Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pristine Christianity - #1

I've been reading lately about "restorationism." The ideal of the restorationist movement is to bring back pristine Christianity - the beliefs and practices of the Christian Church as originally constituted under the Apostles in the first century.

To most Christians, this sounds like a great idea! Isn't it our goal to follow the precepts of the Bible - especially the New Testament - the way that the first century believers did? Hasn't that been the goal of all Christians down through two millennia?

Well now, that turns out to be the real question. Most of us in the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism see church history as a story of challenges, errors and corrections in which we can identify the strand that brought us to our present denominational and theological position. In that denominational and theological position we claim that we are being true to the New Testament.

But the restorationists take the view that the first century truth was lost to all churches of all branches and all denominations. Consequently, they see themselves as the unique new beginning of Christian purity.

Sometimes this "purity" is derived from their own fresh study of the New Testament without letting themselves be influenced by the centuries of previous scholarship or church creeds. (e.g., Stone-Campbell Churches of Christ - early 1800's, Christadelphians - mid-1800's).

For others the restoration of "purity" comes through someone who claims to have special revelation of new scriptures. The mysticism of the Quakers in the 1700's is probably an example of this - belief that all other denominations are deficient, but that every person can bring direct revelation from God through the "Inner Light." More modern examples include Joseph Smith's Latter Day Saints 1830's, Ellen G. White's Seventh-Day Adventists (late 1800's) which led to Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God (1930's), and Charles Taze Russell and the Bible Student Movement (1870's) which led to Judge Rutherford and the Jehovah's Witnesses (1930's). In the 1900's the same basic forces were at work in the beginnings of the pentecostal movement which then led to the charismatic restoration movement. Like the Quakers earlier, they believed they could receive direct revelation from God that would restore the church to pristine Christianity. Who can argue with that?

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