Is The Restoration Principle Divisive?

By Fred A. Shewmaker

A card from College Press Publishing Company, addressed to the church with which I work, offered a free copy of The Stone-Campbell Movement. The only stipulation was: “. . . If you desire a copy and will plan to read it within six months, then sign your name on the card and deposit in the mail.” I signed the card, dropped it in the mail and about six weeks ago received a copy of the book. When I finished reading it, I began searching for a word descriptive of my reaction. I have settled for: “underwhelmed.”

The title of this book leads one to expect a history, but it is not history in the true meaning of that word. My reading of this book led me to the conclusion that its author, Leroy Garrett, wrote for the express purpose of convincing people that the very idea of restoration of the church described in the New Testament is inherently wrong. His premises appear to be: (1) Division is wrong. (2) Historically every restoration effort has resulted in division.

It is not my purpose to take issue with those premises. However, I do take issue with his conclusion that the restoration concept is inherently wrong. That conclusion is not sustained by the premises. This can be illustrated by the following: (1) Division is wrong. (2) The efforts of Jesus to establish the church described in the New Testament through the preaching, teaching and writing of His apostles and New Testament prophets resulted in division. (3) Conclusion: The very idea of establishing the church described in the New Testament is inherently wrong. Who can believe that? Yet, if the conclusion of this illustration is not justified, neither is the conclusion of the author of the book justified.

There is an even more serious reason for rejecting the author’s objections to the restoration principle. His book makes clear, to me, that he believes there is within the very idea of restoration something which causes division. Such a belief would be at variance with that which Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus, when he explained the real cause of division. Long before there was a reason to attempt restoration, Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). That is the thing which brought division of the church established by Jesus through the preaching, teaching and writing of His holy apostles and the New Testament prophets (Eph. 3:1-5). Division was not inherent within the idea of establishing the church described in the New Testament. Neither is division inherent within the idea of restoring the church described in the New Testament. In both cases division is a result of men, “speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

Whenever one believes what Paul said and states that men “speaking perverse things” is the real cause of division, that one usually will be told: “Those who differ with you are as honest and sincere as you.” Sometimes such an one is accused of judging the motives of those who differ with him. I cannot speak for others, but as for myself, who ever may accuse me of judging motives will do it at the peril of being a false accuser. It is not necessary to judge another’s motives in order to believe Paul’s statement. I am willing to leave the judging of motives to God and His Son Jesus Christ. We also need to remember that one can be altogether honest and sincere in his belief, yet, still be wrong. Honest and sincere folk may be deceived. That has happened in times past (consider Jacob’s belief that Joseph was dead) and that can still happen in our day and time.

Honesty and sincerity have not in the past, do not now and will not in the future change error into truth. It is to honest and sincere hearts which are deceived that we address our evangelistic efforts. Our efforts to edify are addressed to honest and sincere brethren. Sometimes our honest and sincere brethren may be deceived. It is because honest and sincere hearts may be deceived that in 2 Corinthians 13:5 each one of us is urged to examine ourselves, “whether (we) be in the faith. . .” If we will “love the truth, that (we) might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10) and then study the word of God carefully, it will be possible to know the difference between truth and Satan’s deceit.

It is not easy for those who speak “perverse things” to make disciples of those who know and love the truth. It is those who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that shall experience the vengeance of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:8). The only unity of any value in religion is the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and that unity is the unity of the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:16,17; 16:13 and 17:17). It is precisely this unity for which those engaged in an authentic restoration effort must seek. If those who are trying to restore the church described in the New Testament divide, their division will be either because some abandon the quest for the unity of the Spirit of truth to “draw away disciples after them” or because, being deceived by other means, some abandon truth to follow the error which deceived them.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 4, pp. 99-100
February 20, 1986