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Topic: Common Issues in the Christian Life

Why I am Not a Restorationist

by Darrel Cline

There is a group of folks who like to be known as members of "The Churches of Christ" who are a part of our cultural landscape who are very sure [Are You Sure?  Sure I'm Sure!] that their perception of God's Truth is the most accurate perception on our current scene.  Their "take" on the biblical message is "restorationist".  By this they mean that they believe that the truth of the Gospel was basically distorted over the centuries to the point that it produced a great apostasy and it is their task to "restore" that truth to us.  That there has been a great turning from the Truth is historically inescapable if one looks at the large picture of religious movements.  That this great turning resulted in a fundamental distortion of the Gospel by those involved in the turning is also inescapable.  So, with these "inescapable" facts in front of us, why am I not a "restorationist"?

There are several reasons.

First, I am not a restorationist because I do not believe that the truth of the Gospel was ever lost.  Though it is "inescapably" true that great numbers of "religious" folks have been led from one error into another by men (and women) who do not understand the biblical message, it is also true that the Gospel has always been available to men in the Bible and there have always been students of the Bible in every generation of humanity since the Bible came into existence that have come to an accurate understanding of the Gospel.  Thus, the Gospel has never been "lost" and does not need to be "restored".  It simply needs to be believed as the Bible presents it.  Jesus has been "building His church" without interruption from the days of the first century when the Bible was being written by His disciples until this very hour.  He has been doing this in spite of a very aggressive campaign to distort His Gospel over the centuries.  None have been able to stop Him, though many have attempted to do so.  Therefore, I am not a "restorationist" because the word implies something I do not believe -- that the Gospel needs to be "restored".

Second, when I read the literature of the "restorationists", I see a fundamental misunderstanding of how language "works" and how human beings respond to "words".  I see very dogmatic claims being made about the "meaning" of certain passages of the Bible that are either preceded, or followed, by the claim that one "needs to take the words for what they say".  This normally occurs when a "hotly debated" text like Acts 2:38 comes under study.  Restorationist literature claims that the meaning is obvious and the only reason men would "try to get around it" is because they have some "vested interests" that keep them from "submitting to the plain meaning of the words".  This, to my mind, is ignorant.  It is ignorant of several facts.

One of the facts is that language doesn't "work" with "obvious plainness of meaning".  There has never been, and never will be, any human being who can speak in such a way as to never be "misunderstood", nor has there ever been, nor ever will be, any human being (except for Christ) who can "immediately understand" the "plain meaning" of words all of the time.  There has never been a married "restorationist" who has never had a conflict with a spouse because certain "words" were spoken and the "meaning" was inadvertently misunderstood with no particular "vested interests" in the situation to create a modification of the intended meaning.  And, since this is true, there will never be a restorationist who will escape the judgment of God when He quizzes the one under His judgment about why he "demanded" that others "just accept the plain meaning of the words" when he himself could not always "get" the "plain meaning".  If I understand the biblical message correctly, we are going to be "judged" as we did our own "judging" and when we hold others accountable to do things that we have not shown any proficiency to do ourselves, we will come very short in that judgment by God.  I have no interest in being judged for demanding that others accept my interpretation of God's words as "the plain meaning of the text"; thus, I am not a restorationist.

The second fact of which the restorationists seem to be grossly ignorant is the one to which I just referred in the last sentence of the last paragraph:  interpretation.  When I read restorationist literature, I am struck with the realization that many of them do not seem to understand that words do not "have a meaning" that is independent of an "interpretation".  Most of the restorationists that I have read seem to think that one can simply read words and understand them without the intermediate process of "interpretation" (i.e. "thinking about the possibilities the words bring with them and ferreting out the true one").  Thus, they are highly proficient in claiming that what is in reality their "interpretation" of God's words is not "their interpretation" but what God actually meant.  Even in such a simple statement by my wife as "Why don't you take the car when you go to meet the guys?" has to be interpreted by me before I can understand what she meant.  I have to "interpret" her words in light of the question "does she mean 'car' as opposed to 'Suburban'?", or "does she mean 'take the car' as opposed to my plan to walk?", or "does she mean "take the car" as opposed to 'ride a bike'?", etc. etc.  If I can't even understand a simple statement by my wife without the thinking process known as interpretation, how dare "restorationists" so boldly demand that I accept their dogmatic assertion that "God means just what He says" as if what He says is abundantly plain without any need to "interpret Him"?  I have no interest in standing before God to answer for why I demanded that others accept my "interpretation" of God's words as God's meaning without going through the process of interpretation and answering the questions that any given text raises.  Thus, I am not a restorationist.

Third, when I read restorationist literature, I am struck by the amazing similarity in it to the mindset of the first century Pharisee who studied the biblical text because he thought that it would bring him to eternal life by explaining exactly what God required for him to "do" in order to obtain that life.  Saul of Tarsus was well on the road down that path -- to such a degree that he made the claim that he was "blameless" in regard to the required "doings" of the Law -- when he was confronted by the risen Lord Jesus and was convinced that he was a "blasphemer" rather than a God-follower.  Restorationist literature abounds with details on what we must "do" if we expect to be accepted by God and it boldly declares that if we fail we shall perish.  Any theology of acceptance based upon obedience will come under the scrutiny of God to see if we required something of others that we did not do ourselves.  If we are found to be wanting, we will find ourselves rejected by God.  I have no interest in being judged by God for demanding of others what I did not do myself.  Thus, I am not a restorationist. 

My conclusion from reading the literature of the restorationists is that they are attempting to "restore" first century legal religion rather than the Gospel of God.  That they think they are "restoring the Gospel" goes without saying.  But, what they think they are doing and what God knows they are doing are not necessarily the same thing.  God often gives those, who demand that others take their dogma to be the inspired truth of God, enough rope to hang themselves because He is offended by the offense that the pride of performance, that resides behind that approach to the proclamation of His words, gives.

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This is article #268.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.