The Restoration of New Testament Christianity
Perhaps no topic is more relevant or any question more pressing than the one which is concerned with the restoration of New Testament Christianity. Even during the infancy of the church, the need was present to warn Christians of the impending danger of some who would “fall away from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1ff), some who “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3f), and of the widespread “apostasy” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) that would ensue as a result. These warnings were not ill-founded, but spoken forthrightly by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul (cf. 1Timothy 4:1), and their fulfillment came to pass with the development of certain early sects (e.g., the second-century Gnostics) and eventually in the corruptions of Catholicism.
The dark day of Rome’s heretical departure from the biblical pattern of Christianity is clearly evident in the warnings cited (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12); but is the emergence of Protestant Denominationalism not also condemned in the Scriptures? Although Martin Luther was greatly dissatisfied with the spiritual condition he discovered in Rome upon a visit in the autumn of 1510, his attempt to reform or reorganize the church of his day was drastically insufficient. The church of the middle-ages was far too corrupt for a mere reformatory process. The resultant Protestant churches springing into existence by founders like Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were still grossly affected by the errant theological trappings spawned by centuries of Catholic deviations from true Christianity.
On this point, Professor Brown noted, “Although it was not Luther’s intention to found a new church, but simply to purify the old one, from the time of the Reformation there were new churches—first the Lutheran, then the Reformed, and finally the Anglican. From its beginning, the Reformation created new churches as no other movement had succeeded in doing (1998, Heresies, 311).
Fortunately, men in Europe and in America were honest in their search for truth and sought to restore Christianity to its primitive status by emulating the pattern of teaching and practices found recorded upon the pages of the New Testament. These devoted men disregarded the things they had personally been taught about Christianity by their respective denominations, and by relying solely on the authority of the Scriptures, these honest souls embraced the simple gospel, untarnished by human tradition and innovation. By their efforts, the church established by Christ in the first century was visibly restored amidst a torrent of satanic opposition.
Jesus compared the word of God to seed (Matthew 13:18-23; 24-30). Whenever and wherever the seed of the kingdom is sown in good ground, the church of Jesus Christ will be the result. Although the evil one continues to sow tares among the wheat, the seed of the kingdom never produces anything other than the true church established by Christ through the gospel preached by the apostles and recorded on the pages of the New Testament under supervision of the Holy Spirit. It should be the goal of every believer in Christ to first ensure that they have obeyed the word of God in all spiritual matters and have not been overtaken by the innovations of mere men (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
A survey of the Old Testament will demonstrate that when God has formally introduced a system of religion, its precepts remain binding until God Himself provides evidence that it is no longer operative. No man has the right of refusal or the authority to change or alter any part of the Divine arrangement. While many references could be cited, no clearer example of this concept can be studied than the case of Jeroboam I, the king of northern Israel. His apostasy from the Mosaic pattern of worship is carefully chronicled in 1 Kings 12:25 – 13:33.
The sinful departure of Jeroboam from the word of God began when he changed the object of worship by constructing two golden calves and ordered the people to worship them, saying, “…behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt” (12:28). This statement, to be sure, is reminiscent of the fabrication of Aaron’s golden calf at Sinai (Exodus 32:4, 8) which violated the first two commandments of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-4). God had three thousand Israelites put to death on account of that initial lapse into idolatry (Exodus 32:28), and it is absolutely certain that He was not pleased with the repetitious idolatrous actions commenced by Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:1-4).
Not only did Jeroboam change the object of worship, but under the guise of convenience, he also changed the place of worship, instructing the people to no longer journey to Jerusalem as commanded by God (2 Chronicles 3:1 – 7:22), but to worship the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28-29). For those who might opine that this change was harmless, hear the Scriptures: “Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one [i.e. golden calf] as far as Dan” (1 Kings 12:30). The change in place of worship is denounced on equality with the change in the object of worship – sin.
Jeroboam further consecrated “priests from among all the people” (1 Kings 12:31) – a practice wholly unauthorized on the basis that the law spoke nothing concerning the appointment of priest from any tribe but Levi (Numbers 3:5ff; cf. Hebrews 7:14). Here is proof that the “law of silence” is a reality in correctly interpreting the Scriptures. If God has not specifically authorized an action, that action must be recognized as unauthorized. In his willful abandonment of priestly appointment by Divine standards, Jeroboam went so far as to personally officiate as a priest before one of the altars which he had constructed (1 Kings 12:33).
