Frivolous Objections to the Principle
We are committed to the restoration principle. Churches of Christ exist in the modern world because of the restoration plea. Some within this brotherhood, however, are now rejecting the restoration concept. They are rejecting the idea that the Scriptures provide a pattern for the church and that we are bound by that pattern. This has led to misrepresentations as to what the restoration principle really is. For example, some have pointed to the sin that was in the church at Corinth and smugly asked: "Which New Testament church do we want to restore—the one at Corinth?" Such sarcasm is only sophistry when uttered by educated men, but it may seem to be a genuine objection to those who are "unlearned and unstable." Reasonable and informed brethren never imagined that the restoration meant adopting the faults and failures of first century members.
We were disturbed by a bulletin article which suggested that we really should not want a restoration of the first century church. No author's name appeared with the article. We have no problem with some of what was said and we cannot know his motive, but there are underlying implications that call for response. The article in its entirety is printed in italics, with my comments in parenthesis.
We have heard expressions like "restoring New Testament Christianity" and "restoring the 1st century church." We have always used these descriptive terms without REALLY thinking them through! (No doubt many have not understood the restoration. However, most gospel preachers and serious Bible students understand that it means being bound by what the apostles bound and not being bound by what they did not bind (Matthew 18:18).
Think about it . . . do we REALLY want to replicate what they did and how they did it? Let's review:
The 1st century church met typically
beginning about 6 p.m. on what we would call Saturday night. This is because
the Jewish day goes from sunset to sunset.
The 1st century church had a worship service that lasted until midnight on at least some occasions. Remember Paul preached until midnight when a young man fell from an open window. (The fact remains that it was on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, when they met. That they met in the evening of the Lord's day suited their circumstances. That preaching till midnight was only on "some occasions" shows that such was not part of the apostolic pattern.)
The 1st century church did not have a "preacher," only elders, deacons and other men of the congregation who took turns speaking. (Perhaps the author is unaware of Timothy's ministry at Ephesus. Perhaps he does not know that the churches were instructed to financially support teachers (Galatians 6:6). Perhaps he forgot his point above about Paul doing the preaching. Here again, however, the issue is moot. Scriptural precedence can be found for full-time and for part-time preachers, for paid and for unpaid preachers, for elders and others having turns in preaching.)
The speaker in the 1st century church sat down while the congregation stood up. (The young man who fell from the window had been sitting in the window! Really! Really! Is this a vital issue?)
During worship, the typical 1st century congregation would separate women and children from the men. (Even if it was "typical," there is no Bible evidence that such was required.)
The 1st century church did not sing in 4 part harmony like we do today. What we now know as 4 part harmony was not developed until the middle ages! And also . . . You guessed it! . . . no song books! (What they did have was congregational singing. The instructions in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 indicate a variety of a capella music. Yes, we are expected to worship as they did—singing and making melody in the heart. No, there were no printed and bound song books, nor, for that matter, printed and bound Bibles, nor bulletins such as the one which carried this article. But this does not mean they had no songs.)
The 1st century church did not own a church building, it was illegal for Christians to own such property until after Constantine who arrived some 400 years after the life of Christ. The 1st century church met "house to house." (In fact, New Testament congregations met in various places—temple, houses, school, synagogues, outdoors. As a matter of history, some church buildings were owned before Constantine (who incidentally came to the throne around A.D. 323, not 400). He returned buildings to the churches that persecutors had confiscated. It is true, of course, that no buildings were owned in the early years. The teaching of the apostles gave no regulations as to the meeting place, only that the church should meet. The place of meeting is incidental.)
The 1st century church partook of a common meal together either before, during or after what we now call the "Lord's Supper." (We now call it the "Lord's Supper" because that is what the apostles called it (I Corinthians 11:20). That the shared meal was a part of every occasion when the church came together cannot be proven. What can be proven is that the Lord's Supper is not to be confused by the mixing of a common meal (I Corinthians 11:20ff). New Testament Christians did share together in fellowship meals, and the same is practiced in churches of Christ today.)
The New Testament church in the 1st century did NOT have a New Testament! Peter, Paul and the other apostles preached Jesus from the "law and the prophets." (From Pentecost on the New Testament [Covenant] was preached and in force (Hebrews 8:8, 13; 12:24); et al. Obviously it was not in written form until it was written, but when they preached from the "law and prophets" they interpreted it by New Testament truth. When it was written down it was inspired Scripture (II Peter 3:16; I Corinthians 14:37); et al. There is not a single truth about the redemption that is in Jesus that can be proven without the New Testament. Why would anyone want to confuse folk by saying the early church did not have the New Testament? Today we preach Jesus out of the Old Testament and the New. But no one was ever able to preach the full gospel without the New Testament revelation.)
