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Reviving the Ancient Faith:
The Story of the Churches of Christ in America
A Critique of the Richard T. Hughes' Book

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

Dr. Hughes desires the honor of writing the definitive history of the churches of Christ in this century. The book is judged a failure. Contemporary Restoration historians give the book low marks finding the scholarship in the research to be inept, biased, and historically incorrect.

This writer criticizes the book solely because it is another means designed to destroy the conservative churches of Christ. First, the book reflects the theology and philosophy of our liberal brethren who dishonor the biblical traditions of the conservative churches of Christ.

Second, this article(s) will document the fact that Dr. Hughes fabricates a case that the churches of Christ began as a sect in the early years of the 19th century. The study is an odd mixture of fact, fiction, propaganda, and sheer nonsense.

The definitive Restoration histories that Hughes seeks to emulate are W.E. Garrison and A.T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History; William E. Tucker and Lester G. McAllister, A Journey in Faith: A History of the Christ Church (Disciples of Christ). James DeForest Murch of the Christian Church wrote Christians Only. These historians did not calculate to destroy their own churches.

The books written by Earl I. West titled The Search for the Ancient Order reflect honor on the churches of Christ. His credentials as a bona fide historian are credible. He believes that the church of Christ was born from the baptismal waters on Pentecost as a direct act of God.

We are frank to say we are filled with disgust for the likes of Rubel Shelly, Douglas Foster, and Richard Hughes who profess love for the churches of Christ which they would dishonor by reducing the churches to the status of another Protestant denomination.

Outside of the glowing promotions of the book by Douglas Foster in the Restoration Quarterly and the Christian Chronicle, and a review by Larry James in Wineskins, the book is receiving little favorable attention.

Dr. Hughes' research in the files of the Gospel Advocate and the Christian Standard reflects the famous line of Alexander Pope — "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

Hughes has flunked the test which would merit him a place in the ranks of credible historians of the Restoration. This is proved by the fact that he has fabricated whole blocks of Restoration history. Dr. Hughes thinks to make his case with misinformation and distortion.

These are serious charges. We do not question the integrity of Dr. Hughes, just his reliability as a Restoration historian. However, we do accuse him with "blind siding" the facts of what actually happened, to concoct a story.

This fact is sharply focused in his failure to understand that Isaac Errett, not Stone and Campbell, is the chief architect of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ as they exist today. Likewise, Hughes does not understand that David Lipscomb read clearly the scriptural blueprint of the apostolic church. His understanding of Lipscomb is acutely limited and wrongheaded.

What amounts to a show of courage to his admiring liberal brethren is little more than a quixotic jousting among the historical windmills to put down the conservatives churches of Christ which are the objects of his increasing fury. We fault Dr. Hughes for his scurrilous attacks on the conservative churches just to climb a little higher on the academic ladder.

Dr. Hughes tells us of the pain he suffered when he abandoned the faith of his fathers. Does he really believe that this new jerry-built denomination — Church of Christ — which is not yet on the drawing board will replace the church that Jesus built upon the rock. In this new "propped up" denomination, there is raucous applause at their baptisms, overhead projectors, praise services, and a host of other innovative practices in their worship services. Such are not unscriptural — just silly.

The main tenets of their theology are love, grace, and open fellowship. Their ideal church models are the Willow Creek Community Church and the "Third Wave" Pentecostal movement where the ecstatic worshipers laugh their heads off.

Why Dr. Hughes continues to identify himself with the churches of Christ is a puzzle. He is one of five members of the Editorial Committee of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. Dr. Douglas A. Foster is a member of the Editorial Committee of the DCHS. There is no denomination in existence on this planet whose theology is more liberal than the Disciples of Christ from gays in their clergy and the elimination of gender pronouns from their Liberated Bible. Is this what Dr. Royce Money means by "unity in diversity"?

Analogy: Babblers in the Market Place

Whatever knowledge of American church history Dr. Hughes picked up in the University of Iowa, he lacks the perceptive, intuitive, and imaginative gifts of a creative thinker.

It is preposterous that Dr. Hughes would even imagine that he has now joined the illustrious ranks of such Restoration historians as DeGroot, Murch, Tucker, McAllister, and Earl I. West. Has Dr. Hughes struck a bargain with Mephistopheles for academic recognition at the cost of his spiritual birthright?

The Major Theses of "Reviving the Ancient Faith"

Hughes stumbles and falls on the very first page of his book where he states the white mainstream churches of Christ trace their American heritage to Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. Even a poorly informed Restoration historian would know enough to recognize that the divine beginning of the church was on Pentecost AD 33.

Dr. Hughes contends that four major themes have shaped the character of the traditions of the churches of Christ from their 19th century beginnings. A brief statement for each must suffice for the time being.

First, he contends that the defining characteristic of the churches of Christ throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century was the notion of the Restoration of primitive Christianity. He states that a number of religious movements in the 19th century, including the Mormon Church, dedicated themselves to recovering primitive Christianity.

Second, Dr. Hughes fancies that he has a safe haven in a tenured position inside the ivory towers of academia. But the impact of these words will eventually settle in on his brethren: "Churches of Christ began as a sect in the early nineteenth century and evolved into a denomination during the course of the twentieth century."

Third, Dr. Hughes argues that churches of Christ drew from two leaders—Campbell and Stone. The hard facts are they were the foundational forerunners of Lard, Milligan, McGarvey, Fanning, Lipscomb, Errett, Lamar, Garrison, and others who hammered out the details.

Fourth, Dr. Hughes bases his book on two millennial doctrines. Campbell is pictured as holding to a postmillennial view (that time when Christian faith would reign triumphantly on earth in a golden age of peace). On the other hand, Hughes contends that Stone promoted his pessimistic understanding that not until the "Second Coming" and the millennial rule of Christ on earth would the messianic ideal become a reality. Dr. Hughes builds his whole case around this "absurd" contention.


We promise to prove our case in times ahead that Dr. Hughes has failed to state a case, much less make one.

Published September 1996