“Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25 NKJV).
The effort to restore true Biblical Christianity is, as we discussed in last week’s article, an unending and never fully accomplished goal. In order to pursue it seriously, however, certain essential principles must be followed.
First, there is the principle of Biblical authority. In the text cited above Paul identifies the gospel and his preaching as inseparable and identical. What he preached was the gospel. The gospel was his only message (1 Corinthians 2:2). They are both also identical to and inseparable from God’s mystery which he had kept secret from the beginning of the world. That is to say, the gospel was God’s plan and purpose from the very beginning and the preaching of the apostles was the revelation of that purpose. Note the similar language and meaning in the introduction to Titus:
“Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested his word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1-3).
Unless God has revealed his will for the church, we cannot hope to identify it. Unless there are authoritative commands or instructions defining the nature, purpose, and activities of the church there is no ideal for us to aspire towards. In the Old Testament God showed Moses a pattern for the tabernacle, which the faithful servant (Hebrews 3:5) followed “according to the pattern shown him on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5) as he built the things he was instructed to by God. So, in the New Testament we are continually commanded to obey all the things which God has spoken to us (Matthew 4:4; 7:21; 28:20). The Bible is God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16) and his truth (John 17:17).
A second essential principle of restoration is that division is an evil which is opposed to God’s nature and will. Jesus prayed that all disciples would be one, “as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (John 17:21). There is only one church (Ephesians 4:4; compare 1:22-23). Division of any kind is expressly forbidden (1 Corinthians 1:10). Those who initiated the American Restoration Movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were particularly motivated by the growing division and strife which they observed in contemporary churches. They appealed to their audiences to abandon all human names, creeds and confessions and unite on the simple truths of Scripture. Division was condemned as “un-natural, un-Biblical, and un-Godly.” Today’s religious world needs to relearn the Biblical truth about this evil and reject it on the same bases.
The contention and strife arising from a divided Christianity has impeached the loving message of salvation through Jesus. It has led to bitterness and much harm, not only within the church itself, but also to those who may have shown a willingness to hear the gospel had they not witnessed such ungodly behavior on the part of those claiming to follow it.
We must return to the appeal of the apostle Paul, “Fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Those who love each other find ways to agree. They seek harmony and peace, not contention. The Restoration plea is a plea for unity among all believers, therefore it is a plea for love between all brothers and sisters.
These two principles of Biblical authority and the necessity of unity are at the core of restoration. Until we embrace them we are not likely to succeed.