died in 1883 and with him died the end of any wide-spread and effective protests against the drift back into denominationalism.
In the 1880's the instrument of music began to be introduced--first into Bible classes, then into the evening service, and finally into the morning service. In 1889, the Federal Conference was organized.
J.W. Shepherd spent two years in this country (1890-92), working mainly with the old Elizabeth street congregation, trying to warn the brotherhood. But his voice largely went unheeded.
Digression continued. There was increased interchange with denominations. Many began to take a "liberal" view on the miracles in the Bible. Denominational doctrines began to be held by many. The position on the essentiality of baptism was greatly altered.
In other countries, large numbers wishing to remain with the original position withdrew themselves from those advocating and practicing these departures. But this was not to be in Australia. Slowly, but surely, almost all of the churches moved father and farther away.
Most protests were individual ones--with only a handful of small congregations. Men like J.W. McGregor and A.G. Chaffer need to be remembered for their faithfulness during these trying times.
In 1937, John Allen Hudson visited Australia. He was cordially received by the "conference" churches, but it soon became evident that the only real hope of going back to the original plea would be outside conference ties.
While here, Hudson met Colin Smith, who decided to leave the conference. After training, Smith began to work in the Sydney area, trying to call men back to the church as Jesus built it.
He was later joined by other men, such as Charles Tinius and Alan Flaxman. Tom Tarbet arrived and went to Melbourne.
Gradually workers have helped reestablish the original restoration plea in all the major cities of Australia and in many of the smaller towns.
The task of "restoring the Restoration" has really just begun in this country, but we take heart at what God has been able to do in such a short time.
Encouraged by the 2,500,000 members of non- denominational churches of Christ around the world, and strengthened by our God, we look forward with confidence to God doing great things in Australia.
The best reason for answering "yes" to both these questions is that it has happened! By independent Bible study, men and women in many countries of the world have begun the church in their area.
Here are some examples:
Ato Shongeh Sadaybo is a native Ethiopian who came to believe in Christ in 1936 as a result of Denominational preaching. As he studied the Bible he began to find inconsistencies between the denominational doctrines and the Bible. When Ethiopia became free after Italian occupation, Shongeh began to preach, pleading with men to accept the Bible completely.
His strong faith and powerful preaching led others to obey Christ and after 20 years 490 congregations had been established with 20,000 members. Their only rule of faith was the Bible.
When he was in Addis Ababa, Shongeh noticed a building with a sign, "The Church of Christ" His heart leaped and he hurried inside to enquire. "Is this the true Church?" When he heard that there were others proclaiming non- denominational Christianity, he exclaimed, "Praise God!"
The Khasi tribesmen live in the hill country of Assam, India. Their primitive religion included a belief in one God and the coming of a perfect intercessor between God and man.
These tribes were taught first by the Baptists and then by the Presbyterians in the nineteenth century.
In 1932 some of the Indians began to challenge the teaching which they had received about church membership, particularly the need for a period of testing and the acceptance of a church creed.
They disassociated themselves from any religious party proclaiming that they were Christians only and that Christ is the head of the church. The movement grew.
It was accepted that a sinner needed to believe in Christ, repent of sins and confess Him. They finally came to the conclusion that baptism was immersion for penitent believers and that to become a Christian was also to become a member of the church.
It was not until 1948 that they learned about the church in other countries and by this time there were about 900 members in ten congregations.
Spanish author Juan Monroy went to the New York World Fair in August, 1964. When he visited the church of Christ display he was amazed to discover that these people believed and practised the same things as a group of Christians in Spain.
Juan had been preaching from the Bible and this scriptural teaching had caused men and women to obey Christ and become members of the church. Juan said, "Following the Bible only and without uniting with any denomination, we had succeeded in starting congregations in several Spanish cities."
Unknown to these Spanish Christians, millions in the United States and through out the world had been restoring the New Testament church for many years! This was not coincidence but the result of honest study and application of God's plan for the church as it is given in the Bible.
When Christian missionaries went into Nigeria in 1950 they were amazed to find about ten thousand Christians, several congregations with their own buildings and the true church by one man--C.A.O.Essien. He lived in the Itu district of Nigeria and became interested in Christianity. After joining a denomination, his careful study of the New Testament convinced him that this was not the church established by Christ, Mr. Essien was studying English by correspondence and posted his assignment with a request for a Bible correspondence course. The correspondence instructor, who was in Germany, had been visited by members of the church just a few days before she received the request. She remembered that they had spoken of correspondence coursed which they sent out so she sent their address back to her Nigerian student. In receiving the Bible course, Mr. Essien became convinced that he had found the true church, He then began the work which amazed the missionaries many years later.
Carrel Anderson reports contacting a group south of Oslo. They teach that we must believe, confess and be baptized to become a child of God; they refuse to wear a sectarian name, do not use instrumental music in worship; they have elders and independent congregations. Many in Norway are interested in the plea to restore New Testament Christianity.
While serving with the air force in Taegu, Marvin Phillips heard about a group of Christians which was meeting in the nearby town. He went to investigate and found a neat little building situated on a back street.
The preacher lived at the building and Marvin asked him, "How did this church come about?" In reply the man held up a small copy of the Korean New Testament. He explained that several groups had come to Korea to help the refugees. Along with their benevolent programs they had distributed copies of the New Testament.
This group had evolved out of a decision to go by the Bible alone. The Korean preacher explained that they were pleading for a return to Christ and His church as taught in the New Testament.
At this time the group numbered 35 and since then they have increased in size. This is another great example of the power of the preaching of Christ from the New Testament resulting in the church which He established!