Commonwealth of Australia
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Australia is believed to have been occupied some 40-50,000 years ago by peoples from Asia, the ancestors of today’s Aboriginals. The Dutch first visited in the seventeenth century, followed by the English. Captain James Cook claimed the island for Britain in 1770 and a penal colony was established in what is now Sydney in 1788. Some 160,000 convicts arrived before “transportation” was phased out in the nineteenth century. Many free settlers also migrated to Australia and the gold rushes of the 1850s boosted the migration.
One free settler who arrived in about 1845 was Thomas Magarey, a young man who had recently come from Scotland, by way of New Zealand. While in New Zealand, Magarey had come to know Thomas Jackson, a fellow Scotsman, and an ardent advocate of the New Testament Reformation. Jackson had set up the Lord’s Table in a tent in Nelson and began preaching. Young Magarey was soon baptized and identified himself with the Movement. A year later Magarey left for South Australia and joined a group of Scotch Baptists who had abandoned the denominational name and called themselves a Church of Christ (much like some of their Canadian counterparts). Thomas Magarey introduced them to literature of the Movement from Britain and America and the majority of them became “Christians only.” They were soon joined by others from the Scottish Churches of Christ, including almost the whole of the New Mills church, Ayrshire, in 1847.
The 1850 Gold Rush in New South Wales is given credit for bringing the Movement to that State. Albert Griffin, a Methodist, came to Sydney at that time. Compelled by his reading of the British Millennial Harbinger, sent by his brother, Eleazar, a member of a Church of Christ in England, Albert soon joined with Mr. and Mrs. Henry Mitchell to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Joseph Kingsbury was also converted from Methodism and together they laid the foundation for a church at Newton (Enmore).
Following the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1852, thousands from around the world began to pour into Melbourne, including members of Churches of Christ in Great Britain. Among those individuals were Mr. and Mrs. James Ingram and Mr. and Mrs. H.G. Picton. The Ingrams erected a tent on their property in Prahan and gathered together a handful of people for worship. By 1859 the first church building was built in Chesterville. Boasting of 12 churches and 230 members by 1860, by the time of the fourth World Convention in 1952 Melbourne claimed more Churches of Christ — 66 in all — than any other city in the world.
From Victoria Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Fairlam went to Tasmania and set up the Lord’s Table in Northdown, on the northwest coast, in about 1865. Oliver Carr, who had been preaching in Victoria, conducted evangelistic services in Hobart for almost a year, which resulted in a church of more than 100. Also from Victoria, James H. Johnson, a zealous advocate of the plea, went to Warwick, Queensland in 1867. Much later Stephen Cheek, also of Victoria, was persuaded to come to Queensland, where on August 1, 1882 he began to preach in Zillmere. Within a week a church with twenty members was formed. By August of 1883 a conference of the churches was called in Queensland and it was reported that seven churches were established in the Northern State. By 1886 several members had come to reside in Perth, in Western Australia. Evangelist T.H. Bates began to hold services in 1890 and soon had fifty breaking bread together. Thus the Movement was planted in the six states of the Commonwealth.
Though the Movement was planted in all six states there remained the challenge of educated evangelists to serve the growing churches. An appeal was made to the American Disciples for help. Among those who responded were: Thomas Jefferson Gore, G.L. Surber, American-trained Englishman, Henry Samuel Earl, Aaron Burr Maston, O.A. Carr and others. Some of these men labored for decades in Australia.
As the congregations in the various states matured they began to feel a need for closer fellowship and united action to evangelise at home and abroad. The spark of foreign missions was fanned in 1889 by a visit from G.L. and Emma Wharton, American missionaries then serving in Harda, India. (Mrs. Wharton was the daughter of famed Robert Richardson of Bethany, West Virginia.) The women of the church were especially interested in taking action and formed Women’s Foreign Missionary Bands. In October of that year seventeen delegates from the 9,000 members of Churches of Christ met in Melbourne for the first Intercolonial (later Federal) Conference. Their first action was to send T.H. Bates to Western Australia in 1890. They began to look toward foreign missions, their goal was to send someone to India to work with the Whartons. Thirty-year-old Mary Thompson of Collingwood stepped forward. The various Foreign Missions committees of the states pooled their money and sent Mary Thompson to India in June of 1891.
Sending Mary Thompson to India was just the beginning of the mission work that would come to characterize the Churches of Christ in Australia. By 1893 support was being given to John Thompson and his work with the Kanakas, Melanesian people who worked in the cane fields of Queensland. Seeds planted in the Kanaka Mission would eventually lead to a work being opened in the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, when the White Australia policy required these islanders to be sent home. Also in 1893 Frank McLean began work with the Chinese population of Melbourne by opening an evening school. Eventually the work was expanded to Sydney, Adelaide and Perth and later led to doors being opened for mission work in China. From about 1901 to 1919 the Australian churches supported Percy Davey in Japan. John Sherriff was a New Zealander living in Victoria, where he became a member of the Churches of Christ. He set off for South Africa in 1896; eventually coming to Bulawayo, in what is now Zimbabwe, where he set up the Lord’s Table on New Year’s Day 1898. He labored until 1902 for his first convert. Eventually the New Zealand churches assumed complete responsibility for the work in Bulawayo.
