By Michael C. Mack
“Have we to any great extent restored New Testament Christianity?” Christian Standard editor Burris Butler asked that intriguing question 65 years ago . . . and we’re still asking it today.
Butler’s assessment of the situation in 1954 may seem harsh. He said,
A big eloquent silence is the kindest answer we can give to this question. Here and there a life thoroughly committed to the Son of God has shone out like a bright light in the darkness. Now and then a local congregation has given a hint of its spiritual potentialities. But on the whole the Restoration movement is about where it was one hundred and fifty years ago. It is a wonderful idea, new and untried. (Read the rest of Butler’s editorial in our “Throwback Thursday” article.)
I want to move past asking if we’ve restored New Testament Christianity and move the conversation to how we as a movement can and will work to restore it. While we might consider many factors, our focus in this issue is on what we think are three of the most significant and catalytic issues at hand: (1) What we believe, (2) How we get our people into God’s Word on a consistent basis, and (3) Who is going to lead us there.
Restoring New Testament Christianity is fundamentally an issue of teaching sound doctrine. In this issue, we chose three foundational beliefs on which we absolutely will not give ground: We believe the Bible is true and reliable; we believe in the supernatural, that miraculous biblical events actually happened; and we believe in the primacy of Jesus (he is God in flesh, our Lord, and Savior). We will not compromise on these. We can point to other important doctrinal issues, of course, but, as a starting place, we can all find unity on these three.
As a movement we have a very high view of Scripture. We are people of the Word. The question is, are our people consistently reading, studying, meditating on, and living out God’s Word in their lives? Surveys say no, at least not to the extent we would all hope for. We simply cannot restore New Testament Christianity if our people don’t know what the New Testament says! We must improve the biblical literacy of our people, and apparently the methods of the last century have not worked well. Sermons, classes, and groups can help us disciple people—they can be platforms for encouraging our folks to get into God’s Word consistently—but there is no substitute for people taking the Bible into their own hands. When they do, their groups and churches and movement—not to mention families, workplaces, and neighborhoods—will grow stronger because of it.
This month we’ve provided information about three resources developed by independent Christian church authors and organizations that can help us move toward more widespread biblical literacy. I believe every church needs a plan of some sort, and all three of these (Training for Service, Core 52, and The Lookout‘s Daily Bible Reading Plan and associated resources) are good choices.
For any of this to happen, it’s going to take strong, diligent, spiritual leaders. God always utilizes leaders of his choosing to start, sustain, and strengthen his movements, and of course the Restoration Movement is no different. Yet, in many places and in many ways, our leaders are struggling. And we wonder where leaders for the next generation of churches will come from. The future of our movement depends on the identification, mentoring, equipping, strengthening, and retention of leaders who have been called by God. If we can’t find and keep leaders, how can we continue?
We asked leaders from three ministries in our movement—the Center for Church Leadership, The Pastor’s Project, and Accelerate Group—to share what they are doing to help solve this leadership dilemma. We hope you will contact them to get the support and assistance you need or to offer your help in strengthening the leadership of our movement.
Let’s move beyond the “big eloquent silence” on whether we’ve restored the New Testament church. Every person reading this issue can do something to make a difference. As you read, I ask you to prayerfully consider what you and your ministry will do. Let’s not allow another 65 years go by without moving toward the church Jesus envisioned and commissioned.