by Al Maxey

Issue #479 ------- March 9, 2011
Tradition means giving votes to the most
obscure of all classes: our ancestors.
It is the democracy of the dead.

G. K. Chesterton {1874-1936}

The Great Restoration Fallacy
Moving Forward toward the Distant Past

Listen carefully. I am about to state something that will very likely upset a few people (no real surprise there), but before you leap from your chairs and leap to conclusions, please hear me out: The church does NOT need to be restored!! I know, I know ... this is contrary to everything that you have been taught by Restoration Movement preachers (which, I might point out, is precisely why many of us prefer to characterize our particular faith-heritage as the Stone-Campbell Movement). The concept of restoration, as it's typically used with respect to the church of our Lord Jesus, is a devious and deadly fallacy. The universal One Body of Christ, composed of all those who are in relationship with the heavenly Father by grace through faith, has never ceased to exist, nor has it ceased to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, nor has its presence ceased to be a powerful force testifying to Truth! Yes, it has been the focus of intense persecution throughout the centuries, and many of its members have been martyred for their faith, but in every corner of our globe His people persevere and promote the cause of Christ. In some cases, they may be forced underground, and their numbers may be diminished by devilish devices, but the church itself survives intact! It always has, and it always will. The universal One Body of Christ will most certainly be viciously afflicted, but it will never, ever be abolished. In every generation, in every culture, on every continent, it survives and it thrives! "The gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matt. 16:18).

The church is a living entity. Therefore, like any living organism (rather than a sterile organization), it has the ability to continually adapt to its ever changing environment, while, at the same time, maintaining its genuine essence. In other words, Truth remains constant ... and those who have embraced it remain true ... but the methodologies of proclaiming and practicing those Truths will evolve with the changing times and cultures. We are to be benevolent (that is a constant), but how we demonstrate a benevolent spirit may differ rather dramatically from one culture to another. We are to be evangelistic (that is a constant), but a method that might work in one location might be utterly useless in another. How a group of disciples in Palestine 2000 years ago expressed themselves in song may not be anything like how disciples in Fiji or in Chile or in Tanzania today lift their voices in song, but that which remains constant is: in each and every case it comes from the heart! Thus, although the outward expression is subject to change, the inward reality is constant. The forms of spiritual expression are flexible -- indeed, they must be for Truth to be relevant to any time or place or culture. If the ideals and truths of the Christian faith can ONLY be proclaimed and practiced in the precise forms of a small band of disciples in a small corner of the planet thousands of years in the past, then the church of our Lord is no longer a living, thriving entity, but little more than a fossil on display ... a calcified oddity ... a monument to the past.

If by "restoration" one means recapturing the spirit of some early disciples, as that positive spirit is evidenced within the Scriptures, rather than striving to imitate in every minute particular the outward forms of their walk with Christ, then I would tend to agree with such a "restoration plea." However, I think you'll find that when most people speak of "restoring the first century church," what they are actually speaking of and advocating is a return to the "pattern" of their religious "forms." Yet, sadly, these restorationists and patternists can't even agree among themselves as to precisely what those outward forms were!! Some say the early disciples used only one cup in the observance of the Lord's Supper. Thus, to "restore" the church, we must also use only one cup. They did not have VBS ... we must "restore" the church. They did not have instruments ... we must "restore" the church! They also typically met in homes, rather than in church buildings -- are we going to "restore" the church in this area? They observed the Lord's Supper in the evening, not in the morning -- have we "restored" the church in this area? Restorationism is selective -- it restores what it wants to restore, and ignores the rest. And each group of restorationists has a different list of "restoration priorities." Since their lists differ, each group will therefore accuse the other of not having fully restored the church. And since each little faction views itself as the only one that has successfully perceived the pattern and restored it, each faction thereby proclaims itself the "one true church" on earth, with all others being "apostate" churches!! Such absolute lunacy has rightly been characterized as "the 'illusion of restorationism,' for each sect has a different interpretation of what constitutes the primitive church" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 38]. "That there have been scores of restorationist sects, each claiming to be the true church and each insisting it has correctly followed 'the simple pattern,' makes such a view of the New Testament suspect" [ibid, p. 8].

