From time to time, Christians seeking to hold the New Testament as their sole authority have been called Campbellites. Often, but not always, this term is used in a derogatory fashion. Whether derogatory or not, the effect is the same. They are applying a human founder (Alexander Campbell) to the body of Christ. There are three reasons it is inappropriate to call those who follow the New Testament “Campbellites.”
First, we do not take the name Campbellite. The choice to simply be known as Christians or disciples seems to bother those who have taken other names (e.g., Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.). They want to be known not only by Christ, but by their human leaders as well. This is the same practice Paul condemned in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. They were making divisions by aligning themselves with human teachers (Paul, Apollos, and Cephas) and were condemned for it. We should not let those unconcerned with the Lord’s instruction pollute what we are trying to do. Instead of accepting the term “Campbellite,” we firmly acknowledge Christ as the only way to heaven (John 14:6, Acts 4:12), accept His teachings only, and take His name only.
Second, we do not accept Alexander Campbell as the founder of the Church. In order for someone to found an institution, they have to start something new. If the institution was in existence or was ever in existence, they cannot be the founder. Jesus declared that He would build His Church, which would never be overcome (Matthew 16:18). Jesus only talks about building one church; all others are not His. Either Jesus did not build His Church, He built the Church and it no longer exists, or Jesus’ Church has been in existence since He founded it. The first two options make Jesus a liar and are unacceptable. So Christ’s church must be in existence, but which Church is His? It must be the one that acknowledges Him as the head and follows His instructions, which is what we do. Traces of His Church have been found throughout the world and throughout the ages. Keith Sisman’s research shows that:
From about 1000 AD in England, Christians called by their enemies derogatory terms such as Waldensian, Lollard, Pelagian and Anabaptist, who baptised believers for the remission of sins by immersion upon confession, have been active in Great Britain and even earlier in Europe. They called themselves Christians and the church – The Church of Christ (http://www.traces-of-the-kingdom.org/)
The reason we rarely hear of the church before the American Restoration Movement is because it was heavily persecuted. Nevertheless, it was still in existence. All Campbell and the other restorers did was point people away from human creeds and to the teachings of Jesus; they didn’t start anything new.
Third, we follow the Bible, not Campbell’s teachings. We don’t just teach and believe what Campbell taught. Many in the church today barely even know of Alexander Campbell and have never read his writings (myself included). What we teach and practice comes from the Bible alone. When we examine issues, we do not immediately turn to Campbell’s writings to see what he said. He wrote no creed book or confession for us. We don’t examine what our “scholars” have always taught and practiced, or assume previous generations were right and do likewise. Instead, we look to the Scriptures. We teach what the Scriptures say, not what Alexander Campbell or any other man says.
While the founders of the Restoration Movement were courageous to turn away from denominationalism and simply follow the Bible; they were not doing anything different than countless other individuals have done since the foundation of the church. They didn’t start anything new; they just paid attention to the instructions recorded to govern the church Jesus established. We do the same when we refuse to blindly follow what men have handed down to us over the last 40, 70, or even 200 years and simply follow what the Bible has to say. We are not Campbellites; we are Christians.