Will the Real Restorationist Please Stand Up?

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I am going to keep this short and sweet. The Churches of Christ are crossing paths in the night with many other relgious groups in America. We started out a unity movement. We have turned into a semi-homogenous group of fragmented and disjointed churches that have turned more into a denominational movement than one of unity. What is ironic to me is that we take on so many different fads that other religious groups tried 10 years ago and by the time they figured out it wasn’t working we just figure out it is something to try. Then we figure out 10 years later that it doesn’t work. In the meantime many denominations are now pushing forward restoration principles while many of our number are abandoning our own. I will give more examples of this later but I think it is the ultimate irony that the denominational world is catching on to the vision that was cast by our number 200 years ago while we continue to chase church growth fads from 1995. I am not saying that all denominations everywhere are turning to restoration principles but I am saying that some are and even some very prominent voices are sounding like things we have been saying for over a century. Have any of you experienced this? I would love to hear your thoughts.

0 Responses

  1. I have noticed the principles at work primarily among independent, conservative, evangelical Bible churches. They tend to have a strong nondenominational and “back to the Bible” mentality.

  2. Good call Matt, I have noticed that community churches have become more of what we initially set out to become. It’s sad that the very community that we attempted to create actually went the opposite direction (for the most part). Good thoughts.

  3. I don’t know Matt. The Church that I have been attending does not appear that way to me, I have seen frustration due to not believeing that we, as a church, is not doing all that we are capable of doing. I can relate to this sentiment some.

  4. Interesting perspective. I’m not sure how many groups are approaching “restoration principles” in their ministries, and I see quite a bit of silly chasing after fads among evangelical churches. Since I don’t have much direct contact with Churches of Christ beyond the one I attend, I don’t have the insight on the habit of churches following stale trends. It sounds about right, though, based on what I’ve read from other people.

    What seems sad to me is how in the second generation of the Restoration Movement the split was already forming. Clearly it was only the personalities and fame of the Campbells, Stone and others that kept it together in the first generation.

    The Christian/Disciples and Churches of Christ split, then the Christians split from the Disciples, and over the years the Churches of Christ fractured further. No unity there at all. The “independent” Christians have a mixed history of work with Christians of other fellowships but have essentially become non-denominational evangelicals. The Disciples formalized their denominational structure and sought unity only with other mainstream “liberal” denominations. The Churches of Christ bickered and bickered and bickered until no one was listening any more.

  5. Let’s not kid ourselves. Every denomination has its fair share of bickering. I really don’t know that churches of Christ are any better or worse than other denominations (how many conventions do the Baptists and Presbyterians have?) I do know that we’re human though.

    I actually think it’s remarkable that CoC’s have been able to remain as cohesive as we have for 200 years without a denominational structure that other churches take as a given! We haven’t had mission boards, but we have churches from across the country working together to support missionaries in Africa or Europe. We don’t have a Department of Domestic Benevolence, yet we have some major benevolent ministries within our brotherhood.

    With “no creed but the Bible” (and all the unwritten ones) we’ve actually done a remarkable job of maintaining a brotherhood with consistent core beliefs. While there may have always been some stresses in this arrangement, I’m not sure they’re any greater than the doctrinal divergences the epistles describe in the 1st C church.

  6. Have you read Pagan Christianity? Barna and Viola are advocating restoration principles very similar to churches of Christ. In fact, they are even more restorationist (house churches, etc.). They call for a return to a more organic type assembly without all the pomp and circumstance; an assembly characterized by spontaneity, mutual participation by all, carried out under the headship of Christ rather than a professional pastor or priest. They even point out the recent innovation of the sinner’s prayer and then argue for a high view of baptism. The Lord’s Supper is revisioned as a meal rather than a thimble of juice and crumb of cracker. I could add to the list, but this goes to support your point.

    Good thoughts,


  7. I am not saying in this post that we are getting it all wrong and that everyone else is starting to get it all right. I am just noting a trend that I am starting to notice on blogs, books, and from leading speakers in and out of the Churches of Christ. Very interesting discussion. I will have more on this later. I have not read Pagan Christianity. I have heard both negative and positive feedback on it.

  8. I sense this desire for apostolic Christianity (what we call “NT Christianity”) among other leaders who represent various Christian fellowship other than the Restoration Movement. However, there are a couple of issues that arise. First, I question whether we would recognize this for the same reason why we would fail to recognize the earliest Restorationists practicing restoration Christianity in our own midsts. Our contemporary understanding of what restorationism is and what the early restorationists believed it to be is different. Second, among the other Christian groups seeking a restoration ideal, there does not seem to be a clear understanding of what it means to restore apostolic Christianity. For some, this means restoring the apostolic intent of the church. However, I got the sense from the authors of “Pagan Christianity” that they were calling for a restoration of the apostolic form. Those of us who have been part of the Stone-Campbell Movement should know that it is impossible to restore every last form of the apostolic church and the attempt of such restoration has yet to produce a restoration of the apostolic function for the church.

    That’s my two-cents!


  9. I think Randy Harris said it very well a couple of years ago: “These people are stealing our lines!”

    If we would start returning to some of the kinds of preaching and urging that was going on 200 years ago, I think we’d be astounded how well people will still respond to it.

  10. At the NW Preacher’s Retreat a few years back, we discussed how the brotherhood was getting angry because the community churches were DOING what we only talked about.

    Also, I find it tremendously ironic that the GA, et al, accuse emerging and missional thinking of being seeker-sensitive and entertainment-driven.

  11. Mark,

    I agree! If we would return to the spirit of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, if we would let people know the good news of grace and freedom — invite people into our communities and show them that they are free to think and question for themselves — we really do have something incredible to offer our world.

    Postmodernity hasn’t made anyone nicer to one another — deconstructing metanarratives doesn’t necessarily make people less dogmatic — sometimes they just cloister all the more tightly with those whose shared experiences resonate together — leaving many many more cold and alone. There are people looking for safe places to belong — to connect — and that is precisely what Christ’s gathering offers.

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