As early as the 14th century there arose dissatisfaction within the Roman church over the authoritarian policies of the church. Early reformers sought to work from within to correct moral and spiritual abuses that had caused the church to be described as morally bankrupt.
Later a number of men came on the scene who realized the impossibility of reform from the inside and thus made a break from the Roman church with the intense desire to correct the abuses and departures from the Scriptures. Likewise many of those attempting real reform from within were forced out and treated as heretics.
Martin Luther in Germany became one of the best known reformers when in 1517 he opposed the sale of indulgences, courageously nailing his "Ninety-Five Theses" to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany, and offering to debate anyone who differed with him on the matter. Using newly invented printing technology, he was able to make more widely known his opposition to Rome and give a major boost to reformation.
Opposition to Rome spread through Germany, Switzerland, and England -- indeed, into most of Europe. The various personalities involved, while united in opposition to Rome, had many divergent views on varied doctrinal issues. The efforts eventually resulted in denominationalism, with the divisions coming from the varying doctrines of the reformers and their followers. Denominationalism spread in Europe and then made its way to America as divergent views were brought to the new world.
Eventually from within denominationalism a number of men independently became dissatisfied with the divided state of religion and became interested, not in reformation, but in restoration by an exaltation of the Bible. James O'Kelly of the Episcopal Church and later the Methodist; Abner Jones adn John Wright from the Baptists; Barton W. Stone and Thomas Campbell from the Presbyterians were among the first to see a need of returning to the New Testament pattern. At a meeting of sincere people desiring to eliminate sectarianism, Thomas Campbell suggested following the principle of "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent."
The result of such a policy was not immediately apparent. Long-held and cherished beliefs had to be discarded. But a great plan for unity was begun. Alexander Campbell came on the scene and, independent of his father, Thomas, had reached many of the same conclusions in his quest for unity. Many other great men of the later restoration movement continued and enhanced the work of the earlier restorationists.
With the goal of "speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent," there gradually evolved a people determined to let the Bible be their guide and to do Bible things in Bible ways. They were variously called disciples or Christians or, by those who opposed the movement, "Campbellites."
Biblical teaching concerning the church, salvation, organization of the church, and the basics of the work and worship of the church were restored in the 18th and 19th centuries as those truths were taught and practiced in the first century.
Sadly, the restorationists experienced division in the 19th century primarily because of the introduction of instrumental music in worship and creation of the missionary society. The divisions ultimately resulted in "Disciples of Christ" who have hence evolved back toward denominationalism, the "Christian Churches" who remain relatively conservative while maintaining the instrument in worship, and "Churches of Christ" rejecting the instrument in worship and seeking to keep the complete autonomy of each local congregation.
Again, sadly, the twentieth century saw divisions and polarizations within churches of Christ, while there remained the desire to "speak where the Bible speaks." Even though there was respect from the Scriptures, unanimity did not (and does not) exist concerning what the Scriptures said. Jesus' prayer for unity remains only a distant goal. But reaching that goal should be a paramount desire and aim.
Every Christian should become familiar with the history of the church and the trials the saints through the ages endured in their quest for unity based on the Scriptures. And as the church looks to the future, it should be a matter of concern to observe the direction the church is going.
The restoration principle was based on "back to the Bible." The church became unique, not just to be different, but because the guiding Authority led them to reject many traditions, false doctrines, and assumed authority of the denominational world. It was unique because of a Biblical hermeniutic that led the restorationists to see a pattern in the Bible of what the church should be. And when the Bible ever before them, they sought to be guided by its principles.
Without question, the church continues to change, to evolve. And as that evolution occurs, the question should be asked whether the changes are occuring because of a desire to be more like the New Testament pattern or a desire to be more like the denominational world around them. It is a matter of concern when hearing of some of the preaching now coming from pulpits of the church. This writer recently heard a Sunday morning discourse from the pulpit on personal financial management (No, it was not about covetousness, but about how to spend and invest your money!). So many lessons are being presented across the brotherhood that would be just as appropriate in some denomination across the street. And such pablum will not ensure the doctrinal and moral purity of the church.
How long has it been, Brother Preacher, since you preached on the verbal inspiration of the Bible, on a hermeneutic that sees the New Testament to be a pattern for the church today, on the restoration principle, on the vicarious death of Jesus, on the necessity of repentance and baptism for salvation, on the government of the church with the roles of elders, deacons, and evangelists, on qualities of genuine spiritual worship of God, on why instrumental music is not used, one heaven and hell, on male leadership in the church, on what it means to be saved by grace through faith, and on the moral principles that will lead God's people to be pure, holy and distinct from a society that increasingly accepts the sinfulness of a godless world? How long has it been since you "preached unto them Jesus" as did Philip?
When preachers and teachers fail to deal with the great doctrinal themes that make the church distinctive, the church will gravitate toward the divided denominationalism that the great scholars of the restoration sought to avoid. That distinctiveness is important only in that it indicates an adherence to a Biblical pattern and that it indicates a "speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent."
Paul's commission to Timothy is no less needed now than when the great apostle delivered it from his jail cell in Rome just before his martyrdom: "I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long- suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts;..." (2 Tim. 4:1- 3).
By Wallace Alexander, via, The Sower, Vol. 54, No. 1, Jan/ Feb. 2009.
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