Recently, I was asked to write an opinion piece, giving an informal analysis of the current state of the Restoration Movement. I gladly agreed to do so, and I want to share it with my blog readers.
When I use the term Restoration Movement, I am referring to the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (not the a capella Churches of Christ or the Disciples of Christ denomination).
Among the positive things I have seen in recent years is a renewed interest in church planting.. Researchers consistently document the fact that new churches are reaching non-Christians with the gospel more effectively than established congregations. Generally speaking, new church plants grow at a faster rate than traditional church models. Another positive sign is the emphasis on world missions. The National Missionary Convention has become one of the premier conventions among our people. Bible colleges are sending more students on short-term mission trips than ever before. There seems to be a genuine desire on the part of the younger generation to minister cross-culturally. I believe these are positive trends that honor the Lord as believers seek to fulfill His Great Commission.
I do, however, see some dangerous trends among us. One of those is a de-emphasis on biblical doctrine and a heavy reliance on pragmatic church growth principles. These need not be mutually exclusive, but our forefathers pointed people to the Bible, believing that the truth of God’s Word is what changed lives and caused the church to grow. They promoted unity, and they also pleaded for an adherence to truth (“union in truth” was the term they used). Historically, there has been a doctrinal distinctiveness about our movement. This came as a result of a genuine study of the Scriptures. Perhaps the most well-known distinctive is our understanding of the place of baptism (immersion) in God’s plan of redemption. Some have made a case that this particular doctrine was over-emphasized. They may be right, but I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Our churches do not seem to have the unity of belief and practice that they did a few decades ago. We seem to be on a path toward blending in with a generic brand of evangelicalism. Other issues like church polity, gender roles, and the authority of the Bible have also come under scrutiny in recent years.
We may be approaching another crossroads in our history. Will we continue to preach the Bible, believing that our forefathers’ “restoration plea” to call people back to the Bible, and wear the name “Christian” is still valid? Or will we morph into something other than what we have known in the past?