And in another bold move to set aside the Law of God, Jeroboam altered the time of the feast of Tabernacles from the 15th day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:39) to the 15th day of the eighth month (1 Kings 12:32). Jeroboam was not satisfied with the system of worship authorized by God. To some people, these changes and alterations may seem harmless, but God’s attitude concerning the matter is different. Twenty-one times the Scriptures boldly announce that Jeroboam caused Israel to “sin” by the unauthorized acts he ordered (cf. 1 Kings 13:34; 2 Kings 17:21). Does God recognize the actions of an innovator? He certainly does! He recognizes all innovations of man as apostasy and sin.
Christian Jeroboams have long maintained that the church may “change” or “evolve” as circumstances demand. Catholicism employed this concept as a basis for admitting many pagan practices (e.g., the use of the Rosary, bowing before images, holy water, incense, and the worship of Mary) into the church in order to attract heathen converts. These practices allegedly promoted an atmosphere more suitable to the Pagan in his new “Christian” environment. Catholicism makes no apology for the fact that even church doctrine may be modified as the times or culture changes. Many will remember when it was a sin for a Catholic to eat meat on Friday; but this issue fails to raise even an eyebrow among most claiming Catholicism today.
Protestantism has also subscribed to the “evolutionary” approach to Christianity. John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and many other notable reformers stood solidly opposed to mechanical instruments in worship. These men would scarcely recognize their respective fellowships due to the modern-day digression with regards to the use of instruments. Even the sacred act of baptism has undergone a change in purpose that is admitted by certain sectarian historians. One popular creed book 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… (Hiscox, 1890, The Standard Manual For Baptists Churches, 22, emp. added).
Why is it now different? Has God changed the process? The answer, of course, is that man has changed the process through the implementation of denominational decrees. In order to accommodate “faith alone” salvation, baptism has been reassigned a position unknown to the infant church. It is not only the forms and rites of Christian doctrine that have been altered by denominationalists, but concepts of morality have drastically changed in the past quarter century. Several decades ago it would have been impossible to find a solitary religious group professing Christianity that would have endorsed homosexuality. Presently, the door has swung off the hinges and churches are racing to be the next to announce their new “tolerant” position that welcomes homosexuals.
The self-styled Pragmatic Church Movement of the 1980s–90s respected no boundaries in its efforts to add new contributors to the collection plate. The admitted goal of pragmatic churches is solely numerical growth and not adherence to biblical doctrines that promote spiritual growth and church purity. The scheduled assembly of such churches is no longer for corporate worship and instruction in godliness, but is designed as marketing tools to tantalize, lure, and attract non-Christians into the church as potential donors. Doctrine is rejected in order to make peace with the world. The rapid erosion of Christianity in America is alarming, and those concerned should observe from the Scriptures how God would have His people respond when apostasy is recognized.
The Biblical Pattern of Restoration
Comparable to the chronicling of the apostasy of Israel by Jeroboam, the Scriptures also record the means by which restoration to Divine standards may be accomplished. Following more than three centuries of apostasy by the influence of their wicked kings, a most unexpected event occurred as Hilkiah the high priest discovered a copy of the Mosaic Law in the rubble of the temple. When the Book of the Law was read before king Josiah, he rent his clothes and wept before the Lord (2 Kings 22:19). The reading revealed a shocking departure from the commandments and precepts which God had ordered to be observed by all of Israel’s generations.
Due to the frightening curses found recorded against all who would corrupt God’s word and worship, Josiah immediately called for a prophet to mediate between the people and God, saying, “for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13). Josiah believed God would be faithful in both the blessings and the curses that He had promised, and being fully aware of the apostasy that had transpired by the nations’ digression from God’s word, Josiah sought to avoid the continuation of God’s wrath against the people.
How could this be achieved? How could Josiah restore the ancient system of worship as commanded by the Lord? The biblical pattern of restoration from apostasy is fully displayed in the response of Josiah:
The king went up to the house of the Lord with all the men of Judah, and with all the inhabitants of Jerusalem – the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for the covenant (2 Kings 23:2-3).
As a result of Josiah’s commitment, the inspired writer says, “Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him” (2 Kings 23:25).
