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]