The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 1

The Restoration Movement Marker (Side A)

The Restoration Movement Marker (Side A)

The beginning of a new year is always an optimistic time for me. Let’s put the past behind us as much as possible and look ahead! The poet of Lamentations, having lived through the most horrific events imaginable with the destruction of Jerusalem, was still able to say:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

For me, each year is like a new morning, a fresh start in many ways. The solar eclipse, the nadir of short days, is now past and hours of increasing sunshine await us.

Having said that, what is the future of my Restoration Movement as I look ahead? For my readers who do not know what I am talking about, the Restoration Movement began in early 19th century America as an attempt to break down denominational barriers in the Christian world. The central idea was that Christian unity could be achieved if the church was “restored” to patterns of the first century church as taught in the New Testament. The movement was, therefore, concerned with both biblical truth and Christian unity. The result, however, was not the uniting of various Christian factions, but the establishment of a new tradition, the churches of the Restoration Movement.  Even these churches divided into three major streams: the non-instrumental churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), and the independent Churches of Christ and Christian Churches (my group), leaving the goal of unity unfulfilled in many ways.

What is the future of this tradition? Will it be dissolved into the larger stew of evangelicalism. Or, as with the Disciples of Christ, will it continue to decline along with most mainline denominations and focus on local congregations rather than national organization?

Let me offer three observations that end with predictions about the Restoration Movement as we move into 2016 and are now ankle-deep in the 21st century.

  1. The institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing dramatic change. 2015 saw the Standard Publishing group reorganized in ways no one would have expected a few years ago. Standard Publishing, including the highly successful Standard Lesson Commentary (the best-selling adult Bible school curriculum in the world) was sold to David C. Cook and is in the process of moving operations from Cincinnati to Colorado Springs. The Christian Standard magazine (recently changed from a weekly to a monthly) was spun off with the Lookout and the VBS curriculum to become Christian Standard Media. Cincinnati Christian University has slashed staff repeatedly and is no longer the powerhouse voice it once was in the Restoration Movement. The idea of the city of Cincinnati as a de facto headquarters for the Christian Churches seems to be imperiled.My own school, Nebraska Christian College, is merging to become a branch campus of Hope International University, something that may be replicated with other schools in the next couple of years. Many of the Christian Church colleges are having a difficult time and may not survive another downturn in the economy. At the same time, churches seem no longer to look to the regional Christian college or Bible college they once supported as a place to send their children to be trained for ministry and missionary work.This is just the beginning, I think. Higher education is changing rapidly and there is no end in sight that will produce anything like the stability of the past. The presidents of the Christian Church colleges, once considered important voices in the Restoration Movement, have become increasingly irrelevant on the national scene.Prediction: The next five years will see massive reordering of institutions that have been seen as the foundation of the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The millennial generation has little loyalty to these decades-old entities, and all colleges/universities, publishing houses, para-church ministries, church-planting organizations, and missionary societies will find themselves increasingly fighting for survival. Old-timers like me will be shocked and saddened at some long-time organizations that will cease to exist.
  2. To be continued …

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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6 thoughts on “The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 1

  1. Quite right, Mark. Those organizations and institutions that have relied heavily on denominational loyalty (even within our “non-denomination”) will not thrive. Is it possible that the greater challenge of our day is not disunity within the church but apathy?

    • Certainly there is apathy to older institutions. I’m not so sure I see apathy toward the church in general, at least not among our students. But they also have the idea that any sort of older, traditional approaches should be jettisoned and we should try something new.

  2. One of the foundational documents of the Restoration Movement was the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.” It reads in part: “We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.” I believe for some of our institutions, it is time to apply this principle. If this results in new institutions or non-institutional approaches that are better vehicles for communicating the Gospel and doing ministry, then it is something to be welcomed.

    • Yes, I agree that we never achieved that ideal. But I don’t want to throw out 200 years of history too quickly. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes, and the Restoration Movement has made plenty. 🙂

  3. Nice article (although I came late to this article). Having attended a christian college (Pacific Christian College, now Hope International University), I too have seen changes. However, the changes I see that may be impacting this is this “new wave” of seeker-driven church methodology. In this methodology, Christian doctrine and teaching seems unimportant. I find that seeker-driven restoration churches are just indifferent to doctrine. Along with this, I find they have staff that have not attended any christian college. Maybe because they see doctrine as getting in the way of some “relational-based” ministry? Not sure. So some are hiring people from wherever; those I run into are woefully inadequate in their biblical understanding. Additionally, some of these bigger seeker-driven churches have their own satellite churches, broadcast their own feeds to these daughter churches, produce their own learning materials, curriculum, etc. They essentially act like their own denominations. And they are very rich churches. They seem to have all the resources, and pick who will be on staff. All this seems to me as possible reasons for decline in restoration church-based colleges. I am afraid that the restoration churches themselves are just getting swallowed up in the seeker movement.

    • I agree with much of what you say, Jeffrey. I’m not sure the seeker model has much impact on growing churches any more, but it has left its footprint. Willow itself has somewhat repudiated that approach.

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