Restoration from apostasy can only be achieved when all human innovations are abandoned and the word of God is honored as the standard by which all spiritual matters will be conducted. Upon hearing the Law of Moses read from the book, Josiah did not hesitate to initiate a restoration of the Divine pattern by tearing down, destroying, and removing every abominable thing that had been set up in place of the authorized system of worship (2 Kings 23:4-24). By giving all diligence and respect to the word of God laid open before him, Josiah restored true worship in Israel.
Restoration Principles in the New Testament
The Old Testament resounds with the basic premise that man is do “according to all that God commanded him” (cf. Genesis 6:22; Exodus 31:1; Joshua 1:8). In fact, the phrase “according to…” appears more than 600 times in the Old Testament. For those who would argue that Christianity is exempt from following a Divine pattern, consider that the phrase “according to…” appears approximately 127 times in the New Testament (cf. Romans 16:25-26; 1 Timothy 1:11). The apostles of Jesus Christ were commissioned to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20), binding on earth what had been bound in heaven (Matthew 18:18). That a formal pattern exists for the church to follow is clearly discernible from what is written on the pages of the New Testament:
1) The original church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). As a consequence of such unyielding fidelity to the system of worship ordered by the apostles, “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). These passages evince a unity in church practice; a unity which now, sadly, no longer exist.
2) Paul commended the Christians in first-century Rome because they “obeyed from the heart that form [pattern] of doctrine” to which they were entrusted (Romans 6:17). This was the same doctrine that the apostles preached on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and the church is ordered to protect the apostles’ doctrine against all other teachings and innovations as related in point 3 below.
3) Paul concluded the Roman letter by admonishing the church to “note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (16:17). If an established form or pattern of Christian doctrine does not exist, how could one be required to turn away from those who do not practice it? Deviation is impossible without an approved standard.
4) The apostle warned the church at Corinth “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). The inspired written word is the holy boundary through which men are not at liberty to pass. Teaching or practicing anything not in accordance with the Scriptures is absolutely forbidden by the Lord’s apostle.
5) Paul reproved the Galatians, saying, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (1:6-7). If the gospel does not contain a pattern of sound words that must be believed and obeyed, how is it possible to “pervert the gospel of Christ”?
6) Paul exhorted the young preacher, Timothy, to “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13). Paul further charged him to “continue in the things which you have learned from me” (3:14), and to “commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:2), warning “some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). The ones who go onward and fail to “consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness,” Paul says they are “proud, knowing nothing” (6:3-4). The New Testament explicitly presents “pattern theology.”
7) John succinctly states, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, does not have God” (2 John 9).
These passages (to which many others could be added) prove that the modern concept of an “evolutionary” Christianity is palpably false. The word of God is not to be exceeded, transgressed, added to or taken away from (cf. Revelation 22:18-19; Deuteronomy 4:2). Modern day Jeroboams should carefully consider these warnings, and, like Josiah, tear down and destroy the willful innovations of man and return to the word of God as the only pattern for restoring New Testament Christianity.
The church of Christ in Leiper’s Fork is committed to the restoration of Christianity to its primitive design. The eldership has deposed longstanding activities that were initiated by overly pious individuals who unwittingly, but carelessly, exceeded what is written. The congregation’s evangelist labors long hours each week rehearsing the gospel proclaimed by the apostles – both the elementary principles of primary obedience and the more profound aspects of God and the scheme of human redemption by which beloved older saints hunger and thirst to be filled.
What do you see when you survey the broad “Christian” landscape? Has the object of Christian worship been changed to the “entertainer” instead of Christ? Has the place of worship (i.e., the assembly of human hearts devoted to God) been altered into a stage presentation whereby celebrity is applauded for encore performance? Have you seen those not approved by God being appointed to the leadership roles in the church (cf. 1 Timothy 2:9-15)? Has the Lord’s Day been abandoned in favor of other days? Perhaps you have witnessed how the prescribed assembly to break bread each first day of the week (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7) has become loathsome to Jeroboam today? As the wise man sagely stated, “So there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
How much longer will the Almighty tolerate the ever increasing digression and willful apostasy of Christianity in our country? It is not the mission of the church to make peace with the world by conforming the church to an image that is acceptable to the world; rather, the mission of the church is to seek peace with God by conforming its members into the image of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:29). Obedience to God, as in the case of Josiah, is the cure for what ails us. Only by returning to the Lord’s plan for the church may we be assured of surviving the gathering storm of God’s wrath. May God grant every reader an honest heart set upon restoring New Testament Christianity to their own city, town, or village by adhering solely to the authority of the New Testament.