The American Restoration Movement sprung up in the early parts of the 19th Century. Men like Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone were integral in driving this movement, perhaps the earliest ecumenical movement in American history.
Tired of the creeds and the religious shackles of other traditions, these men and women sought a simpler expression of the church, one that brought people together and where all were welcome. It was a beautiful beginning.
The Churches of Christ, the faith tradition of my youth and the one I continue in now as a minister, sprung from this Restoration Movement. Growing up I heard a lot about our church’s desire to “restore the 1st Century church.” I understand what that means, and for the most part it has noble footing. There is trust in the inspiration of Scripture and of the teaching of the apostles. There is simplicity and focus of mission.
But this “restoration” ethic also feeds into a very common human tendency: We are inclined to believe that things were better “back then”. We see the past as simpler, cleaner and better, unsullied by the complications and complexities of modern times. We look upon bygone days with sanguine eyes and idolize the “glory days.”
It’s very hard to move forward when you’re eyes are set behind you.
The way that the Bible is viewed by society at large is intriguing to me. Many see an antiquated book. My non-Christian friends have often expressed wonderment at how we Christian folk can build our lives around a book that is thousands of years old. They wonder if it’s holding us back, keeping us behind the times.
I think is a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of Scripture.
Rob Bell recently had a great podcast about this (it’s episode 8 here). In it he described how the Bible is not some out-of-date document, but rather a collection of progressive writings.
Sure there are passages that seem archaic — Leviticus, parts of Deuteronomy, huge portions of the Law. But for their day, these writings were incredibly revolutionary. They teach a primitive people how to navigate a wild world and give small steps toward a better way of relating to one another. We see movement in the Bible, from Old Testament to New Testament. We see law and prophets and Messiah and a church. And the movement is constantly forward.
What we see in Scripture is a progression — a patient God who is constantly drawing mankind forward, teaching us new and better ways to be human.
Too many times Christians get stuck pining for a past reality. Maybe it’s because the world seems so complicated and difficult, so we look back and believe that times were simpler and easier back then. And if we can just restore some things from then, life will be better.
What the very nature of the Bible teaches us, however, is that we are not backward people. The biblical writings were never meant to be collected and used to pull us backward. They still call us forward, inviting us to see that God’s kingdom is real and shalom is possible.
Forward is built into the DNA of God’s people. We should always be at the forefront of humanity, helping people see the reality of the world and the new possibilities that are open to us. We shouldn’t shackle people to the past, but call them forward.
We are liberators. We exist to help set others free.
So today may you see the progressive nature of both God’s book and God’s people. May you understand your role as part of that forward momentum. And may you do the liberating work of offering freedom to the world.
May we all find the way forward together.