13 July, 2024

THE FORUM: Thoughts on the Future of the Restoration Movement

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by | 1 July, 2024 | 0 comments

We asked several current and emerging leaders in our movement to respond to the question, “When you think about the next 10 years for Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, what concerns you and what excites you?” Here are their responses. 

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Lost and Found 

By Alex Eddy 

Nearly 100 years ago, author and preacher J. J. Haley described the religious context in 19th-century America as an “ecclesiastical reign of terror.” Haley wrote, “Three things had happened to bring [this] about . . . First, the Bible had been lost to the church; second, Christ had been lost in the Bible; third, the church had been lost in the world.” The Restoration Movement was founded by a convergence of individuals who arrived at a singular point of conviction: the Bible was the first and final authority for rules of faith and practice. The Bible was “found” in the church.  

My concern and excitement for the future of our movement center around this critical issue. Within our own societal context, we are witnessing a struggle for individual identity, meaning, and purpose. We are revisiting the time of the Old Testament judges when there was no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. If no one is king, then everyone is king. The deconstruction of the authority of God’s Word leaves a void too often filled with a subjective authority of our own device. When this begins to infiltrate our churches, the Bible is lost to the church, Christ is lost in the Bible, and the church is lost in the world.  

My excitement lies in the opportunity to “find” the Bible again. Our Restoration forefathers discovered that when the Bible is found, love for Christ is renewed in the church and the church is a powerful witness to the world. The crises of identity, meaning, and purpose can be truthfully and accurately addressed only by the Word of God, our first and final authority. 

Alex Eddy serves as executive director of Person to Person Ministries in Hillsboro, Ohio. He and his wife, Missy, live at Restoration Acres, site of the ministry headquarters and the annual Hillsboro Family Camp Meeting. They have six children and two grandchildren.  

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Revisiting Our Roots 

By Brittany Gill 

My concerns for the Restoration Movement center on my children and their future, as well as the future of our brotherhood. Many of our Bible colleges are shutting down. There has been much compromise among Restoration Movement churches on theology, morals, and values. Churches are trying their best to be acceptable to everyone for the sake of pleasing people. acceptable to everyone for the sake of pleasing people.  

Christian leaders should stand up to fight for the future of our children and grandchildren. Otherwise, the future will be worse. Conservative Christians must be bold, courageous, and speak up, even if we get backlash. Remember, we will never please everybody. We should focus on God’s approval rather than man’s approval (Galatians 1:10). 

What excites me about our movement is that it was founded on amazing values, it has an amazing history, and it teaches some of the best Bible doctrine. American Christians have two amazing opportunities in front of them:  

The first is technology. Technology helps to quickly spread the gospel message. International communication is easier than ever before. We can reach people we cannot physically meet. Also, technology provides pastors with an outlet to boldly preach the truth without pressure from any church or organization.  

Second, Islam is on the rise in America, which is both a concern and an opportunity. In many cases, Muslims are living next door and we need not travel around the world to reach them. That being said, American Christians need much special training to effectively reach our Muslim neighbors.  

I pray that American Christians, in the midst of so many glittery, worldly distractions, will take a step back and focus on our families and true biblical values, and make the necessary lifestyle changes to become a fantastic testimony for Christ. 

Brittany Gill is a missionary wife, mother, women’s Bible teacher, singer, worship leader, and YouTube Influencer who sings Christian songs in the English, Urdu, and Punjabi languages. She is married to Dr. Sam Gill, and they have four daughters. The Gills work in Pakistan where Sam serves as CEO of New Hope for the World. 

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A Fruitful Future 

By Jessie Harden 

At Great Lakes Christian College, where I teach Restoration history, we spend a considerable amount of time teaching students to apply Restoration principles to their lives and to take those principles into the world as future church leaders. Our movement’s emphasis on unity resonates with my students. They are eager to embrace others in ways that are often difficult, by looking beyond denominational divisions, physical and social differences, and sin to see people in need of God. Their joy in inclusivity makes them quick to recognize nonessential issues and to love people as Christ loves the church; this attitude foretells a fruitful future for our movement.  

In 10 years, these students will lead churches that ignore sectarian arguments and guard against division. They will do us proud. However, they will face some uphill battles. Prevailing worldly wisdom preaches “you do you,” but the Restoration Movement balances unity with careful examination of the Scriptures, and then applies what it says to our Christian walk. Our students, eager to love others and invite them to the table of fellowship, need to be prepared to share all the biblical knowledge and wisdom they can.  

They will have battles to fight and lines to draw. The lines will be drawn in love, certainly, but drawn nonetheless. At GLCC we are preparing students to fight the good fight, but we know it will be challenging. Most of my students tell me their favorite Restoration slogan is, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things love.” In the coming decades, we can expect men and women in the church to strive to embody this, just as we have done for the past 200 years. 

Jessie Ellis Harden serves as adjunct professor of Restoration history at Great Lakes Christian College, Lansing, Michigan. 

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Pressing Concerns, but a Bright Future 

By John Maurice 

I have spent my life in the Independent Christian Church. Sunday school, church camp, Bible college, seminary, and ministry cemented my love and devotion to the Restoration ideal. On the flip side, I also served 25 years as a Navy chaplain where we were able to cooperate with other chaplains and Christians without compromising our own faith to care for the men and women serving in uniform. Both experiences helped shape my love for Christ and his church. 