It would be more than fifty years before the Australian churches would begin work in a new foreign field. Some who had served in Papua or New Guinea during the Second World War wondered why a new work could not begin there? The Federal Conference authorized an exploratory survey in 1956 and by 1958 an advance party experienced in cross-cultural missions work was sent to select a site. In 1960 the Foreign Mission Board became known as the Overseas Mission Board that eventually became the current Global Mission Partners who work with churches in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Thailand, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
For much of the nineteenth century young Australians went to American theological colleges, including the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky, for ministerial training. This did not prove to be the most advantageous situation as many young men married American girls and did not return to Australia. In Melbourne the College of the Bible opened in 1907 to give education opportunities for ministry at home. It is now Churches of Christ Theological College located in Mulgrave. New South Wales College, also known as Woolwich Bible College, and later, Churches of Christ in NSW Theological College, was opened in 1941. A third institution, Kenmore Christian College in Queensland, was opened in 1964. In 1999 a bold venture for the Churches of Christ was introduced; a partnership between the NSW College and Kenmore Christian College was formed to create The Australian College of Ministries operating in several regional centres. The Australian a cappella Churches of Christ, together with their American counterparts also support education institutions, including Redlands College (elementary and high school), Macquarie School of Biblical Studies, Tasmania School of Preaching and Focus Learning Centres.
The work of the Australian Churches of Christ has been aided significantly by the cohesive force of the Austral Printing and Publishing Company, now Vital Publications, which produces Sunday School materials, books, tracts and pamphlets. Austral Printing, founded by American born A.B. Maston in 1891, began publication of The Australian Christian, which is still in print more than one hundred years after its inception. A unique feature of the modern Australian Christian is that four times each year they produce a special edition which highlights both Australian and Britain. The Austral Printing Company also produced the monumental Jubilee Pictorial History of the Churches of Christ in Australasia in 1903 with A.B. Maston as editor. The Jubilee history listed a membership of 13,672.
Beginning in the 1940’s there was some tensions (but no overt divisions) among these Associated Churches on theological issues like modern views of Scripture and involvement in the ecumenical movement. This resulted in new schools being in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Queensland. As stated above the first Inter-Colonial Conference was held in 1889. Borrowing from the example of the British churches, it was a delegate conference, and enabled the churches to work together in cooperative evangelism, mission, education, community care and Aborigines missions. Later the name was changed to the Federal Conference. In 2002 the annual meetings of the Federal Conference ended, but a Federal Council of Churches of Christ in Australia meets biannually and appoints a Federal Coordinator. The Associated Churches of Christ today are organized by state and have 443 congregations with 36,500 adherents.
In addition to the mission work cited above the Churches of Christ in Australia are involved in a number of other mission and social service projects. Among those are significant work among the aborigines, mainly in the northwest and the islands of the Torres Straight. Urban Neighborhood of Hope (UNOH) is a mission order working among the poor, refugees, asylum seekers, drug addicts and the mentally ill. Youth work is predominately under the umbrella of Youth Vision with its own director and resource committee. Care programs include homes for the aged, home assistance programs and childcare. New church planting has been seen in each state as well as other new ventures including inner city projects. Global Mission Partners (GMP) provides a valuable means of giving help to those in need around the world. Women’s Ministries and Camp & Conference Centers add to the life of the Churches.
Not all congregations in Australia are affiliated with the national office. There are approximately a dozen independent congregations in Australia, most of which are not large enough to support a full-time minister through the local body. Many of these congregations are served by missionary families.
A capella Churches of Christ came to Australia through the work of Charles Tinius from Tulsa, Oklahoma to work with ‘non-denominational’ Churches of Christ in Australia in 1948. The term ‘non-denominational’ was used to distinguish these independent congregations from those associated with the Australian Conference of Churches of Christ. Tinius was to be the first of over sixty workers who would come to Australia from the late 1940’s to the mid 1970’s. Tinius worked with churches in Sydney and began discussions with many preachers within the Conference churches. He edited a paper called the Old Paths which was distributed widely among Conference churches up until he left Australia in 1950. Smith also arranged for Tom Tarbet to move to Melbourne in 1955. Tarbet established a new church at West Footscray and assisted A.G. Chaffer’s former congregation at Heidelberg (Chaffer died in 1951). He stepped up the effort to appeal to members of the Conference. He also distributed a monthly paper, Truth in Love (named after Stephen Cheek’s paper), which gained a circulation of three to four thousand each month. As a result of these efforts a number of Conference preachers made the same move as Colin Smith, including Les Burgin and Hubert Edwards in Melbourne, Alf Dow and W.J. Campbell in Brisbane and Joe Pearce in Perth. A number of members from Conference churches helped to form ‘non-denominational’ congregations in Newcastle, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Rockhampton, Gympie, Bundaberg, Inverell and Armidale. By the time Tarbet had left Australia in 1960 the number of congregations in Australia had increased from 8 to 23. While many of these were “house churches” the situation in Australia had changed considerably during that time.
