Churches of Christ are part of a great religious movement launched on the North American Continent in the early 1800s, to restore the pure Christianity of the first century. The pioneers of this movement made it their aim to go back to the Bible for their faith, worship and practice. To maintain the Restoration commitment in our day, we must remind ourselves of what it was. To properly appreciate it, we must know wherein it was great.
The first clearly discernible call here, in America, to go back to Bible was heard among the Methodists. Jams O’Kelly led a revolt against bishop Francis Asbury’s autocratic rule. At a meeting at the old Lebanon Church in Surry County, VA, on August 4, 1794, Rice Haggard, with Bible in hand, challenged his brethren thusly:
"Brethren, this is a sufficient rule of faith and practice. By it we are told that the disciples were called Christians, and I move that henceforth and forever the followers of Christ be known as Christians simply" A Brother Hafferty then moved that they take the Bible as their only creed. From that meeting came, "Five Cardinal Principles of the Christian Church:"
1. The Lord Jesus Christ as the only Head of the Church.
2. The name Christian to the exclusion of all party and sectarian names.
3. The Holy Bible...our only creed, and a sufficient rule of faith and practice.
4. Christian character...the only test of church fellowship and membership.
5. The right of private judgment and liberty of conscience the privilege and duty of all. (W. E. McClenny, Life of Rev. James O’Kelly, p. 111).
Shortly thereafter in 1803, a similar back to the Bible movement emerged among the Baptists of New England. The principal leaders were Drs. Abner Jones and Elias Smith. Smith wrote:
"When our number was some short of twenty, we agreed to consider ourselves a Church of Christ, owning him as our only Master, Lord and Lawgiver, and we agreed to consider ourselves Christians, without the addition of any unscriptural name" (Elias Smith, Life and Conversion of Elias Smith, pp. 313-314).
About the same time, in Century Kentucky a group of dissident preachers broke
with the Presbyterian Church. They first organized themselves as the Springfield
Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church. After further study of the Scriptures
they met and resolved to dissolve their presbytery. They framed a document entitled,
"Last Will and Testament." Among its remarkable items are the following:
"We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body..."
"We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church and executing them by delegated authority forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible..."
"We will, that the Church of Christ resume her native right of internal government..."
"We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven..."On June 28, 1804, the Will was signed by Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, Richard McNemar, John Thompson, David Purviance, and B. W. Stone.
In 1809 Thomas Campbell, a Presbyterian immigrant preacher from Northern Ireland, broke with his church and issued a Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania. Among Campbell’s declarations were the following:
"That the Church of Christ is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one."
"That the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice for Christians."
"That the Old and New Testaments alone contain the authoritative constitution of the Church of Christ."
"That no human authority has power to amend or change the original constitution and laws of the church."
"That faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is a sufficient profession to entitle a man or woman to become a member of the Church of Christ."
"That division among Christians is anti-Christian, anti-scriptural, unnatural, and to be abhorred."
"That neglect of the revealed will of God and the introduction of human innovations are and have been the causes of all the corruptions and divisions that have ever taken place in the church..."
"That all that is necessary to secure the highest state of purity and perfection in the church is to restore the original ordinances and constitution as exhibited in the New Testament."
These men thought not to found a new denomination, rather they worked to restore the original church of the Bible to its pristine purity.
The goal of Restoration is great because it is a commitment to reproduce the original Christianity of the first century. God designed and Jesus built the church exactly as they wanted it (Matt. 16:18). When changes were imposed on the church they were always destructive, never beneficial. Like a masterpiece of art, we would restore the Lords’s church to its original state of existence. In the words of the prophet, "thou shalt be called The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in" (Is. 58:12).
The Restoration Movement is great because it is a non-denominational effort, dedicated to serving do in a nonsectarian way. Jesus built but one church (Matt. 16:18; I Cor. 12:13). It was his dying prayer that his followers be one as were he and his father (John 17:20-21). Denominational division is soundly condemned in Scripture. Paul besought the Corinthians "that there be no divisions among them" (I Cor. 1:10). He labeled as immature and carnal those who denominated themselves as followers of Peter, Apollos and Paul (I Cor. 3:1-4). Even those most deeply involved in denominationalism concede the undesirable nature of that system.
Our movement is great because it is a "back to the Bible " movement. Catholicism has elevated tradition, the decisions of councils and declarations of popes above the Bible. Liberal Protestantism has attacked the Bible as unreliable and irrelevant. Evangelical churches give lip service to believing the Scripture, while placing their creeds and subjective experiences about it in practice. We exalt God’s Word above all creeds and philosophies of men. We speak as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4:11). The God-breathed Word is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete..." (II Tim. 3:16-17). Furthermore we properly distinguish between the two great covenants. While the entire Bible is from God, the words which Christ spoke will judge us in the last day (John 12:48). Because of this truth we do not look to Moses or David’s writings for instructions on salvation, worship or practice of our faith.
The Restoration is great because it is a doctrinal movement. Our message is not one of human theology, philosophy, speculation, or experience. We seek always to abide in "the doctrine of Christ" (II John 9). We advocate strong, clear Bible preaching. Preachers are urged to cite chapters and verses so their hearers can verify for themselves the lesson taught. We expect our spokesmen to "preach the Word" (II Tim. 4:2). We demand "sound doctrine" from our pulpits (Tit. 2:1). Our preachers can generally be distinguished from their denominational counterparts by the "Biblical ring" of their lessons. A modern generation must be reminded that all the social activities, marriage enrichment seminars and self-improvement courses will not save a single soul. Only by preaching the gospel will sinners be brought to the Savior (Mk. 16:15; Rom. 1:16).
Because it offers a reasonable, common sense approach to religion, the Restoration Movement is great. God expects a person to use his head, to think rationally if he would be a Christian. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Christianity is not a fuzzy, emotional response to some vague religious impulse; rather it is reasonable. Logical and sensible. The emotionalism of the old mourner’s bench system, the irrational behavior of the charismatics and the mysticism of the ritualistic churches all give way before the simple truth of our plea (John 8:32). Faith is not foolishness.
The Restoration plea is great because it is universal both in nature and appeal. It alone can bring religious unity to a world torn by sectarian confusion and division. Can any man who sincerely loves Christ object to being called a Christian? Visit any minister in your community and inquire of him, "Are you Christian?" I can safely predict a favorable reply. But ask the Methodist parson is he is a Baptist? and he will quickly deny it. Call him a Baptist and you will insult him. Ours is a universally accepted name. Who will oppose calling Bible things by Bible names? This in itself would eliminate most of the confusion in the religious word. Who would criticize doing Bible things in Bible ways? Who would condemn preaching the Bible, only the Bible and all of the Bible? Can anyone conceive a better way to serve God than his own divinely appointed way?
The plea to restore the ancient faith and practice of the first Christian is great because it is thoroughly Biblical. Jeremiah exhorts the people of his day to ask for the " the old paths" and walk therein (Jer. 6:16). King Josiah labored to restore the true worship of Jehovah in Israel (II Kings 22:8; 23:5). Paul exhorts us to hold the pattern of sound words (II Tim. 1:13). The author of Hebrews reminds us to build according to the revealed pattern (Heb. 8:5). The New Testament is our pattern, and we must conform to its divine standard.
May we never neglect, forsake or betray that is noble movement of which we are part. Let us always labor to restore the ancient church, her doctrine, worship and practice. May we pass it on safely to those who come after us.
by John Waddey
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