Anyone who has ever taken on a restoration project of any kind are aware that often one has to do so much tearing away of what is there, that it almost looks like they are going to destroy the whole thing. However, much of the time, such tearing away must be done in order to remove that which has, over the years, deteriorated or has been altered from the original. Most have at some time seen a piece of furniture that has been painted over and over and then been stripped of all those coats of paint in order to restore the piece of furniture to its original beauty. The restoration of an old car might include removing an expensive, powerful, efficient drive train that is in perfect running condition, because it is not what was in the car originally. With this thought about restoration in mind, we wish to consider the restoration of the church that Christ built just after His death, burial, resurrection and ascension into heaven.
We might begin by pointing out some facts about the original church. The church was an institution that was planned from the beginning of time. The apostle Paul spoke of the mystery concerning the church being hid from the beginning (Eph. 3:8-11). The church was built by Jesus Christ. Jesus told His apostles, “…I will build my church…” (Matt. 16:18). The church was purchased by the blood of Christ. Paul told the Ephesian elders to feed the church of God, “…which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The original church was established on the first Pentecost following the death of Christ. This is recorded in the second chapter of the book of Acts. Every mention of the church prior to this chapter is always future tense, but beginning in this chapter, it becomes present tense. The chapter closes with, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). This church was guided by way of the gospel of Christ. The apostles were given the keys (Matt. 16:19, 18:18) and the promise of divine inspiration (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17) and the seed by which salvation comes (I Pet. 1:22-25). The church was made up of all those who were to be saved (Acts 2:47). And of course, there was just one church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4; I Cor. 12:20). This is a brief glimpse of the original church.
But, Let us now note that there have been changes in the church from that original pattern found in the New Testament. Today there are various “denominations”, embracing all kinds of differing doctrines and practices. Of course, this departure from God’s way was in accordance with the examples of God’s people from the beginning and it was also foretold that it would occur. Paul told Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:3-4). He also told those Ephesian elders, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Gradual departures did take place and resulted in an institution that didn’t even resemble the original church. It came to be know as the Roman Catholic church. Even among this apostate church’s own clergy, there were many who from time to time rose up in opposition to the teachings and practices of the church. Many preachers and other religious leaders recognized the departure from God’s way and sought to correct it. However, they sought to reform, not restore. They didn’t do what was necessary to bring about the restoration of simple New Testament Christianity. Their efforts resulted in great division.
Now, if we are to restore the church to her original beauty and effectiveness, we will have to do some tearing down. The prophet Jeremiah was given the task of informing the nation of Israel, which had left from God’s original pattern, just as much of the church of today has done, of what they needed to do in order to be acceptable in the sight of God again. God instructed Jeremiah saying, “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jer. 1:10). Following these same instructions, we need to do the same in striving to restore the church that Jesus built. If it is not in the pages of the New Testament, it is not a part of true Christianity and needs to be rooted out and cast aside. If it is found in the pages of the New Testament, then it must be included, thus if not present currently, added. However, be warned as was God’s people, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it…” (Deut. 4:2).
It is not easy to cast aside teachings that have been traditionally believed and followed and fellowships that have existed for years and maybe generations. However, if one will be saved eternally, it will have to be God’s way by His original pattern.
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for The Sampson Independent.