'Churches of Christ’ is the name favored by the churches of the movement in New Zealand - the name used by the British Churches.
Thomas Jackson, a migrant from Glasgow, Scotland began witnessing in the streets of the newly established city of Nelson on March 2, 1844.
Thomas Jackson from Scotland preached the gospel in Nelson on 2nd March 1844. The first converts were the household of Thomas Butler, next James Barton and Thomas Margarey. These were added to with Charles Nichol and wife, John Batt and wife, George Taylor, and John Griffiths.
As a time of financial depression set in and many left town. The church discontinued for a number of years.
The Nelson church was re-established in 1879 in a home, moving to the Masonic hall in 1882. The church consisted of 13 members. Edward Lewis from the Spring Grove Church preached on Sunday evening in Nelson for about eight months with good results, many coming to Jesus and being added to the church.
On 24th May 1883 the church opened its own building, now our Hocton hall. The land was donated by James Barton and the building cost 350 pounds. (this building is still part of our complex).The church continued to grow until another wave of economic depression in Nelson caused many members to leave the district. For the next eight years the Spring Grove church supplied money and preachers to support the struggling Nelson church.
In 1903 the church had 70 members, the minister was J.J. Franklyn, the church officers, Brough, Page, Knapp, and Glover.
Churches throughout the 19th Century British Empire were often established by migrants rather than missionaries. The first Church of Christ in the Southern Hemisphere was established in Nelson and a 'PLAQUE' outside the Nelson City Church of Christ (formerly: Rutherford Street Church of Christ) commemorates this event.
The following year Thomas Jackson and some of his Nelson converts moved to Auckland and were instrumental in commencing the church in that city, late in 1845. His youngest convert, the twenty year old Thomas Magarey, moved to Adelaide where he was responsible for establishing the first Church of Christ in Australia.
In the absence of any trained ministry, the churches were reliant upon the mutual ministry provided by lay people, which characterized the British Churches of Christ. It was not until 1866 that the first full time minister was employed.
The lack of training was offset by the wise use of Christian periodicals and literature which were obtained from both the British and American churches. When George Taylor arrived from Yorkshire in 1844, he brought with him a large quantity of Christian publications from James Wallis of Nottingham, the editor of the British Millennial Harbinger. Regular correspondence with James Wallis and with Alexander Campbell of Bethany, USA proved to be an important way of nurturing the young churches.
In 1846 Alexander Campbell could rejoice in informing his many readers around the world that he had received, 'Good News from a Far Country", and devoted two pages in his Millennial Harbinger to an account of the establishment and growth of the Churches of Christ in New Zealand.
The arrival of Edward Lewis from Sydney in 1866 marked a turning point in the life of the churches. Known as the 'boot maker minister,' it was not long before he was fully employed in working amongst the churches. Edward Lewis became known as the 'Grand Old Man' of the New Zealand Churches and his labors covered areas from North Auckland to Dunedin. He was responsible for planting a number of churches and strengthening others.
The first published record of the churches in 1885 stated that there were twenty-five established churches with a membership of 1238. Only thirteen churches had their own buildings and Edward Lewis was the only full time evangelist.
With the arrival of the 1880s, the movement moved from a pioneering stage to a period of growth and cooperation. This transition was brought about largely by the arrival of new leaders who came from the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia. M.W. Green came from England; Charles Watt and D.W. McCrackett from Scotland. Henry Samuel Earl, an Englishman trained at Campbell’s Bethany College in the USA, was an outstanding evangelist. Earl and A.B. Maston of the United States brought new life and vision to the churches. From Australia came preachers with the names Clapham, Turner, Hales, Bates, Greenhill, Bull and Franklyn. All of these played an important part in building up the struggling churches.
Further evidence of growth was the setting up of three District Conferences to provide a means of cooperation and to promote the work on a more organized basis. These Conferences covering: Auckland District, Middle District (Wellington and Nelson) and Southern District (Westland, Canterbury, Otago and Southland), now assumed responsibility for the employment and placement of ministers.
A move for even greater cooperation was taken with the formation of the first Dominion (national) Conference in 1901 when an all male gathering of thirty-six delegates met in Wellington. From 1920 the Dominion Conferences were held annually making it possible to coordinate the outreach programs of the churches and put in operation organized structures for 'Brotherhood' activities.
Our movement was established in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1901 by John Sheriff.
The New Zealand Conference in 1904 agreed to take over this mission and Mr. and Mrs. F. L. Hadfield became the first missionaries. They arrived in Bulawayo in 1906. Southern Rhodesia became a major dimension to the life of the New Zealand Churches and has proved to be a very valuable sphere of Christian witness. The Associated Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe, now completely controlled by indigenous leadership, are many times larger than the current New Zealand fellowship.
The consecrated service of many devoted workers (including the life long ministry of Sir Garfield and Lady Todd) has been a source of inspiration, and a major contribution of the New Zealand churches, to world mission.
