Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Next Restoration Movement

"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a faithful conformity to the life and teachings of Christ as revealed in the Bible - it must be, not balanced by, but superceded, by a focus on Him.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.

11 comments:

Chris said...

The Church is the body of Christ and Christ is head of the body so Christ = Church so what's the problem?

Keith Brenton said...

The Head tells the body what to do, not vice-versa. That's the problem.

laymond said...

Keith, has said we should get back to making Jesus the center of our worship, and not the church, I agree the church should not be the center of our religion, but disagree with Keith as to where that center belongs, We should put God back on the throne where he belongs, yes we should follow Jesus as he leads us to The Father, I don't see how anyone can read the bible and not see that Jesus, The Son worshiped God, The Father.

Mt: 15:9: But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Many today have read this to say Jesus said, yes it is fine to worship me as long as it is done right. Instead. He said when you worship me, you worship in vain. All Glory belongs to God.

Read what Jesus said about what we call his doctrine.
Jn: 7:16: Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

I believe Jesus said it is not about me, it is all about God.
and there are still those who say yeah but, Jesus and God are one and the same.

Keith Brenton said...

All due respect, laymond, but Jesus is quoting Isaiah 29:13, where the prophet relates the words of God ... making the point that teaching men's teachings as if they were God's leads to vain worship. Why? Because they put themselves in the role of God by making laws in His name.

Jesus is one with God, laymond, as i've pointed out before. He is not God the Father, but He is the Son of God ... and no one comes to the Father except by Him (Jesus).

He was pre-incarnate with God before creation and things were created by/through/for Him. He was not simply Jewish person selected by God to play the role of His Son in a Passion Play with a horrible surprise ending, but the actual Son of God in the flesh who left heaven to live and die and live again so that we could, too.

laymond said...

Of course you are correct a similar statement was made by Isiah, on behalf of God, but does that mean that it does not apply in the situation where Jesus recalled it.
Jesus often referred to Holy Scripture when it was called for in his teachings.
Jesus said "But in vain they do worship me" Jesus said many times he had learned all things from his Father.

reborn1995 said...

Keith,

i agree the project of restoration is far from over. And i agree that many that have gone before us have been a product of their times. What worries me is: who's to say we who have a certain agenda for further restoration are not also simply products of our times? --such that subsequent generations will also judge us as simply speaking from a particular historical paradigm? Do i think i'm wrong when in my conclusions when i compare the present church to the first century church? No. But neither did previous generations (generations which i judge to have been mistaken on certain counts).

So what privileges my judgments or perspective? However much scorn and ridicule we may throw at early twentieth century "legalists," are we really so haughty as to assume they were unintelligent? Or that they were ill-intentioned? That many of them didn't possess the very same desire for true restoration and you or i do?

One, it doesn't seem that much of any compassion or cammaradery is show to old-school-traditionalists despite their being our brethren whom Christ loves every bit as much as us. And two, it seems we just take for granted that we're different than them, when we're arguably acting precisely like them. We end up saying, "previous generations were mislead to greater or lesser degrees, but us, well, we've finally got it right, or at least we're closer than they were." Is that the same basic perspectival elitism held by the previous generations which we're criticizing?

If i think too hard about these things, i feel my toes at the edge of the abyss of relativism. i'm certainly not suggesting relativism is true. But it seems to me we do set ourselves in a position that makes us vulnerable to these sorts of privileged-perspective charges. When we take cynical or disdainful attitudes toward people of the past, and when we fail to be self-aware of how our current paradigm shifts are caused by modern trends rather than any truth-finding-breakthrough---insomuch as those factors are true, it seems actually have *not* improved on the past.

--Guy

Keith Brenton said...

Guy, you ask "Who is to say ...?" I think the answer is still, and always has been: God. In the mean time, yes, all of us will always be products of our time before the Timeless One ... but we don't have to repeat the mistakes of the past.

I believe putting Christ as our priority in preaching and teaching, in evaluating our worship and service to God through Him, is wiser than putting a hypothetical first century church as our goal.

I'm not advocating "Jesus Only," but "Jesus First." I'm not advocating "Spiritual Guidance Only" but "Spiritual Guidance in Concert with The Word." Because the Holy Spirit is not going to contradict anything He has inspired. He will always speak what has been given Him.

I can't tell you that I've got it all right, but I can tell you that I believe that approach is better; that it has the virtue of having rarely - or perhaps never - been tried. I can tell you that it's what I see in scripture that the early followers themselves did, and where they went wrong was when they began to become full of themselves rather than the Spirit of Christ (as in Corinth).

I don't intend to spout scorn or ridicule at modernists or legalists or progressives or anyone else - past, present or future. But if we lose sight of the fact that we are all human; that we all err and fall short - then we lose our motivation to focus on the Perfect One, the Christ of God.

ben overby said...

Keith, I totally agree with your assessment of the RM. I think, outside the RM there's been two views. One is that the work of the church is to adore Jesus while escaping the world. The other groups sees Jesus' work as being out in the world and their focus isn't so much on church but lending a hand to the social condition of the community. The RM as a subset takes the first view to the extreme, often falling into idolatry--worshipping the creature (church) rather than the Creator, while having a self-limiting impact on the community.

A. Amos Love said...

“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.”

Kieth - What if there is something
“intrinsically wrong” with many of these things?

I’ve read about your struggle with what
I'll call - “The Religious System.”

“We preach church instead of Christ.”

Which Church are you speaking about?

The 501 (c) (3) non profit, tax deductible,
religious corporation, church.

OR

Jesus is the head of the body,
(The ekklesia, the called out one’s) the church?

Hmmm? A simple word, church?
What do most people understand
the word “church” to mean?

Building with a steeple on it?
Is that in the Bible?

Pastor in a pulpit preaching to people in pews?
Is that in the Bible?

That’s what the world thinks,
the unbeliever, isn’t it?

Isn’t that what the so called “local church”
has accomplished with four buildings on
four corners in a lot of “local towns?”

Haven't we deceived the people
we’re supposed to be reaching out to?

How many will know that “The Church of God?”
The ekklesia of God? The called out one’s of God?
are people? You and me?

Does God dwell in buildings made with
the hands of men? Or does He dwell in us?

Did Jesus shed His blood for;
a building, a denomination,
an institution, an organization, a corporation?

Should we call a corporation “the church?”

Will people know that “The Church of God?”

Are kings and priests unto God?

The bride of Christ?

The servants of Christ?

The sons of God?
Led by the spirit? Or led by man?

Disciples of Christ?
Learners and students of Christ?

Ambassadors for Christ?

How many will know, in the Bible,
no one ever went to church?

How many will know, in the Bible,
you become “the Church?”
And hear His voice? And follow Him?

Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice,
that he might instruct thee.
Deuteronomy 4:36

What if "The Whole Religious system,"
for the past 1700 years,
is totally corrupt?

Corrupt - Dictionary

1- having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.

2- in a state of decay; rotten or putrid.

3- debased or made unreliable
by errors or alterations.

And other sheep I have,
which are not of this fold:
them also I must bring,
and they shall hear my voice;
and there shall be one fold,
and one shepherd.
John 10:16

One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice.

If Not Now, When?

In His Service. By His Grace

Keith Brenton said...

You ask good questions, Amos.

kingdomseeking said...

May your tribe increase!

- K. Rex Butts