By Tyler McKenzie
I was born, raised, baptized, and ordained in Restoration Movement churches. I’ve served all my years in ministry in the Restoration Movement. I married a Restoration Movement girl. I got a Restoration Movement degree. I’m Restoration Movement tried and true. But that’s not why I love our movement. I love the Restoration Movement for what it stands for. It is a movement of churches aiming to restore the dynamic life of the first church in Acts. That church is worth restoring.
It’s a movement marked by the pioneering grit of Jesus’ apostles trying to establish Jesus’ church in Jesus’ ways despite the murderous threats of Jesus’ enemies breathing down their necks.
It’s a movement committed to biblical faithfulness. After all, if anyone knew what Jesus wanted best for his church, it was his friends who spent time with the risen Christ, were commissioned by him, and were validated by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a movement that rejects the magnetic drift toward institutionalized power while simultaneously rejecting the myth of progress. Most Christians can’t pull this off. They institutionalize at the expense of cultural relevancy or modernize at the expense of truth. The myth of progress seems to be the manifesto of every young generation. “We have finally figured out what Scripture actually means! We are finally moving out of the insolence and archaism of our predecessors.” But the Restoration Movement rejects that. New does not necessarily mean good. Jesus’ teachings are 2,000 years old and still the best humanity has to offer.
As a movement, we acknowledge truth transcends time and place. We push back on progressive distortions of orthodoxy. We push back against institutionalized power that inevitably breeds corruption. However, we simultaneously fend off the rigor mortis that slowly sets in when you institutionalize methodology. Truth transcends culture, but application adapts to it. We are a movement historic in ecclesiology while wise in missiology.
It’s a movement where each autonomous church hangs its hat on passages like Acts 2:42-47. These are some of the only snapshots of the church as Jesus intended, seemingly without disfunction. Thriving in Rome. Unstoppable by the corrupted powers. Undeniable in the sight of others. Irresistible to outsiders. Reputable in neighborhoods. Doctrinally sound. Passionately devoted. Relationally committed. Radically generous. Powerful and persistent in prayer. Growing deeper and wider daily. And, oh yeah, they ate together. A lot. Can you even “Acts 2” without snacks?
I love our movement. I’m sure you do to. As Restoration Movement church leaders, I believe we should pray through Acts as much as any Bible book. When we do, we should ask, “God, what needs restoring today?” because the church described in Acts is worth restoring.
WHAT NEEDS RESTORING?
I think it is clear what needs restoring today. It can be summed up in one word . . . what I consider to be the forgotten word of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Devotion. It’s as essential as any word in that foundational verse.
Acts 2:42 teaches that First Christian Church of Jerusalem was founded on practice but fueled by devotion.
As someone who has digested many words from scholars and preachers about this important verse, 99 percent of the focus tends to be on practice rather than devotion. “Apostles’ teaching! Fellowship! Breaking of bread! Prayer!” Without a doubt, all of these must become pillars of any healthy church. But in my experience, that’s not what tends to be the problem for the American church. We know the practices. What our people lack is the fiery devotion the first church had.
If we aren’t devoted to the practices, we become apathetic toward them. They start to feel stale and impotent. But the problem isn’t the power in the practices, it’s the passion in the people. They’re half-baked because we’re lukewarm. The Greek verb here for devotion points to the frequency and intensity of their commitment to the practices. The word proskartereōbe points to the intensity of their commitment. The tense of this verb points to the relentless frequency of their intense commitment. When the devotion of Acts 2:42 meets the practices of Acts 2:42, you get the church of Acts 2:43-47! But you need both.
PRACTICE WITHOUT DEVOTION
Does the American church have both practice and devotion? I fear if Luke were to write a history of us today, it might read something like this:
Americans 2:42-47—42 They studied the apostles’ teachings rarely. When they did, it was alone for 10 minutes or until they got distracted by their phones. They called it “quiet time” and they loved to snap photos of it and post them on Instagram.
