The result of the scenario of the previous chapter is that misunderstandings concerning the gospel are perpetuated through the Bible educational institutions of a particular network of churches. This was the great disservice of the Reformation Movement leaders five hundred years ago. In their flight from the constraints of Roman Catholicism, they ran from Catholic catechisms and power. But their primary focus was not to run to the gospel. They were more involved in theology, and less in gospel. In fact, they ran straight through Jerusalem and often established the very institutional religions as that from which they fled. The only thing that was different was some organizational restructuring and name changes. Theirs was mostly a religious political movement, not a true gospel restoration movement.
Those who later laid claim to restoration movements within the family of reformed churches, also ran into some problems. Legal restorations were generated in the nineteenth century in order to legally call confused religionists out of the quagmire of reformist religiosity. The problem with these movements was that the focus for restoration was more on law, and less on gospel.
A similar false security is true among many independent churches today. Though their “restoration” was not based on the theology of self-justification through meritorious law-keeping—they knew and know little Bible—another standard of justification was inadvertently established as groups violated the focus of Jesus that he taught in John 16:14: The Holy Spirit “will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will declare it to you.” The exaltation of the Holy Spirit over Jesus became the standard by which one was judged to be faithful, or one judged others to be spiritual. This was the standard of a supposed direct influence of the Holy Spirit on the free-moral behavior of the individual. In this movement, self-justification shifted from law, or traditions, to one’s own personal experience with the Holy Spirit, specifically in many cases, the manifestation of the Spirit through “tongue speaking.” Contrary to the legal restorationist who focused on strict obedience to law, the experientialist secured his or her justification through some experience with the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, whether through a legal justification, or an experiential justification, both systems of religion are contrary to the justification that was unleashed from heaven through the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. The gospel is simply contrary to both legal and experiential justification.
Legal restorationists had an inherent problem within their movements. In seeking to establish a legally defined church, focus was diverted from the primary importance of the message of the gospel. Therefore, in their debates over what laws were binding in order to be justified as the true church, the debaters often ended up splintering over numerous opinions and creeds that they assumed must be meritoriously performed correctly by individuals in order to be justified before God. When any group of the movement eventually settled on a common opinion or creed that would be recognized and obeyed by the majority of the movement, then they too established their own Bible educational institutions that would perpetuate their common creed.
In legal restorations, gospel always becomes obscure in the quagmire of opinions and creeds, and thus falls away from being the primary foundation for unity, and the first message to be preached to the unbelievers. In fact, the gospel is often relegated to a legal system of law that must be meritoriously obeyed in order for one to justify himself before God. One could preach this message of self-justification, pointing out all the right scriptures for the laws to be obeyed, but never focus the incarnation of the Son of God, His atoning sacrifice, and His present gospel kingdom reign over all things, which reign includes the continued submission of the members as the body of Christ. In this movement, the preachers often ended up preaching more church than gospel. They thus reversed the order of importance. It is paramount to understand the church of our Lord, but it is absolutely imperative that we first understand and preach the gospel of Christ upon whom the church of Christ is founded.
In the midst of all this religious diversity, and in their efforts to set themselves apart from the religious world, many of the present leaders of the independent church movements around the world have developed some unfortunate motives for acquiring a diploma or degree in Bible in order to perpetuate their movements. As previously stated, they seek validation for their assumed positions in order that they too can be considered to be on the same theological level as their counterparts in the traditional churches from which they supposedly restored Christianity. They often feel that they are not valid preachers unless they have some official award from a recognized, if not government accredited, Bible training institution.
But there is often an inherent error in the motives and reasoning of degree-seeking religionists. Many zealous leaders are often seeking an award in law, not gospel. They are often motivated to study the Bible in order to acquire some degree in the law of the word of God, but not a better understanding of the revelation of the gospel through the word of God. If the law is learned in every detail, then it is assumed that one will be better prepared to defend the church. In such an intellectual quest, one’s understanding of the gospel often becomes a subpoint on an outline of law. For example, as stated previously, established and often opinionated “laws concerning the Lord’s Supper” become more important than the gospel of which the Supper is to remind us. Legal restorationists will always quibble over their supposed “laws” in partaking of the Supper, with the subject of the gospel moved into the background of the discussion.
A legal restorationist who has become a religionist is easily betrayed by his own contentions. The religionist argues over whether to serve the fruit of the vine with one cup or several cups. The gospel restorationist, on the other hand, could care less how many cups are used. His focus is not on the cup, or cups, but on the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross for his redemption. The obsession of his concern is Christ, not cups.
[Next in series: April 18]