A 17th Century Church of Christ in the UK

Did Alexander Campbell establish the Church of Christ? NO, because he would have been about 1800 years to late. The Church that Jesus promised to build (Matt16:18) was established on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem about AD34. Acts chapter two records the gospel being preached for the very first time with about 3000 believers repenting and being baptised in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, Acts 2:22-42. Since then the Lord has been adding to His church those that are being saved, Acts 2:41, 47. The Church wears His name as His bride, Eph 5:22-32. Jesus is the one Lord over one body with one faith, (Jude 3) one hope, one Spirit and Father and one baptism, Eph 4:1-16. They did not have a choice of Church but since then the doctrines and traditions of man has brought about denominationalism. Below is just one many churches of Christ that can be traced.

This speech was made by the late Albert Winsrtanley April 6th 1997 from the pulpit of the meetinghouse at Tottlebank, in the NE of England. Having worked with Albert in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England for eight years as a Timothy with Paul I can enjoy his tones and inflections in his preaching I have been blessed knowing this great servant of Jesus the Christ.

"Sometimes members of churches of Christ who have particular interest in what's called the Restoration Movement, assume that churches of Christ in modern times came into being through the activities of Alexander and Thomas Campbell, Barton W Stone, and other great servant of the Lord of yesteryear. In fact, many churches of Christ came into existence because of the activities of good and great men long before the time of Campbell and Stone.

We are today in the meetinghouse of the church in Tottlebank, some seven or eight miles outside of the town of Ulverston. And the first church of Christ that we know about in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was started here in the year 1669*. The story of its beginning is fascinating, indeed.

This was the time when Charles II was King of England. Before, if you remember from your history lessons, there was Charles I who was beheaded because of the Puritans under the government of Oliver Cromwell. Well, this is the story that concerns Tottlebank. During the time of Cromwell this period was called the Commonwealth, and the Puritan Party was very much in the ascendancy. And many parsons or preachers in the Church of England were Puritan preachers. They were remarkable people. They really believed that this book was the word of God in the full sense. They preached and proclaimed and taught many of the principles that we as members of churches of Christ hold dear today. However when Charles II ascended the throne after the end of Cromwell's Commonwealth, laws were brought in insisting on more strict adherence to the doctrines of the Church of England which had been very much influenced by the Catholic Church. And there was an oath of allegiance required of every Church of England parson in any Church of England in any part of the country. The oath of allegiance, a declaration of allegiance, was a solemn vow in the presence of God that the preacher concerned believed without question everything taught by the Church of England doctrine, and that he would preach, maintain, and uphold that. Now many of these Puritan parsons couldn't in good conscience do that, because they were simply preaching and teaching what they understood the word of God to teach. They were true to the Bible – Bible believing and Bible teaching men. About three hundred of these Puritan parsons refused to make this declaration, so they lost their livings. That meant no house to live in, no support, no recognition in the community, and they became outcasts. One of those men was a man called Gabriel Camelford. This particular preacher in this area became an itinerant preacher. He travelled all over the area preaching the gospel as we preach it today. When people came to believe the message, he assured himself that they repented of their sins, and on their confession of faith he baptised them into Christ. He preached all over this area called the Furness District and gathered quite a group of people around him who said they were Christians only, and as a community they were simply the church of Christ. With regard to their standard of faith, they said their standard of faith and teaching were simply the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament. They would not accept any denominational standard of faith, creed, or confession of faith or any denominational name. They were simply and solely Christians, they said, believing and teaching what the New Testament maintained..

One Lord's Day in 1669, Gabriel Calelford gathered his brothers and sisters around him and they met here in Tottlebank and they declared in a statement of faith, that they were the church of Christ believing simply in New Testament teaching and seeking to be Christians as they were in New Testament times. That was the first church of Christ in England, as I said earlier, long before those grand men of the particular era.

From that church in Tottlebank, six other congregations came into existence in this district called the Furness District of England. And one of those, the church in Kirkby, was started directly from this congregation. The other five were started subsequently to the Kirkby congregation. It was told me, indeed I read it in one history of the movement, that a number of families from Kirkby, in Furness, which must be perhaps eight miles away from here, used to walk from Kirkby to Tottlebank those eight miles and back again every Sunday morning. And then would you believe it, they came back again in the evening for evening service and did the trip again, a round trip. So, if you multiply eight by four, you may say the families walked thirty two miles to worship God on the Lord's day from Kirkby to Tottlebank. Well, according to Mary Cox, who is relating what her father told her, some of the people who did that, after a while began to ask themselves, "Why should we walk eight miles there and eight miles back when there is a group of us anyway living in Kirkby? We might as well have a church of our own". And according to Mary Cox's father, one of the old brothers as they walked along said, "Look we've been listening to yon ____ (two words unclear) beardless youth telling us what the word of God teaches, why don't we stay at home and teach one another in Kirkby?". And they did that and started the church in Kirkby. From the church in Kirkby, then, came the church in Ulverston, the church in Askum, the church in Dalton, the church in Barrow, and the church in Urswick – five more congregation. So, the church started in 1669 was responsible for six more congregations coming into being in this area. The history of the churches of Christ is much earlier than the Campbell-Stone Movement. And believe me it is true, and true it be, that the same seed planted in the right soil and given the proper conditions will always bring the same results. Then, the seed of the word of God. planted in an honest and good heart will always bring forth simply and solely a Christian – nothing more, nothing less. Nothing more or less in necessary – the Lord wants His people to be simply Christians. And you may be sure, if you could look into the whole of history since New Testament times that in many, many places there have been those who have believed the word of God, who have repented of their sins, who have given their life to the Lord Jesus Christ in the obedience of baptism into death, rising to newness of life, and have been simply and solely Christians. When a number have gathered together they have been simply a church or congregation of Christ. And I am persuaded that that has been true since Pentecost and it will continue to be true until the Lord Jesus Christ comes again. And you know as well as I, when He comes again He will come for His church, His people, because He is the head of the church and He is the Saviour of the body, that is the church. Praise be to God for the grace that made us members of the body, the church, the family, the kingdom, the flock for which our Lord Jesus Christ died. He purchased His church with His own life blood. Thanks be to God. * Scripture Standard Volume 79-1. www.scripturestandard.eu

** Further information of early churches of Christ are in "Traces of the Kingdom" by Keith Sisman. www.traces-of-the-kingdom.org.uk

A "Historical Survey of Churches of Christ in the British Isles" by Joe Nisbet at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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