The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 2

In my last blog I wrote about the new day for the Restoration Movement and began to give observations about the current state of such. I promised to give three observations. The first one was that the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes. The things that seemed rock-solid thirty years ago are reorganizing, teetering, and disappearing. The landscape is changing and the pace of change is accelerating.

My second observation is that the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people. 

In the twentieth century, there seemed to be consensus concerning the doctrinal positions of the “Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ,” the third wave of the Restoration Movement (sometimes shorthanded as the 4Cs). This group broke from the Disciples of Christ in a semi-official way in 1927 with the beginning of the North American Christian Convention. One of the leaders of this new direction was P.H. Welshimer, the preacher of the First Christian Church in Canton OH. This church was considered by some to be the largest church in American at the time, surely the largest Christian Church.Facts concerning NT Church Welshimer served as the first president of the NACC in 1927 and also was the president in 1929 and 1940, the only person to serve as president of the NACC more than once. His leadership and voice were unquestioned. But perhaps more significant was the tract-writing career of Welshimer. He produced a 20-page tract entitled Facts Concerning the New Testament Church that once was ubiquitous in Christian Church literature racks in a yellow cover version produced by Standard Publishing. Welshimer laid out his case for what many believed to be the necessity of baptism by immersion for salvation, saying, “… we believe baptism is an act of obedience commanded by Christ in order to receive salvation.” The tract also pointed to the scriptural pattern of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. These two things, baptism for salvation and weekly Lord’s Supper, were the distinctives of the 4Cs, and woe to anyone within the ranks who deviated from Welshimer’s clear and logical presentation.

Yet I’m not so sure that the Restoration Movement has ever simply been a movement of ideas. I think it has always been a movement of people, of strong leaders who left their marks in many ways. Welshimer is one example, a man who cast a giant shadow for fifty years. The leaders of the late twentieth century also had their impact. Many of them were my friends: LeRoy Lawson, Allan Dunbar, Sam Stone, Don Wilson, Gene Appel and many others. Yet I don’t know if you got all of them in a room and asked for doctrinal consensus, you would find it. Not even on baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The Bible is surely the touchstone for Restoration Movement and for the larger Evangelical Community. But we should admit that sincere students of the Bible have read the same texts and disagreed over their meaning, importance, and application. This has been going on for years. The Naive Realism (Scottish Common Sense Philosophy) of the Campbells did not give us consensus on doctrine.

We have always been followers of people, not doctrinal warriors. We have wanted leaders who upheld our cherished past, but also ones who would lead us to new locations. This will become even more important in the future with the many venues for opinions and critics. We need strong and courageous leaders.

This is also why some of you have heard me say, “I am the Restoration Movement.” This is not because I think I am the king-emperor of the 4Cs (or would ever want to be). It is because a movement is about people and leaders as much or more than it is about ideas.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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Indivisible: Black Rage and White Fear

I am still posting from the North American Christian Convention in Orlando. As usual, the program has been outstanding and I have enjoyed the speakers. I think the best one was Dr. Jerry Taylor, who spoke for the main session on Wednesday morning. Dr. Taylor is a professor at Abilene Christian University, a Church of Christ school. He has been having a visible role at the NACC the last few years. To show you how much I enjoyed his message, I will admit that I actually coughed up money to buy the DVD (a rare thing for me).

Dr. Taylor preached on Isaiah 5:1-7, the “Song of the Vineyard.” This text tells the story of the Lord’s relationship with ancient Israel, comparing it to a man who develops a vineyard.

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. (5:1, 2)

Dr. Taylor noted the great investment the Lord had in the nation of Israel, and the disappointing result: bad fruit. He then did an incredible thing: compared this scenario to the investment the Lord has in our nation, the United States of America. I usually do not buy the comparisons between Israel and the USA based on the Old Testament, but this one worked well. Dr. Taylor’s sermon was not an indictment of America as much as it was an indictment of the American church. He spoke of a situation of “black rage and white fear,” words that unfortunately resonate deeply with our current situation, a raging state of affairs that has its flames stoked by the inflammatory words of people who claim to be Christians. Dr. Taylor did not mention this, but if anyone needs evidence, consider the debate surrounding George Zimmerman, a white man who shot and killed a black young person in his neighborhood, Trayvon Martin. This seems more real to me when I  realize that the incident took place in Sanford, Florida, a few miles north of where I am now blogging. Zimmerman seems to have acted from fear. The reaction of the black community has been outrage.

Dr. Taylor’s solution: return the church to the Lord. Give control of the Christian Church back to Christ. In the “entrepreneurial Restoration movement,” let God be God and Christ be Lord of his church. Absolute human control over the church needs to yield to divine control. As Dr. Taylor’s sermon refrain hammered home, “Return the Watchtower back to the Lord.” He is Lord of all of us, whether fearful or outraged, and our unity as a church, a movement, and a nation will only be found in submission to him.

One of the old mottoes of the Restoration movement was “When the church is one, the world will be won.” I am beginning to understand this differently. It was taught as if the goal of unifying the church was the first step in winning the world to Christ. Now I begin to see that these two are the same thing. When the church is one, the world is won. This unity is essential. We will never be, “One nation, under God, indivisible” as long as the church is fighting over politics, racisms, or other non-essentials. So let us return the watchtower to the Lord, for he is the King forever.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College