Last week I criticised the application of the Restoration Plea to restore the New Testament church. I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on restoring New Testament structures, leadership models, and worship habits. The Restoration Movement, and Churches of Christ in particular, has generally come to define itself by these issues.
My greatest concern is that none of the New Testament authors thought it necessary to discuss these issues in detail. (Paul’s treatment of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 proves an exception, but still doesn’t address questions of which day, or how often to participate in the Supper.) The obvious reason for this omission is that the New Testament letters are occasional in nature and address specific issues that particular congregations or individuals faced. We learn from these teachings and apply all we learn to our lives and churches, but we’ll never have every single question answered unequivocally.
Still, if specifying an exact 24 hr period in which to worship was crucial to our relationship with God, it’s hard to imagine that there was never any tension between Jews and Gentiles regarding this issue. After all, the Jewish day begins at sunset, and the Roman day begins at midnight. So the Jews could worship and take the Lord’s Supper on Saturday night and still be “meeting on the first day of the week”, while the Gentiles would have to wait until midnight. Then the Gentiles could worship Sunday night when the Jews couldn’t. Surely it would have been necessary to clarify this “important” issue in one of the letters to ensure that “true” worship was offered to God!
(I might have just chased a hare with that last paragraph.) The primary point of this post and the previous one is that we have misplaced our priorities. Here’s my suggestion for how to “restore” our priorities. We need to restore an emphasis on the explicit Biblical teachings. There are many places to begin this restoration process, such as the Sermon on the Mount. My suggestion is to review numerous lists of virtues scattered throughout the New Testament. The problem is I don’t think all of these ever disappeared, but I do think all Christians need to be reminded of them regularly.
Often the “Lists of Virtues” are juxtaposed with “Lists of Vices”. For instance, The Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 immediately follow the Fruit of the Flesh in verses 19-21. It seems Christianity in general has done a much better job of communicating the “Lists of Vices” than the more positive “Lists of Virtues”. Churches effectively communicate the evils of say… abortion and homosexuality, but apparently struggle to help people grow more patient or gentle. They also have not proved very effective at actually reducing participation in the “vices”. It’s no wonder outsiders regard us as hypocrites when we don’t practice what we preach.
“A new report from The Barna Group, a cultural analysis company in southern California, presents research indicating that people’s faith does not make as much of as difference as might be expected.” (Although Evangelicals do have a greater difference than other Christian groups.)
Can you imagine how our churches would be different today if 200 years ago our most influential preacher, teachers, and writers had emphasised the need for self-control, or taught us how to think on whatever is noble, and lovely. If we had 200 years of teaching on how to add goodness to faith (2 Peter 1:5) without becoming self-righteous and while maintaining humility, how might our movement be different today?
I’m convinced that that when the New Testament church is restored, or created, it will be known as the church that loves the most. It will be the church that practices the most patient. It will be the church that forgives the most readily. It will be the church that most demonstrates humility. And it will demonstrate these virtues not through its perfection, but because it embraces people who need love, who stretch patience, who regularly offend and require forgiveness. It will NOT be known as the church with the most correct worship service or leadership structure.
I wrote a lot more than I intended when I started this post. Now it’s your turn, any comments?
- How can churches practically help Christians practice Godly virtues? Apparently just preaching about it isn’t enough.
- Do you agree that churches generally preach about vices more than virtues?
- What defines a “New Testament church” in your mind?