Pitfalls of Restoration

Plymouth, North Carolina

The expression Restoration Movement does not exactly meet with my approval because of its denominational ring. However, using the expression without the caps in strictly a descriptive way, it does properly describe an attempt to correct an apostate condition of the church. Such an effort was made with great success in this country in the late years of the 18th century by such men as James O'Kelly, Abner Jones, Elias Smith, John Wright, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, and was climaxed in the early years of the 19th century by Thomas and Alexander Campbell.

Even though these men were far removed from each other and worked independently of one another, still their basic ideas and intents were the same. They sought to correct the apostate condition of the church by laying aside the doctrines and creeds of men, going back to the Bible alone to establish the ancient faith and practice of the early church. Their intentions were accomplished with great success for several years, but in time, some desiring to be like the nations round about them, lost their respect for the authority of God's word and began to substitute human wisdom and human ideas in the place of God's revealed way. Such an attitude of disrespect caused the restoration to suffer greatly.

In the late 1840's, when churches of Christ had become numerous and had reached sizable proportions, the question of how they should discharge their evangelistic responsibilities arose. Should each church select and support an evangelist to the extent of its ability, or should the churches pool their resources into one big organization and let it oversee the work of evangelism? God had already answered this question for them, but the thrill of doing things in a BIG WAY had its human appeal and won out over God's appointed arrangement of the simple congregational function.

In 1849 the American Christian Missionary Society was formed and Alexander Campbell served as the first president thereof. This was the first time since the effort of restoration was begun that the word of God was not consulted and respected in settling a problem among the disciples. Needless to say that such a departure from the simple New Testament pattern caused a breach among the Disciples of Christ in the years that followed.

Who Caused the Problem?

Was God responsible for this problem among the disciples? Had God failed to give to man a clear, intelligible guide to follow? No, God was not responsible. God's word is simple and plain that each church is to discharge its own responsibility under the oversight of its elders (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-2). The function of the church is to begin and end with the local churchnothing larger or smaller than this is even suggested in the word of God. Thus it is obvious that the missionary society was an outright departure from God's appointed arrangement. God had spoken, but men refused to hear.

Were those who opposed the society arrangement responsible for the division that followed? No, because they were begging men to be content with God's way. They knew that forsaking God's way in this point would destroy the very plea of restoration and open the door for other innovations.

Were the advocates of the society responsible for the division it caused? Indeed they were willing to transgress and go beyond the doctrine of Christ in forming an organization unknown to the New Testament. Every ounce of division that followed over the society must be charged to the innovators. They gave up the very plea for restoration by being willing to do things for which there was no Bible authority. They knowingly left the divine pattern, thus they left God.

Another Problem Arose

In the 1860's, some of the disciples wanted to be even more like the nations round about them, (denominations), so they introduced instrumental music into the worship. Up until this time, instrumental music had been rejected because no New Testament authority could be found for its use. The disciples were content to follow the simple pattern of congregational singing without the use of the instrument. When introduced, it also met with strong opposition from the same ones who opposed the missionary society.

Again the question, was God responsible for this problem? No, because God has clearly set forth in His word that the saints are to teach and admonish one another and praise Him in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING with grace in their hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). These passages, and many others, clearly specify SINGING, which is vocal music. For years the disciples recognized this and were content to abide therein. It is not a matter in the realm of opinion, but in the realm of faith. They were aware that the early Christians -worshipped without it. They also recognized that when it was first introduced (672 A.D.), it met with strong opposition, even among the apostates.

Was the opposition responsible for this problem? No, because they were determined not to depart from the ancient order as authorized by Christ in the New Testament. They knew it would be digression to go beyond His teaching (II John 9). They were content to let the word of Christ settle the matter.

Were the advocates responsible for the division the instrument had caused? Yes, because they introduced it without divine authority. Paul clearly points out in Romans 16:17 that those who go contrary to the doctrine are the ones who cause division.