When I think of the next 10 years, some things concern me. One such thing is an attitude of judgmentalism which judges all other Christians and nonbelievers from a sense of superiority. The idea that we are right and everyone else is wrong is divisive and condemning. This attitude is evident when we engage with anger and self-righteousness. It causes the church to be perceived as unloving and uncaring. Second, the loss of our historical roots and identity. Many people in our churches have little understanding of our history. Another great concern is the lack of young men committed to vocational ministry. I fear that we will minimize ministry preparation, and this eventually will backfire on the churches. 

I am most excited about the future because God is sovereign, and his purpose will be fulfilled. I am thrilled we are a people of the Book with a mandate and message to lead people to Jesus Christ. I am optimistic that a new generation will take the lessons from the past, yet not be bound by tradition, and will put new wine into new wineskins “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3). 

John W. Maurice is president of Mid-Atlantic Christian University. 

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Being the Church 

By Rachel Sanderson 

As we pray about the future of the church, I believe we need to shift our focus from simply going to church to being the church. The church is full of people who believe we should share the gospel with our neighbors, but we lack intentionality—we fail to develop deep relationships with those people who need Jesus in their everyday lives.  

Most of my life has been spent doing ministry on the university campus, but for the past few years, I’ve lived in rural South Dakota. As I’ve ministered in two very different contexts, one shift I’ve seen in both over the last few years is the growing ineffectiveness of using large events to bring new people to Jesus. Gathering in large groups will always be important, but that is not proving to be the way to make disciples of Jesus who then go make disciples.  

The Great Commission is the mission of each follower of Jesus; it is not just the mission of each church. Our solution to discipleship needs to include more than just, “Come to church with me”; we also must teach others how to follow the Spirit’s leading . . . no matter the cost. Sunday morning attendance should not be the sole determinant of our “success.” Instead, look at how many people are opening Scripture together, serving those around them, and living in obedience to Christ. I am encouraged by the number of leaders who are having conversations about discipleship, praying together, and eagerly stepping up and stepping out to where God is calling them. The old rhyme we learned as kids is misguided—the church is more than a place with a steeple and people. The church really is a being with hands, feet, and a heart that beats to love God and others as we walk in the ways of Jesus.  

Rachel Sanderson lives in Bonesteel, South Dakota, with her husband, Tim, and their three beautiful girls. She loves being outdoors, creating spaces for community, and having conversations over a good cup of coffee. She works with Christian Student Fellowship in Nebraska and South Dakota.  

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Who—and Whose—We Are 

By Micah Stephen 

The culture around us is slowly influencing the church. I fear that, in the next decade, many will feel the need to “keep up with the times” and, in the process, will neglect the truth. In the name of acceptance, I worry the church will struggle with its identity. I think the further we move from a biblical worldview, the harder it will be to accomplish what God wants for the church.  

While culture and challenges constantly shift, God always remains the same. We need courage as we speak into this generation. We need the ability to equip and empower people to go out and make disciples. By the end of the first century, there were only a small group of Christians, but by the fourth century, there were so many Christians that people started to take notice. Growth like this happens when the church shares the message of Jesus with the world.  

I think churches will need to decide who and whose they are. Many challenges exist, but there also is excitement because of the opportunity set before us. Light always shines brightest in the darkness. We have an amazing opportunity to be that light, a city on a hill. I cannot wait to see what God is going to do through the church in the next decade, but I know that if the church will stay true to him and his Word, people will respond, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. As Bob Russell said, “It’s good to be in the flashlight business when the power goes out.”  

Micah Stephen serves as lead minister with Odon Christian Church in Indiana. He and his wife, Crystal, have three children.

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What if We Don’t Get It Right? 

By Dr. M. Ben Williams 

I was born and raised in a Restoration Movement church. That instilled in me a strong desire to get it right. I want to be sure we are teaching the Bible accurately. Stated differently, I have a fear of getting it wrong. Church history shows that getting it wrong can lead to division and chaos.  

In recent years, new churches have been emerging and drawing younger generations. Their leaders may not have attended Restoration Movement colleges or churches, but they are emphasizing biblical truth. These congregations go by various names, but many are baptizing by immersion and partaking of the Lord’s Supper more frequently.  

My well-developed fear arises again as I look toward the future of the Restoration Movement. Will we still be a movement in 10 years? Will these upstart congregations grow in prominence? If they are teaching the Bible, is that actually a danger? Is the bigger danger that they, too, may get it wrong?  

Trends suggest that younger generations also want to get it right. What will they see in us in the next 10 years? Will they see a movement that is teaching the Bible? Will they hear us willingly admit our struggles with areas of biblical truth, or will they encounter another generation that thinks they alone are correct? In the pursuit of biblical accuracy, will dividing lines again be drawn between those who presume to be right and those they presume to be ignorant?  

My prayer is that the next generation will see in us a desire to be biblically accurate and engaged in the relentless pursuit of Jesus’ command that we be known by our love for one another.   

Ben Williams has taught preaching and Old Testament at Boise Bible College in Idaho since 2014. Before that, he taught for eight years at Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri. He is a preacher at heart and is currently serving as the interim preacher at Canyon Springs Christian Church in Middleton, Idaho. He and his wife, Melissa, have raised five children and have one grandchild.  

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