Some people have the hobby of restoring classic automobiles. When someone restores an older car, they keep the original car in mind the entire time. The moment the restorer of an old automobile begins to change things that are not in the original, restoration has ceased. When restoration is the goal, but revision takes place, it becomes reformation and not restoration. Jesus told His disciples that He would build His church (Mt.16:18). Not even the bars of death would be able to prevent Jesus from establishing His kingdom, the church (Mt. 16:19). As with all Divine promises, Jesus kept His word and did establish His church the first Pentecost following His resurrection (Acts 2; 20:28; 2 Cor. 1:20). For a couple hundred years, this pure, original, and unified form of Christianity prospered (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17). However, Paul and other inspired men knew that a time would come when some would depart from the pattern set forth by God (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Tim. 4:1-6; 2 Pet. 2:1-3).
Not long after the death of the apostles, changes began to occur in the church. There were subtle changes made overtime as men moved further away from the Divine pattern. The Catholic Church crowned its first universal pope in 606 A.D. The period of church history when the Catholics were in dominance is often referred to as the “dark ages.” During the dark ages, the common man did not have ready access to the scriptures, and anything learned by common man was spoon-fed by the priests. Along came a man named Martin Luther, a former disciple of Augustine, a monk turned Catholic who wanted to change the religious order of things (Bainton 40). On October 31, 1517 Luther wrote to Bishop Albert of Mainz protesting the sale of indulgences and other clerical abuses, this became known as Luther’s ninety five theses. One historian describes Luther’s paper as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing as “searching, rather than doctrinaire” (Hillerbrand). After Luther parted from the Catholic Church, he attempted to change the practices he thought were contrary to Scripture. Soon those who followed Luther were known as Lutherans. This dawned the beginning of what has come to be known as the reformation movement.
Almost Doesn’t Count
The reformation movement sought to do a good thing. The individuals who were involved in this movement felt that the Catholic Church was filled with error, so they desired to reform, or change, it as they saw it had need. Men like John Calvin, John Knox, and Huldrych Zwingli were among those who defected from the Roman Catholic Church and thought that reforming the church was a good idea, even though they were still often engrained with the Catholicism they desired to flee. Though they parted with some heretical practices, they failed to return to the New Testament and practice religion with Bible authorization. Out of the Protestant Reformation were born popular denominations such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and many others. These men wanted to do a good thing in departing from the false teaching of Catholicism, but they erred in that they did not return to the Divine pattern as found in the New Testament (that “standard of teaching” mentioned in Rom. 6:17). As stated earlier, the moment in which the one who is seeking to restore something deviates from the original design, restoration has ceased and revisionism has begun.
There has been a resurgence of the reformed movement in recent years. According to the Barna Group, religious bodies with Calvinistic allegiance have enjoyed a thirteen percent increase in attendance since 2010 (“Reformed”). As culture seems to grow more antagonistic towards Christianity and the Bible, there will still be those who want the truth (Jn. 8:31-32). Those of the reformed persuasion pride themselves on being Bible believers and respecters of the Scriptures. The problem with the claim made by “Reformers” is that their practices betray their profession. The Protestant Reformation (opposing Catholicism and its teachings) started out as a good movement, with a good purpose (it is always right to expose religious error, cf. 1 Thess. 5:21-22). Nevertheless, those involved in the reformation movement fled one type of error and jumped into another. Reformers have done some good, but we are not saved merely by good intentions. For all the good that they may have done, the reformers did not go back far enough—they neglected to go to Acts 2, where Christianity began.
The Restoration Plea
Restoration is not only better than reformation, it is Biblical. After Moses gave the law, the people began to depart from it (Deut. 4:1-2). As time went on, Israel was consumed with idolatry and immorality. The children of Israel were far removed from what God desired for them and what had been recorded in the Law of Moses. One day, Josiah the King sent Shaphan the scribe to the high priest Hilkiah in order to count the money that had been brought into the temple of the Lord (2 Kgs. 20:4-7). When Shaphan went, Hilkiah the high priest said that he found a book, the book was the Law of God (2 Kgs. 22:8-10). When the Law was read before the king, he tore his clothes and realized Israel had not followed God’s word properly (2 Kgs. 22:11-14). Josiah did not want to merely reform the religious practices of Israel, instead he attempted to restore the Old Law practices. God rewarded Josiah for his desire to restore His Law and said He would spare Josiah of the wrath that would come upon disobedient Israel (2 Kgs. 22:15-20). When we look at the Bible and restore its original teachings, we will be blessed as well. It does not matter how much time has passed or what the popular view is today, we can (and ought to) restore the old paths (Jer. 6:16).
The seed of the kingdom is the word of God (Lk. 8:11). Every seed always produces after its own kind (cf. Gen. 1:11-12). The spiritual seed (the word of God) always produces Christians, and only produces Christians (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). We do not need to rattle a chain all the way back to Acts 2 uninterrupted to claim we are members of the New Testament church. The seed of the kingdom is not apostolic succession, it is the word of God. As long as we have the seed, we can practice the Christianity that was practiced in the first century. Such is the only form of Christianity that God approves of, because it is the only form of Christianity that He established. The restoration plea begs to go all the way back to Acts 2, skip Rome and Constantinople, and practice what the first century Christians practiced.
Restoration does not seek to innovate, but merely reproduce the church you read about in the Bible. One does not need the permission of any man or group of men to practice the plea of restoration. All that is needed is the New Testament. No man or group of men have a copyright on truth. We need to study the Bible, follow the New Testament, operate with the authority of Christ, and do what is pleasing to Him (Col. 3:17). We can know how people became Christians in the first century, how they worshipped God, what they called themselves, and what they taught. Restoration is what we should desire, and not merely reformation. Reformation leads one down a path that was blazed by men, restoration leads one down the path blazed by Christ (Heb. 2:14-15; 12:2). Let us be restorers and call men back to the Bible, for that is truly the only way we can go forward!
Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Penguin, 1995. Print.
Hillerbrand, Hans J. “Martin Luther: Indulgences and Salvation.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007. Print.
“Is There a ‘Reformed’ Movement in American Churches?” Barna. Barna Group Inc., 15 November 2010. Web. 17 November 2015.