In 1803 Barton W. Stone, along with several other men, organized the Springfield Presbytery. The document denounced all human creeds and appealed to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice. However, the Springfield Presbytery did not last long because its proponents soon discovered that the New Testament contains no more reference to a Presbytery than it does to a creed. They, therefore, met and agreed to dissolve what they considered to be an unscriptural organization, publishing at the same time its Last Will and Testament. The document was signed June 28, 1804 by six people, one of whom was Barton W. Stone.
I recently read the "Works of Elder Barton W. Stone." It tells of his desire to leave all man-made sects and parties. The book went into great detail, and even included the document, "THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF THE SPRINGFIELD PRESBYTERY." As I read this, I realized that because of my great desire to leave all man-made sects and parties, for the same reasons I had to write the following for each of the Church of Christ Churches who are willing to close down their unscriptural organization.
Speaking as the _____________ Church of Christ Church, now being free to think through the grace of God, being in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all man-made bodies once to die; and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make, and ordain this our last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, ie:
Item: We will, that the __________ Church of Christ Church die, be dissolved, and its members sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.
Item: We will, that our name of distinction, with its denominational meaning, be forgotten, that there be no Churches to divide God's people and enslave them.
Item: We will, the dissolution of "the Five acts of worship" as being required to be pleasing to God. Realizing our Lord gave us no pattern for these or any other physical requirements in the spiritual kingdom.
Item: We will, the death of the clergy system realizing that we are all ministers and priests, and that we have no record in the 27 apostolic letters of any preaching ever being done to the family of God. We desire to minister to each other when we come together instead of being spectators.
Item: We will, that taxation without representation forever cease. That individuals use what they are blessed with to help the needy and spread the good news as they see and feel the need. That all monies forever cease to go for located preachers' salaries, buildings, family life centers, colleges, etc., so we can start practicing pure religion.
Item: We will, that the power of making laws by the Elders, Editors, and Preachers of the Church, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Scriptures without their man-made laws, as well as freedom to discuss openly without being labeled dishonest or a heretic.
Item: We, the Elders of the __________ Church of Christ Church will, the death of our "Eldership" since it is from man, not God. That the authority we have assumed go back to Christ where it belongs. That, we no longer hold people to "obey and pay." That the followers of Christ no longer be considered faithful by perfect attendance, but by their "Spirit of the Living God."
Item: We will, that henceforth all who desire to preach the gospel of Christ study Holy Writ with fervent prayer, and do so without being pressured into adding any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or rudiments of the world.
Item: We will, that individuals in Christ resume their individual rights, unrestricted and uncoerced by Elders, Preachers, Editors, or other self appointed keepers of the denomination, with its dogma.
Item: We will, that each particular Church, as a body, allow the walls of sectarianism to crumble, and their sign boards to fall. Knowing that what we have done is a scar and detriment to the cause of Christ. That the exclusiveness, hatred, and strife we have caused be immediately abandoned. In our hour of enlightenment, cease our love for "The Church," and return our affection to Jesus our Lord and Savior, realizing that all Churches are in no way divinely ordained, but are inventions of men.
Item: We will, that each assembly of saints meet to edify and encourage. That they be united in Christ and that they forever give freedom and respect in matters of theology.
Item: We will, that the people henceforth take the Scriptures as their only guide to knowing Jesus, and how to relate to him, and our fellow man; realizing that the 27 apostolic letters are not covenant or law to be enforced by man. That all books which stand in competition to grace, love, and unity be cast into the fire; for it is better to enter into life having the Scriptures properly understood and handled, than to let our legalistic handling of them cast us into hell.
Item: We will, that all the people under Christ, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up.
Item: We will, that God's people awake to the errors of our translations of the Scriptures and know that because of the dishonesty of King James and Bishop Bancroft, we are slaves to an institutionalized religion instead of Jesus Christ and him only. No longer should we say, "Are they members of the Church?", but rather, "Do they belong to Jesus?"
Item: We will, that our weak brethren, who may have been wishing to make the Church their King, and do not know what is become of it, take themselves to the Rock of Ages, and follow Jesus for the future.
Item: We will, that the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of gospel liberty, and be free to meet with other saints as desired.
Item: We will, that all be encouraged in their zeal to destroy partyism. We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined by all who may have spiritual insight, that we may come to know the Lord more perfectly.
Item: Finally we will, that all our sister Churches, by whatever name, read the Scriptures carefully, that they may .see the division Churches have caused, and come free in Jesus.
(Written by a former CHURCH OF CHRISTER November 29, 1988)
Editor's Note: The love of God and the great desire for the unity of God's children that burned in the heart of Barton W. Stone, 184 years ago, lives again in our day. Roger Woodward, Jr., his father and their families, are but a part of this rapidly growing number who have come to see the evils of the local church institution of whatever brand. The local church organization (Not the people!) is the greatest snare or entrapment ever spawned by Satan. It is division and alienation personified! It is the death-knell to the preservation of the unity of the Spirit! Denominationalism is sinful!
We must have the faith and courage to lay the axe of divine truth at the root of the problem--the local church institutions. They divide and separate the saints into parties and fractions; into named, independent, autonomous organizations.
All children of God are already fully united in Jesus Christ, where all are brothers and sisters in the family of God. Wherever God has a child I have a brother or sister! We are all one (united, together) in Christ Jesus. The disciples are nowhere in Scripture ever told to seek, devise, or establish unity with other brothers or sisters in the family. No! To the contrary, they are told to "keep" or "preserve" the unity of the Spirit. Unity between God's children is not something we do or attain, it is the work of the Spirit (Eph. 4:1-6). We are all members of the same family, the one family of God. We are brought together when we are "born again" into this spiritual family.
If you really want to preserve the unity of the Sprat, get rid of all these denominations, these local church institutions that separate and divide God's family. Stop trying to establish or re-establish or devise strategies for the unity of God's people. Remove the walls. Get rid of the Church institutions and free the saints to love and accept one another.
Execute "The Last Will and Testament of the __________ Church of Christ," let it die, and the "members sink into union with the Body of Christ at large, for there is but one Body..."
No, I do not expect local church institutions to disband and dissolve. That is not the nature of such institutions nor the desire of those who manage, rule and "own" such. Those who are employed by and are dependent upon the local church for their livelihood are not in a position to cut out or dismantle the institution that provides their livelihood. The clergy/preacher class are the most "church dependent" of all people. It is so sad. May God have mercy upon them.
What I do expect and am seeing more and more is the freeing of the member-slaves who leave the local church institution for the freedom in Christ and the full acceptance of their personal, responsibility in serving Jesus. Dear brothers and. sisters, I am m a unique position to know about this as I hear from hundreds of saints all over this nation. Praise God,,, it is now becoming a great grass roots movement of repentance and recovery," as "the remnant" returns to the. Lord!. They are leaving the Babylon of local church institutions and returning to the Lord Jesus, his rule and reign over their lives. What was first a small trickle is fast becoming a great river. The saints are sensing their freedom. They are seeing "the promised land" with the eye of faith and hope. It has already reached such a dimension that it will not--and cannot--be stopped!
If the preachers only knew how widespread it is, and how the "leaven of truth" is at work within the hearts of the saints, even in their churches, they would fear and quake. Sooner or later they will feel the foundation of the local church institution shaking as "the remnant" "shakes the dust off their feet" as they return to Jesus as the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. Oh! If only these preachers could (would) see the truth and join in helping shape and make "the remnant" into what they can and should be! We are not concerned with revolution, but with an orderly return to "the promised land." - CAH