This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for November, 2013

I grew up in Restoration Movement churches in Upstate New York. During my “pre-memory” years (0-5 years old) my family attended a Church of Christ. I have only the vaguest impressions of this church: a basement with flaky-paint, cinder block walls; a kitchen with leftover grape juice shots; and a cappella songs in minor keys (“We Are One in the Spirit,” “The Lord Is in His Holy Temple,” etc.).

Around the time I started kindergarten, we began to attend a Christian Church, where I was baptized at age 9, and where we stayed until sometime in mid-elementary school (age 10 or 11, so 5th or 6th grade). Again, I don’t remember much about this church, except that it was instrumental (which did not strike me as either odd or exciting), and that they had children’s concerts and plays for me to perform in (which struck me as very exciting).

Then my family began attending a Church of Christ again – not the cinder-block basement church, but a traditional, “upside-down boat auditorium” church. I attended here through high school and on breaks throughout college. This is the church that raised me, taught me, shaped me, challenged me, and kept me accountable and faithful through the awkward and challenging middle and high school years. It was where I felt most at home. In this church, I learned about true community: the members of the youth group were my friends, the adults were my mentors and examples, and the younger children provided me opportunities for leadership and service. In this church, I learned to love and engage the Bible.

I have attended CofC-affiliated schools for undergrad (Rochester), graduate school (ACU), and now doctoral work (Lipscomb). My education has always been informed by Restoration Movement beliefs and values. Even as some of my opinions, beliefs, and perspectives changed, they did so in the context of Churches of Christ, which were the churches I attended throughout my education, and the churches I had in mind for my future ministry. My relationship with Restoration Movement churches is long and complicated, but committed. These are my people (whether they want me or not).

Of course, I have also always had meaningful relationships with non-CofC Christians. (“If there is such a thing,” says a voice from my past, a voice I deny but still hear.) At the beginning of fourth grade, I began to attend a private, non-denominational Christian school instead of public school. At this school, I learned and worshiped with students from many other denominations. So, very early I had to ask myself whether I really thought that the children on the playground with me were not saved just because they were not baptized (as an “adult,” for the purpose of remission of sins – although I would hardly call my nine-year old self an adult).

Throughout high school, I found myself needing to explain Churches of Christ to my other Christian friends. This is a position in which Jamey and I now regularly find ourselves, since we live in a community (Princeton Theological Seminary) made up of primarily high church (Presbyterian and Lutheran) folks.

If you have never tried to talk about Churches of Christ with “outsiders,” you should prepare yourself for a number of confused, befuddled, perplexed looks. Our friends understand how certain CofC practices result from the specific values and goals of the Restoration Movement. Their confusion comes one step before that: Why are those the values and goals? Why would you want to restore the New Testament church? These conversations are always in the spirit of seeking understanding. No one is trying to convince us to leave and join their tribe; they’re just trying to understand why we stay, especially given the fact that standard practice and belief in Churches of Christ creates vocational difficulty for me.

Nonetheless, these conversations always conclude with me saying something like: Restoring the New Testament church is not necessarily a goal of mine. But I stay in Churches of Christ because this is the church that raised me. I would be “Church of Christ” regardless of where I attended. We may not always get along, but I cannot deny that this is my family (any more than they can exclude me by denying that I am their family). I want to use my gifts to serve the church that shaped them. I know the minefields here, and would have to learn them anew in another group.

Really, the primary reason(s) I stay is because there are strengths here. There are aspects of the Restoration Movement that I love, that I think are healthy, that I think have the potential to facilitate communities of people that are joining God’s mission of reconciliation as exemplified most perfectly in Jesus. To name a few: congregational autonomy, priesthood of all believers, emphasis on scripture (although I’d like us to think a little different about what scripture is doing, but that’s another subject altogether), a cappella worship, and weekly (or at least consistent and frequent) participation in the Lord’s Supper. For these reasons, and others, I like it here! These are the aspects of the Restoration Movement that I wholeheartedly embrace.

