RESTORATION OR RESTRUCTURING?
T. Pierce Brown
There are those who are bent on “restructuring” the church. We have not seen any definitive statements concerning exactly what they mean by that. Some of them may just want to change the order of services from two songs and a prayer to one song and two prayers, or something equally as insignificant. Others think it would make a great deal of difference to have the sign out in front read “God’s children meet here” instead of “ChurchofChrist.” We have heard some brethren who seem to get excited about the fact that some have a sign at the building that says, “Church of Christ,” when we know that neither the sign nor the building are the church. So they may think they have “restructured” the church when they change the sign to say, “ThechurchofChristmeets here.” From that group, there will probably arise one or more astute ones who suddenly realize that the sign is wrong, for it should read, “ThechurchofChristmeets there,” with an appropriate arrow pointing toward the building.
Not long ago a person withdrew from the congregation where he was meeting because of the lack of spirituality of the members. He said he knew there was no spirituality for when the Lord’s Supper was served, not a tear stained a cheek, and not a chin quivered. How he knew about all those people behind him and on each side, or even in front of him during that time I could never find out, but he thought the church should be “restructured” so it would be more spiritual.
Another thought it was too formal, so he started his prayers with “Dear Dad,” which was his way of “restructuring.” Another thought the mundane way we take the Lord’s Supper needed more dramatic flair to make it more meaningful, so he had all the lights turned down, and a red spotlight, suggesting the blood of Christ, be focused on the table as proper remarks were made.
Others do not see those things as anything more than “cosmetic changes” and have in mind “restructuring” by introducing such things as women preachers. Many are not bold enough to start there, but would start by having women be in charge of waiting on the Lord’s table and leading in prayer.
Whether we consider ourselves as conservative or progressive or in some other category, surely all of us recognize the truth that there are many things about our ways of doing things that are merely cultural or incidental and Paul would not recognize nor necessarily personally appreciate the way we do many things. He may have felt more at home sitting on the bare floor with his legs crossed in a small circle as they chanted psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs to each other.
In a similar way, there are those who say, “The church of our Lord has not been restored,” and point out many things we lack that we should be doing, such as the spirit of sharing or evangelistic zeal evidenced early in Acts, or the spirit of giving mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8. On the other hand, there are those who are terribly disturbed by that statement, and respond, “What do you mean that the church has not been restored? If it has not been restored, what do you think I am a member of? And how can we be saved in the church, if it has not been restored?” So, as usual, there is more heat than light generated.
We are confident that some of those who say, “The church has not been restored” actually feel that the idea of “restoration” is ridiculous in the first place, and that the church is supposed to be a growing, changing institution that keeps pace with the society in which it exists, and does not need to be restored. I had a preacher of the Christian Church tell me that about 40 years ago. He said, “You have an easy task. All you have to do is find what is authorized in the Bible and do it. I have to change the message to keep up with the changing social conditions.” At that point, I closed the Book and said, “We have no basis on which to discuss the Bible any longer, it seems to me.”
Part of our problem in the matter of “restructuring” and “restoring” is the area of semantics and communication in general. I have been in many congregations in which I thought many things needed “restructuring.” But this is what I mean: In those congregations, the preachers did the work of elders, the elders did the work of deacons, the deacons had mostly a title, and did very little of anything, although in some cases they wanted to do so, but were not allowed to be in charge of anything. In many congregations, a teacher is appointed (dragged unwillingly to take a class) and left to carry it on to the best of her ability without proper help, encouragement, supervision or supplies. Whatever changes need to be made in such situations (and they were numerous), could easily be called “restructuring.”
I am neither ashamed nor afraid to suggest specific changes that I think should be made in the way congregations do, or fail to do, their work. And if I should call it “restructuring,” I would try to clarify what I meant.
And if I should say that the church has not been restored, I would try to proceed to point out at least the following facts. First, when we talk about “The New Testament Church,” we should make clear whether we are talking about the divine pattern which God ordained, or the imperfect way those early churches followed that pattern. Do you want the church to be restored to the kind of church we find pictured in 1 Corinthians, or Revelation chapters 2 & 3? In a very real sense, every New Testament church of which we read, from Jerusalem on down needed to be “restored” in many things, for in every one of them there was a failure to meet in all respects the pattern God designed.
When the pioneers of what we call “The Restoration Movement” were thinking of “restoring the church,” they had in mind the fact that they were surrounded by many denominations, none of which were ordained of God, and none of which had any connection with salvation, as admitted by all of them. That is, none of them contained all of the saved, and one could be saved without being a member of any of them. They all taught that, and still do, as far as my knowledge and experience goes.
The church of the Lord was and is different. It is not and cannot be a “big sick denomination,” for although there are members of it (or those who claim such) who are filled with denominational ideas, and are spiritually sick, the church of the Lord is still different from any man-made religion under heaven. That is, when a person hears, believes and obeys the gospel of Christ in the way God ordained, he is automatically a member of the Lord’s church. He does not become a member of any denomination by that process! The pioneers to whom we referred in the previous paragraph were speaking of restoring the church in the sense of providing a means by which a person could be born into the family of God, be saved from his sins, and be a part of the church of the Lord. When the “Restoration Movement” got far enough along that the way to be saved and worship and serve God acceptably could be understood and done, it was complete in the sense that it had made it possible for the church of the Lord to be present when only a denomination of man had been present in that locality before.
But they recognized then, and all the great leaders in the church have recognized since, that the restoration was not then complete and will never be complete in the sense that either congregationally or individually we have attained the perfection which the Lord ordained for us to have.