The Annual Conferences provided opportunities for stimulus and inspiration and enabled the churches to work together in home mission projects, ministerial training, Christian education, ecumenical affairs, women's work, examining public issues and in the production of a monthly national paper, The New Zealand Christian.
Membership was given a huge boost by the eighteen-month Hinrichsen-Morris missions (1617 decisions) and growth continued steadily after their departure for Australia in 1931. In 1938 the membership of the churches in New Zealand reached 4,962 - the highest on record.
In 1927 the College of the Bible was established. 'Glen Leith' (this property was purchased in 1930 and the College transferred there) served the churches in educating men and women for ministry until 1971. A.L. Haddon was founding principal and continued in that position until his death in 1961. A.L Haddon was a recognized leader in the ecumenical movement in New Zealand and scholar in the world-wide fellowship of Churches of Christ. He was also editor of The New Zealand Christian for twenty-four years. He was succeeded as principal by G. D. Munro.
Churches of Christ in New Zealand were represented at the first World Convention of Churches of Christ in Washington D.C. in 1930 and have been represented at every convention since. They hosted the convention in Auckland in 1988 with Lyndsay Jacobs as President. They have always been involved strongly in encouraging the global unity of our movement. They also became foundation members of the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council in 1979.
The movement towards a united church in New Zealand was a major factor in the life of the churches in the second half of the 20th Century. In the 1940s Churches of Christ had held discussions with the Baptists but it was not possible to bring these to any practical conclusion.
In 1955 Churches of Christ became members of the Joint Commission on Church Union which had been set up by the Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, and later – Anglican, Churches.
Early on the plan of union showed promise but, in the end, the union was not officially established. Eleven out of the thirty-three currently affiliated Churches of Christ are, however, in 'union parishes' or 'cooperative ventures'. These Church of Christ congregations have united locally, or work very closely, with congregations of the other churches involved in the union negotiations.
Churches of Christ members have contributed a great deal to the wider church - locally, nationally and internationally. They were foundation members of the National Council of Churches in New Zealand and the World Council of Churches, both established in the 1940s.
Ron O'Grady, a Churches of Christ minister, was Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches for several years before he became Associate General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia. Barbara Stephens served as the executive director of Christian World Service in New Zealand. Althea Campbell has served as a CWS staff member for many years and continues to do so (2003).
Many have served as chaplains and provided leadership for groups such as the Bible Society and the Leprosy Mission. Not all churches wanted to become members of the new ecumenical body which replaced the National Council in the 1980s so Churches of Christ became an Associate Member of the Conference of Churches in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Each congregation decides whether it wishes to be associated with this membership.
The 1970s and 1980s saw a considerable influx of ministers from the United States of America. These were mainly from Christian Churches/Churches of Christ working with congregations that did not favor union. The number currently is small. Although most churches are served by New Zealanders, the closing of the College of the Bible at Glen Leith has led to these ministers coming from a very diverse background of training.
The steady decline in membership in the second half of the 20th Century to about 1800 at the beginning of the 21st Century has meant that the Association has less finances and personnel for national committees and programs. Structures have been simplified.
Responsibility for national affairs between biennial conferences is now in the hands of a small Administration Team with individuals or small groups responsible for cooperative efforts such as overseas mission and ecumenical affairs.
Beginning in 2002, The New Zealand Christian became an on-line only publication. New churches have been established, the church, as a whole is growing; a Samoan Church has joined the Association.
New Zealand has also been sharing with the Australian Churches of Christ and the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in the United Kingdom through the International Mission Team which focuses on making churches more effective. Earlier, cooperation with the Australian Churches of Christ Overseas Mission Board had led to New Zealand sharing in the Australian support of the churches in Vanuatu and to Australia becoming involved in Zimbabwe.
A number of the churches have grown in recent years and a new congregation in Auckland (2002) has begun well. The last twenty-five years have seen a real appreciation for unity-in-diversity develop. Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in the USA have recently established a very successful congregation on the north shore of Auckland. It appears that a new era may have begun.
Although there were a few isolated a cappella Churches of Christ members in New Zealand in the first half of the 20th century, this separate fellowship really began again in the 1950s with small congregations in Auckland, Wellington and Nelson.
Considerable help has been given by missionary families from the United States. Membership today is a little over 1000 in approximately twenty-five congregations. The South Pacific Bible College is well established in Tauranga, the city which also has the largest congregation.
(Much of the material for this article was extracted from material prepared for the forthcoming publication of the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement by World Convention General Secretary, Lyndsay Jacobs.
Notes by Ray Blampied were used for a significant part of the earlier section of the Jacobs article.)
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
New Zealand is the largest of the island groups in Oceania with a diverse landscape, history and religious make-up. It has been inhabited for several centuries by the Maori, a people of Polynesian ancestry.
The Abel Tasman expedition of 1642 was the first European visit to New Zealand. Captain James Cook landed in New Zealand in 1769 and was followed by those in the whale and seal industry. The Treaty of Waitangi signed by the British and the indigenous Maori people in 1840, established New Zealand as a Crown Colony.
The witness of the movement began soon afterwards.