A Point to Ponder

Please notice that the ones who accepted the society without divine authority are the same ones who accepted the instrument without divine authority. Thus it is obvious that the real problem was DISRESPECT FOR DIVINE AUTHORITY on the part of the innovators. A person, or group of persons who will knowingly tolerate one departure from the New Testament pattern will soon digress into other areas of departure. This is exactly what happened to those who accepted the missionary society and instrumental music. They continued to digress farther and farther from the truth until today this group of people constitutes one of the most liberal bodies among the denominations. There is practically no respect for God's word left in these people.

Present Day Pitfalls of Restoration

As most of our readers know, the introduction of the missionary society and instrumental music finally led to the formation of a denomination commonly called the First Christian Churchsometimes referred to as Disciples of Christ. The U. S. Census Bureau officially listed the First Christian Church as a different body in 1906. The ones who rejected the society and the instrument were the ones who remained faithful to God and to the principles of restoration, thus they carried on the work of restoration.

The faithful body did not long remain without additional problems, however. Just as the church had its problems in the first century, so the church is having its problems in the 20th century. Thus it is too late now to discuss how to prevent these problems; we are interested in determining who is responsible for the division these problems cause. Let us now notice some of the divisive issues, which plague the restoration effort in the 20th century and see if we cannot identify the ones responsible for the division.


In the early days of the 20th century, the sponsoring church arrangement cropped up among churches of Christ. This was an effort to involve many churches in a work larger than any one church was able to accomplish by its own resources. Being of such proportion, it necessitated an organizational arrangement larger than the local church. But how could it be done without forming a human organization similar to the missionary society? The idea was suggested that if the elders of a particular church would take the oversight of such a work, this would eliminate the forming of a human organization, thus it was contended that this would make it scriptural.

But as any honest person can see, the elders of the sponsoring church are serving in exactly the same capacity as the human board does over the society. Instead of it being called a missionary society, it is called a sponsoring church; instead of being called a board of directors, elders are called sponsoring elders. The only difference is that the names are changed.

Obviously such an arrangement was initiated for exactly the same reason as the missionary society. It was an attempt to activate the function of the church in a universal capacity. Deny it who may, it is an organizational arrangement larger than the local church and the sponsoring elders are functioning in a capacity far beyond that of the flock of God which is among them (I Pet. 5:1-2).

There are at least three basic errors of the sponsoring church arrangement. First, a congregation does not have the authority to undertake a work, which it cannot accomplish by its own resources. Second, the sponsoring elders have no authority to assume the oversight of a part of the work of other churches. Third, the elders of the contributing churches have no authority to relinquish a part of their responsibility to the oversight of the sponsoring elders. These three scriptural objections do not even take into consideration the wasted resources which the sponsoring church has to use in promoting its undertaking.

Without going through all the details again, it should be obvious to anyone that the ADVOCATES of the sponsoring church are the ones responsible for the division it has caused and continues to cause. If the society brethren will be damned for their innovation, then so will the advocates of the sponsoring church. II John 9 supplies the answer.


Another problem, which has plagued the church all through the 20th century, is INSTITUTIONALISM. It seems that some men cannot cease from forming human arrangements, which supplant God's divine arrangement. You would think that brethren should have learned their lesson by the example of the society, but some men seem not to be able to learn. Their institutional idols become such an obsession to them that they refuse to see the error of them.

Brethren form benevolent organizations (erroneously called HOMES), and high-pressure churches into supporting them by emotional appeal. They form educational organizations (mix-called CHRISTIAN COLLEGES) and seek to gain church support on the basis that they train leadership material for the churches. They form publication organizations (such as GOSPEL PRESS) to advertise the church through secular publications and seek to make the churches feel obligated to support them. They form recreational organizations (commonly called YOUTH CAMPS) and seek to gain church support by declaring how many young people they teach and baptize each year  who usually turn out to be rice Christians.

The Lord's church is being sucked to death by these human institutions. Those who form them no doubt feel they will aid the church. But in reality they impeach the wisdom of God and deny the all-sufficiency of His glorious institution, the church.

These human institutions are not expedients or methods any more than the missionary society was an expedient or a method. They stand between the church and the work being done just as the society stands between the church and the work being dose. If it is sinful for the church to do its work through the society, then it is sinful for the church to do its work through all these other human institutions. They all stand or fall together and all are equally responsible for the division they have created among the Lord's people. We are not denying that such institutions have a right to exist, but they have no right to be saddled off on the church for their support. As such, they are nothing more than parasite organizations.