 

restore

 

About once a week I get the prompt from Google informing me that Chrome has failed to shut down correctly.  In their eagerness to simplify my life they always offer the, ever so helpful, option of just clicking restore. If only life were that easy.

We’re talking a lot about Biblical Restoration these days, but I wonder if we’re truly prepared for what that might involve. And seriously, what exactly is it that we want to be restored to? Is it the church circa 1950? Is it doing Bible things in Bible ways like foot-washings (John 13:14), lifting holy hands (I Timothy 2:8), women praying and prophesying (Acts 21:9, I Corinthians 11:5), or calling for the elders to anoint you with oil as they pray over you in the name of our Lord (James 5:14)?

What exactly will we pick and choose to bring about this restoration? And who gets to make that decision?

Maybe it’s time we come to the realization that restoration isn’t about the early church. It’s about the empty tomb.

It’s about the avalanche of awe, joy, and peace that came from standing in front of Jesus and seeing those wounds (John 20:19). It is being certain of the fact that He walked our dusty roads and that He will return. And it is wanting to take as many people with us as we can on that great day.

Restoration isn’t about the worship service. It’s about the worship lifestyle but sadly, we’ve taken Christianity and tied it up in a neat, nice little box. We’ve even put a sign out front. We beckon the world to come to us when restoration is about going out into the world. It’s time that we get out of that building and get with the broken.

For true restoration, every Christian needs to preach Jesus (that means you, too, ladies).

Restoration will take us into uncomfortable places and situations. It will surround us with the outcast and may even turn us into one. It will test our faith and everything that we think we’re certain of. It will cause broken hearts and open old wounds. It will make us wonder how we can keep loving that person when they just don’t really deserve it. It will be dangerous, inconvenient, and will put several of our sacred cows at risk but restoration brings revolution. And Christians, isn’t it about time?

“All creation has an instinct for renewal.” –Tertullian

A few months ago I read about some research done between the Universities of Oregon and Kansas about how what we believe about what God will do in the “end times” affects how we live now.

And it was disturbing.

They discovered that people who believed in Hell were less likely to do bad things, like commit crimes or like Nickelback. But they also discovered something shocking…people who believed in Heaven, were more likely to commit crimes and do violence toward other people.

Maybe you’ve heard the statistics about how, when the Genocide happened in Rwanda, it was (per-capita) the most Christian nation in the world. In fact, it was so Christian that there were other churches that rose up and killed entire other churches that weren’t in their tribe.

As we backed up and tried to unravel how this entire tragedy happened, Christian missionaries discovered that the story about Jesus that Rwandan people had been told was that if you believe in Jesus, then wait until you die, then you will be able to go to Heaven.

Does that sound familiar?

Imagine There’s No Heaven

For the longest time the Jewish faith didn’t talk about the afterlife. In fact, there is a Jewish tradition that says that after someone has died, you shouldn’t say a word about the age to come.

This tradition comes from the recognition of the human tendency for avoiding death. It knows that we tend to  want to imagine that there is no death and to give pat answers to complex questions.

But it also comes from the faith that God made this world good, and death was not a part of it. The Jewish Christian faith is a very “worldly” faith. It is a faith about this world, and this life and to speak in the face of death about another time and another place is to dis-regard that this time and this place matters.

I like the way that Rabbi Joseph Telushkin says this:

Judaism is always very “this worldly” oriented. And the moment people start getting fixated on an afterlife, it can have the effect of diverting their attention from their work in this world.

In other words, our focus on the age to come, can actually make us miss what God is doing in this age. And if that sounds strange consider again how rarely Jesus talked about Heaven, he was fully invested in this world.

In fact, I think this is why we need to talk about Heaven a bit more, and quite a bit differently.

Because for most of us, when we think about Heaven, we were taught to think about pie in the sky when we die (by and by). We grew up singing songs about Flying away, and reading passages like 1st Thessalonians 5 in a very different way than the first Christians would have read it.

