What is Restorationism?Question: "What is Restorationism?"
Answer: “Restorationism” refers to a group of unaffiliated 19th-century movements from within Christianity based upon the premise that the true faith and practice of the church had been lost due to apostasy and that the church needed to be restored to its New Testament model. Restorationist organizations include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Seventh-day Adventists, as well as the adherents to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, which consists today in three main groups: Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), Churches of Christ, and Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.
While all these groups teach widely divergent theologies, and while some restorationist groups are considered cults (Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) with other groups being considered valid Christian movements (the Restoration Movement), they have in common the notion that true Christianity had died out many years ago and it needed to be restored to its original New Testament form. Some of these groups believe they alone are the embodiment of true Christianity, some going so far as to teach that all other groups, including mainline Protestant denominations, are not really Christians at all, having lost their way over the centuries to complete apostasy. They are convinced that the drift from Christian principles is so extreme as to render the church irredeemable, and, therefore, it must be completely rebuilt. Denying that past historical patterns have any validity at all, they are free to embrace what they understand to be pure biblical truth as revealed to the apostles.
Certainly, there have been abuses and misuses of the Word of God down through the years by churches claiming to speak for Christ. One has only to look at the Roman Catholic doctrines of purgatory, prayer to Mary, and the veneration of saints—all of which are completely unscriptural—to agree that, in some cases at least, church tradition has superseded the Bible as authority. However, in the spirit of throwing the baby out with the bath water, some of the restorationists have also jettisoned such biblical doctrines as the Trinity, hell, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Of course, parts of the church have apostatized, but there has always been a remnant of the faithful preserved by God for His purposes.
At least two disastrous consequences can be expected to result from a zealous embrace of restorationist philosophy. First, it easily leads to a spirit of exclusivism and arrogance, not to mention error. The natural outcome of believing one’s own group has the corner on the truth is the despising of all others who claim the name of Christ, seeing them as apostates, or worse, tools of the devil. No spirit of Christian unity can survive such a mindset. One has only to look at the diverse beliefs that exist among the restorationists themselves, and the resulting animosity that accompanies them, to see the inevitable result of adopting such a belief system. Exclusivism leads to pride, a sin especially abhorred by God (Proverbs 16:5; James 4:6). In addition, exclusivism can provoke delusions of grandeur in its leaders, making possible all manner of erroneous interpretations, not to mention rewriting, of Scripture designed to fit it to the paradigm of the group, without regard for clear and concise biblical scholarship and exegesis.
The second, and far more destructive, result of restorationist philosophy is that it denies God’s ability, or willingness, to preserve the faith “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), rejects His sovereignty over His people, and disavows His plan to bring to pass His will without fail, despite attempts by Satan and his minions to derail it. God did not send His Son to die on the cross for the sins of His people only to allow those same people to lapse into apostasy and languish there for 1800 years. Such a notion is not only absurd, but it defines God as a ruthless and capricious entity, not the loving and merciful Father God we know Him to be. Those who believe God abandoned mankind for centuries because of their unbelief and sin need only to read Romans 3, which makes it clear that even though men are unfaithful, this does not nullify God’s faithfulness. The Holy Spirit is, and always has been, active in the world “convict[ing] the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment” (John 16:8), drawing God’s people from every race, tribe, nation and language to the Savior. In every era, the redeemed of God have responded to His Spirit because that is God’s plan, and it will continue unabated to the day of Christ’s return. Until then, we have the assurance of Jesus Himself that He will be with us “always, even until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
Recommended Resource: Evangelicalism & the Stone-Campbell Movement by William Baker
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