Is the Restoration Plea Valid?
There are two basic attitudes relative to the Christian religion.
One disposition affirms that Jehovah, across several millennia of history, meticulously prepared for the advent of Christ and the spiritual system which he would inaugurate. It argues that Christianity, as such existed in the first century under the guidance of inspired teachers, was exactly what God intended it to be.
Moreover, this view asserts that this divine plan, as designed by the eternal and omniscient Creator, would be perpetually relevant, thus age-lasting (cf. Dan. 2:44). Those who advocate this view maintain that if the world is ever to be saved, it must conform to the mold of Christianity—not the reverse (cf. Rom. 12:2).
To restore Christianity, then, is to pursue the religion as it was originally given by the Lord and his apostles under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, there is the theory that the Christian religion was never designed to be static. Proponents of this concept allege that beyond a few minimal components (e.g., the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for the sins of humanity) Christianity is free to change with the times. It may adapt to various cultures. Its forms may be altered to meet the whims of new generations.
The Christian philosophy is thus free to experience an “evolutionary” development; hence, it is suggested, the “Christianity” of today may be vastly different from that of the first century, yet still have Heaven’s approval.
As to the validity of these two ideologies, the first represents the position of the Bible; the second has no scriptural basis whatsoever. Amazingly, however, it is advanced by a vast number of people who profess respect for Jesus Christ.
It is not surprising that society finds the “new Christianity” so appealing. We have been brainwashed to believe that everything new is better. The new automobiles, washing machines, etc., are better than those of older vintage. Almost every product in the stores carries the claim “new and improved.”
The reasoning thus is: “Why is not the same principle true in religion? Why not have a new and improved Christianity?”
As secular influences conditioned society’s thinking in this wrong-headed direction, religion was making its contribution as well. The theologians of Catholicism have long contended that the Church has the option of evolving with time and culture.
Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of Romanism’s most influential writers, declared that “the Church” has the right to alter its practices in the interest of converting the pagan. He conceded that the use of such items as incense, holy water, sacerdotal vestments, etc., are “all of pagan origin,” but their use is acceptable for they are “sanctified by their adoption into the Church” (1920, 373).
In his popular book, A Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater has argued similarly (1942, 363). For a further discussion of this point, see John Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History (1822, 105) .
The Catholic Church makes no apology for the fact that she can modify her doctrine as times change. Do you remember when it was considered a sin to eat meat on Friday?
The Protestant sects, in actual practice, subscribe to a similar “evolutionary Christianity.” For example, The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches by Edward Hiscox states:
It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, “baptism was the door into the church.” Now, it is different (1951, 22; emphasis added).
Why is it different? Who made it so? Certainly not God! Rather, it was presumptuous men who felt they were empowered with the authority to overhaul the divine plan.
Restoring Christian Morality
Not only has “Christendom” contended that it is permissible to change the original forms and ceremonies of New Testament doctrine, it has even radically altered its concept of morality.
Several decades ago there could not be found a solitary religious body even remotely professing Christianity that would endorse the sin of homosexuality. Now the religious defenders of sodomy are disgustingly numerous.
But why not? If Christianity can be redesigned with reference to its religious dogma, why cannot its moral attitudes be amended as well?
A Restoration Plea Needed Within the Lord’s Church
The churches of Christ are not without some problems in this matter. Whereas we once proudly sounded forth the restoration plea, i.e., we sought to call our religious fellows back to the pristine simplicity of primitive Christianity, voices of dissent are now questioning the validity of such an approach.
Some, like Don White, editor of The Exegete, openly doubt that “primitive Christianity is the normative pattern for all ages.” White declares:
Nowhere does the New Testament provide explicit scriptural basis for a restoration principle—no text explicitly states that later generations should follow the primitive church or restore it.
White asserts: “Pattern theology is not supported linguistically by the New Testament” (see my review of White’s position in the Christian Courier, Sept., 1985, p. 19).
This disposition, which appears to be gaining momentum within our fellowship, reflects a sad condition in the kingdom of Christ.
The fact of the matter is, the Bible plainly teaches that when God Almighty establishes a system of religion, its obligations are to remain precisely in tact for as long as it is designed to last, and no man has the authority to modify it. Such was true of the Mosaic economy until God himself abolished that regime (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14), and it is no less true of the Christian Way, which is to abide until the end of time (Matt. 28:18-20).
Let us consider evidence from both of these areas.
Restoration in Israel
During the Mosaic period, the Lord charged Israel with rigid accountability to the law.