Think about the way the Bible ends.

Heaven comes down.

The tree of life and the rivers and the garden that we read about in the beginning of the Bible are back. And so is God! Fully and finally all things are made new. Which is different than God making all new things.

God restores the whole world.

Which means that this world matters right now.

Restoring Restoration

The reason that people who believe in Heaven are more likely to commit violent crimes is because what Christians have started teaching about Heaven is nothing like what the Gospel talks about for the Age to Come.

When we disconnect Heaven and this world, then we probably shouldn’t be surprised when people do that in their lives. We probably shouldn’t be surprised when there is actually a correlation between a belief in Heaven and violent crimes on earth.

We shouldn’t be surprised, but we should start telling a better story

The dirt and trees and babies and business and food and wine and friendships and commerce and family and justice and compassion and technology and  our acts of service and worship…all of this matters more in the present because of what God’s future is.

There is not going to be a single part of creation where God is going to allow Satan to say, “At least I won there.”

In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons makes the observation that the upcoming generations of Christians will be known as Restorers. They don’t start their Bible in Genesis 3, and they don’t end them in Revelation 20.

They believe that the story is bigger and better than we had thought. And that’s a very good thing. Specifically for people in our particular tribe.

Because we are after all, A Restoration Movement.

Sometimes God lets us stumble into things that are bigger than we thought.

For years, we’ve been using language that connects (in surprising ways) with a whole generation of people, we just didn’t know it!

Happily Ever After…After All

I don’t know about you, but I love a happy ending. I love the stories where the dog doesn’t die in the end and the Hobbits get to go back to the Shire.

But the problem with happy endings is that is rarely how reality goes.

We live in one of the few eras of history that thinks that a happy ending means it must be inferior art. I get why we think that, it seems like any story that is close to reality must also include suffering. But there is a deeper kind of despair to this isn’t there? Most of us have a kind of low-grade gloom about life. We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the bottom to finally fall out once and for all.

Happy endings are for children, and now that we know life is meaningless, the last thing we want to do is be seen as naïve.

Welcome to the world of the disciples on Easter morning.

Death has once again taken someone you love and you know that this is the final ending of all stories. Cancer seems to be relentless. Poverty and injustice are overwhelming. It seems like most marriages start off happily just to end in divorce.

There are days when a happy ending just seems impossible.

JRR Tolkien actually wrote his epic happy ending in a world much like ours. When he wrote the Lord of the Rings, people accused him of telling an escapist story, one that didn’t deal with the harsh reality of the world.

But Tolkien’s response was soaked in the Gospel. He responded to his critics that the reason that people love Happy endings is because they are somehow true to the deepest parts of reality.

In other words, at the heart of the Universe is a God who is telling a story that will resolve in the best possible ways.

But the Gospel is that what God did for Jesus, He will do again. That what God did for Jesus’ body is what He will do for all of us, and for all of Creation.

When the last shoe drops, when the final plot of story line is told, when the final turn comes, all shall be well.

Death itself will die, and Hell will pay back what it owes.

God will be with His people.

And they live Happily ever after.

I have a love/hate relationship with the desire in Churches of Christ for restoration of the New Testament church. For much of my life, I was driven by goals, by checklists, by A’s at the top of my school assignment, so making a church check list according to the model of the New Testament church appealed to the over-achiever in me. I liked the idea of having a definitive checklist with which to assess church practices, and I was taught that check list can be found in Acts and the New Testament epistles.  Later in my life, however, I became disillusioned with unhealthy forms of achievement based on perfectionism – it turns out it’s a tiring way to live! The same can be said of church life, and I witnessed exhausted and futile efforts to restore the New Testament church practices as congregations divided over what should and should not be on the church checklist in the first place.