The most common means of transportation to and from church in the 1st century was ON FOOT. (This is deep! Maybe this is supposed to imply that if we ride in a car we ought to be allowed to add jelly to the communion, baptize babies, and have a pope.)
The faithful member in the 1st century church had to be willing to pay a great cost for the privilege of serving the Lord. He/she had to be willing to lose his rights, his property, his family, his friends and his health. He had to be willing to undergo beating , floggings and even stonings. He had to be willing to "lay down his life." (There is a flaw in logic called mixing apples and oranges. Here the writer jumps from trivial incidentals to issues of essential commitment. Yes, we do indeed need to restore the kind of commitment named. In his opening lines he asked ". . . do we really want to replicate what they did . . . ?" We would be foolish to claim we know how strong we would be faced with persecution. But surely we all agree that if it became necessary we would want to "replicate what they did" in the face of persecution.)
The 1st century church was made up of FORMER drunkards, adulterers, thiefs, murderers, abusers of all kinds, homosexuals, liars, idolaters, and legalistic Jews who insisted in physically mutilating Gentiles for the "right" to be a Christian! Worship services were filled with escaped slaves, fugitives from justice and the "riff raff" of society at large. (The operative word is "FORMER." See I Corinthians 6:9-11. The gospel is for all and every sin can be forgiven when there is repentance. This does not mean, however, that the New Testament church was a fellowship that tolerated the practice of such things. Do we believe in restoring the gospel invitation to all sinners, teaching them that if they believe and obey they will be added to the church? Yes, this must be a part of the restoration.)
Having noted these differences, do we have ANYTHING in common with them? YES!!!!!! J-e-s-u-s . . . .
Brothers and sisters, the challenge for us today is not as much to restore 1st century Christianity as it is to restore 21st century man to the 1st century Christ! ("First century Christianity" and the "1st century Christ" are not mutually exclusive. What kind of logic supposes that one can be restored to Christ without being restored to his instructions? Does the author suppose that one will be more with Christ by giving less heed to the teaching of Christ's apostles? Did the apostles keep people away from Jesus by binding the Lord's commandments? See Matthew 18:18; 28:18-20? Were New Testament Christians less devoted to the Lord because they kept the ordinances of the apostles? See I Corinthians 11:1-2. The author's statement may sound good, but wrongly applied it only detracts from the truth.)
Our mission in life is NOT to restore some religious method, club or system . . . . the Pharisees tried and failed that! Our mission is to simply by word and deed help our fellowman to be reconciled back to his maker by "loving the Lord God with all our heart, mind, body and soul AND love our neighbor as ourself." "In this is the whole gospel summed up." (Is he suggesting that all who seek to follow the New Testament pattern are like the Pharisees? Was Paul promoting Phariseeism when he urged standing firm for apostolic traditions (II Thessaloninans 2:15)? Certainly the greatest commandment is to love God, but is there really love for God without obeying his instructions? In every age there have been hypocrites, and in every age Christians have fallen short of the Lord's ideal. But we are weary of the implication that somehow those who are committed to the restoration concept are not as loving as those who ignore the New Testament church paradigm. The writer says our mission is not to restore "some religious method, club or system." This leaves the impression that the apostolic faith and practice was nothing but a "method." Was the New Testament church merely a "club"? Realizing that Jesus died for the church, we are offended by such a suggestion.)
We have no disagreement with emphasizing Jesus himself above all else. He is our "all and in all" (Col. 3:11). We also realize our own failings in sometimes failing to keep all in perspective. Is it possible, however, for us to preach Jesus without preaching what the apostles preached? Is it possible to serve Christ without obeying the commandments the apostles ordained? Is it possible to worship "in spirit and truth" without worshiping according to the apostolic pattern? Is one a member of Christ's church if the church he is in cannot be identified with the church of the New Testament? Rather than the raising frivolous issues such as whether to sit or stand during preaching, or whether to walk or ride to church, or whether preaching should last until midnight: the author ought to tell us what things we have been wrong to restore? Have we been wrong to insist on the restoration of scriptural terminology? a capella music? immersion? believers' baptism? communion on the Lord's Day? elders and deacons? the distinction between the covenants? male leadership in worship? etc.
One ill serves the cause of truth when he makes light of the restoration principle.
By David R. Pharr Reprinted from
The Carolina Messenger
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