The initial impulse for a Restoration Movement that resulted in churches of Christ came out of a world of religious division. If the problem was division and the goal was unity, the approach was to achieving that unity was to shed tradition and get back to the basics of the Bible. The idea was that if we all go back to the way things were in the New Testament church then we would find unity.
What has happened over time is we have held onto the “what (restore New Testament Christianity) while forgetting the “why” (to achieve unity). In face, the “what” was handled in a way that made the “why” impossible. In addition to that, we left out the “who” – the Holy Spirit (Paul didn’t say make unity – he said *keep* the unity of the *Spirit* in Eph 4:3).
There is no possible way to achieve the “why” through the “what” without the “who.”
But this begs a question that is seldom asked – is unity achieved through restoring the “what” if the “what” is defined as how we do church on Sunday?
Look at what we do to say we restored the early church. We say it happened because we worship as they did. We say it happened because we have the same kind of church governance. But have you ever heard someone say that we restored the early church because we are planting churches, making disciples, and reaching the lost on mission just as they did? Have you ever heard someone say that the early church has been restored because of our reliance on the Holy Spirit just as they did? Those were all things that were significant in the life of the “New Testament church” that aren’t really happening today.
But maybe even more important – if the “why” was unity – did we ever achieve it? Can we achieve status of restoring New Testament Christianity if we also don’t achieve unity, which was the whole reason this endeavor was started in the first place?
What kind of early church do we have in our heads? One that worships without instruments and has elders with no denominational structure, or one that is changing the world, making disciples, and reliant on the ever present, ever powerful Holy Spirit?
Why is restoring “New Testament Christianity” relegated to only a fraction of what we know about the “New Testament Church” as defined in the actual New Testament?
Who got to pick what it took to “restore” that church? And if we aren’t restoring the whole thing can we say we arrived? If we haven’t achieved the intended unity, can we say we arrived?
I believe there is an identity crises happening in Churches of Christ right now because of these issues and it needs to be addressed. Hard decisions need to be made and we have no structure in place to actually make that happen.
So here is what I propose. If we are determined to embrace and embody New Testament Christianity with an eye toward unity then we need to: embrace the Spirit as they did, embrace the mission as they did, plant churches as they did, make disciples as they did, and allow for more variety under the umbrella of New Testament Christianity.
There is no unity without variety on some level.
We often say we need “unity without uniformity” and that is true. The positive way of saying that is that we will only have unity by embracing some variety.
It is time our “why” becomes a “why not” – why not be on mission? Why not embrace the Holy Spirit? Why not start new churches? Why not make more disciples? Why not embrace true unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe?
Once we have gotten on the same mission Jesus put them on, embrace the lead of the Spirit as they did, plant churches and make disciples as they did…I imagine we might be so busy doing important work that we will forget the need to embrace divisiveness and we might have a shot at unity!