43 Some of the believers came together on Sundays for a Ted Talk, music, and a few transitional prayers to help keep the program smooth. 44 They discussed afterwards what they liked and didn’t like about the music, forgetting entirely that the music wasn’t written, played, or sung for them. 45 A deep sense of awe never came over them all, so they noticed no miraculous signs or wonders. They church hopped and shopped. They prayed only when they needed something. They got coffee together occasionally. 46 Some of the believers discussed generosity, but most couldn’t practice it because their money was tied up in mortgage debt, automobile debt, student debt, consumer debt, and their excessive budget for travel, streaming services, alcohol, and eating out. Those who could give settled for 10 percent. 47 They lived spontaneously for Jesus and so they were irrelevant to their neighbors. Their churches shrank, their paranoia grew, and they ended up placing their hope in a sinner in the White House or whichever sinner ran against him.
The interesting thing is that people are capable of devotion in America. We prove that daily. We’re just devoting ourselves to the wrong things. We must stop focusing on what’s preferential, popular, or political and, instead, focus on the practices of the early church.
We are so devoted to our careers, climbing the ladder, building the resume, living the American dream, that we’ve become a transient people. As a pastor, it feels like you get your folks for at most two or three years and then they move to another town or church. And even for those few years they are with you, you see them only about once a month due to work, vacation, special events, exhaustion, or because little Timmy has soccer (“He’s on the travel team!”).
We are so devoted to our screens that our consciousness is chopped up into little bite-sized chunks. Every five minutes there’s another buzz, ring, tweet, vibration, notification, alert, text, call, message, post, or like. And it’s not just our phones, it’s our streaming services. Since when has bingeing ever been a good thing? “I’m going to binge some alcohol.” Not good. “I’m going to binge eat.” Not healthy. “I’m going to binge season four.” Sounds fun! And it’s not just our streaming services, it’s the voices discipling us within them. Thanks to big data, every time you lay eyes on a screen you are bombarded with ads about the things you think you need, delivered in words and ways that are most tempting to you.
We are so devoted to horizontal approval, we do everything we can to validate our existence by earning the applause of others. One of the main reasons no one can find healing for their wrongs is because they’re too caught up proving they’re all right. But if you get behind the veneer of success most of us feel so obligated to project, the inside story is different.
We are so devoted to politics, is it even possible for many Americans to separate Jesus’ kingdom from the left or the right? What are we thinking aligning ourselves with party, politician, or platform? Politics make for a bad religion, politicians make for bad saviors, and party platforms make for a bad gospel. We have Jesus to offer! We have a cross-shaped love that leads to resurrection life. Instead, we’re spouting partisan talking points that deceive, dehumanize, and suck all the nuance out of complex issues!
We are so devoted to freedom and self-autonomy there’s no room for wholehearted surrender. We live in an age where our culture is sowing into the minds of our kids, “If you want to find the true you, you have to do you! Discover your truth! You are who you are! Follow your heart. Do what you feel. Live free. Don’t conform to any external authorities or definitions. Look within. You do you.” In this day and age, the only unforgiveable sin is not being your authentic self or not allowing someone else to be their authentic self. Here’s the problem with that: Jesus never calls us to follow our heart, he tells us to take up our cross daily and follow our king.
ANOTHER GREAT AWAKENING
How do we win the hearts of our people back? That’s the question of the time. The devotion of the first church—let’s restore that. This is what the Restoration Movement needs most now. Not a new strategy for evangelism. Not a multisite explosion. Not skinny jeans, fog machines, and better coffee in the lobby. Not a retreat back to “the good old days.” Not better teaching or truer doctrine. Not a movement to bring the hymns back. Not a secret strategy to reach millennials. Not an angsty attitude toward millennials. Not to make America great again or a conversion to democratic socialism. I think it’s easier than that.
I think we need to do the simple things better. We know the practices. The great challenge of bringing to boil an American church that is in decline and overwhelmingly lukewarm is figuring out how to cultivate devotion . . . in both frequency and intensity. If we can, we will see the dynamic life of the first church explode in our midst once again.
Tyler McKenzie serves as lead pastor at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.