Erroneous Opposition

Another problem, which has plagued the restoration in the 20th century, is ERRONEOUS OPPOSITION. It is just as sinful to bind where God has not bound as it is to loose where God has bound. The opposing force must make sure it has legitimate grounds for objecting; else it becomes the divisive element. There are some brethren who object to various practices without any scriptural grounds for objecting, thus they bind where God has not bound. Let us now briefly touch some of these cases.

Some object to the BIBLE CLASS arrangement on the basis that there is no example for such in the New Testament. This we grant. But examples are not the only means of establishing authority for a practice. We may also establish authority by command, precept or necessary inference. Eph. 4:16 teach that the church is to edify (teach and build up) itself. This is a precept. If in each church the elders systematically arrange a teaching program, which will most effectively edify all, they are acting by divine authority.

Certainly we should object to forming a SUNDAY SCHOOL ORGANIZATION which functions separate and apart from the church. But our Bible classes are not such. They fall within the function of the local church and are under the oversight of its elders. So here is a case where the OPPOSITION is binding where God has not bound, thus the division caused is their responsibility.

Others object to a LOCATED PREACHER who works regularly for a time with one congregation and receives regular support for his labor. It is extremely difficult to understand why anyone would object to this, for we have a clear-cut case of such in the apostle Paul. Paul labored regularly for a time with the church at Corinth and received wages from other churches while doing so (2 Cor. 11:8). Paul indicated that he had done an injustice to the church at Corinth for not receiving his support from them (II Cor. 12:13), thus he indicates the right of a preacher to receive support from the congregation where he labors. Paul also labored for a time with the church at Thessalonica and received support once and again from the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:14-18). Dividing the church over a matter so clearly authorized, as this is inexcusable, thus again the OPPOSITION is the divisive element.

Still others object to the use of INDIVIDUAL CUPS being used in partaking of the Lord's Supper. They say the Bible specifies cup, singular, thus only one container can be used in serving the Lord's Supper. Where these brethren err is in assuming that the word cup in the Bible refers to the container. In Matthew's account of this memorial feast, the Lord uses the expression cup and the fruit of the vine interchangeably (Mat. 26: 27-29). The passage does not teach that we drink the container, but the contents. Thus the word cup refers to the contentsthe fruit of the vine not the container. There is only one cup the fruit of the vine, but there may be any number of containers used in partaking the cup.

What a shame the church should be divided over such a simple matter as this! Thus the OPPOSITION must bear the responsibility of the division they have created over this matter.

Of course, there are the hat question and the war question which come up sometimes in nearly every congregation, and some draw lines of fellowship over these questions. We feel the Bible clearly answers both of these questions, but even if an agreement does not exist, these are individual matters, which do not involve the work or worship of a congregation. Drawing lines of fellowship over these questions shows a definite lack of maturity. However, some are guilty of dividing the church over these questions.


We feel we have sufficiently described the PITFALLS OF RESTORATION and have exposed the ones responsible for the division that has plagued it. We write these things in hope that some of our brethren will give more careful consideration as to who is guilty of dividing the church of the Lord. It is certain that the ones responsible will be lost.


"The Church God's Greatest Work"

God purposed and planned the church before the foundation of the world. It was inspired by His infinite love. He gave His dearest object, His only Son, for it. His wisdom devised its form and worship. His infinite power built it. Its purpose is to preach the gospel to the entire world, save the lost, edify itself and make holy its members, care for its needy. In it God is preparing a people to dwell with him and the angels in eternity . . . The church is the embodiment of God's love, wisdom, and power.... In short, the church is God's last and greatest work for the redemption of a fallen man. Measured by any possible standard, it is beyond comparison. It is sad to contemplate that man has repeatedly tried to 'improve' this great work of God by adding to its worship, substituting other organizations and institutions to do its work, carnalizing its government, and debasing and making earthly its holy mission! ... If the church of our Lord is not a perfect institution for the doing of God's will, then God has failed in his greatest work.... Let the church is the church, glorious and perfect from God's hand, and unmarred by human tampering!"

TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 2, pp. 16-19
November 1966