It turns out that not everyone reads the New Testament and arrives at the same conclusions.  It makes sense that chaos would ensue when we try to make a definitive checklist based on a narrative about the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit in the first century.  Sometimes, I have been tempted to stop talking about restoration altogether because of the chaos such conversations have brought. I can understand why many of my friends have left the Restoration Movement because of all the pointless arguments. Restoration of the New Testament church, however, is not a bad ideal; it’s actually a very good one. The restoration conversations I am interested in these days is what kind of restoration we should pursue.

I can remember a time when I was first called a “Campbellite,” by my high school algebra teacher, and from the tone in his voice, I perceived it wasn’t a compliment.  He was making reference to a father of the Stone-Campbell movement, Alexander Campbell, who represents one type of restoration, the type that has primarily characterized Churches of Christ:  ecclesial primitivism.  Campbell was actually in the company of other well-known church reformers before him, although he did distinguish himself from them because they were reformers, while he saw himself as a restorationist.[1]  H. Zwingli, for example, a Zurich reformer in the 16th century eliminated both singing and the use of organs in the church because there was no evidence of the practices among the apostles. Closer to Campbell’s time and locale, John Glas preached ecclesial primitivism when he wrote, “Church in the days of the Apostles . . . was a pattern for all time.”[2]  In other words, Campbell and Churches of Christ are certainly not the only advocates of returning to the practices of the ancient church.

Alexander Campbell spent quite a lot of ink outlining what are and are not characteristics of the “ancient order of things” in the New Testament church.  The church, he said, was not originally about elaborate creeds as tests of fellowship, so he and others in the movement welcomed all believers to the Lord’s Supper instead of requiring adherence to long, complicated tests before an invitation to communion. The original church, Campbell was convinced, was a priesthood of all believers, so he advocated returning to that original ideal instead of clergy being given undue authority.  In addition to identifying what is not in the ancient order, Campbell identified what is in the ancient order.  Breaking bread on the first day, congregational autonomy, immersion of believers for forgiveness of sins, singing (whether with or without instruments): these are examples of practices he identified in Scripture and explored in his writings.[3]”  Campbell’s method of deducing such practices, influenced by Lockean philosophy and Scottish Common Sense Realism, did not mean that he was unconcerned with Christian living, but it did mean that his approach was to advance ethics, Christian living, and evangelism through focus on ecclesial practice[4]. He advocated ecclesial restoration as the starting point in order to restore more than patterns and practice, in order to restore right living.

Identifying and recognizing Campbell’s original intent, right living, is significant in discussions about restoration, but equally significant is an exploration of how his original intent was practiced in reality.  While Alexander Campbell did not desire restoration to be a mechanical process, and he hoped for dynamic engagement with the scriptural Word as a means of arriving at unity, his commitment to the ability of human beings to rationally and with common sense arrive at knowledge, primed the movement for patternism and legalism, and ultimately, ecclesial primitivism served to divide, not unite.  Disagreements about millennialism and doctrinal issues were seen as central divisive issues in the Stone-Campbell movement, but it can also be argued that restoration Biblicism was the underlying factor in the majority of divisions in the movement and in individual congregations.[5] Looking to the New Testament as a pattern to restore the ancient order of things has proven time and again to be a divisive formula.

Perhaps another leader in the movement, Barton W. Stone, represents a better form of restoration in his approach: ethical primitivism.  This form of restoration remedies the situation of Christianity gone astray by advocating a return to discipleship, especially rooted in the Gospels.[6]  Stone defined primitive Christianity, not in terms of the forms and structures of the ancient order of things, but instead as radical discipleship expressed in terms of sacrificial service to one’s neighbor.  Stone emphasized both primitive Christianity and the coming kingdom of God.  It led him to such things as freeing his slaves and giving up possessions.[7]

While ethical primitivism is more elusive than ecclesial primitivism, it does seem to lean more deeply into the work of the Holy Spirit than the work of humans in bringing about unity.  For example, “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” which Stone signed, states, We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world.”  The emphasis here upon the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching the Gospel is one that was not primary in the history of the Stone-Campbell movement.

