Saturday, March 9, 2013
Eden lost: Restoring what had been better....
Restoration begins with the sweet memory of a better state of affairs, of a time when things were better, or were as they should be. Restoration finds its home in a world in which decay, corruption, rust, and depreciation are facts of life. This is the natural tendency of things. Restoration undertakes very “unnatural” processes like repair, renewal, reclamation, and revitalization. Progress is not a default direction; it happens only through deliberation. In fact, in the sense we mean it, Restoration transcends from an “unnatural” to a “Supernatural” process.
Restoration encompasses everything from the micro to the macro. On the largest scale, the entire created order has fallen from the pristine, honorable, pure state given by the Creator. Jesus will remain in Heaven until “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). The creation will be again put right. We would notice the damage if someone placed a moustache on the Mona Lisa, but not everyone has the vision to behold the satanic marring of God’s good creation. Things are in disrepair, and terribly so. Jesus would not have taken the Cross if a little patch or cosmetics would suffice. The damage could be fixed by nothing less than Jesus’ sin-bearing death on the Cross.
Restoration takes in every smaller part of Creation that has suffered damage. The Great Commission that undertakes the evangelism of the non-Christian world aims to restore humanity to honor, glory, and nobility that the stained image-bearers of God traded to the Devil in the greatest swindle of all times. Every person who has fallen from perfection should hunger desperately to have themselves restored. This restoration of the individual is the most micro level of the work of God.
And the American Restoration Movement remembers a time when the church was in better shape. There was a time when unity was a non-negotiable quality that Christians would fight for, if ever a sign of unraveling fell into the holy fellowship of God’s people. That unity was so important to Father and Son that they sent the Holy Spirit to indwell first one Christian and another, and then to be the common indwelling Presence shared by all. Not everyone can see the ugliness when Christians denominate into separate fellowships and begin to see some as “one of us” and others as “one of them.” Some think it’s beautiful to have such variety of faiths and celebrate the diversity. Others of us long to go back….
Restoration has to be a “back-to-the-Bible” process. Love alone is not enough, though it is indispensable. Love has to be guided by knowledge, wisdom, and clear direction that can only come from the revelation of God. When my relationship with God slips, I have to restore it through the correction that comes from Scripture. When my church slips, crossing some doctrinal line or failing to honor God in theological belief, we have to submit to what is Written. Whole denominations have to come to fresh terms with the body of tradition that they have inherited, perhaps uncritically in view of the Bible. All of the “isms” that define one identity group (but not the others) can be legitimately retained only if they are true to what God has revealed and declared, or they must be jettisoned sacrificially not merely to please God, but to enable restoration of fellowship with Christians who are unable to join them in such beliefs because they, in truth, are not supported in the faith once delivered to the saints.
There is a cost to restoration. To regain what was good, some adopted substitute will be lost. Some theological trend that has been cherished for centuries, and traces its memory to someone pedestalled as a hero, might have to be wadded up and summarily trashed. Arguments will arise and relationships will shake and sometimes break. Church discipline will have to be enforced and meals will no longer be eaten with someone we loved dearly, and love still. Those who love the truth will sometimes have to walk away alone. Your hearts will be broken. Paul wrote, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident” (1 Cor. 11:18-19). The Prince of Peace himself came to bring, not peace, but a sword, creating enmity even between the sharers of a common household (Matt. 10:34ff.).
Fact is, today we have numerous “Christianities” and numerous strategies by which salvation in Jesus might be had. I hope I’m not the first to see that God did not create them all. I hope others can see that they all do not have God’s approval (see the Bible). There are not many paths from which we may choose. There are but two; one considerably wider (and easier) than the other (Matt. 7:13-14).
For example, consider baptism, the salvation-bearing rite of Christian initiation. To accommodate those who cannot accept the plain teaching of Scripture, shunted aside as they are by this theological trend or that, some have instead created “the Sinner’s Prayer”. Others have changed the meaning of the act, still insisting that new (already-saved, it is supposed) Christians yet obey the command to “get wet all over”, now for some other contrived reason—perhaps an outward public confession of an inward faith. They, thus, obey God’s command to “be baptized”, right? Forget for the moment that getting wet all over is quite a strange way to publicly declare faith. The silly notion has not a single support from Scripture. Some baptisms are quite private (the eunuch, the Philippian jailer), and at others we never hear the call, “Gather a crowd, they’re about to get wet all over!” Meanwhile, the plain declarations of union with Christ Jesus, with remission of sin, and with reception of Spirit are ignored suspiciously or explained away torturously.
This is a call to anyone who longs for a better day. Those of a Restorationist bent have little appreciation for the current state of things. There were Restorationists around who saw the great Temple of God razed to the ground, and who could not applaud its disappointing replacement:
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jehovah, after the order of David king of Israel. And they sang one to another in praising and giving thanks unto Jehovah, saying, For he is good, for his lovingkindness endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, the old men that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off. (Ezra 3:10-13, ASV)
In our day, there is great rejoicing over the broad diversity of Christendom, but not from those who remember the sweet unity that was once shared in the Spirit in shared beliefs. Those of us who have seen something better than the current Babel within Christianity will work for Restoration. We will rebuild, repair, restore. And while great improvements in doctrine and theology continue to be made outside of churches of Christ, our own fellowship is suffering erosion in the same areas. Wouldn’t it be ironic if those churches of Christ who strategically seek to be “like the other denominations” now find themselves in need or Restoration, while the denominations themselves have moved onto the ground they had vacated? In the crucial concerns of Spirit and baptism, this looks to be the situation.