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Renewing the Restoration 06/11/2010

"Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." - Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, 17 April 1521 During my brief time as a Presbyterian I heard the phrase "always reforming" (ecclesia semper reformanda) thrown around. This, of course, referred to the idea that the Protestant Reformation wasn't something completed in the past, but rather an ongoing process. Though ground had been gained, much more remained to be done. Later, as I became more involved with the StoneCampbell Restoration Movement churches (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) I learned that the early leaders of this American reformation saw themselves as continuing the work of the Protestant Reformation. Some even believed they were completing it. I would like to suggest what really should be obvious. There needs to be a renewal and furtherance of the Restoration. The Protestant Reformation in Europe challenged the papal domination of all matters spiritual, placing the canonical scriptures back in their rightful place as the source of authority for Christians. The doctrines of grace and faith were rediscovered and much of the Bible was read in light of the struggle against earthly centralized relgious authority that claimed monopoly over salvation. This re-reading was often quite flawed and tendentious, leading the reformers to make pronouncements citing passages that frequenly had little to do with the subject at hand. In any event, ground was gained, despite errors of both moral and theological natures. In the heady, democratic free air of the United States, where no single version of Christianity was given official approval, voices began to be raised calling both for an end to sectarianism and a return to the simple nature of the New Testament church. Unity was emphasized along with fidelity to sacred writ. In this process of deepened study and rigorous debate the truth was uncovered that baptism by immersion is not only a sign of discipleship, but the point at which remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is applied to the life of the believer (Acts 2:28). Over the following decades, stretching out over nearly two centuries, the key hallmarks of this restoration movement have been the necessity of baptism, weekly communion and local church leadership by elders. While there have been serious differences over many points of faith and practice, including these three I just mentioned, they have nevertheless remained prominent characteristics of this fellowship. We are at a point now where I would like to suggest that a renewed restoration is needed, a firm commitment to the idea of "always reforming." We can't possibly believe that any of us individually or all of us collectively have arrived at a thorough understanding of all that God has to tell us in His Word. Without leaving behind the teachings of faith, grace, baptism and biblical church order, it is perhaps even past time for us also to gain an understanding for and appreciation of three inter-related areas of biblical doctrine: justic, resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth. "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday." - Isaiah 58:6-10 NRSV We who concern ourselves so deeply with being correct about how we organize ourselves as churches have, with some brilliant exceptions, done a rather poor job of taking seriously the call to living justly. God regularly and consistently called his people, Israel, to look out for the poor, the aliens, the widows and orphans. In the New Testament Jesus lived and died with his message of passive resistence to evil, a third way that neither fights directly nor runs from the oppressor. He had compassion on those around him and healed them. The first century church apparently kept a list of widows who received assistance. If God's chosen fast is mercy and kindness, setting free the oppressed, how can we consume ourselves with endless morbid debates about words and chasing after faddish gimmicks to achieve "church growth"? "Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." - 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 NRSV If you blinked you might have missed it. Notice how the passage above, from a section of Paul's first letter to the Christians in Corinth that focuses on the resurrection of the dead, comes to a close. After a long discourse about how our future hope is not a disembodied, ghostly existence in the afterlife but instead a more-real-than-real bodily resurrected condition, the apostle Paul reminds us that our work done in Christ's name is not in vain. There is deep meaning hear that we have not yet begun to tap. "But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home." - 2 Peter 3:13 NRSV In hymn after hymn and sermon after sermon, all I hear is about dying and going to heaven. The hope of salvation held out in most Gospel presentations is dying and going to heaven. This is not the hope we are given in the Scriptures. From Abraham's promised land to the New Testament's closing description of the New

Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, the hope of believers has not been an escape from supposedly evil physical existence. In fact, it is a gnostic belief, foreign to the teachings of the apostles and prophets, that supposes there is anything wrong with matter. The Bible speaks of God creating the heavens and earth and calling it all "very good." In Jesus, God the Son took truly human form, dying as such and being raised from the dead, and in that same body was received back into the throne room of God. The Christian hope is not death, judgment and then heaven. It isn't even death, resurrection, judgment and heaven. The Christian hope is dying (and going to be with Christ), resurrection, judgment and New Heavens/New Earth. The teachings of justice, resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth must be restored to the church. As we commit ourselves to correctly teaching and living out the hope we have received in Christ, through faith, repentance and baptism we will find ourselves and the Lord's church renewed in power and purpose. "We are now erelong to part asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether I shall live ever to see your faces more. But whether the Lord hath appointed it or not, I charge you before God and His blessed angels to follow me no farther than I have followed Christ. If God should reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth of my ministry, for I am very confident the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of His holy word." - Rev. John Robinson, in his farewell message to the Pilgrims departing for the New World, 1620