Meet Our Contributing Editors: This month we begin a series of interviews with CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors. What they have to say about the church, the ministry, our fellowship of churches, and anything else on their minds will challenge and interest our readers.
Their insights and questions amply illustrate why each of these volunteers is such a valuable part of the CHRISTIAN STANDARD team.
Interview by Jennifer Johnson
QUESTION: You and I both sit in on these conversations about the future of the Restoration Movement, and it seems many times they rehash the same topics and complaints. Let’s go beyond the normal talking points, if I can be pushy that way.
JEFF FAULL: Well, I was at a seminar yesterday and Ben Merold made a comment that really resonated with me. He said, “This is no time to whine about being in this movement.” He’s right; when you consider that the Restoration Movement is at the forefront of church planting, missions, overall growth—this is a time to claim the “plea” rather than distance ourselves from it.
One young leader recently tried to explain to me some of the reservations he has about the movement. He said his motive was a purist approach to faith and Christianity, and that associating with the movement muddied the clarity of that approach. And while I certainly respect his goal, I contend that the principles and DNA of the Restoration Movement provide the biblical and philosophical framework with which to pursue that purity.
The reality is that if we’re not associated with any movement, we end up being de facto members of movements based on other things, whether it’s methodologies or personalities or whatever.
Right—it’s not a question of whether you’re going to belong to a group; it’s just a question of which one. The person who makes no choice is still choosing.
I love the passage in Isaiah 51 that says, “Look to the rock from which you were cut, and to the quarry from which you were hewn” (v. 1).
With David Platt speaking of the dangers of asking Jesus into your heart, with Francis Chan distancing himself from the sinner’s prayer, with Frank Viola suggesting baptism is the normative New Testament response to Christ, with the ongoing disappearance of denominational loyalty and many churches minimizing their affiliations with their denominations, what should we who have historically championed all of these things do?
This is no time to whine. It’s not a time to say, “I told you so,” either, of course. It’s a positive time for us to get rid of our self-esteem problem as a movement.
Some guys say they appreciate the movement’s ideals, they just don’t want any connection with its institutions. This is interesting because many of them are recruited by the movement’s church planting organizations and are supported by its churches and are graduates of its schools. So I wonder how much of their position is resistance to accountability and how much is principle-based.
I was at a meeting of Christian church ministers listening to a presentation about networks. A very passionate and competent facilitator explained how church planting networks function. He pointed out that the most significant, successful networks have a DNA, which might be based on shared interests or relationships or initiatives or doctrinal distinctives. In the latter instance, some networks will say you play by their doctrinal rules or you don’t play, but that’s OK because that’s their DNA, and there’s something admirable about sticking by your convictions.
Then we turned to our own desire to be a network, and as we determined our own DNA, there were several in the group who were pretty adamant that we should not be exclusive with our Christian church doctrine or we might alienate some very talented and desirable planters. And it became obvious to me there were two sets of rules: while it was laudable for other networks to insist on their distinctive convictions, it was somehow wrong for us to stand by ours. For example, you wouldn’t be planting a church in [Mark] Driscoll’s network if you didn’t believe in eternal security. But in our network, although we acknowledge historically that our position does not embrace this doctrine, it would not exclude you from being a church planter. So it’s admirable for him but somehow ignoble for us.
What kind of a position is it if we can’t call others to it? It becomes a consistency issue, and perhaps even an integrity issue, to take resources and horsepower from a heritage when we need them but abandon them when we don’t think it’s cool.
Where should we be concentrating?
Well, of course there is no spokesperson for our churches, so these are just my opinions. Historically in the Restoration Movement we’ve concentrated on the patterns given in the opening chapters of Acts. And that’s good. But I’ve tried to identify other deep pools from which we can drink to restore the New Testament church. I call them “candlesticks” as a reference to the seven candlesticks in Revelation.
I think certainly we would want to pay attention to the definitions of the church. Another place to drink deeply is the images of the church, the church as a flock, a bride, a body. The New Testament gives us some beautiful metaphors. Then, of course, there are the template or pattern statements in Acts. A fourth area would be other churches in Scripture and in history. And the purpose statements of the church help us define where we need to go as a movement; the Great Commission, of course, but perhaps also the passage where Paul writes to Timothy and calls the church “the pillar and support of the truth.” Those seven candlesticks are another place to look, because we can learn from the reasons the seven churches in Revelation were affirmed and condemned. And the final one would be healthy contemporary models.
It seems the complete traditionalists concentrate primarily on the early template statements and the progressive people focus on the purpose statements—“We’re going to do whatever it takes to fulfill the Great Commission.” So I’m wondering if the Restoration Movement needs to concentrate on all seven of these, be obsessed with them, even, if we’re going to be serious about being the church we read about in Scripture.
As you said, we are growing and leading in many areas and our principles are being affirmed. It’s easy to be the scrappy underdog but not as easy to be the “winner.” I wonder if what we need is a renewed vision, not of something to fight against, but of bringing people back to these candlesticks.
I would love see our movement become even more of a leader in the conversation.
So theologically where do you think we’re going, and where do we need to be going? And yes, that’s a broad question.
I see two answers to that. One, I think we are headed to a theology of personal preference rather than biblical authority. Two, I think we are headed to a theology of celebrity Evangelicals. There’s more of a desire to be cutting-edge than cutting conviction, and theologically I think that’s dangerous.
Will we self-correct?
That remains to be seen. I think we need to make sure our desire for nondenominationalism does not morph into a desire to jettison truth and doctrine and the foundational principles that have called for New Testament Christianity all along.
I see us chasing a hyperinclusive approach, entrepreneurial savvy, cultural pragmatism, and trendy spirituality. And I see the appeal of those things. I have to try not to follow those things myself.
What else is a struggle for you as a Christian church minister?
Well, the average, hard-core Restorationist focuses on restoring the proper place of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church polity. But just because you get those three things right doesn’t mean you’ve restored the New Testament church. For instance, what about the four things mentioned in Acts—the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer? Some of the missional things being talked about so much are very valid when it comes to restoring the church. So I think one of the big challenges to the Restoration Movement is making sure our definition of restoration is broader than just the ordinances and a leadership structure.
Jennifer Johnson, herself one of CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors, is a minister’s wife and freelance writer living in Levittown, Pennsylvania.