I was reading up on the Primitive Baptists this week and was astounded at how parallel their history is to the Churches of Christ:
1. The Primitive Baptists sing acapella, because that is the way the Scriptures teach them. They use shape note hymn books, similar to the Churches of Christ hymn books up into the 1970s. (African American Primitive Baptists have embraced instrumental music, but the mostly white congregations are still acapella.)
2. The Primitive Baptists separated themselves from other Baptists around 1827 over missionary societies and Sunday schools. The Churches of Christ separated themselves from the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ, around 1840 over missionary societies, and instrumental music. There is a small group of Churches of Christ who do not believe in Sunday Schools, because that divides the congregation.
3. Priesthood of all believers (no ordained clergy).
4. Belief they are the One True Church established in 33A.D.
Other similarities are that a minority of members practice women’s headcovering during worship. Men are the only ones allowed to preach. Unleavened bread is used for communion.
The main difference between the Primitive Baptists and the Churches of Christ is the practice of footwashing during communion, and the teaching of Calvinism: Primitive Baptists affirm all 5 of the primary Calvinist doctrines: Total hereditary depravity (we are too sinful to be able to choose God), Unconditional election (there is nothing we have to do to be chosen by God), Limited atonement (God only forgives those he chooses to forgive), Irresistible grace (Once God has chosen us, we cannot resist becoming a believer), Perseverance of the saints (We can never fall from grace, once we have been chosen by God).
The Churches of Christ deny all 5 doctrines of Calvinism and believe:
1. We are born innocent, and are part of God’s kingdom up until we choose to sin (referred to as reaching the “age of accountability”).
2. We have to choose God after hearing the gospel.
3. All those who choose and obey God are forgiven. Those who do not are not forgiven.
4. God never overpowers our choice to be in relationship with him, or not to be in relationship with him.
Some people refer to the Churches of Christ doctrines as Pelagianism, after an early church father who emphasized human choice and works in obedience to God as essential to salvation.
The reason I mention how similar the development of the Primitive Baptist group is to the Churches of Christ, is to show that what the Churches of Christ believe is a unique return to the New Testament roots of Christianity, is not unique, but common to other groups developing at the same time, from the same milieu. Influences were:
1. The Middle Ages and the Holy Roman Empire.
2. The Enlightenment: emphasizing the intellect and scientific empirical, reproducible research.
3. The invention of the printing press.
4. The Protestant Reformation.
5. The development of democracy.
6. The development of congregationalism over hierarchy.
7. The American Declaration of Independence.
8. The isolation of the American frontier.