I appreciate ethical primitivism because of its emphasis upon the Gospels, sacrificial service, and ideals of the Kingdom of God as already inaugurated but not yet consummated.  If the Stone-Campbell movement had followed the path of these emphases instead of restoration of the ancient order of the primitive church, perhaps we would not have seen the major divisiveness we have. We can’t be certain about the “what ifs” of life, but at least, it does cause us to rethink what kind of restoration we should undertake in our own time.

While some version of my self resonates with the desire to restore the early church to its primitive state in hopes of attaining Christian unity, my more mature self understands Christianity as more mysterious than ecclesial primitivism allows.  While the apostles and the early church should be held in high esteem as an example, they should not be idolized as the one means of life in the Kingdom of God. I prefer a definition of unity restoration that includes return to the Gospels, to the example of self-sacrifice we see in Jesus Christ, and to dependence upon the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven as the source of bringing the unity we desperately desire.  These desires do not neatly fit on a checklist, but they are much more likely to help us in our ultimate goal, through the power of the Holy Spirit, becoming like Jesus Christ in our own time and place.

 

Bibliography

Blowers, Paul et al. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Campbell, Alexander. “On the Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things,” The Christian Baptist,  (1825-29).

Holloway, Gary and Douglas A. Foster. Renewing God’s People:  A Concise History of Churches of Christ:  Abilene:  ACU Press, 2006.

Hughes, Richard. The Primitive Church in the Modern World:  University of Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1995.


[1] Alexander Campbell, “On the Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things” No. 1

[2] Richard Hughes.  The Primitive Church in the Modern World, (University of Illinois: University Press, 1995) 109

[3] Alexander Campbell, “On the Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things,” No.1

[4]Paul Bowers, et al, The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2004)  636

[5] Richard Hughes, 114

[6] Paul Blowers et al, 636

[7] Paul Blowers et al, 636

Restoration projects generally seek to conform the present to the past.  But this is not God’s restoration ideal.  God’s restoration project is the realization of the future.

I understand this is a fairly significant twist to an old and comfortable idea. Many of us have lovingly embraced the idea of returning to the past in order to restore the church to its pristine condition. We thought conforming to past patterns was the way to faithfully implement God’s intent for the present.

And this may be, in some sense, true…but only if we have first immersed ourselves in the future God imagines for the creation.

The story of God has a telos, a goal. It is a concrete goal; it is located within the creation rather than in some celestial heaven with Caspar the Ghost bodies. The new creation is the world imagined by Scripture. It is the fullness of the kingdom of God filling the earth with the glory of God.

The Hebrew prophets imagine this future where nations will learn war no more and everyone will live in prosperity and without fear (Micah 4:1-4). Jesus lived this future as his ministry reversed the curse through healing diseases, defeating demons and raising the dead (Mark 5). Paul envisioned this future when he counseled the congregations to accept one another and live within the kingdom of God without concern for the distinctions rooted in the old, even broken, creation (Romans 14). Scripture bears witness to God’s intended future for the creation and narrates how that future, at times, broke into human history, and broke in climatically in the ministry of Jesus.

We look to the past to see where the future has already broken through. We look to  Scripture to see the future world God imagines.

This kind of restoration does not reduplicate the past but seeks to realize the future in the present. But how is this a restoration? It restores the creation to God’s original intent.

I don’t mean that we seek to restore the original creation. That would be to return to square one. Revelation 22 is not a restoration of the garden but its transformation into a city.

Instead it restores the trajectory embedded in God’s original creative act. Redemption brings the creation back on line; it realigns the creation with God’s original telos. It restores the goal of God by actualizing it in the present.

Restoration is a reclamation project; it reclaims God’s dynamic agenda for the creation.

The ministry of the church is a restoration ministry; it seeks to restore the future.

Restoration.

I have experienced way too much of that in my life.

Going to the dentist is painful and difficult when you have had mouth trauma over the years.

It is also financially painful.

At age 51, I (and my wallet) remain terrified of dentists and the work they do.

