The problem that eventually leads to a decline in any movement, whether restorational or ecumenical, would be the original call upon which the movement was initially based. Legal restorationists often make a call for restoration that is based on what we would consider a catechism of law. This is done in order to establish a legal identity for those who seek to be identified with the movement. Those who identify with the catechism are allowed to be in fellowship with the movement. Those who find flaws in the catechism are considered to have left the movement.
The nature with this system of identity is that we become serious students of law, but often overlook the cause as to why the early church came into existence. In our call for legal restoration, therefore, we often marginalize Christ by seeking to restore the law of the “New Testament church.” We do so by seeking to identify legally the church in the New Testament. Our favorite books become Acts and the epistles, and not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the coronation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation. The primary subject of our sermons is based on law, not the Lord Jesus Christ. We often become judges of one another in order to make sure that each one of us conforms to the catechism that identifies who we are. We are thus intimidated to conform to catechisms of law, rather than live the gospel which we have obeyed. But if our obedience was not initially in obedience to the gospel of Christ, but to law, then we easily carry on with law keeping without focusing on Christ.
However, when we follow the message of the early disciples, we discover something that is quite different than what is often preached today among those who seem to believe that they have a copyright on restoration. We are encouraged, therefore, to take another look at the message that was preached among Jews and Greeks in the first century. The result of the message was so phenomenal that it was proclaimed that the Christians had turned the world upside down (At 17:6).
A. Preach the gospel:
Remember when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15)? The message of the early evangelists was the gospel, not the “law of the church.” Their message to those who obeyed the gospel led to a transformed life. They were transformed in response to the gospel reign of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rm 12:1,2; Cl 3:1,2).
The gospel was not a catechism to identify the church. It was a message that had the power to save and change lives. The church of the saved was the result. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was the cause. Church was the body of individuals who were saved and transformed.
Unfortunately, we have often reversed the focus of the early disciple. We make the identity of the “church” the message, and the gospel of Christ an afterthought. In fulfilling the great commission of Jesus, we have been guilty of going into all the world and preaching church first.
In preaching “church” as our central message to the religious world, not only is our message often sterile of the gospel of God’s love through Jesus, it is also a simple appeal to “join the church of our choice.” So in order that the preacher seemingly guarantees the “right choice,” prooftext upon prooftext—precept, upon precept (Is 28:10)—are accumulated under each point of a multiple-point outline in order to identity the right church. The preacher thus proves that he is a messenger of a legally-defined New Testament church, and not a preacher of the gospel. He is getting the egg before the chicken, forgetting that the gospel produces the body, the body (church) does not produce the Christ.
[Next in series: January 25]