What does it mean to restore the New Testament church? Does it mean getting five acts of worship right? Does it mean having correct, biblical governance? Does it mean preaching the five steps to salvation? What about how we live our lives the other 6 days a week? What does it mean to restore the New Testament church?
I am going to walk us down a line of reasoning that I believe helps us get a bigger picture and a more biblical answer to this question. So hang on for a few minutes and please share your thoughts in the comments.
Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom. He preaches. He heals. He raises the dead. All of that is Gospel. When the broken are made whole, that is the embodiment of the gospel of the kingdom.
Gospel is proclaiming a specific message. Gospel is living a certain way (one that promotes healing, wholeness, and reconciliation). Jesus preaches and lives the message. Jesus is crucified, buried and resurrected. He appears to his disciples (followers), who become apostles (sent ones) with a commission to reach the nations and make disciples through baptizing them and teaching them to obey all Jesus instructed (Matt 28:19-20). Jesus tells them that they will start where they are (Jerusalem) and then go into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth as his witnesses.
The Spirit comes at Pentecost and 3000 Jewish people are brought to faith and baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. From there the gospel ends up in Samaria (Acts 7) and to the Gentiles first in Acts 10 and then throughout the rest of Acts (“ends of the earth”, the nations).
If we zoom back to Genesis you might remember that God promised Abraham that he would bless the nations through his descendants. That ultimately happens through Jesus and this is why Matthew takes special effort to point that out in the genealogy in Matthew 1. Through Acts 9 that had not yet occurred. But in Acts 10 it finally happens. The Gospel goes to the Gentiles. In Acts 10 there are some key statements we need to pay attention to:
10:15 – “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”10:19-20 – “While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.””10:22-23 – “The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”
Peter was told to not call things unclean God had made clean. Peter was told to accept these Gentiles who were coming to his house. Peter takes Gentiles in to stay with him. There’s more…Peter goes to Cornelius’ houses (a Gentile) and we get this,
10:27-29 – “While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
10:34-35 – “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
10:44-48 – “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
The Holy Spirit instructed Peter. The Holy Spirit gave the Gentiles the gifts. Peter recognized they were really all the same. That is a BIG thing for a first century Jewish man to say and believe and it took the work of the Spirit to get him there.
The heading for the next chapter is “Peter explains his actions” – makes sense…when people cross these lines people are going to demand answers. This happens again in Acts 13 when Paul and Barnabas go on their first missionary journey. They first reach out to the Jews but they are filled with jealousy (13:45) and then turn to the Gentiles (13:46-48). That turn, to people of another race, drew more scrutiny and persecution (13:50-52). Chapter 14 has more of the same and the chapter ends on this note,
“26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” – Acts 14:26-28. That gets us to Acts 15 which starts with more explaining that has to be done. People want to know if crossing these ethnic, cultural and religious lines are okay. It is the same today as it was then.
This brings us to what Paul wrote in Ephesians where Paul talks about the great mystery of a unified church where God brought together people who would have otherwise been irreconcilable,
Eph 1:8-10 – “With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Eph 3:2-6 – “2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
What does restoring the New Testament church look like? It is living out a gospel that reconciles irreconcilable groups. If we want to live into the revealed mystery of Christ, we will do the same. That through Christ we find unity with those we might not ever find commonality with.
We see it in Acts, as demonstrated above.
We see it in Romans with the expelled Jews coming back to Rome and having to get alone with the Gentile Christians who had stayed behind (read Romans 1-3 and see what kind of Jew/Gentile issues they had).
We see it in 1 & 2 Corinthians
We see it in Galatians as Peter messed up and separated himself from Gentiles when Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived and Paul confronted him on it. Why? Because he was bringing division where God, through Christ and the Spirit had done so much to bring unity! Paul proclaims in 3:26-29, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Peter, the first Jew to baptize a Gentile, still goofed it up.
Can we have restored New Testament Christianity while avoiding the hard work of racial reconciliation and understanding? Are we united with people of another race just because we agree on doctrine but have nothing to do with each other? Are largely segregated churches at all representative of what the first century church even looked like?
The early restoration leaders had a dream. It was a dream to bring about unity among all the divisions in Christianity (which have only grown exponentially more numerous) through the restoration of first century Christianity.
Some believe we arrived. No. Many believe we arrived. We restored New Testament Christianity, they say, because we look like them on Sunday. Five acts of worship. Scriptural leadership and governance, correct view and practice of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
We restored it. It’s done. Now we rest on our laurels and defend it against all comers because what we have is set in concrete and any change would make us wrong. The vision is to have no vision. The vision is, at most, maintenance of the status quo.
But look back at the first paragraph. Can we say we have restored New testament Christianity merely through mirroring practice if the actual goal was never achieved? Unity.
I don’t see how we can say it is restored if we aren’t united in the same way they were in those early years.
Unity involves far more than doctrine. Unity in the early church also involved bringing people from all nations in the church. Racially diverse congregations. Jews and Gentiles all in the same house (which was a big deal – see Acts 10:27-28), indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, worshiping the same God (see Eph 4:3-6).
We turned to defense mode because we seemed to have accomplished the “How” of our vision but never the “Why”. We should still be on the offensive – making inroads toward unity – across socioeconomic lines, racial lines, etc. Until that is accomplished, the restoration goal isn’t met because we still don’t look like them and don’t embrace their ethos. We have the first century veneer without the skeletal structure of the first century body of Christ.