Why do we immerse in water those who wish to rely upon Jesus for salvation? Because the early church baptized respondents to the gospel? Or do we practice this for the same reason the early church baptized – namely, the gospel calls for this obedience of faith?
Why do we gather on the first day of the week, appoint elders to shepherd a congregation, lift up sacrifices of praise from our hearts, or strive to teach the same doctrine which the church of the first century also taught? Is it because our goal is to imitate the first century church (with all of its problems?) or is our doctrine and practice driven by the same reasons for why they practiced and taught as they did?
The first time I stumbled onto argumentation for rejecting a restorationistic goal was about sixteen years ago in a small college’s library. I remember a deriding sentiment along the lines of: “which flawed New Testament congregation does a restorationistic goal seek to reproduce?” Perhaps the author thought his analysis was brilliant. I evaluated it’s weight to be as relevant as a red herring. Maybe some of my brethren are merely trying to reproduce a culture and time-bound manifestation of God’s people. Who knows? But even if this were the case, would not such a cultural misfit in our age fall within the scope of being acceptable to God?
As for me, to embrace the intended message of a divinely-guided biblical author charts the path toward a worthy and reliable goal. What security before the Lord is there in following an interpretation cut loose from the moorings of the author’s intention? Will not a culture-driven or a reader-centered message tell you more about the reader than God’s will?
Incidentally, to whatever degree our current doctrines and practices and those of the first century church successfully fulfill God’s intention, will not one be a reflection of the other? Why? Because the same reasons shaping doctrine and service will have led both of us to practice that same message in our respective contexts.
Will not the method of following the author’s intended message also establish biblical parameters for a godly-driven understanding today? To seek for worship and doctrine to be guided by the author’s intent will not engage us in a slavish devotion to incidental aspects of a first century model. An author-centered approach to scripture does not necessitate eliminating Sunday school, church buildings, multiple cups, etc. through forcing us to conform to incidental practices of the first century. Rather, our focus would be to live out within the biblical parameters the same instruction our earlier brethren had received. Accordingly we will preach the word, gather together to partake of the Lord’s Supper and so forth.
For me, the best sense of being a restorationistic people involves being the people God intends us to be. Incidental aspects of culture and methods may change from place to place and at different times, but the degree of faithfulness can remain the same. May God bless you in your study of his word.