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Vol.  9  No. 5 May 2007  Page 9
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D. Gene WestIs Restoration a Desirable Goal?

By D. Gene West

    For two hundred and five years churches of Christ in America have been engaged in the formidable effort to restore in our time the church of which we read in the New Testament. When this movement began with the work of Stone, Campbell, Scott, Smith and hundreds of others it was believed that the only way religious unity could be attained would be for people to do two things. (1) To return to the Bible for all that we do in matters of religion. Thomas Campbell coined, in his own unique way, the watchword of the early movement which was, “We speak where the Scriptures speak and we are silent where the Scriptures are silent.” (Someone has said we have no trouble in speaking where the Scriptures speak—our problem is deciding when they are silent. There may be some truth to that.) (2) We should attempt to restore the order and worship of the church to the same thing that it was in apostolic times. It would seem that the first of these would lead as naturally to the second as anything can. For example, if the Bible teaches the immersion of penitent believers for the remission of sins, and we do only that which is taught in the Bible regarding the manner in which one is saved, then we could not help but restore the ancient order of things to that degree. We further illustrate by pointing out that if the Scriptures teach that the apostolic church was set up in a congregational style with a plurality of elders shepherding each flock of God’s people, and we follow only what is found in the New Testament on this matter, we will naturally restore the ancient order for the church. One of these things seems to follow the other so naturally that we really do not think of them in separate terms.

    This has brought about a great deal of happiness among religious people in America, and other places, but at the same time it has created its share of grief. Or perhaps we have created the grief by misapplying the principles set forth above. In the early days of the restoration movement people flocked to these ideals and within a very few years the number of those who subscribed to them had risen to nearly two million. Then came trouble! Men wanted to do missionary work both at home and abroad using societies set up for that purpose that could not be controlled by the churches. Men decided that we should add the use of instrumental music to our worship. A pastor system was set up in such a way as to transfer the authority for the well-being of congregations from the hands of elders to that of preachers. Within a hundred years of the beginning of this great enterprise—thousands had moved away from it. Trouble brewed on every hand among the saints. Division, sorrow, ill-will, perhaps even hatred followed and only a very few of the millions were left to plead for the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

    The Disciples of Christ finally moved away and abandoned the ideal of restoration, while the Christian Church was willing to restore up to a point, so long as they could worship according to their desires, and organize according to their desires they were very willing to call themselves “a branch of the restoration movement.” Only churches of Christ stood alone in this attempt up until the last quarter of a century. Now many are wanting to walk in the path of the Christian Churches with regard to worship and other such matters. Some of our people, in great earnest are asking, “Is it even desirable to attempt to restore the Christianity of which we read in the New Testament?”

    In answer to this question, we have chosen to ask a series. If we turn away from going to the Bible and the Bible alone for our authority in matters of religion, to what source shall we go? Some say, “Oh, we are not suggesting to do away with the Bible!” But what else are we doing when we abandon its teachings on worship or any other matter? If it is no longer desirable to restore that perfect order of things found in the New Testament, to what shall we turn? Shall we turn to the leaders of the Reformation, back to the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, or to the Eastern Orthodox? Shall we just turn away from the Bible and do whatever feels good? To whom shall we go—the Lord alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68)? Let us continue to struggle on! We have nowhere else to turn! There is nothing better out there!

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