Protestants and the Restoration Principle
One of the papers published to promote a pseudo unity based upon compromise of truth and toleration of error is Integrity. The August, 1975, issue of that publication contains an article by Thomas Lane, entitled "The Principle Reconsidered." The principle which Mr. Lane reconsiders is the restoration principle; this writer believes that Mr. Lane needs to reconsider his reconsideration.
Summary of Lane's Argument
Mr. Lane avers that the restoration principle (taking the Bible alone as the rule of faith and practice) is the principle which is held by all conservative protestants. He says that it is "little more than a restatement of the historic Reformation principle of sola Scriptura," which "has been shared by practically all conservative Protestants from the time of Luther right down to the present." This principle, according to Mr. Lane, "is the basic tenet of religion throughout the world." "In principle," Mr. Lane asserts, "the Restoration plea differs in nothing from the broad modus operandi of all conservative Protestants. Adherents of the Campbell heritage and adherents of the Luther-Calvin heritage are agreed in taking the Bible as their sole rule of faith and practice."
Thus, Lane concludes that we who accept the restoration principle to be guided solely by the Bible are really no different in principle from the protestant denominationalists, since they operate on the same principle. This being true, a fundamental unity exists between us and all conservative Protestants, so that we should regard them as brethren and have fellowship with them. According to Lane, their doctrines and practices differ from ours only because of their different interpretations of scriptures, and not because their allegiance to the scriptures is any less than ours. We are informed by Mr. Lane that our doctrines were derived from our "Restoration fathers" and that these doctrines are not easily proved from the scriptures. The protestant denominationalists, Mr. Lane tells us, are open-minded seekers of truth who have simply reached different conclusions than those reached by the restorationists; and we are united with them in our common love for truth.
To say that all conservative Protestants are loyal to the concept of being guided solely by the scriptures is utterly absurd. Does Mr. Lane really believe that everything the denominationalists practice religiously is done because they found a passage of scripture which they concluded taught them to observe that practice? Think of the complex organizational arrangements that exist in denominationalism. Did these denominations organize themselves as they did as a result of diligent study of the scriptures to determine just what the scriptures taught regarding church organization? It would be interesting to see what passages they interpreted to teach such organizational arrangements! Does the protestant preacher wear his collar backwards because of a passage of scripture which he interprets to mean that he should do so? And which passage of scripture does the protestant preacher interpret to mean that he should exalt himself above his brethren by the title "Reverend?" We know there must be one, for these denominationalists are devoted to the principle of taking the Bible alone as their guide, and they surely would not practice something which they did not believe to be grounded in the Bible! We might also ask if the denominations began using the piano and organ in worship because of their discovery of a passage which they interpreted to instruct them to worship God with a mechanical instrument of music.
The fact is that while many may give lip service to the principle of adhering to the scriptures, the denominational world does not practice that principle. Some may say they believe in the principle, but in practice they reject it. Most of them, far from believing that it is necessary to be guided solely by the scriptures, will argue that we can be guided by our own opinions and do anything we please in religion as long as the Bible does not prohibit it. They organize their denominations as they please and worship as they please without regard for whether or not their practices are authorized in the scriptures. How many times we have asked them for the scriptures which authorize their practices, only to hear them reply that they do not need scriptural authorization and that "the Bible doesn't say not to do it." No, the protestant denominationalists are not devoted to the principle of letting the scriptures be their guide. In fact, they even deny and reject the plain teaching of some passages (Acts 2:38 for example).
In attempting to show that we should have fellowship with the denominationalists, Lane argues that we cannot be certain that we are right and they are wrong. He argues that our beliefs are simply doctrines that have been handed to us from the so-called restoration fathers, and that "it isn't all that easy to prove that our system of doctrines is really Scriptural." "Truly," opines Mr. Lane, "those doctrines which we suppose to be abundantly clear in the Bible are not necessarily so." I do wish that Mr. Lane would be more specific and name which particular doctrines he had in mind. The congregation of which I am a part practices nothing which cannot be proved from the scriptures with very little difficulty. For example, we believe in baptism for the remission of sins, and surely the Bible is abundantly clear in teaching that doctrine (Acts 2:38 and many others). We believe in congregational government, and there is no difficulty in proving that from the scriptures (Acts 14:23, 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:1-3.). We believe in singing, and most anyone could prove that to be right (Eph.5:19). Just what is the doctrine that is so difficult to prove? Name it. General statements are easy to make.
Moreover, the assertion that we accept our doctrines merely because they have been handed down to us from our "Restoration fathers" is simply not true of many faithful Christians who are diligent to study the scriptures to be certain that all of their practices and beliefs are grounded in God's word. When Mr. Lane says that our beliefs and practices have been "handed down from our past and accepted uncritically," he needs to stop presuming to speak for others. Perhaps he has accepted doctrines uncritically which have been handed down to him, and surely too many people have; but many of us have refused to accept and practice any teaching without examining it in the light of divine truth. I do not believe anyone can name anything the congregation of which I am a part does that is not based on scripture. We practice nothing whatever that originated with the leaders of the 19th century American Restoration Movement. One who argues otherwise is obligated to name the practice. Of course, Lane's purpose in his allegations is to show that our doctrines are no more Bible-based than the doctrines of denominationalists are.
Brethren, we must not be deceived by those who would have us believe that there is no fundamental distinction between the protestant denominationalists and those of us who are devoted to the principle of following the Bible alone. We must not be misled into thinking that their doctrines and practices are as likely to be in harmony with scripture as ours are. In reality, the denominational world has rejected the Bible as a religious guide, as is obvious from their many doctrines and practices which either are not found in scripture or are in contradiction of plain scriptural teachings. We must continue to expose their errors, reprove them, rebuke them, and plead with them to look to the Bible alone (2 Tim. 4:2, Tit. 1:13, Eph. 5:11, Jude 3, 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Truth Magazine, XX:12, p. 11-12