Sunday, May 17, 2009

Restore what?

The version of Christianity passed along to me was based on a very narrow sort of primitivism.

Growing up and on into my college and adult years, the fundamental (no pun intended here) concept behind the faith tradition of my family was "restoration." The goal was to restore in word and practice the life and teachings of the earliest Christian communities. We wanted to be "1st century Christians," never mind that we found ourselves in the midst of the tumultuous twentieth century, a fact that we seemed to work hard to ignore.

As I slowly began to awaken to a larger view of my faith, it became clear that both our understandings of the earliest Christians and our selection of just which words and practices to restore needed serious reconsideration.

For example, I grew up convinced that instrumental music in worship was a heinous sin worthy of eternal damnation! Our list of practices, terms and methods to be "restored" was set out very clearly and in terms that made it easy to pass along to others. And, did we ever try! The "five steps to salvation," the proper organization of the church, the correct terms for labeling church leaders, the frequency of celebrating the Lord's Supper, the strict avoidance of the historic creeds of orthodoxy (afterall, the earliest believers had no such statements), refusal even to pray the Lord's Prayer since it was a prayer from the Mosaic dispensation (never mind who first offered the prayer!). . .the list went on.

I remember working my way through a book written by a famous preacher from a generation before mine. "Why I am a member of [my denomination]." We worked our way through that book again and again. I remember as a young minister in training that I led my country congregation through the book. Reflecting on that experience, I think it was then that the sharp turn in my own view began to become clear. Internally, the book's title changed slightly but significantly to "Why am I a member of my denomination?"

While the notion of restoration had much to commend it as a framing tool/principle for biblical interpretation and hermeneutics, the major challenge with the method had to do with the choices to be made as to what would be restored. The subjectivity of the entire process made for lots of really strange divisions and practices in our little corner of the Christian world.

My questions began to revolve more and more around what Jesus said and did.

The value basis of his words intrigued me greatly. Consideration of their application led me to listen to other voices outside my heritage. And, Jesus led me to rethink my approach to the Bible in general.

Not surprisingly, I found the same values expressed in the Hebrew Bible, values that clearly under girded those of Jesus. I remember vividly when it hit me that Jesus was executed for his value statements and for what they meant regarding how he and his followers treated others. It became clear that his values and actions, his lifestyle and sacrifices charted a course that made lots of sense in a world of pain, need, war, division and injustice like mine.

I suppose I'll never completely escape the interpretive paradigm of my youth. So, for me the question will remain, "Restore what?"

How about this for a start?

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you invited me in,

I needed clothes and you clothed me,

I was sick and you looked after me,

I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Here it appears to me that we hit upon the restoration of people and our world.

What's your story?


Josh Ross said...

"Restore what?"
I like that you left us with that question.
We have attempted to restore 1st century practices which have left us with denominational baggage. Those practices cannot be restored in the 21st century.
I think the purpose is to restore the mission of Jesus. We want the same mission that invaded Christ's early followers to invade us. Luke 4:16-30 becomes our lifeblood.

Dean Smith said...


How strange that you should focus on the life of Jesus as the organizing principle of your life. That seems strangely "bibilical" and a principle worth restoring. Unfortunately, as evidenced by our actions, we're a long way from that kind of restoration. Maybe Jesus was right - judgment day will be a genuine surprise for a lot of folks (Matthew 25:44).

Daniel Gray said...

Great thoughts. I grew up knowing about these currents in the domination, but thankfully most of the people around me had a much different viewpoint. I had enough experience with "restoration" history one summer in Africa, and I think that's when my Christo-centric views began to take form. It was hard for me to imagine God caring more about restoring certain ecclesial practices, when it was obvious there was a broken world and broken relationships out there that needed restoration.

The Godly restoration that I'm looking for now is in 1 Corinthians 15, which is God over all and in all, which means a restoration of God's peace, or shalom, with and within humanity.

mrp said...

"Restore what?"

When I read the title I was convinced the post would take a different route. I did not have the religious upbringing that you had. At least not to the same extreme, but I was raised believing that old ways were somehow better and therefore somehow closer to God. Even this view, I believe, is misplaced.

We are to be restored to a right relationship with God. That's the answer to the question. The only way to do that is via submission to and a relationship with Jesus Christ (John 14:7). I agree with Josh Ross, we are to be restored to the mission of Jesus, which means our mission should be bringing people to a "restored" relationship with Christ. A relationship that was broken from the garden of Eden.

