One of the most famous preachers of the early 19th century was Barton W. Stone. In 1803, Stone and other Presbyterian ministers, having withdrawn from the Transylvania Presbytery, formed the Springfield Presbytery. By the next year the Springfield Presbytery included “fifteen ‘regular societies’ of the new movement, of which, seven were in Ohio, and eight were in Kentucky.”1 But it was not to last. On June 28, 1804, a formal document entitled, The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery was composed and signed by five Presbyterian ministers, including Barton W. Stone. The document announced their withdrawal from any form of man-made presbytery in order to be organized in keeping with Scripture, stating their desire that “this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large.”2
Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He is “head over all things to the church, which is his body,” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Instead of a religious hierarchy where one man or body of men rules over several congregations, Christ’s will is that each local congregation, having reached maturity, be guided according to the Scriptures by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 15:6; 20:17; Philippians 1:1). Elders are to be men who by their wisdom and experience have demonstrated that they are suited to care spiritually for God’s family just as they have their own (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). These shepherds are exhorted to, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:2-4). Peter referred to “the flock of God which is among you,” just as Paul had exhorted elders to beware of wolves that would “enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). It is evident that these shepherds were to be among the local flock to care for them and set an example. The members of the local congregation could know those who labored among them as overseers (1 Thessalonians 5:12). A presbytery composed of men not all among one local congregation who enforced policy on many congregations in keeping with man-made creeds such as the Westminster Confession of Faith does not fit the will of Christ expressed in the New Testament.
Preachers are not the authority over the local congregations they address. An elder may minister in the word and doctrine as a preacher (1 Timothy 5:17), but it is the local eldership who makes sure the flock is fed spiritually (1 Peter 5:2). They may commission a man to do this in preaching, giving their consent that he preach God’s word. Such is described in 1 Timothy 4:14, the only place in the KJV where the word “presbytery” is used, denoting the local eldership. The English word is derived from the Greek word for elder: presbuteros. The modern pastor system is not found in the Bible. The plural “pastors” is used in the KJV in Ephesians 4:11 to refer to elders. “Pastor” is a term that means shepherd. While great respect is proper for able preachers of the Gospel, Christ is to be glorified in His church and every member is to function as part of His body (Romans 12:3-5).
Barton W. Stone and his fellow Presbyterian ministers who signed that document on July 28, 1804 had come to realize that just as they had legitimate scriptural objections to the Kentucky synod, Washington Presbytery, Transylvania Presbytery and other man-made organizational structures with which they disagreed, there were also legitimate scriptural objections to setting up their own man-made presbytery. This realization was a watershed moment in the restoration movement in this area of the country. May we likewise continually pursue Christ’s will and not man’s will regarding what we believe and practice. May we have the courage to repent when we realize any error in our ways.
– Mark Day
- Charles C. Ware, Barton Warren Stone, p. 140
- Douglas Allen Foster, Paul M. Blowers, D. Newell Williams and Anthony L. Dunnavant, The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004
On the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, the Lord promised His disciples, “…I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18). There is no question that the church did not yet exist at this time. Jesus would build it in the future. John the Baptist had been put to death already by Herod (Matthew 14:3-12). Thus, John the Baptist did not build the church. The church would be built by Jesus.
He would give to Peter, “…the keys of the kingdom…” (Matthew 16:19). Peter would open the door with those keys and proclaim the means of entry to the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). Peter was one of those who would not die until the kingdom came—i.e., the church was established. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1). Some who heard Jesus speaking that day would live to see the church come with power. After the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles were told, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). This was the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles. Again, Jesus said to them, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The kingdom would come when the power came upon the apostles. The power of the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of the Lord (Acts 2:1-4). When those gathered on Pentecost day, who heard Peter and the other apostles speak in other languages by the power of the Holy Spirit, learned of their guilty status before God, they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). The inspired response from Peter was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). Those who did so were added to the number of disciples (Acts 2:41). The Lord added them to His church, the saved. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Thus, Peter showed the way to be saved, to be in the church of Christ, in the kingdom of Christ. Whereas previous uses of the word “church” in the sacred Scriptures were promissory (Matthew 16:18), in Acts 2:47 the word “church” is used in the sense of existing; people were being added to it. Just as Jesus had promised, He built His church.
Jesus built one church (Matthew 16:18). It is the one body (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4), of which He is the savior (Ephesians 5:23). It is the one body into which Christians were baptized to be saved (1 Corinthians 12:13). It is the one body by which all people, Jews and Gentiles, are reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:16). The church is the Lord’s body of saved people. It is the Lord who adds one to this body when one obeys the Gospel. Let us drop modern concepts and designations for the church that are contrary to what is simply revealed in God’s word. Let us be Christ’s church, His saved body of people, nothing else.