GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 599 • January 1, 2021
REVIVAL, RENEWAL, RESTORATION, AND RESURGENCE OF THE CHURCH – Part 1
Does the church today need a revival? That is a difficult question because of the necessary implications of the word, and because of general resistance to the use of the word revival among churches of Christ. There are at least two major reasons for resistance to the word revival. The word has been abused and rendered nearly meaningless by some denominational groups. It is about equivalent to the expression gospel meeting common among us. Gospel meeting ought to mean “a meeting of people in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented; an assembly of people confronted with the gospel of Christ and the demands it makes upon one’s life.” The major emphasis of such a meeting used to be the conversion and salvation of the unsaved (Rom. 10:12-14). A secondary purpose was to strengthen Christians and help them grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18). When used properly the word implies that something is wrong and needs to be corrected, something is dead and needs to be brought back to life again.
Revive means to renew, return or restore life, consciousness, activity, or a condition that has ceased or been lost. It is not possible to revive those who are alive, conscious, active, or already occupying the desired condition. Too often the word revival is used when what is actually desired is increased awareness and activity. A revival meeting or gospel meeting is an effort to encourage and promote an increase of interest in spiritual things among both saved and unsaved. If they were asked whether or not the church of Christ needs a revival – a completed restoration to its original purity and pattern – many church members would answer with a resounding NO! They say, “The New Testament church has been restored, and it is alive and well, especially here in the United States. At about the turn of the 19th century various men in American religions circles began to plead for the restoration of New Testament Christianity. Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and a host of others did not point to themselves as leaders or founders of a new church (as had been the case with many of the reformers in the Protestant movement). They simply pointed believers to the pattern for the church revealed in the New Testament. The appeal of “the Restoration Movement” is to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” It emphasizes the need for a “thus saith the Lord” for all matters of faith and religion. It is important at this point to define the term New Testament. We generally refer to a collection of writings beginning with Matthew as the New Testament section of the Bible. But, properly used, the term is a reference to “the new will, the new covenant – we could say the last will and testament of Jesus Christ.” His will for us is contained in these writings. When we use the term New Testament in this lesson, we are referring not just to a section of the Bible, but to the express will of Christ.
Three questions are central for this lesson: Does the church of the New Testament exist today? The answer is YES. Has the church of the New Testament been fully restored? The answer is NO. Can the church of the New Testament be fully restored – re-established in its original purity and according to the original pattern? The answer to this question is YES.
To deal adequately with the topic, we will need to discuss the identifying marks of the New Testament church, both in plan and in practical application. We will also need to look at some of the history of the church as it has tried to obey God and please God, and please itself and the world in the process. Therein lies the key to a general failure to deserve the name the church of the New Testament.
IDENTIFYING MARKS OF THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
It has a distinctive MESSAGE. It was centered in the AUTHORITY OF CHRIST (John 20:31, 2 John 9-11, Mt. 28:18, Eph. 1:21-23). The message was from Christ, whether in his own words of those he inspired in others by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19-20, Jn. 16:13, 1 Cor. 2:11-13, Acts 2, etc).
The message contains a definite and distinctive PLAN OF SALVATION. The simplest statement of the plan has these essentials:
• FAITH (not merely belief). Heb. 11:6, Mark 16:16b
• REPENTANCE (true and full change and conversion). Acts 3:19
• BAPTISM (immersion in water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Acts 2:38, Gal. 3:27
• FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE (to all commands, requirements, and restrictions). 1 John 5:3, Heb. 5:9
It has an equally distinctive ORGANIZATION (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 8; Tit. 1:5). The church as a whole, and each of its separate congregations recognizes Jesus Christ as its only Head. There is no ruling body, no denominational headquarters with elected or appointed rule makers, no central authority to which member congregations and members must submit. Each separate congregation is to be governed by elders (also called bishops, overseers, or presbyters – there is no office above them in the local church and their authority is limited to the congregation of which they are members. Elders can only be appointed if men are proved qualified according to the standard set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. They are appointed by approval of the congregation they are to serve and their jurisdiction is limited to that one congregation – no synod or conclave of elders can have authority in and over the church in general. Deacons, with their own set of qualifications, are not leaders or overseers of a congregation but are servant under the authority of the elders. Even without elders or overseers the church must be amenable to the strict standards set forth in various places in the New Testament scriptures.
The church’s WORSHIP is also by divine pattern. It was not parallel to, nor an extension of the Jewish pattern (the synagogue was not and is not a model for Christian worship). Prayer is offered to God through Christ Jesus (Col. 3:17). Singing is unaccompanied (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19). No instruments of music are authorized for use in the New Testament church – any additions or alterations to God’s appointment will be anathematized (Rev. 22:18-19, Gal. 1:9).
Giving is free-will, no longer a specified percentage such as a tithe (1 Cor. 16:2, 2 Cor. 9:6-7).
Preaching is to be the message/gospel of Christ, including what is enjoined by apostles who were empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit of God Christ (Mt. 28:20, John 14:26 and 16:7-15). All things taught by the apostles are to accepted and bound upon all Christians, since their words were given to them by the Lord and the Holy Spirit from heaven (Mt. 16:18-19, Mt. 18:80, 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Lord’s supper replaced the old Passover feast, and was to be observed on the first day of each week as a memorial to His death and resurrection (1 Cor. 11:23-29, Acts 20:7).
It was characterized by a certain ATTITUDE. Early Christians were taught, “Have this mind (the mind of a servant) which was also in Christ Jesus” ( Phil. 2:5-9). They were to faithful to the doctrine of the apostles (Acts 2:42, Rom. 6:17). They practiced their faith on a daily basis (Acts 2:46).
Perhaps as important as everything else was their emphasis on EVANGELISM (missions both local and foreign) – preaching, teaching, sharing the message of the gospel and urging everyone to obey it. The Jewish idea of a centralized temple failed to meet world needs for instruction. Perhaps they, and many modern copyists, failed to understand Isaiah 2:1-4 properly. We have examples of mass evangelism (Acts 2:41 about 3,000), street preaching (Acts 17:17), and house to house teaching (Acts 5:42, Acts 20:20). The has experience consistent RESULTS: UNITY (Acts 2:44, 1 Cor. 1:10, Eph. 4:4-6), FAVOR with God and man (Acts 2:47), and GROWTH – saved persons being added daily whenever they respond obediently to the gospel message (Acts 2:47).
Summary: The church which fulfilled the will of Jesus Christ (the new covenant) was extraordinary. The church cannot remain average and still expect to meet the desires of the Lord. It was not an “average church” that preached the gospel in all known nations in the first century (Col. 1:23). They were not average in evangelism. They were not average in giving (2 Cor. 8:3-4) or in activity (Acts 8:4, 1 Th. 1:7-8). They were not average in devotion; they loved the Lord more than they loved anyone or anything else. They were not average in steadfastness. They were often willing to die for the cause of Christ – they were sometimes called upon to do just that. Citizens of the first century often marveled at Christians.
– To be continued