This is a perspective known among church scholars as "Christian Primitivism," which, at its most basic level, is an attempt to correct all the perceived misdirections and "sad failings" of the present day church "by appealing to the primitive church as the normative model" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 635]. Of course, such a view makes a huge assumption -- that the acts of the early disciples constitute a universal NORM for all peoples for all time, and that to deviate from this NORM in any way whatsoever constitutes soul-damning sin. It seems to me that this is quite an assumption ... not to mention that such a dogma is nowhere presented in the New Covenant writings. Indeed, such a view forever freezes all Christian expression in the forms adopted by one small group in one small location in one small moment in time, which is contrary to the very purpose of eternal Truth and the Christian faith -- that it is for all people in all places in all periods of time. When the church is reduced to its outward forms, rather than a body of believers manifesting the functionality of their faith within their own cultures, we have a recipe for extinction. The problem with such thinking, obviously, is that these legalistic patternists have "trained the restorationist lens on ecclesiastical practice, not on the other dimensions of the Christian faith" [ibid, p. 636]. They sought to restore "forms and structures" [ibid], rather than faith and service.

Those who are strict "Ecclesiastical Primitivists" (i.e., those who regard the practices of the primitive church as normative for all church practices anywhere on the planet today ... and forever) tend to embrace a dogmatic hermeneutic that views the Bible "as a virtual manual for reinstating and maintaining the apostolic model of the church" [ibid, p. 639], and, more specifically, as a model of church forms with regard to assembly rituals and practices. "Rejection of 'innovations' has been considered equally important to the restoration of the 'true church' and Christian brotherhood" [ibid]. Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) -- Reflections #213 -- was a powerful force behind this thinking in our movement. "Ecclesiastical Primitivism," or the effort to restore the forms and practices of the early church, is a "legalistic and mechanical model of restoration propounded by our conservative forebears" [ibid, p. 640]!! More and more disciples within the Stone-Campbell Movement today are rejecting this misguided concept of restoration, for about the only thing it truly "accomplishes" is division within the universal One Body of Christ. Martin Luther (1483-1546) went even farther, suggesting that "restorationism inevitably involved human effort and therefore works righteousness. ... Thus, from Luther's perspective, restorationism of any kind 'destroys faith, profanes the blood of Christ, blasphemes the gospel, and sets all that Christ has won for us at naught.' ... For Luther, then, any restorationist program smacked of human works that destroyed faith and diminished the dynamic power of the Christian gospel" [ibid, p. 638].

"Restorationists or primitivists who find in Scripture a fixed pattern for the church are tempted to impose their interpretation of 'the true church' upon others. This is a good description of legalism, which has divided the church into hundreds of warring sects" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 349]. It is a fact that "those who emphasize restoration tend to neglect unity. ... Restorationism by its very nature has been divisive throughout the history of the church, spawning scores of sects, and was a major cause in dividing the Stone-Campbell Movement" [ibid, p. 7]. Dr. Garrett, in another publication, observed, "Restorationist groups always divide again and again and again, for restorationism by its very nature is divisive" [Ketcherside & Garrett, Our Heritage of Unity and Fellowship, p. 158]. "Restorationism, by its very nature, is exclusivistic. As a restorationist church, the Church of Christ has always been divisive, dividing once every ten years. It will continue to divide unless it surrenders its exclusivistic-restorationist view of the church and accepts the reformation view of its earliest pioneers, who never had the notion that they and they alone were the one true church. Since restorationists will have nothing to do with other churches, they can never be a unity people" [ibid, p. 162-163].

For a great many years now I have stood very firmly by my conviction that the whole restorationist plea is horribly and fatally flawed, and that for anyone to pursue it only leads to the further fragmentation of the Family of God. Indeed, in my third issue of these weekly Reflections, which was dated December 12, 2002, I dealt with this sectarian mindset! Let me close this current issue by sharing just a few quotes from that very early article. I pray these thoughts will challenge us to seriously reconsider this false focus of the legalistic patternists.