Ye shall observe to do therefore as Jehovah your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the way which Jehovah your God commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you (Dt. 5:32-33).
Again, hear the law:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you (Dt. 4:2; cf. Prov. 30:6).
Under the Old Testament economy, departure from the divinely ordered plan was severely censured. Surely no clearer example of this principle can be found than that of Jeroboam, the first king of northern Israel. His apostasy from the law of Moses is carefully detailed in 1 Kings 13.
- Instead of honoring Jehovah without the aid of a graven image (cf. Ex. 20:4), he set up golden calves through which to reverence the Lord (cf. 1 Kgs. 12:28; Ex. 32: 4, 5).
- Rather than worshipping at Jerusalem, Bethel and Dan became the centers of Israelite service.
- The priesthood was not confined to the tribe of Levi; rather, priests were taken from among all the people.
- The feast of tabernacles was changed from the fifteenth day of the seventh month to the fifteenth day of the eighth month.
Now some would see very little, if any, harm in such “minor” changes in the Mosaic plan. God’s attitude, however, was considerably different. Some twenty-one times the Old Testament mentions that Jeroboam “made Israel to sin” (cf. 1 Kgs. 14:16).
One of the truly thrilling Old Testament accounts is that of 2 Kings 22 and 23, wherein Hilkiah the high priest discovered a copy of the law in the rubble of the temple. When the testimony of the scroll revealed a glaring digression on the part of Israel, King Josiah proclaimed a dramatic restoration back to the law (23:3).
As a consequence of his great administration, the inspired writer says of Josiah:
And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to Jehovah with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses (23:25).
Clearly Josiah labored under the conviction a restoration plea was valid and that his people should return to the demands of the divine system.
And what of Jeremiah’s declaration in an era when Israel was deep in apostasy?
Thus saith Jehovah, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls (Jer. 6:16).
But as it was then, so is it today, some declare: “We will not walk therein.”
The Restoration Principle in the New Testament
In the New Testament, scores of passages demand adherence to the divine pattern. Consider the following:
- The early church is commended for “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” etc. (Acts 2:42). Moreover, as a consequence of such, “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). These passages suggest a unity of practice in religion.
- Paul reminded the brethren in Rome that they had been made “free from sin” due to the fact that they had been obedient to a certain “form [pattern] of teaching” (Rom. 6:17, 18). That is pattern theology.
- The saints in Rome were admonished to “mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them” (Rom. 16:17). If there is no set pattern of New Testament doctrine, how could one ever be required to turn away from those who do not practice it?
- The inspired Paul taught those at Corinth that they were not to go “beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor. 4:6, ASV). This clearly shows that spiritual activity is circumscribed by the Word.
- To the brethren at Thessalonica, and also to Timothy, Paul warned of a “falling away,” indeed, a “departure from the faith” (2 Thes. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff). The expression “the faith” denotes that body of doctrine proclaimed by inspired teachers (cf. Gal. 1:23; Jude 3). If the church has the option of continually modifying biblical truth, how could one ever fall away from the faith?
- The apostle informed Timothy that there is a “pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13), and the young evangelist was to abide in the things he had learned from Paul (3:14). Timothy was to commit that same truth to other faithful brethren (2:2), and charge men not to teach a “different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). Paul states that those who digress from the “sound words” are merely “puffed up, knowing nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3, 4).
- The writer of Hebrews affirms that Moses, in constructing the tabernacle, was warned by God that he must “make all things according to the pattern,” which was showed to him at Horeb (8:5). Do we, as recipients of the “better covenant” (7:22; 8:6), have a lesser responsibility as we minister to God in his church, of which the tabernacle was but a type (cf. 9:1-10)? It is unbelievable that anyone would even suggest such!
- John plainly declares that those who go beyond the “doctrine of Christ” have no fellowship with God (2 Jn. 9).
In view of the foregoing passages (and a host of others), the notion of an “evolutionary church,” a sort of plastic Christianity, is demonstrated to be totally false. The plea for a restoration of first-century religion is valid. It is thoroughly biblical, and those who repudiate it have sorely drifted from the Holy Scriptures.
- Attwater, Donald Ed. 1942. A Catholic Dictionary. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.
- Hiscox, Edward. 1951. The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches. Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society.
- Mosheim, John. 1822. Ecclesiastical History. Vol. 1. London, England: A. and R. Spottiswoode, New-Street-Square.
- Newman, John Henry. 1920. An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Company.