Once restored, Christ modeled for every believer how to live, a model most people quickly ignore. By leaving his throne to come to us he demonstrated ultimate humility and sacrifice in order to bring His sheep into a right relationship with him. His life on earth was anything but glamorous (something we Americans are proud to obtain). He told us, and showed us how to daily take up our cross, follow God's will, serve the poor, the defenseless, and the broken. He accosted the rich and despised the proud. We aspire to be rich and we admire the rich. We stigmatize the poor and try to isolate them from our lives.

Matthew 25 shows God's will for us; serve the "least of these" and John 3:16 tells us why; so that people will believe in Christ. I believe that is what we are to be "restored" to.

rcorum said...

I grew up in much the same background as you, Larry, except if anything I would be further to the right. Sometimes it is so hard to let go. Having what you think are all the right answers provides a great feeling of safety, that is until you begin to really read the Bible with fresh eyes focused on Jesus. The one thing that keeps me from bashing my upbringing is the realization that my faith family consisted of some of the most wonderful people on the face of the earth.

Chris said...

In reading my Bible, Paul gave quite a bit of attention to doctrine, which a lot of people seem to have thrown under the bus. The battle cry is to "be like Jesus," a worthy goal to be sure, but it seems to me any specific doctrine is missing. Is it every man for himself as far as belief is concerned?

Daniel Gray said...

Are we following Paul or Christ? I'm just thinking that the words of our Lord and Savior, of God incarnate, should take on a little bit more importance than someone who was not God. If there's a conflict between Paul and Christ, or there's only so much we can do, I'll put all my energy into the commands and actions of Christ first anyday.

And I seemed to remember a lot of Old Testament remarks from God that he didn't care about their "acts of worship" if their heart and relationship with fellow man was abusive or neglectful. It's in Mt. 25, too.

Jeff Warren said...


Jesus, too, gave quite a bit of attention to doctrine (that is, teaching). And he taught in Matthew 25 that we are playing at religion if we aren't helping the needy.

An exercise: try to let Paul himself define "doctrine" for you through his writings.

rcorum said...


Doctrine has got the be the most misused word in the English Bible. Great point.

Steve said...

I believe the Holy Spirit is today inviting all who will to come and experience the abundant life Jesus promised. I can't figure out how it relates to previous works of our Lord in previous generations, but just want to say that what Larry is posing is more a response to that working of the Spirit, than something flesh and blood has taught.

I too grew up in a denomination conceived to "go back" after the larger ones had fallen into apostasy. I was truly a pharisee of the pharisees by the time I was 13. Everything was " Biblically based", but in truth, our Dogma was more steeped in tradition than even the Catholic church. I knew my Dogma in and out and could and did argue convincingly with people much older. But then my Dogma got run over by my Karma!

I all of a sudden found myself on the wrong side of the church, but finally on the right side of Jesus, and His words as copied in the Gospels. I determined to take His words seriously, and fail following Him, rather than succeed any other way. It felt suicidal.

AS I grew to trust him through daily obedience, I then got mad at my church, and at Paul, feeling tricked. But lo and behold, when I went to revisit the words of Paul, unfiltered through those traditions, I found that He was a Jesus Freak. Everything he wrote about went back to Jesus. Reading Paul, without understanding his out and out absolute self subjection to Jesus can cause focus on the wrong parts, and a miss of the whole point.

Funny, as I then experienced this truly new life, one friend, who wanted to restore me to the faith, asked to meet regularly for Bible study. Since Jesus would not have resisted him, I didn't. We had a really great time, with our testing and trying the words of the Bible. I didn't share that I had studied it all before...but just tried to look at it with him in the idea that the Bible is alive, and is the word of God, and that Jesus is the Word, made incarnate. At the end, he said: "I think I have a better grasp of Doctrine, but you have the better relationship with Jesus"


Kent Hill said...

Having been raised in the same denomination as you, Larry, I was a young man with many more answers than I even knew the questions to. Then I met a great young pastor who was searching and was brave enough to share his search and the path he found.

I thank God for that young pastor - even though your politics is still a bit questionable...

Kent Hill

Eric Livingston said...


This was supposed to be an ecumenical unity movement before it got hijacked by the super-sect mindset. Now, I fear, the original intent is unrecoverable.

That unity, which we were supposed to be restoring, of course is based on our faith in Jesus Christ. So your comments about living into the ways of Christ are right on.

But the only answer to your question that I can come up with that still gives us worth is "unity."

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