A Brief History of the Church of Christ
The Original Church
The Church of Christ traces its history back to the original organization that was established by Jesus Christ in the first century AD. That original Church had Jesus Christ as its head and twelve Apostles that had the oversight of the Church organization on the earth. The ancient New Testament Church taught the pure, simple gospel of Christ. This included faith in Christ as our Savior, repentance from sins, baptism by immersion, laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, for the healing of the sick, for the blessing of children, and for ordination to the ministry, resurrection of the dead and an eternal judgment according to our works in this life (Hebrews 6:1-2). The ministry in the ancient New Testament Church was called by Divine revelation (Hebrews 5:4) and was not paid a salary by the church, but labored in various trades to support themselves (Acts 20:33-35). The original Church grew and continued under the authority of the ministry and the doctrines taught originally by Jesus Christ. There was to be only twelve Apostles at any given time in history, therefore as the original Apostles died, others were called by God to serve as Apostles in their place (Acts 13:1-3, 14:14).
A Falling Away / Apostasy
Unfortunately, over time ideas and doctrines were introduced into the Church by men instead of relying upon the established doctrine of Jesus Christ. These included the consolidation of authority into one man (the bishop) and alternative modes of baptism. These and other doctrines continued and grew until there was a complete falling away or apostasy from the pure gospel of Christ (see 2nd Thess. 2:1-4). The apostasy was complete in 570 AD when the Lombard invaders destroyed the last vestige of the Roman Empire and allowed the rise of the power of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The result was the removal by God of the authority of the priesthood and the world entered into a period that is called the “Dark Ages”, spiritually if not physically.
During this long period there was not found upon the earth a church which stood in the true order and power of the original church of Christ (Amos 8:11-12). While there were good people in every church, they did not convert those churches into churches of Christ any more than a few flakes of gold in a mountain would convert it into a mountain of gold. There were efforts to reform the church with some degree of success, but none of these restored the original doctrines and organization of the New Testament Church. What was required was a complete restoration of these things along with the authority of the priesthood.
How did the Restoration come about?
This “restoration” occurred in 1829-1830. This time was the fulfillment of the 1260 yrs of apostasy prophesied by John (Rev 12:6, 14 and 13:5, note: in prophetic terms, days are given for years, i.e. 1260 days = 1260 years) and Daniel (Daniel 7:25). It was also the time when the image spoken of in Daniel chapter 2 stood in its’ completeness, with all the nations represented in existence at the same time. An angel sent from God revealed to Joseph Smith, Jr. the location of an ancient record which contained the history of God’s working with the inhabitants of the American continent, and he was given the ability to translate that record. This record became known as the Book of Mormon. While translating the record, the holy priesthood was imparted by an angel upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The Church of Christ was organized according to a commandment from God on April 6, 1830. Thus the restoration of the Church was accompanied by the miraculous appearing of angels, the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon as an added witness to the truth of the Gospel, and the restoration on earth of the authority of the priesthood in the human ministers of Jesus Christ.
False Doctrines Again
The Church of Christ grew rapidly as the gospel was spread and was accompanied by the power of the Holy Ghost and with miracles. Unfortunately the devil was also hard at work at this time, trying to destroy the Church from without and within. The tempter used the same lies, appeals to pride and temptations of power that had worked in the past and in short order there were ideas and doctrines introduced which were not a part of the Gospel of Christ. Some of these ideas and doctrines caused the Church a great deal of difficulty and divisions. Some members of the Church were confused because they knew the truth of the Gospel; but confused by the new doctrines introduced by ministers they trusted, that were not found in the Bible or Book of Mormon. These doctrines included the consolidation of power into the hands of one man as “Prophet”, the offices of a High Priest and a First Presidency, the practice of baptism for the dead, the belief in a changeable God and the mysticism of Free Masonry. The name of the Church had even been changed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Persecution of the Church
The Church had been directed by God to go to Independence, Missouri, as a headquarters and a gathering place for a New Jerusalem with a Temple to be built in the future. Many members made the journey to Independence and the Church continued to grow; however in a short time the members were violently driven out of Independence, and eventually all of Missouri (they were ordered to be exterminated by the Governor of Missouri). This was likely a result of the pride of some members of the Church. God would not allow the Church as it was to remain in a place that He had set aside for a special purpose. This pride and the persecution by unbelievers caused the members of the Church to suffer great trials, but the humble followers held on to the truth of the Gospel that they knew. After being forced out of Missouri, the Church went to Illinois and built the city of Nauvoo.
Divisions at Joseph Smith’s Death
At the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. the Church was cast into disarray. When the Church was first organized in 1830, God had directed that there should be 12 Apostles called to have the oversight of the Church, just as in New Testament times. Instead, Joseph Smith had allowed himself to be set up as the head of the Church and as a result, when he was removed there were many who vied for the leadership of the Church. The Church was split into a large number of factions each with someone claiming to be the rightful successor. One group went west with Brigham Young. After their journey they were all re-baptized and their ministers were re-ordained as if into a different church. Others followed different leaders to Pennsylvania or to Michigan or to other places.
Renewal of the Original Teachings / Removal of False Doctrines
In rural Illinois, there were four congregations which didn’t join any of the different factions but continued to function as local churches and humbly sought the truth and to know God’s will. These congregations were far from the big city of Nauvoo where most of the Church’s leaders were and were therefore not as affected by those events. These congregations were perturbed by the incorrect practices found in some of the divisions of the Church. In the spring of 1853 these congregations joined in a conference and vowed to continue in the original teachings of the Church of Christ. Many of the members had been baptized during the first days of the Restoration and the ministers had received their authority from Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith, Jr., and some of the first ministers of the Church.
In the several conferences conducted during the years 1857, 1858, and 1859, these congregations spoke out strongly against many of the errors that had previously entered into the Church. They were adamantly opposed to 1) polygamy, 2) baptism for the dead, 3) lineal priesthood (a presidency passed from father to son) 4) celestial marriage and other false doctrines. In the conference of 1860, this group again took the name of the Church of Christ, and after receiving a revelation from God in 1864, returned to Independence, Missouri in 1867, where it’s headquarters has remained ever since.
Throughout the years since the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., the Church of Christ has been the only church that has made a consistent effort to follow, point by point, the original organization and doctrine which was instituted by Jesus Christ in the ancient New Testament church and restored by God in 1830. The Church Of Christ is organized with Jesus Christ as its head and twelve Apostles that have the oversight of the Church on the earth. The principles of the Gospel of the Church of Christ remain the same; faith in Christ as our Savior, repentance from sins, baptism by immersion, laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, for the healing of the sick, for the blessing of children, and for ordination to the ministry, resurrection of the dead and an eternal judgment according to our works in this life, and are in harmony with the Bible and Book of Mormon. Each member of the ministry of the Church of Christ has been called by Divine revelation, and does not receive a salary from the Church, but labors in various occupations to support themselves and their families. For this reason we do not see ourselves as a faction of the original; we are the remnant of that original Church restored by the power, and according to the prophecy of God. We believe that the word of God is contained in the authorized King James translation of the Bible published in 1611 in England, insofar as it is translated correctly, with all other versions or translations left to stand on their own merit and the 1990 Independence edition of the Book of Mormon which is the nearest available to the original Palmyra edition.
While this is a brief overview of the history of the Church of Christ, more detailed information is available on our downloads page, or by clicking here to request for more information or to ask a question.