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.
- 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.
- To be continued …
Nebraska Christian College