The pace of growth in Australia continued during the 1960’s. The number of U.S. workers in Australia rose to ten in 1964. New congregations were established in 20 additional locations in State capital cities and country areas between 1960 and 1967. However, the greatest growth occurred during the period 1968 to 1976. By 1968 the number of U.S. workers in Australia had risen to 23. Due to an economic downturn in the United States in the mid 1970’s, however, nearly all U.S. workers had to return home. During that eight-year period new congregations were begun in 37 locations in every State and Territory of Australia. While not all these churches survived or thrived, by 1976 there were approximately 64 non-denominational Churches of Christ in Australia. A full-time training institution, the Australian Bible College was established in Sydney in 1968. The college was reorganised in 1970 with the name Macquarie School of Preaching (later the Macquarie School of Biblical Studies). The non-denominational Churches of Christ in Australia reached their peek in membership towards the end of the 1980’s with just over 2,090 members and 80 congregations.
A survey of non-denominational Churches of Christ in Australia in 2001 identified a combined membership of just over 1,850 in 78 congregations. Membership numbers are based on surveys reported by congregations. Some churches may have reported “attendance” as opposed to “baptized members.” There were 45 congregations in major urban areas with a combined membership of just over 1,400. The highest membership totals were in Queensland (just under 550 in 24 churches) and New South Wales (nearly 530 in 20 churches). The average size of congregations was 33 members in urban areas and 14 in country areas. The ten congregations with the largest membership were: Gipps Street, Toowoomba (96), Westchurch, Perth (80), City Beach, Perth (80), Canberra (77), Blacktown, Sydney (72), Holland Park, Brisbane (71), Belmore Road, Melbourne (70), The Point, Brisbane (60), Eastside, Sydney (54) and NorthWest, Sydney (50). The fastest growing churches in the major urban areas were the relatively newer churches at the Point in Brisbane, Westchurch in Perth and NorthWest in Sydney.
Ed and Jean Kelsey from Christian Churches/Churches of Christ were missionaries in Queensland from 1973-1978. Tim and Dawn Yates worked in Charlestown, New South wales from 1999 to 2013.
Three times Australia has hosted the World Convention, beginning with the 4th Convention in Melbourne in 1952 with Reg Ennis as president (little archival material of this convention is available; donations of such would be appreciated). The 8th Convention was held in Adelaide in 1970 with Sir Phillip Messent as President and the 15th Convention was held in Brisbane in 2000 with Ron Brooker as President.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway, September 12, 2013, updated February 10, 2014.
For further historical reference:
Jubilee Pictorial History of the Churches of Christ in Australasia, edited by A.B. Maston, Melbourne, 1903.
Partners, One Hundred Years of Mission Overseas by Churches of Christ in Australia 1891-1991, edited by Keith Bowes, 1990.
Churches of Christ Reinterpreting Ourselves for the New Century, Gordon Stirling, 1999.
An online history of A cappella Churches of Christ by Gregg Dunstan is available at http://www.geocities.com/spenserion/dunstan.html
Henry Samuel Earl Papers, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, Tennessee. http://www.discipleshistory.org/
Churches of Christ in Australia
1st Floor 582 Heidelberg Road
Fairfield VIC 3078
Telephone: 61 (03) 9488 8800
Fax: 61 (03) 9481 8543
Web site: http://www.cofcaustralia.org
Victoria and Tasmania http://www.churchesofchrist.org.au
New South Wales http://www.freshhope.org.au/
South Australia and Northern Territory http://www.churchesofchrist-sa.org.au/
Western Australia http://cofcaustralia.org/wa/
Global Mission Partners http://www.inpartnership.org.au/
A cappella Churches of Christ
Web site: http://www.geocities.com/athens/acropolis/4384/directory.html
In addition, a number of American Missionary families affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ serve in Australia under various umbrella organizations:
Australian Christian Mission
Tim and Dawn Yates and Family
5 Dudley Rd.
Charlestown, NSW 2290
Telephone: 61 2 49 43 9007
Web site: http://www.jbc.edu.missionaries.yates
Australian College of Ministries
C/O: Churches of Christ Administration Center
216 Pennant Hills Rd. (P.O. Box 140)
Carlingford, NSW 2118
See website for location of Regional Centres
Web site: http://www.uq.net.au/kcc
Macquarie School of Biblical Studies
P.O. Box 41
82 Kent Rd.
North Ryde, NSW, 1670
Telephone/Fax: 02 9888 9664
Web site: http://www.geocities.com/spenserion/school.html
Tasmania School of Preaching
C/O: Eastern Shore church of Christ
P.O. Box 210
Rosny, Tasmania, 7250
Web site: http://www.microtech.com.au/balfour/TSOP.htm
See web site for national agencies: http://www.churchesofchrist.org.au
Included are retirement facilities, community care and Aboriginal ministries.
Australian (a cappella) Churches of Christ Monthly