This semester, my favorite class has been Issues in Acts, a study of the various themes and theological emphases of Luke-Acts. It's one of my favorite class formats, too: everyone writes a paper on a chosen topic, and each week two topics (represented by one or two people each) are presented. For each topic, we read the presenters' papers and some assigned chapters in our textbook. Everyone reads everyone's paper. In class, the presenter gives their presentation and the group discusses the presentation, paper, and related topics. I finished my paper and did my presentation early in the semester, so I have been able to sit back and enjoy the other papers and discussions.
One question has come up in various ways as we have studied through Acts: what should church look like in light of ________? (_______ being whatever topic was presented) As a member of a church that is part of the fellowship of churches known as the Restoration Movement, I find this question of special importance.
[For the uninitiated, the Restoration Movement was and is a philosophy of ministry articulated by men in the early 1800s who were disheartened by the depth of division and bitter rivalry among churches in their day. As an example of such foolishness in the church, consider the denomination from which Thomas Campbell (basically the father of the restoration movement) came: The Old-Light, Anti-Burgher, Seceder Presbyterian Church. They thought they were the one true church, and all others were heretics! What Campbell and others sought to do was unite the church (the whole church, all denominations) on the sole basis of the teachings of Scripture. No creeds were necessary because they are the inventions of man. The goal, then, was and is to restore the New Testament church, accomplishing unity, but unity in truth.]
Obviously, we aren't trying to restore everything about the NT church (Acts 5 and 1 Corinthians 5 for example!). The NT church, even the church in Acts, was flawed, not because God's plan is flawed, but because God's plan involves people. Nevertheless, we strive to restore things like open-handed generosity to those in need, deep dependence on God for all we are and all we have, and boldness and confidence sharing the good news about Jesus.
Sometimes, though, it looks like the Restoration Movement is trying to restore baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins and local church autonomy, which are great but are only a fraction of what we ought to be restoring. We in the RM should, must, evaluate how we have done over the last 200 years at achieving our goals. I'm not sure the evaluation would be very positive. In our history, three new denominations (Christian Church/Church of Christ, Church of Christ [A Capella], and the Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ) have been formed, and things are just now beginning to heal some of the wounds, a positive step indeed but indicative that we have a long way to go as the movement that promotes nondenominational unity.
Am I being too optimistic? Too pessimistic? What are we trying to restore?