The Restoration Movement was originally a unity movement. Various branches attempted to build unity from within the Presbyterian and Baptist denominations, but they found themselves unwelcome, even excommunicated by their home denominations. They became, unwillingly, a new denomination (and then, later, decided to pretend not to be a denomination).
As a result, Alexander Campbell published a series of articles called the “Search for the Ancient Order,” seeking to find the original pattern for the early church’s assembly. Just as I have done, he found very limited guidance in the scriptures, and so he turned to history
— the uninspired writings of the early church fathers — to fill in the gaps. And there were many gaps.
Alexander Campbell himself made it clear that he didn’t consider the pattern of worship that he taught a salvation issue, as noted by John Mark Hicks.
The interesting question, however, is whether [Campbell] thought the “order” he discerned within the New Testament was a test of fellowship among believers. Did he believe that conformity to this order was necessary to salvation? Was it his intent to identify the marks of the church that defined the true church so that every other body of believers who did not conform to those marks was apostate and thus outside the fellowship of God?
This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected (CB 5 [6 August 1827] 359-360). Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion” (CB 5 [3 September 1827] 369-370),
Campbell believed that the practices of the primitive church made for a model that all Christians should be able to agree on and so unite on. He was looking for a way that we could all worship as one.
However, a generation after his death, his words were being misinterpreted as defining “positive commands” that were “tests of faith” of greater importance to God than morality and good works. The positive commands were given, we were told, to test our willingness to obey God — even those “commands” not found in the scripture that had to be inferred using later, uninspired sources. Obviously, although the Churches of Christ continued to insist on the rhetoric of being silent where the Bible is silent, when you’re damning people based on passages from Clement of Alexandria, you’ve abandoned your principles for the sake of tradition.
Now, the last several posts demonstrate that even our most conservative sister congregations don’t come close to replicating the early church practices. Just to name a few deficiencies —
- No regular love feast. No use of the language of “love feast” or agapē to refer to the common meal.
- Multiple congregations in the same city — even of the same denomination.
- No concern for the physical posture of prayer.
- No regular recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
- No meeting in homes.
- No Holy Kiss.
- No washing of feet.
- No wine. Welch’s Grape Juice is not the meaning of “fruit of the vine.”
- No tongues.
- No prophecy.
- No questions of the speaker.
In fact, we are so far removed from the early church that a visitor from the First Century would likely not recognize one of our assemblies as a Christian assembly. They would be shocked that we don’t eat together and that the services are so formal (even in our “low church” style) that people don’t speak to each other or ask questions. They would see a near complete absence of love as they experienced it — through hospitality, shared homes, shared food, warm greetings, and humble mutual service.
They’d be jealous of our Bibles (and iPads with Bible applications), and the women would be thrilled at the thought of meeting in buildings so they don’t have to clean house every week for company. And they’d all be delighted at the absence of persecution and astonished at how victimized we feel at the persecution we do suffer. They would tell us about real persecution (too gruesome for me to describe here).
Most importantly, they’d be confused — and even outraged — that we’ve made such things as instrumental music and the use of the church treasury into salvation issues. They’d ask us whether we’ve lost Paul’s epistles and his lessons on grace.
But I do suspect that they’d enjoy our four-part harmony (who wouldn’t?), even though a visitor from the Fourth Century church would consider us damned heretics for singing other than in unison.
Fortunately, the Bible itself is plenty clear that salvation is not dependent on such things. I’m enough of a Restorationist that I think we should try to learn from our spiritual ancestors and emulate them — especially in terms of their goals and purposes. That is, they ate together, not to honor some unwritten book of rules on how to do church, but to show how much they loved each other. In that culture, true love was shown through hospitality
— eating in homes, washing feet, kissing the cheek. And things aren’t that much different today. We might not need to wash feet, but we should visit in homes, shake hands and hug, and — most importantly — cross class, racial, and ethnic lines as we do so, because in Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek.
And some congregations do this very well, typically through a small groups program. But others are so stuffed-shirt that they can’t imagine meeting anywhere but the church building — as though the building were the Temple. It’s really Old Testament thinking. It’s not Christian — and, in fact, misses the heart of Christianity, replacing agapē with control. They’re not nearly the same thing.