Down, But Not Out
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in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)

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An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)

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Readers' Reflections

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, When I came to the very same conclusion you have regarding Col. 2:23 (Reflections #478 -- Supererogatory Worship), I felt as though I had been hit between the eyes by a stone from heaven! Since that day I have never been able to draw the "lines of fellowship" that I was instructed to draw in my youth. I would like to have a "Fellowship Coin" with Col. 2:23 stamped on one side and Eph. 6:24 on the other!! That was a good Reflections article, brother! Thanks!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, It is true that the three or four hours of "group" worship on Sunday are important, but WHEN are we going to wake up and get over this obsession that "doing God's will" is mainly what takes place during those hours inside a building?! Worship is evidenced daily in one's LIFE, according to Romans 12 -- as long as we are alive in Him, we are "living sacrifices." The patternists are in for some big surprises come judgment day!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, This Reflections ("Supererogatory Worship"), just like all the others you have written, shines an intense beam of light on the freedom that we have in Christ. Al, you represent the NEW Church of Christ REFORMATION -- i.e., a move back to Christ Jesus and away from the tradition-based doctrines that have blinded us too long. Keep shining the light, my friend. Keep illuminating the path of Truth.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Since I was first introduced to your Reflections a number of years ago (and I have read every one of them), as well as having flown out to New Mexico to spend a few days with you, I have detected a very definite pattern (couldn't resist using that word) emerging from your work. I have noticed that you are moving your readers quite deliberately along a pathway of spiritual discovery. You are taking us on a journey step-by-step. I am very impressed by your patience and forethought, both of which serve to carefully and lovingly move your readers toward a greater understanding of what truly matters in our relationship with our Father. It is very methodical and intentional, yet your insights are never imposed upon others, but presented in such a manner that we might slowly awaken to these truths, thus embracing them as our own via reasoned reflection! Each of your Reflections take the reader very carefully down the path to that next stage of personal awareness and discovery. Yet, your writings are thoughtfully choreographed efforts to gently move your readers forward in this journey! Al, I enjoy and appreciate your scholarship very much! Thank you, and may God continue to bless you. Please say hello to Shelly for me.

From My Beloved Mom:

Al, "Supererogatory Worship" is probably one of your best articles! But then, with so many from which to choose, it is hard to decide. Your dad and I appreciate the time and effort you put into these Reflections. We also see, first hand, the toll it takes on your energy and patience when forced to deal with the harsh critics. I just wanted to say: We are proud of our son!!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, "Supererogatory Worship" was yet another wonderful lesson. Thank you so much for your daily commitment to shining the light and love of Jesus. Two songs popped into my head as I was reading your Reflections article -- "Listen to Our Hearts" and "The Heart of Worship." Really, God only cares about our hearts. Our hearts tell the truth about what we truly think and feel. Anyone can manipulate outward appearances, but God sees us "inside out." We might be able to fool others, but never God. May God bless you and your family. Please, keep on writing!!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Brother Al, That was an excellent lesson! Thank you so much for not being just a "surface thinker." It seems that as I grow more in knowledge, and as I look beneath the superficial rules and regulations to which I was subjected over a lifetime, I wonder if this is how a prisoner feels after being freed from captivity. I was once made to feel so guilty for enjoying listening to and/or singing along with any of the gospel hymns that were performed by southern gospel singing groups, even though the songs themselves were those that the legalists themselves would sing within their "worship services." Why?! Because these groups used instruments and "moved around" on the stage! The JOY was smothered out of me in the name of religion. Now, however, I sing with newfound boldness whenever I hear those old familiar southern gospel groups. You are so right, Al -- it is the HEART that God sees, and it is our motivation that counts.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Brother Al, "Supererogatory Worship" just might be the most timely article that you have ever written!! Whether the subject is worship, or some other "hot button" within Christendom (especially in our little corner of it), we all need to look to our motives, as well as whether our preferences should ever be "required" of others! Thank you, brother!

From a Minister/Author in California:

Dear Brother Al, You continue to amaze me with the scholarship and astuteness of your writings! You have a "way with words" -- an amazing usage of just the right language to provide a concise explanation. You are better at that kind of writing than I have ever been, or ever will be, and I appreciate you so much! Besides that, you look pretty good for an old geezer!! Happy Birthday!!

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