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Saturday, February 23, 2013

The American Restoration Movement

There is something so beautiful and so right in Restoration.  There is something so ugly and so wrong in a divided Christianity.  I was raised Catholic.  Eventually, I was engaged by the church of Christ and was challenged by the ideal of unity with all other Christians.  And, I was challenged to consider the inner mechanisms that were dividing Christians and preventing them from achieving unity in Christ.

There were so many belief systems.  And each attracted around itself adherents who recognized each other as brothers and sisters, and who recognized all others as outsiders.  Against the grain of this division and divisiveness, the churches of Christ were presented to me as those who had turned away from it all.  They had unsprung the very mechanisms of division.  Abandoning their peculiar beliefs, practices, and traditions, they agreed to come together in unity holding only to the Bible. 

This noble path is not an easy one to walk, as our history plainly declares.  Anti-divisiveness, in the height of irony, can become its own divisiveness.  The same pride that attached to the myriad of denominational allegiances can make its home with Restorationists.  Arrogance and snobbery, and unrivaled sectarianism, have rooted in our souls as strongly and as deeply as in the denominations that we have come to despise.

For so long, I have focused not on Restorationism, but on its truest objects:  truth, Divine revelation, and God.  I am reminded of “conversations” with my wife, in the early history of our long and beautiful marriage, that degenerated from the driving issues to “communication about communication.”  The real issue was set aside, while we now bickered over how our very conversation was problematic.  The resulting “communication” did not seem at all helpful, if resolving the initial conflict was the objective.  In like manner, I have not devoted much energy to the cause of Restoration, to our conflicts.  It is woven into my deepest orientations.  Instead, I have focused especially on the Scriptures, the Cross, and the things that make for unity in Christ Jesus. 

More than a few years have gone by since I was baptized into Christ, since I abandoned all other allegiances for the one to Jesus and His people.  I was aware of the arguments over the direction of our movement.  But I largely ignored the squabbling.  Now, quite a few years later, I am facing the awareness that the very cause of Restoration has been largely abandoned within churches of Christ.

It’s a good thing my convictions are so carefully formed and well-founded.  I have a profound sense of abandonment and isolation.  I can review history and note all of the failures in the pursuit of unity.  While many apparently conclude this review by declaring Restoration to have been a failed project, I see the past failures as lessons to be learned, none of which is strong enough to devalue the cause of unity in Christ.  Perhaps I am the last remaining Restorationist.

I have much more to write on this.  This blog will now become a true blog (rather than a depository for some of my work).  I encourage dialog.  Perhaps the fire will re-ignite.


  1. I think a key component to this restoration needs to be a renewed focus on dialog with deonominations. Too often we demonize the denominations. We place them in the same category as heathen and ASSUME that they are purposely rejecting the truth. In truth, I have many friends who are completely sincere in their love for God and His Truth. The evangalistic approach that we tend to take with them is arguementative. Anyone that has ever been in an argument knows that this usually doesn't solve problems or bring people closer together. I am no experpert on interpersonal evangalism. I have been in my fair share of theological arguments. I think we need to realize that the other person is only defending what they have been taught. They might have grown up their whole life in a denomination. They have believed the "truth" as their parents, friends, brothers, sisters and trusted pastor have taught them. You can see why they might become defensive or offended when you tell them that all of that is wrong. In reality, most of their beliefs are 100% right. How can we unify all of us together if "we" are not interested in "them" for anything other than to tell them they are wrong and we are right. Rather shouldn't it be a mutual gathering to study what the Bible says. We endevor to weed out anything other than the Bible from our doctrine. Humility is something that I struggle with. But I think it is important to know these four words. I might be wrong. Let us study and share, not mandate.

  2. Hi James,

    In large strokes, I agree with you. Not only should there be dialog, but we should emphasize in these talks not only our disagreements, but the areas that we can claim as common ground in our beliefs.

    That said, some of your criticisms of our interaction with denominations seem dated. There was a day when we debated openly and demonized routinely. Both seem to have waned to the point that they are almost completely attenuated. In part, this is because we were getting little returns for our efforts. Even major debates that were engaged, with a major investment of study and preparation and, moreover, that we often "won", seemed to have lttle impact on our "opponents." For decades now, the debates have given way to isolation and no interaction at all (except for some individual conversations, such as you have engaged).

    I suspect and am greatly concerned that the greater reason we have backed off is that our people are no longer Biblically grounded enough to care about baptism, much less instrumental worship. Our people no longer "have a dog in that fight" with denominations over the differences between us. Put another way, many of us are no longer Restorationists at all. Many, I suspect, would join in fellowship with denominations irrespective of differences in baptism or in any salvation issue. And, given this, they are not apt to argue or demonize.

    Given all this, our own people need "restoration" no less than the denominations, with which we once contended in a bygone day.

    On the positive side, our traditional foes from the other side of the doctrinal trench--completely without our input--have corrected themselves in a profound way through the "new perspetive on Paul." While there was a day when we occupied the high ground and had something to teach them, the day may be coming when our slide from Biblical authority in churches of Christ may make the "new" denominational believers our teachers. Will we be better listeners and learners?

    Yours in Jesus,