Why?

Because at age 15, I totaled a Volkswagon Beetle. In the process, I ate the steering wheel and knocked teeth out and tore gums away. Not a pretty sight, for sure. But, the docs were good and wired it all up and things stayed well for a number of years until some of those teeth died.

And when they had to be removed, we found out that a prescribed acne medicine had caused chemical bonding of those dead teeth to the bone. Getting them out of my mouth required some uncomfortable surgery.

My teeth woes have gone on and on throughout much of my adult life.

But wait.

This is a place for theological discussions, not bad oral health stories.

This is a blog post that is supposed to be a part of a theme on Biblical Restoration.

Amazingly enough, there are some similarities between the two.

Dentists and those who practice dentistry with bigger and fancier names know all about tooth decay and gum diseases. They have seen the results of accidents. They know the stench and damage of rotting teeth.

Sounds a lot like sin, does it not?

Sin causes spiritual decay. It causes the very fabric of our lives to become rotten to the core. And the following physical, emotional, and mental trauma is often spread into the lives of others.

The consequences can be really really high and very very hard.

The man who murdered my first wife and our handicapped son didn’t start out life as a child molester, rapist, and murder. But the effects of sin caught up with him—resulting in an even greater sin spiral that eventually spilled over into our lives in a horrific way.

Please don’t take this as somehow blasé. Because it most assuredly is not. Sin always has consequences. And sin often has ramifications that are unintended in our own lives and often claim innocent victims as well.

So how does all of this work into the theme of biblical restoration? The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That word all is a funny little guy. It leaves no one out. We are all guilty. And, the result is all are also in need of restoration as well.

So, I am very grateful for the forgiveness, mercy, and grace God grants me. But beyond all the  wonderful forgiveness, I need a full scale restoration. I need a life obsessed with living for God in all respects.

This heritage many of us call the Restoration Movement is a great thing. Restoring the church of the New Testament is a lofty goal. But when you get down to it, the church of the first century was full of the same kind of folks as the church of the 21st century (no matter what name is on the door). Sinners all, we are a people who need to be healed and forgiven. We are a people whose lives need a total transformation. And only God can create the kind of total make over that fundamentally restores perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors in redeeming fashion.

As it turns out, restoration or restoring people to God saves not only them from pain, but also others who might otherwise be hurt.

Hey kids. Brush your teeth good before bed tonight. But before then, consider those areas of your life that need to be restored to Him.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Desperately Wanting to Believe Again

There has been a lot of discussion about the future Christianity in the Western world and what things are going to look like in the future. This discussion has focused on everything from the loss of our young adults to rethinking what “church” is all about and why we do the things that we used to take for granted. These are important conversations that will be pivotal for many of our churches to understand and address looking ahead.

At Wineskins, our goal is to provide a place where we can discuss the topics that are more relevant and important looking ahead. But it is more than about putting words on a webpage. You can find that all over the internet. We are intent on producing an environment or ethos that fosters genuine, Christ-like and spirit-led conversation. In other words, an atmosphere that is open to honest inquiry done through a spirit of love and mutual edification for all.

We understand that these conversations can be very sensitive as they deal with things that are near and dear to our hearts. That means there is a certain vulnerability that comes with these discussions that, if handled in a godly manner, can be a catalyst for transformation and genuine restoration. If not handled with a Christ-like spirit, we recognize that same vulnerability can produce a defensiveness and hostility that is detrimental to our conversation being acceptable to God much less being productive or beneficial. We want you to know that you are welcome here and that you will find an environment where people are encouraged to be patient, kind, honest, and humble. The goal of this conversation is to help strengthen the faith of those who are also struggling through many of these same paradigm shifts so that we can build and encourage the next generation of faith.

