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Pioneering Churches of Christ

A sower went forth to sow... and some (seed) fell on good soil and brought forth grain, somea hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Matthew 13:3 ff.


By Trevor Lawrie

The early history of Churches of Christ is fraught with sectarianism and division. Some of the attitudes which produced these unfortunate instances still prevail today. In the following pages we look at some of the history of the church in Scotland and South Australia. I have chosen two men, who, in their different ways, saw the need for unity and purpose of the people of God. They were both convinced of their position within Churches of Christ and quite dogmatic. Their approach earned for both of them the reputation of being "hard men." But on looking closer at their lives one can see an over-riding desire for the peace of Christ to be very evident among their fellow brethren and a harmony within the congregations.

No viewpoint was such that it should cause bitterness or division. This was not the thinking of many others within Churches of Christ, particularly those with Scotch Baptist Calvinistic backgrounds. To them a position was to be maintained no matter who was hurt or destroyed, no matter whether the church was divided or disbanded. There were those who fought to the bitter end, very often upon issues that were far from the essentials of the Christian faith, and really in the realm of opinion or interpreta-tion. But fight for them they did, often with a callousness and a recklessness that gave no thought to a God who is love.

John Lawrie came from a Presbyterian background into the Scotch Baptists and then into Churches of Christ. After a short period with the Scotch Baptists, Lawrie formed a “restoration” congregation after reading Alexander Campbell’s writings. He followed most of Campbell’s position throughout his life, rejecting Calvinism but retaining much of his Scotch conservatism. His circumstances of life, not arriving in South Australia till 1853, and living all his life in the country, produced less tension and frustration with the brotherhood than those living in the city.

Thomas Magarey’s life was completely influenced by the writings of Alexander Campbell. Magarey had the same openness and generosity of spirit towards others as Campbell. But the years of frustration, division and doggedness of those, particularly in the Adelaide church, finally broke his spirit and his sympathy with the movement. Although he believed wholeheartedly in the Restoration Movement, the one element that it failed to clearly show and which was essential to the truth of the Scripture was the spirit of love and acceptance in Christ. An abrasiveness, too often characteristic of the church and so contrary to Christ, forced Magarey to seek elsewhere for the spirit of unity. For him it was in the Brethren teaching of the new birth.