21 May, 2024

The Restoration Movement Today

by | 1 May, 2024 | 0 comments

By Jerry Harris 

Where is the Restoration Movement today and why do I even need to know this? Well, if you don’t know where you came from, how can you know who you are and where you are? And if you don’t know that, how can you know where you’re going? 

The churches of the Restoration Movement came into existence during what is known as the Second Great Awakening, when revival swept across young America. At the time, all churches were denominational . . . Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Congregational, etc. Those denominations required firm adherence to their rules and creeds, but America had just left English rule for independence, and that same desire for freedom saturated the church. The churches that we identify with were at the epicenter of this. 

Biblically, we were born out of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Truth, unity, and evangelism were the three pillars in that prayer: 

Truth. Jesus prayed that his followers would be sanctified, or set apart, by the truth. He identified that truth in John 17:17 when he said, “Your word is truth.” 

Unity. Jesus prayed that we would all be brought into complete unity and be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one. 

Evangelism. Jesus prayed that the world would know that the Father sent him and would believe in him. 

Truth was seen neither as a creed or confession; rather, the entire New Testament was seen as Truth. Unity meant that the walls of division, denominationalism, and sectarianism needed to be erased by agreeing on God’s Word exclusively, not on some human interpretation of it. Evangelism meant that the world needed to have that truth delivered to them in unity so that they could hear and respond to the gospel. 

So, how have we done at that?  

Well, for starters, we were the first nondenominational church in America. That was a big deal then and it’s even a bigger deal now! What Barton Stone started in 1801 with the Cane Ridge Revival is now the largest non-Catholic religious movement in America, larger than any denomination! Nondenominational churches have moved from just over 2 percent of Americans 50 years ago to 13 percent now! Political scientist, statistician, and author Ryan Burge gives five reasons for this: 

1. Nondenominational churches are more evangelistic. 

2. They invest more into reaching into their communities. 

3. They tend not to invest in issues of conflict or division. 

4. They don’t carry the “name baggage” of denominational churches. 

5. They tend to be newer churches with fewer traditions. 

Burge’s analysis sounds a lot like what the Restoration Movement set out to accomplish in the first place.  

We are a movement of churches that believe all church authority is local. This is how all nondenominational churches are now, but it was an innovation of the Restoration Movement. Each church has its own local eldership that determines where it stands on biblical issues; this means there is a great deal of diversity in our churches over debatable issues. 

We are committed to the authority of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. This is why we baptize how and when we do. This is why we take Communion weekly. This is why we have a plurality of elders. This is why we make no distinction between clergy and laity. We do Bible things in Bible ways and call them by Bible names. Many nondenominational churches are now committed to these very same things. 

We are committed to unity. That unity finds its foundation in God’s Word as our only rule of faith and practice. We don’t agree on every understanding or interpretation of biblical truth, but we will always fight for (instead of against) relationship because we are stronger together. We are seeing unprecedented unity forming between ourselves and noninstrumental Churches of Christ, African American Churches of Christ, the Disciple Renewal Movement, and the International Churches of Christ. I would have never known about Marshall Keeble, Fred Gray, or the role we played in the Civil Rights Movement without that unity. We build bridges . . . we don’t burn them! 

We are committed to evangelism. We have always been gospel-centered and preaching-centered. By holding the tension between the infallible truth of God’s Word and the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as we preach and share the gospel, the world will know and respond to who Jesus is. 

The two most influential founders of this movement were Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. Stone’s journey started when he heard a sermon that God loved everyone, not just those whom the church said God predestined to be loved. That was his defining moment and led to the Cane Ridge Revival early in the Second Great Awakening. Campbell’s journey started when he had to show a Communion token in order to receive Communion at church. If the minister of the church didn’t think you were worthy, you couldn’t have a token. Campbell had a token, but as he went forward to receive Communion and saw that others could not, he threw his token into the collection plate and walked out a “free man in Christ.” He went on to write much of what this movement understands and believes in. 

Between 1998 and 2018, while denominational churches were cratering in attendance, our largest churches (churches of more than 1,000 in 1998) grew and reproduced 3.6 times! Even more thrilling is that those same churches baptized 3.52 times more people in that same period! Our numerical growth was almost identical to our evangelism! That is nothing short of spectacular! 

On the whole, the churches in our movement have recovered strongly from the devastation of COVID. Most of our churches have regained the momentum that was lost. Our church extension funds lead the way with managing financial assets in the most God-honoring way. Together, they are the largest of all extension funds in America. We have three great conferences that target unique and critical concerns of our movement: SpireConference (growth and innovation), Renew.org’s Gathering (discipleship and theology), and the International Conference On Missions (world missions). We are currently reinventing our educational processes to raise up the sharpest leaders for our movement’s future.  

There are so many stories I could tell you . . . but wait—Christian Standard has been doing that for 158 years! We encourage you not only to take advantage of subscribing to Christian Standard, but also to promote it to your congregations. As a nonprofit ministry, we welcome support from individuals and churches.  

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