Category Archives: The Call

The Wrong Call (D)

D. Inherent sectarian restorations:

When we call for a restoration we must be careful in establishing the foundation upon which we base our call. If we are not cautious, then we may end up with some unfortunate conclusions that inherently cause us to divide from one another.

In our picking and choosing what we consider to be the “New Testament church,” we saddle ourselves with an inevitable sectarian conclusion. We will often go to battle with ourselves over determining which behavioral examples of “the New Testament church” should be binding, and thus, be restored. We leave ourselves with the daunting challenge of sifting through a catalog of examples of the early disciples we read about in the New Testament. We diligently sift in order to determine what we should restore in reference to the early disciples’ response to the gospel.

Our hermeneutic for determining that which should be restored is often inherently sectarian. We find ourselves fighting legal battles over the example responses of those, who in their obedience to the gospel, escaped the bondage of legal religion. In our misguided call for a legal restoration, we subsequently legalize the examples of the early Christians’ deliverance from the bondage of legal justification. We often develop a systematic theology of law from the examples of those who through faith in the grace of God were set free from the bondage of systematic theology.

Any systematic theology is inherently sectarian. Here are some examples of deductive applications of examples that have become a part of someone’s theology that has led to sectarianism within their restoration movements: Some have concluded that there should be only one cup used during the Lord’s Supper (Prooftext: Mt 26:27). Some have concluded that contributions could be made only on the first day of the week (Prooftext: 1 Co 16:1,2). Some have concluded that individuals must be baptized the same hour of the night (Proof text: At 16:33). Some have concluded that assemblies of the church must be autonomous from one another (Prooftext: ?). Some have concluded that members must place their membership with a particular autonomous group (Prooftext: ?). Some have concluded that all singing must be congregation (Ep 5:19). Some have concluded that their group must have a specific name in order to label their uniqueness, and thus separate themselves from all others who do not conform to the dictates of their accepted church law.

This list of differences goes on, depending on where one is and with what group he or she is associated in fellowship. The call to restore the “New Testament church” forces on us a hermeneutic of understanding and application of the New Testament in a way that inherently divides us from one another. It is inherently divisive because it is a call for the restoration of the wrong subject.

[Next in series: January 19]

The Wrong Call (C)

C. Call to gospel, not sectarianism:

A call for the restoration of the “New Testament church” is misleading, if not sectarian. It is misleading in that it sets up everyone who would be a theologian with the task of determining what characteristics of the church we read about in the New Testament should be restored. And once this church is supposedly restored on the foundation of law, it is unfortunately assumed that salvation is in this restored biblical church. Church thus becomes the savior, not the Christ in whom we are saved as the church. We subsequently find our security in church rather than Christ.

In our efforts to restore today what we read in the New Testament, our focus must first be on the gospel, not on the dysfunctional response of the early disciples to the gospel. In the midst of a catalog of dysfunctional behavioral and doctrinal problems in the early church of the New Testament, each “church theologian” today is left with the daunting task of determining what examples of the early disciples must be restored.

In order to make a correct decision to determine what is “binding” today in our call for restoration, we have often progressed through a host of hermeneutical gymnastics in order to bind today those behavioral responses of the early disciples who were struggling out of legal Judaism and pagan idolatry. When we cannot come to a common outline of binding their examples in our misguided call for restoration of the “New Testament church,” we often fuss over our hermeneutical gymnastics. In our debates with one another over “issues,” we inadvertently became sectarian in our relationships with one another.

The call for a “restoration of the New Testament church” inherently results in sectarianism among all those who have the noble desire to “speak where the Bible speaks.” However, we forget about “being silent where the Bible is silent.” We are not silent for each sect among us determines to carry on with their own hermeneutical conclusions and practices from the authority of “examples” and “necessary inferences.” Or, in setting aside any New Testament examples or inferences, we simply depend on our favorite religious performances or works in order to express our faith.

When a group eventually agrees on the “identifying characteristics of the church,” the claim is often made that the “New Testament church” has been reestablished in our time. Once the form of this identity is inscribed on outlines and written in books and tracts, then it is usually propagated throughout the world as a mission message that is to be preached. The preaching of the “restored church” usually places the messengers (missionaries) in conflict with other institutionalized churches among the nations who are preaching that they too have “restored the church.” In our zeal to duplicate a form of identity of the “biblical” church, Christ is often marginalized and the “doctrine” of the catechism is capitalized.

Unfortunately, the fallacy of both the call and the hermeneutic to restore the “New Testament church” is that we are seeking to restore the wrong foundation upon which we would be the New Testament church. We obscure why the New Testament church existed in the first place. In our obsession over binding and loosing according to our theological hermeneutics, we lose sight of that which should bring people together as church. We forget that we should first be preaching Jesus Christ, and then the response that people should make to this gospel message.

We must be clear. It is not our task to restore the “New Testament church.” Nowhere in the New Testament is this plea made. But if this is our plea, then we are left with the task of determining which “New Testament church” we would seek to restore. Should it be the “New Testament church” in Corinth? Should it be the “New Testament church” in Ephesus at the time the disciples in Ephesus had lost their first love? Which “New Testament church” must we restore?

