Frustrations with the Restoration Movement

I'm a member of a Restoratoin Movement Protestant Christian Church. On the face of it the Restoration Movement is a tremendous idea, hearkening to the ideas of both the early Apostolic Churches and the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. Key bullet points of our doctrine are:

  • We acknowledge only one authority in church matters--the 66 book Protestant Bible. There is no synod, ecclesial council, catechism, or presbyteroi. The Bible says what it says.

  • From that, it begs the question: "What does the Bible say?" On some things (lying, adultery, salvation, sin) the Bible is rather clear. On other things (how fast to drive your automobile) the Bible doesn't speak at all. Which leads to our doctrine: "Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.

  • There is really only one "Church," that of Christ himself. That concept ties directly to the council of Nicea and the Creed: "We believe in one Holy, Catholic (that is, "universal") and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins."

  • Church operation should be modelled after the New Testament churches--community-oriented, loving, outreaching, and proselytizing.

What's not to like, right?

I'm likely to get in trouble for this, but it's been on my heart: Over the long-term, I'm not sure Restoration Churches can endure. Why do I ask that? Because the churches the movement is based upon didn't endure. (Yes, this is an argument based upon history, not theology, but bear with me....)

The history

At the center of it, the early churches began in an explosion of the Holy Spirit, which broke like a wave across the Roman empire from ~33 AD to 90 AD, the period when the original apostles were alive. These were people who learned from Jesus's original ministry, and they formed churches centered on the expectation that Jesus would be returning soon to setup His kingdom on the earth. The best expression of this was the "home" church in Jerusalem, run by James the brother of Jesus. At that community-oriented church, people dissolved all their worldly possessions, gave them to those who had need, and supported one another.

Time passed, and the community church principle showed its flaws. James had to exhort the people to work, seeing that without works faith was "dead". Paul had to take-up collection throughout the richer churches in Greece and Rome to send to the home church in Jerusalem. The home church was broke. False teachers began circulating. Who was right? *What* was right? How long until Jesus came back and settled all this?

Then, Rome obliterated Jerusalem in 70 AD. Persecutions began. Churches like Corinth and those throughout modern Turkey lost their fervor and began intermingling Greek philosophy with Judeo-Christian theology. People denied Christ in order to avoid Roman persecution, then asked for forgiveness and readmission to the community after the persecutions passed.

Ultimately, PEOPLE became the church's biggest problem. In the aftermath of the Apostles, the Church drifted through centuries of heresy, hierarchy, and intermingling politics with religion. The church split east/west in the great schism, then divided further in the Protestant Reformation. After the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholics managed to hold it together, while the Protestants, bereft of any central authority on doctrine, continued to fissure.

Then came the Restoration Movement in the 19th century. Division isn't biblical--we're all "The Church". Can't we just go back to the practices of the early church and live that way?


My point is, I don't know that we can. Restoration churches worship and grow with a fervor very similar to that of the early church just after Pentacost--the "Megachurch" movement is a shining example of what large groups of fervent Christians can do if they agree to preach what Christ said. Many of these churches are now 20-30 years old, the same period of questioning and division that happened in the early churches. The question for the next 20-30 years is can they survive those growing pains without splintering.?

* * *

Why am I so worked-up about this? Well, I don't see a solution, for one thing. People suck at being their own priests and theologians. It's preferable to letting OTHER human beings tell us what to do, I suppose, particularly if that priesthood has its agenda (They're human, too.)

For another, my home church is about to go through a microcosm of the above, with clear lines developing between those who'd like an explosion of fervor and growth, and those who wish to maintain equilibrium at all costs. As my wife admonishes me often, I assume much and I often assume the worst, but I don't see this ending well for our little congregation.

However, if the last four months have taught me anything, it's that things are possible that I can't see. As the Bible says in Luke 18:27

"What is impossible with men is possible with God."

So I close with this prayer:

LORD, you created us. You gave us minds, and personalities, and free will, so that our worship of You would mean something. That our fellowship and adoration and communion with You would be not at Your command, but through our own choice. You created Love, and made Love personified in your Son, Jesus.

LORD, your Son created the Church, a community of all believers, as an encouragement and fellowship, a haven in a lost and dying world where we might have respite and spiritual food. It is in that community that we come together to grow and learn and worship You. I praise You for that.

Yet, LORD, we have sinned. We are not "in the world, yet not of the world." There is plenty of world within us, and within our Church. We don't know where to go, and how to get along with one another.

LORD, you put me and my family with our church family, and I see the all-too-human problems and undercurrents we face. We have no arbiter but You, LORD. So my prayer is for guidance for the pastor and trustees, those men who have taken on the responsibility of leadership. I also pray for the membership, that we might have our hearts softened and opened to Your will. In Christ's name, Amen.

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