DENIAL AND BETRAYAL OF THE RESTORATION PLEA
In 1973, a man who was viewed as a prominent preacher in the Lord’s church made the startling statement, “The church of Christ is a big, sick denomination, and I mean all three of those words – big . . . sick . . . denomination!” He had been taught better, had known better, and had preached better. If I am not mistaken, his family had been converted from denominationalism. But in this instance, he caved in to the religious pluralism of our age and turned his back on the restoration principle, the restoration plea, and the commitment to be Christians only and simply the undenominational church of the New Testament. He has been a friend for over sixty years (ever since our student days at Freed-Hardeman College [now University]). He is still loved, and it is sincerely hoped that he has seen the error of his way and returned to “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16) of New Testament Christianity, but I know of nothing to indicate that he has done so.
My friend was neither the first nor the last to deny the restoration principle and betray the restoration plea. Earl I. West, the great restoration historian, observed:
“There are always those who believe they sense something in the ‘spirit’ of a thing contrary to what may be found in the ‘letter’; or, who, reacting against what they consider a radical extreme of isolationism devote their energies to popularizing a movement. The restoration period came to know these individuals following the war between the states. The church appeared to them to be too narrow and restricted, and their ambition therefore was to lift the brotherhood to a ‘dignified church’ in a world of denominationalism, commanding at least some respect from these religious bodies” (The Search For The Ancient Order, Vol. 2, p. 250).
Homing in on what was occurring in many churches of Christ at the beginning of the 21st century, Jimmy Jividen wrote:
“A whole group of so-called church leaders have an agenda to change the church and bring it into conformity with the current culture. Already scores of once faithful gospel preachers are affiliated with the denominations of men. Already former churches of Christ have changed their identity so as not to be associated with what they call ‘Church of Christ theology’ ” (Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures, p. 114).
In their book, Embracing Creation, John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson state: “God’s people remember their identity, their mission, and are renewed. These retellings point God’s people to the future. They do not restore the past; they are restoring the future (p. 184, emphasis mine, hf). They go on to say, “According to the story, the goal of restoration is not an attempt to return to any historical golden age. … The story did not foster faithfulness to a distant past but openness to God’s future” (pp. 184-185). Still further they state: “God’s restoration movement does not take us back to the first century; it moves us into the future” (p. 186).
These are blatant denials of the restoration principle and the restoration plea, and a sad and tragic betrayal of the concept that we should be concerned about going back to the New Testament for authority for all that we teach, believe, and practice in religion. John Mark Hicks is a member of the Bible faculty of Lipscomb University in Nashville and one of the organizers of a Sunday afternoon “gathering” known as the “All Saints Church of Christ” that meets in the facilities of the Vine Street Christian Church (a Disciples of Christ congregation) in Nashville. The “All Saints Church of Christ” uses instrumental music in its worship and features women preachers, both of which Hicks is on record as endorsing. Lamentably, as David B. Jones said at the 2017 edition of Polishing the Pulpit, “Some brethren are more interested in destroying than restoring.”
I am aware that there are those among us who not like to talk about these “negative things.” But false teachers and traitors to the cause of Christ were not winked at and overlooked in New Testament times, and they should not be winked at and overlooked today. Neither should they be held up as representatives of New Testament Christianity and champions of the faith of the gospel because they are neither!
The true position of loyal churches of Christ is well summarized by Jimmy Jividen:
“Leaders in the churches of Christ have historically resisted the pressures to become an ecumenical denomination, a human ecclesiastical organization, or to accept an open-ended hermeneutic to determine their faith and practice. They view the Scriptures as inspired and authoritative. They seek to be involved in a perpetual restoration of faith and practice of the apostolic church. The restoration principle is still alive and well. They hold to no creed, no central organization and no clergy. Nothing is involved in their faith and practice that cannot be supported by Scripture” (Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures, pp. 86-87).
This is the restoration plea—a back to the Bible plea, a back to the God of the Bible plea, a back to the Christ of the Bible plea, a back to the church of the Bible plea! Let us love it, adhere to it, and proclaim it to a world badly in need of hearing and accepting it!
“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11).
(Note: The above is the last in a series of nine essays on the restoration plea. It is hoped that these essays have helped all who have read them to have a greater understanding and appreciation of the effort to simply be the undenominational church of which we read in the New Testament and the importance of continuing to press the principles that enable us to be the true church of our Lord.)
November 14, 2017