Restoration Movement principles
The Restoration Movement was founded to teach a rejection of denominational division by refusing to consider denominational differences to be barriers to fellowship. Alexander Campbell wrote,
The principle which was inscribed upon our banners when we withdrew from the ranks of the sects, was, ‘Faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, and obedience to him as our Lawgiver and King, the only test of Christian character, and the only bond of Christian union, communion, and co-operation, irrespective of all creeds, opinions, command ments, and traditions of men.’
“Preface,” The Christian System (1831), p. 8 (emphasis in original). In other words, you are saved and in full fellowship based solely upon faith in Jesus and repentance, that is, submission to him as King.
Therefore, for those who are committed to Restoration Movement ideals, it’s obvious — a central part of our heritage — to create meaningful fellowship across and despite denominational boundaries.
Campbell also wrote,
That there was always something superfluous, something defective; something wrong, something that could be improved, in every system of religion and morality, was generally felt, and at last universally acknowledged. But the grandeur, sublimity, and beauty of the foundation of hope, and of ecclesiastical or social-union, established by the author and founder of Christianity, consisted in this, that the belief of one fact, and that upon the best evidence in the world, is all that is requisite, as far as faith qoes, to salvation. The belief of this one fact and submission to one institution expressive of it, is all that is required of Heaven to admission into the church. The one fact is expressed in a single proposition — that Jesus the Nazarene is the Messiah. … The one institution is baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spririt.
“Foundation of Union,” The Christian System (1831), p. 121-122 (emphasis in original).
Campbell insists that the only thing required for someone to be considered a Christian is faith in Jesus as the Messiah, professed through baptism.
Every such person is a disciple in the fullest sense of the word, the moment he has believed this one fact, upon the above evidence, and has submitted to the above mentioned institution; and whether he believes the five points condemned, or the five points approved by the Synod of Dort, is not so much as to be asked of him; whether he holds any of the views of the Calvinists or Arminians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers, is never once to be asked of such persons, in order to admission into the Christian community, called the church. The only doubt that can reasonably arise upon these points, is, whether this one fact, in its nature and necessary results, can suffice to the salvation of the soul, and whether the open avowal of it, in the overt act of baptism, can be a sufficient recommendation of the person so professing, to the confidence and love of the brotherhood.
“Foundation of Union,” The Christian System (1831), p. 122 (emphasis added).
The “five points … approved by Synod of Dort” are the five points of classic Calvinism (often abbreviated TULIP). Campbell says plainly that someone’s views on Calvinism, pro or con, or any other such issue are simply irrelevant to whether they are Christians and entitled to full fellowship.
Now, just imagine that we were to take these views very, very seriously. On what basis would we insist on planting a new church because the Christians in the existing church happen to disagree with us on one these kinds of issues — not the core issues that define the boundaries of the Kingdom — but issues such as Calvinism? If they’re strong on gospel and strong on mission, do we really need to be bound by denominationalism?
How can we both protest denominationalism and insist on being bound by denominationalism? We really can’t have it both ways. If it’s wrong, then we should play by the rules of denominationalism at all — especially by creating a new denomination, even if we call it a non-denomination.
The default position, the presumption, shouldn’t be that division is better than unity. Why should we refuse to even try to erase denominational lines?
The Gospel Advocate
David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell edited the Gospel Advocate from 1868 and 1870, respectively, until they sold the paper in 1912. During this time, they had (and still have) a tremendous influence on the thought of the Churches of Christ.
In an intriguing discussion, Lipscomb was asked whether a member of a congregation may withdraw from that congregation and place membership at a more distant congregation. Lipscomb concluded that, as the scriptures are silent on such a practice, withdrawal is sinful, so that withdrawal from the local congregation to attend a church serving a more distant community is tantamount to withdrawal from the church-universal.
The whole thing of withdrawing from one church and joining another, save as we change our locality and worship with one near us or we near it, is without warrant in the word of God. No preacher or individual who refuses to recognize himself as a member of the church near him by worshiping with it ought to be recognized by any other congregation.
D. Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell, Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell (Gospel Advocate 1921), p. 120.
Lipscomb sees the local church as simply those Christians who live in a particular area. Therefore, the Christians who live in a given area should gather in one church, not shopping among multiple churches. And I agree with that. I just think that the area that defines a congregation is the community, not the neighborhood.
You see, I’ve bought into the Restoration Movement’s teaching that we should be unified, and not divided by denomination. Therefore, although I cannot bring this country to this ideal all by myself, I can certainly refuse to participate in practices that make the problem even worse.
I see little justification to plant a church solely to compete against churches filled with saved people of another denomination. All Christians are brothers, and I cannot in good conscience use God’s resources to engage in a sheep stealing ministry.
I’m an idealist, but I do try to be a realistic idealist. I think we have to start our thinking as idealists, imagining what God truly wants, without regard to the barriers. After all, if God really wants it, the barriers won’t matter. What matters most is discerning God’s will.
But having discovered the ideal, we still have to live in the world we’re in. And as important as unity is (and it’s very near the top of list), it’s not the most important thing. God’s mission is, to my way of thinking, even a bit more important. Therefore, if working with an existing congregation frustrates God’s mission, I’d consider other options.
But long before I create a new congregation, I’d look for solutions, such as working with another existing congregation or working within my present congregation, to serve the mission.
Mission is more important than unity, but part of the mission is to create unity. Therefore, we can’t willy nilly create and split churches for allegedly missional purposes. After all, every new congregation created in a city already filled with churches is a step away from unity. It may be the best method available because the existing congregations are too self-indulgent, worldly, and remote from the Spirit to serve God’s missional desires, but obviously, it would be far better if the existing churches could be prompted to do what Jesus saved them to do.