In order to do this we are going to make Wineskins a resource to you and to the churches you attend. The resource Wineskins is becoming hinges on three things: 1) the Featured Authors we have recruited to weigh in on various issues, 2) the resources we provide and host through the site (resources for elders, small group ministry, ministry connect, and so much more) and 3) your input into the conversation so that you aren’t just a spectator but a participant. Through commenting on posts and in the forums we want you to be a part of the conversation here at Wineskins and to invite others who you know are working through many of these same issues to get involved as well.

As we kickoff Wineskins we begin with the theme of “Embracing Biblical Restoration”. Over the last few years restoration has become one of the big “buzz words” in Christianity today right alongside being missional. Our movement has embraced a vision for biblical restoration for well over 200 years. Past generations often focused that restoration on proper worship and church leadership but as the younger generation searches the scriptures and reads about God’s restorative process they find it is really about so much more than was often recognized or appreciated in past generations.

In this issue we want to talk about what it is, exactly, that God is restoring from a biblical perspective. We also want to explore examples of ministries, churches and individuals who are living out biblical expressions of restoration today so that we can learn from their examples and re-envision what biblical restoration looks like in our current cultural context.

Our features authors have been invited to weigh into that discussion and we hope you will as well through commenting on their articles and, once they are live, adding to the conversation in the discussion forums on the site as well. God bless you on the journey here at Wineskins. Pray that this can be a catalyst for God’s loving kindness to be expressed in ways that will humble us all.

There has been a lot of discussion about the future Christianity in the Western world and what things are going to look like in the future. This discussion has focused on everything from the loss of our young adults to rethinking what “church” is all about and why we do the things that we used to take for granted. These are important conversations that will be pivotal for many of our churches to understand and address looking ahead.

At Wineskins, our goal is to provide a place where we can discuss the topics that are more relevant and important looking ahead. But it is more than about putting words on a webpage. You can find that all over the internet. We are intent on producing an environment or ethos that fosters genuine, Christ-like and spirit-led conversation. In other words, an atmosphere that is open to honest inquiry done through a spirit of love and mutual edification for all.

We understand that these conversations can be very sensitive as they deal with things that are near and dear to our hearts. That means there is a certain vulnerability that comes with these discussions that, if handled in a godly manner, can be a catalyst for transformation and genuine restoration. If not handled with a Christ-like spirit, we recognize that same vulnerability can produce a defensiveness and hostility that is detrimental to our conversation being acceptable to God much less being productive or beneficial. We want you to know that you are welcome here and that you will find an environment where people are encouraged to be patient, kind, honest, and humble. The goal of this conversation is to help strengthen the faith of those who are also struggling through many of these same paradigm shifts so that we can build and encourage the next generation of faith.

In order to do this we are going to make Wineskins a resource to you and to the churches you attend. The resource Wineskins is becoming hinges on three things: 1) the Featured Authors we have recruited to weigh in on various issues, 2) the resources we provide and host through the site (resources for elders, small group ministry, ministry connect, and so much more) and 3) your input into the conversation so that you aren’t just a spectator but a participant. Through commenting on posts and in the forums we want you to be a part of the conversation here at Wineskins and to invite others who you know are working through many of these same issues to get involved as well.

As we kickoff Wineskins we begin with the theme of “Embracing Biblical Restoration”. Over the last few years restoration has become one of the big “buzz words” in Christianity today right alongside being missional. Our movement has embraced a vision for biblical restoration for well over 200 years. Past generations often focused that restoration on proper worship and church leadership but as the younger generation searches the scriptures and reads about God’s restorative process they find it is really about so much more than was often recognized or appreciated in past generations.

In this issue we want to talk about what it is, exactly, that God is restoring from a biblical perspective. We also want to explore examples of ministries, churches and individuals who are living out biblical expressions of restoration today so that we can learn from their examples and re-envision what biblical restoration looks like in our current cultural context.

Our features authors have been invited to weigh into that discussion and we hope you will as well through commenting on their articles and, once they are live, adding to the conversation in the discussion forums on the site as well. God bless you on the journey here at Wineskins. Pray that this can be a catalyst for God’s loving kindness to be expressed in ways that will humble us all.