Because we confuse ourselves with the dysfunctional behavior of some churches we read about in the New Testament, we cast off that which we do not want to restore and set out on a hermeneutical journey to pick and choose what is worthy to become the major points on our outline of the “identity of the New Testament church.” For example, we choose the example of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week by the church in Troas (At 20:7), but we discard fasting for missions by the church in Antioch (At 13:1-3). We make our contributions into the collection plate on Sunday morning, but refuse a contribution to a homeless person on Monday morning. Many other examples could be listed. In our hermeneutical inconsistencies, we become theological humbugs.

[Next in series: January 17]

The Wrong Call (B)

B. Restoration of the gospel of Christ:

A common slogan that unfortunately leads to sectarianism is the call that we must restore the “New Testament church.” When living in the midst of religious confusion, this sounds like a noble call. It sounds like a call for restoration that is away from the sectarian denominationalism in which most of the “Christian” world lives. But it is a deceiving call that has embedded within it flaws of human reasoning. This may not at first be noticed, but the results of many misguided restoration movements throughout history has proved that restorations that are not based on the gospel eventually lead to the establishment of more religious sects.

In making a call for the restoration of the “New Testament church,” we often have our favorite Old Testament passages that were originally stated in the context of an Israel that had gone beyond repentance and repair. Nevertheless, we quote proclamations as, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths” (Jr 6:16). Since Israel was beyond restoration at the time, for the people replied, “We will not walk in it” (Jr 6:16).

These calls of the prophets for repentance were vain when they were initially stated because God had already doomed Israel to go into captivity. The same calls in reference to restoration today are misapplied because the premise upon which we seek our noble goal is flawed.

The outcome of our call for restoration is often unsatisfactory because we misapply the call of the prophets for Israel’s repentance. We unfortunately use the prophets call for repentance as prooftexts in order to call for restoration today. But we miss a critical point. A call for repentance is different than a call for restoration.

Our use of the Old Testament pleas to Israel is out of context in reference to our plea to all religious groups today. The prophets pled for a return from going after Baal. All of us today believe in the God to whom the prophets pled for Israel to return. Using their pleas for repentance to the God of heaven is out of context in reference to our plea today to those who are stuck in religion, but believe commonly in the one God of heaven. We call for restoration from religion, not to the one true and living God in whom we all believe.

When the early disciples went forth to preach the gospel, their gospel call was not a plea to restore “the old paths” of the Old Testament. Those paths were nailed to the cross by the gospel event (Cl 2:14). The preaching of the gospel by the early evangelists was a call for a paradigm shift, not for a restoration to the “old paths” of the Sinai law. Their call was for a paradigm shift from self-justifying law-keeping to the grace of the God who sent His only begotten Son into the world. The early evangelists, therefore, called on the world to believe on this Son. We would settle for no less today. It was a paradigm shift from Judaism to faith in the crucified Christ. Today, it is still a paradigm shift from religion to the gospel.

[Next in series: January 15]

The Wrong Call (A)

In order for one to call himself out of religion, and especially the heritage of religion that was handed to him by his forefathers, there must be a restoration. But in order to generate a paradigm shift in a restoration from religion to gospel, a very important decision must be made. This decision involves the “what” and “who” unto which one must be called for direction in his move.

A. Tethered to God through His Son:

One must make a decision to untether himself from the bondage of heritage authority in order to be tethered to God through Christ. This means that the gospel is the means by which we approach God. There can never be two tethers in our relationship with God. One cannot be tethered to the religion of one’s past, and at the same time, seek to be tethered to God through the gospel of His Son. It must be one or the other. Christ can have no competition in a restorational paradigm shift.

In their preaching of the gospel, this was the choice the early disciples presented to the Jews who were in the first century in the bondage of the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13). It took Saul the persecutor some time to make the choice to be Paul the apostle, but he eventually made his way out of religion and into Christ. And of those things he counted sacred in the Jews’ religion, he wrote,

“I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. I count them refuse so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).

One can be, therefore, tethered only to Jesus. “For there is only one God and one mediator [tether] between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tm 2:5). There is only one Lord (Ep 4:5). Peter was very specific about this matter: “There is salvation in no other [than Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (At 4:12). It is only through Jesus that one can be tethered to God. This leaves religion outside the realm of establishing a relationship (covenant) with God. Salvation is not through meritorious religiosity, but through Christ alone.

Unfortunately, throughout history there have arisen numerous misguided efforts on the part of sincere people to establish a relationship with God, which relationship has been obscured by the influences of their religion. In their desire to establish a gospel relationship with God, some have been diverted in the wrong direction by religion. After a few decades, they ended up back where they started. They left sectarian religiosity in order to establish a direct relationship with God, but because they based their paradigm shift on the foundation of their forefathers’ religion, they missed their desired destination. They circled around and ended up being that from which they fled. They left sectarian religion, but constructed a sectarian movement that inherently produced different sects within the movement. Restorations in religion are only disguised reformation movements. And reformation movements always lead to the birth of more religious sects.

[Next in series: January 13]