The Restoration Movement has its upsides: a call to get “back to the Bible,” the bravery to disregard “tradition,” and the honesty to admit that individuals do not have perfect knowledge.
The movement, however, has a serious flaw: it implies that the ideal church is back there somewhere. Christians even speak of becoming “the first century Church.”
I don’t know about you, but when I read the New Testament, I’m glad I wasn’t alive back then: extreme persecutions, Jew/ Gentile infighting, and several deadly wars and conflicts which left all kinds of destruction in their path. But the social and political climate is not the only reason I don’t want to reenact the first century church; this perspective suggests that the world is as good as it’s going to get, that the ideal situation is back there frozen in time.
It fails to see that Jesus’ teachings, such as “love your enemies,” were so far ahead of their time. Have you heard Christians recently call for violence, so-called justified war, or propose an eye-for-an-eye form of justice? Apparently even the followers of Jesus haven’t universally caught on to His message.
Anytime we tell ourselves that the ideal church, nation, world, or whatever is back there somewhere, we are basically admitting defeat, that back there is as good as it will ever get.
When I think back on my life, sometimes I am tempted to say, “If only I could go back X number of years…” But as soon as the thought crosses my mind, I remember my wife, my son, and how much I’ve grown and learned since then.
I wouldn’t go back and redo anything if given the opportunity because I trust I am right where (and when) I need to be. Instead, I look forward to the future, to the place I believe God is leading me.
To say that we need to go back to the first century is admitting defeat. The gospel is still alive and well, and it is taking us somewhere. In Revelation 22:2, John wrote that the leaves of the tree of life were for the healing of the nations. Does the world still need healing today? Obviously, right? So, our best bet isn’t going back there but pressing forward! We must follow the trajectory set by Jesus.
Think of America. Do you honestly believe that America’s ideal existence is somewhere in the past? In the lives of many of my readers, human beings treated other humans differently because they were African American (and still do!). Going back before that, people despised Irish-Americans. America in the nineteenth century forced Native Americans away from their homes. Which one of these times was the ideal state of the country so many citizens wish to get back to?
We must look to the future as a church, a nation, and as human beings.
The increase of God’s kingdom will never end, so the opportunity for growth, development, and unity is ahead of us, not back there somewhere.
The gospel was way ahead of its time, and it is still ahead of ours. Let’s march forward, not backwards, because that is where God wants us to be.