By H. Lynn Gardner
The heart of the Restoration Movement plea is a search, an ongoing journey. Rather than believing they have achieved the perfect church, those committed to the plea attempt to be the church today in essence and essentials as Christ established it and desires it to be. The plea challenges all to join together on a journey seeking to follow Christ and his Word.
Advocates of the Restoration plea want to be Christians only, with no identifying adjective. The aim is to follow Christ and Scripture as the only authority for teaching and practice. God’s Word believed, understood, and obeyed constitutes Christian doctrine and practice.
Those who feel they have arrived and make their views on the church the final authority often become either legalist or revisionist. Legalists make their opinions equally authoritative with Scripture. Believing the New Testament is out of date, revisionists want to update the church with changing times. Dictated by a pragmatic approach, they change the beliefs and practices of the church, resulting in churches far different from what is described in the New Testament.
Movements and institutions often follow a sequence: mission (driven by purpose), momentum (continuing by natural thrust), maintenance (surviving becomes the purpose), and monument (dying but not yet buried). Churches identified with the Restoration Movement may be categorized in one of these stages.
Christians and churches committed to reproducing New Testament Christianity today continue in the mission stage. They passionately promote the plea. The purpose of this article is to state the Restoration plea for twenty-first-century believers who want to be Christ followers.
Lordship of Christ
Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh visiting earth to be the Savior of all people. He came to reveal God and his truth to humans and provide a way for sinners to find forgiveness and favor with God. Since Jesus is divine, he is the best choice as supreme leader, above all human leaders or organizations. The plea calls all God-seekers worldwide to follow Jesus Christ as their only spiritual head over all things pertaining to the church (Ephesians 1:23) and the absolute Lord over the believer’s life.
Jesus is the way to God. He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The true historical Jesus is the Jesus described in the New Testament. Christ followers seek his will, accept his judgments, believe his promises and, pray for his followers to be filled with God’s Spirit and united in faith.
Authority of Scripture
Allegiance to the authority of Christ leads logically to the acceptance of the authority of Scripture because he treated the Old Testament as true and inspired and pre-authenticated the New Testament by promising Holy Spirit inspiration to the apostles.
Followers of Christ believe the Bible is the Word of God and follow it as their highest authority. What Scripture says, God says. God’s Word rules supreme—not a human leader, a human creed, a book of doctrine, central headquarters, tradition, or personal views.
No human has a perfect interpretation of the Bible, but every Bible student can give diligence to understand the author’s intended meaning in each text and obey what God directs one to do. When those pleading for New Testament Christianity hold any teachings or practices that do not square with the New Testament Scriptures, they must be willing to change and follow Scripture.
Restoration of New Testament Christianity
When Christ is Lord and Scripture is authoritative, the Christianity taught and approved in Scripture is the standard for belief and practice. The first church, as established and corrected by the Holy Spirit–guided apostles, constitutes the ideal of what the church should continue to be. Those committed to the plea desire to practice the dynamic heart and soul of the Christianity taught in the New Testament. The church seeks to follow scriptural guidelines in its preaching of the gospel, congregational worship, discipleship teaching, evangelism, and loving service to the needy. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
The Restoration plea does not ask for first-century cultural practices, such as dress and economic practices, to be reproduced as the old order Amish and Mennonites did in the seventeenth century when transported from Europe to America. This plea is not a primitivism that opposes any new technology or improvement in living condition and benefits. The appeal is to follow the gospel preached, the doctrine taught, and Christian life enjoined in the New Testament.
The early churches under the guidance of Christ’s apostles were free from external authorities and control. Local congregations are free in Christ under congregationally chosen elders, the shepherds who are not to rule as overlords but by example, teaching, and service. One-person rule and denominational control and hierarchy are absent from New Testament Christianity. Church history has abundant examples of the corruption of local churches when extra-congregational church officials or government agencies control the church. Each person is free in Christ to follow Christ according to Scripture as his or her only guide. Being a member of the body of Christ is sufficient with membership in no other religious body needed.
Unity in Christ
Christ’s body, the church, consists of all Christ’s followers worldwide who trust in Christ as Savior, being devoted to glorifying Christ as Lord, and sharing in the new life and fellowship in Christ. This unity is spiritually based on having the same Savior and heavenly Father, not on submission to an organization’s requirements. Christian unity is to be recognized and accepted, not engineered by human management. Anyone is a brother or sister in Christ whom God accepts as a child of Christ.
Followers of Christ must stand united on matters made essential in the New Testament, allow freedom in matters of opinion, and in all relationships show respect and love. Being united with Christ motivates his followers to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Love binds all Christian virtues together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14).
The divided state of churches claiming to be Christian and the contentiousness between Christians are reasons often given for people choosing to be unbelievers or at least nonparticipants. When Christians “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3), they help answer the prayer of Jesus for unity of believers “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Before returning to Heaven, Jesus’ parting commission was for his followers to make disciples, baptize believers, and teach observance of his commands (Matthew 28:18-20). Christians must teach the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) through preaching the Word of God and through loving Christian service. Our mission is to lead men and women to salvation in Christ. Salvation is through faith in Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, not by our works of merit. Individuals seeking salvation in Christ should be given the same answers that the apostles gave in the book of Acts. Those who were open to the message of Christ were told to believe in Christ, repent of their sins, and be immersed into Christ. Christ’s mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) must be taken seriously because Christ’s mission lies at the heart of Christ’s church.
This Restoration plea captured my mind and heart when I was young and has continued to this day. I have studied under teachers of many theological perspectives, read widely many books on Scripture, the church, and theology, and worked with believers of many persuasions in higher education and theological societies. Nothing has changed my desire to continue on the journey of being an undenominational Christian only, following Christ and his Word.
The Restoration plea may be remembered under this acrostic:
Lordship of Christ
Authority of Scripture
Restoration of New Testament Christianity
Unity of believers
La rue in French means street or road. In the New Testament, Christians were said to follow the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22). What greater challenge can we have than to be followers of the Way of Jesus Christ who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)?
H. Lynn Gardner is a retired Bible college professor and dean living in Carl Junction, Missouri (www.lynngardner.info).