"It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." ~ Romans 9:6
I have a little bit of hero worship going on in my heart toward the saints who began the Restoration Movement more than two hundred years ago. They were people of great courage, enormous faithfulness to the scripture, and an irenic, Christ-like spirit. Yet they were also products of their time as well as their choices, just like you or me or the disciples of century one or anyone else.
Sometimes we choose wisely. Sometimes we don't.
But there's a good chance that the factors affecting our choices are shaped by the era and circumstances which surround us.
In short, the Restoration's prime movers were men, dedicated to restoring a unified, non-denominational church at a time when a new nation had been formed of many united states. Their modus operandus was much the same as that of the nation's founders: issue a sort of declaration of independence (Barton W. Stone's document, the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery) and then a sort of constitution (Alexander Campbell's Declaration and Address). Within a few years, their groups discovered each other and merged as a unity movement called "The Christian Connexion" (sometimes "Connection"). It was all very modern, very rational, institutional, very corporate, and all very, very American.
As well as very, very focused on the church.
While there is nothing essentially wrong with that - and the language of both documents and other initial writings urges a faithful conformity to the life and teachings of Christ as revealed in the Bible - it must be, not balanced by, but superceded, by a focus on Him. The focus of the generations that followed became more and more on the church and less and less on Christ.
In that way, the Restoration Movement succeeded in the succeeding generations - duplicating the church of century one and all of its difficulties: the congregations became fraught with issues of structure and function and office and practice and tradition and some members lording their supposed superiority over others and propounding misconceptions about the return of Christ and precepts of men being taught as doctrines of God. So, of course, the unity movement of century nineteen seceded into factions over all these teachings of men.
In short, the New Testament church was almost fully restored as it had existed in century one.
Except that, in those more "modern" and "enlightened" times, the scripture became law by which others must be judged rather than the gentle yet firm instructions of the Righteous Judge would guide the lives of those who love Him back, along with the presence of His Spirit in their lives. Somehow, even that Spirit was judged inferior to the written word, and was banished to a place of retirement, trapped for all time within its pages.
Vestiges of that belief system persist today, loudly judging others and proclaiming their righteous superiority and "marking" by name those who dare to question it or the conclusions they have reached in order to earn it.
I began this post with a verse from Paul's letter to the believers at Rome, describing his yearning for those of his Jewish heritage to be as accepting of Christ as Gentiles had been. He was pointing out that the failure to accept Christ was a matter of individual choice, not of the insufficiency of God's word. In the wake of the law's fulfillment in Christ, the time had simply come for something better than law.
I believe it's time for something better than a church-focused church. I believe it's time for twenty-first century revival, not nineteenth. I believe it's time for a new Restoration Movement, a movement that seeks to restore souls to Christ.
Starting with our own.
Over time - inspired by the Spirit to share the gospel Story - that will restore the church, the assembled saints, as the natural result.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with going to church in a building on a Sunday, hearing God's word preached by a paid full-time preacher, praying together, singing together, observing the Lord's Supper together, giving of our means to support the church, all while men do the leading. But in addition to those "acts of worship" which have been legislated as the only biblically-authorized ones by some of our forebears in fellowship, there is also nothing intrinsically wrong with:
- Meeting other days of the week, breaking bread together at places of worship and in homes, sharing goods and possessions with each other so that no one has need, and praising God. ~ Acts 2:42-47
- Giving to relieve suffering ~ Acts 11:27-30
- Giving to the poor ~ Acts 24:17
- Part-time / vocational ministry ~ Acts 18:3
- More than one speaker and discussion when the church is assembled (as long as it edifies) ~ 1 Corinthians 14:29-32
- Women praying and prophesying ~ 1 Corinthians 11:3-9
- Worship with instruments, which are obviously not intrinsically offensive to God ~ Revelation 15:2
What makes these things (and many, many other ways to worship God ~ Romans 12:1-2) permissible? Well, in addition to the fact that they are right there in scripture, they also reflect what Christ did and taught in century one ... rather than the rules and regulations laid down by men between then and now, based on assumptions and interpretations and sometimes outright additions to and subtractions from scripture. Forcibly retiring the Holy Spirit from His role in helping open that scripture to our hearts - quenching His fire, in other words - has been our failure by choice. Making the church of first importance, rather than Christ, is where we as a Restoration fellowship - as well as many, many other modern fellowships and movements - have gone wrong.
It is not as though God's word had failed.
But for the true Israel of God's people to seek and find Him, our goal should not be so much the restoration of a fallen church as the transformation of a risen Christ.