Restoring the Early Church, Reliance on Scripture, and Achieving Unity

Almost every individual who has had a significant impact on the kingdom since the time of Jesus has had a desire to restore the New Testament church; no group or individual has the corner on restoration although they might each use unique language to express this idea. We can look at the changes Luther made and notice that he did not go far enough. The same is true with every reformer. Even the people who planted the church you attend did not go far enough, and neither will we in our efforts to bring about God's will. What makes these church planters and reformers great was their ability to figure out how to live in the culture that surrounded them and share the good news of the kingdom in a relevant way. They did not isolate themselves from the culture, yet they refused to be conformed. In the end, we should be thankful that they allowed the Holy Spirit to transform them to impact their culture.

Unfortunately, our natural tendency as followers of Jesus and bodies of believers is to stray away from that simple church where the Jesus is the head. We seem to inevitably follow men, fall in love with methods that began with a purpose yet continue meaninglessly on, and develop doctrines that are viewed as essential but are not that significant. The upside to this is that we always have room to restore the early church practices and teachings in our generation. From our perspective, we have the advantage of building on and learning from two thousand years of reformers who have tried to move us in that direction. Unfortunately, we can see through a study of history that each generation have great omissions when it comes to restoring the early church. It is humbling to acknowledge that we will have great omissions of our own that are not obvious to us. But that does not mean we should give up on restoring the early church; it just means that we should not be prideful and believe we have established the perfect church without any useless methods or wrong doctrines. We need to serve Jesus to the best of our abilities, pass the church on to the next generation in a better state than when we joined it, and allow room for mistakes and grace along the way.

When looking at historical and modern-day reformers, we all too often have the tendency to copy a program, rip off a teaching, or model our lives after theirs. We don't have to reinvent the wheel, but we also need to realize that God made us the way we are to bring about his will in the time we are living. We need to mimic the reformers desire for unity and their passion, not their methods. They were made for and were living in a particular place and time. Their causes and efforts were significant, yet their methods are outdated because time has moved on and the conversation has changed.

We need to be willing to change yet hold firmly to a passion to have unity based on the authority of Scripture. That is easier to write than to actually implement because we frequently confuse our interpretations of Scripture with Scripture itself. We isolate ourselves with people who share our beliefs while ignoring and condemning those who disagree. This results in the development of pride and arrogance in our understanding of Scripture. It seems to be rare indeed to find a person that you can show Scripture to who will then go home, study that Scripture, and change their beliefs according to what the Bible said rather than what they had always been taught. But that is the type of people we need to be if we want to have any sort of unity. Whether you believe that God is still speaking today or whether he stopped interacting with us at the final swipe of the apostle John's quill, we can all agree that if the Bible says something, then we need to believe that teaching and change our lives to reflect it.

It seems amazingly easy to have unity with those who are loving and willing to transform their beliefs to the teachings of Scripture. It is impossible to have unity with those who base their beliefs on traditional doctrines, whether handed down through a written handbook or expressed through oral traditions. Even if we would agree with one another on every point at one time, we would be left with no no room for growth. In these types of situations, people will not be willing to reconsider their beliefs or examine an old thought that has been overlooked. They will go around believing what they were told and always read the Scripture in the light they were given.

The first thing to be tossed out the door in a system based on traditional doctrines is intellectual integrity. Intellectual integrity is thrown out for intellectual conformity. The end result becomes an environment of intellectual totalitarianism. God does not desire us to be identical twins; he wants us to be brothers and sisters. True spiritual unity happens when we are willing to submit ourselves to Jesus, the Spirit, and the written word of God to transform our minds and actions into who God intends for us to be. We don't need uniformity; we need unity!


Some quotes that inspired this post:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:9-11 (ESV).

Probably the greatest hurdle which Centrist and Rightists among the Disciples will have to take in this eventual confrontation with the 'denominational world' is admission of the fact that their traditional presentation of 'the plea' is outmoded and that they do not have all the answers to the present ecumenical situation. Many of them have become enmeshed in controversies involving outworn shibboleths which had meaning in the day they were created, but some of which are a 'foreign language' now (James Deforest Murch, Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement, 366).

There must be admission that the New Testament church has not yet been perfectly restored anywhere within the Restoration movement. The division into three bodies and the lack of complete unity within each of them are positive proof that the Disciples have yet much to learn about what it takes to realize the answer to Christ's prayer in John 17. Moderate persons are saying now that this situation calls for penitential prayer and the demonstration of sincere repentance. A new spirit of humilty must be born in those who would sit down with men in other communions and talk of the things of the kingdom. The guidance of the Holy Spirit must be sought in discovering a right approace to the modern ecumenical problem...Literally millions of Christians are willign to sit down in such mutuality of spirit today, but they will not tolerate a holier-than-thou attitude from a people who have manifestly fallen far short of perfection in their plea for and practice of unity (Murch, 366-367).