By Mike Willis
To give greater clarity to the plea to restore the New Testament church, I want to consider what is involved in that plea.
What the Plea Does Not Mean
1. The plea to restore the New Testament church does not simply mean a reformation of an existing denomination. We are not interested in merely reforming an existing denomination to bring it more into line with modern thought so that it can better adjust to changing social needs. Many have the concept that the Lord started the church and left it to adjust itself to the changing social circumstances of each age. The New Testament church, however, is just what its founder wants it to be. It never needs reformation. It simply needs to be restored.
2. The plea to restore the New Testament church does not mean starting or founding another church. The plea to restore the Lord’s church is not a call to found another denomination. There already are too many denominational churches, so why would anyone want to add to that number? What the world needs is not another new denomination; it needs the old New Testament church of Christ just as it came from the hand of God as Jesus promised to build it (Matt. 16:18).
Furthermore, the Bible condemns modern denominationalism with its sectarian divisions, creeds, humanly devised worship and organization. Why would we want to found another denomination?
3. The plea to restore the New Testament church does not mean another human creed or rule of faith and practice. The plea to restore the New Testament church is a renunciation of every human creed, every human rule of faith and practice. No human creed is needed. Creeds stand self-condemned. If they contain more than the Bible, they contain too much; if they contain less than the Bible, they do not contain enough; if they contain the same as the Bible, we do not need them for we already have the Bible. Human creeds have contributed to denominational division. Far from being statements to bring about unity, human creeds have divided brethren.
4. The plea to restore the New Testament church is not a plea to restore the immorality at Corinth, the Judaizing teaching in Galatia, the disorderly conduct in Thessalonica, or any of the other sins mentioned in the churches of the New Testament. One would think that this would go without saying, but some men among us have charged that the restoration plea must mean that we are going to restore these things. Those who make this objection are either woefully ignorant or intentionally dishonest. God will judge.
What the Plea Does Mean
1. The plea to restore the New Testament church does means a restoration. By “restoration” is meant a complete return to original ground to take up things just as they were revealed in the New Testament, When we speak of “restoring” furniture, we understand that we remove all of the paint and varnish to restore the original appearance of the furniture. The plea to restore the New Testament church is a plea to remove every human innovation in religion in order to return to the pristine original of the church as Jesus built it.
2. The plea to restore the New Testament church does mean the restoration of the one divine creed and rule of faith and practice. The word “creed” is derived from the Latin word credo, “I believe.” A creed is, strictly speaking, a summary of what one believes. The true creed and rule of faith and practice for the church is the New Testament. The entire church is built upon this one item of faith: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This one item of faith is simple, although it comprehends every command and teaching which Jesus revealed. Because Jesus is the Son of God, whatever he commands and whatever he teaches is the truth which must be believed and obeyed.
3. The plea to restore the New Testament church is a plea to restore the faith and practice of the inspired apostles. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth (Jn. 16:13). What they taught and revealed was the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 14:37). Recognizing that this is so, we seek to restore the “apostles’ doctrine ” (Acts 2:42).
Faith in Christ is faith that trusts Christ. Trust in Christ is shown by taking Christ at his word and doing what he says. No one has true faith in Christ, nor trusts in Christ ‘ who does not obey his commandments. It is folly to say that one has faith in Christ and, at the same time, not to believe what Jesus and his apostles taught or not to do what he commanded.
The restoration of the faith and practice of the apostles means a complete return in all things of faith and practice, wherein there has been a falling away, to original faith and teaching. It means the undoing of all false teaching and religious error by reproducing or restoring “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). It means going back to the Christ through the inspired apostles and restoring the New Testament church as it was first established by Christ through the apostles.
4. The plea to restore the New Testament church is a plea to restore the unity of the New Testament church. Jesus prayed for the New Testament church to be united. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21). They were expected to be of the same mind and the same judgment. Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). They were to keep the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Epb. 4:3).
In order to keep the unity of the Spirit, seven things were revealed in which all must be one. Paul wrote,
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:4-6).
In order to restore the unity of the first century church, there must be an allegiance to Christ in each of the following:
a. One body. The one body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23). “But now are they many members, yet but one body” (1 Cor. 12:20). “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The unity of the New Testament church can never be attained or restored so long as men believe that there are many different churches and “Christians in all denominations.” (Only division can come from the idea that men become Christians without complying with the New Testament conditions for salvation. More divisions come from the idea that men can offer worship approved of God in ways not revealed in the New Testament.)
b. One Spirit. The one Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:16,17,26). The Holy Spirit’s work in human redemption was to reveal the word of truth which in turn begets men for the new birth (1 Cor. 4:15). Hence, those who are born again are “born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3,5). Recognizing one Spirit points us to one consistent revelation. The one Spirit did not reveal conflicting messages (see 1 Cor. 12:3).
c. One hope. The Christian’s hope is hope for a home in heaven with the Lord. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5). This hope is the anchor to the soul (Heb. 6:18-19).
When men fix their highest hope on temporal changes, such as cleaning up the ghetto, racial equality including ending apartheid in South Africa, nuclear disarmament or any other worthy reform of society, they cease to have the one Christian hope. When men preach a temporal reign of Christ on earth for 1000 years, they have changed the Christian’s hope. The church can be united only so long as there is commitment to the one hope.
d. One Lord. The one Lord is Jesus Christ whom God has exalted above every name that is named (Phil. 2:9). He is head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:20-21). He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Acts 2:33). As Lord, he has “all authority” (Matt. 28:18). We can be united only so long as we all submit to the commandments of the one Lord. There can be no unity so long as men recognize the authority of popes, synods, and councils.
e. One faith. The word “faith” is used here in the sense of the body of revealed doctrine, the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). There is only one body of revealed doctrine. This conviction makes us stand opposed to all other “faiths,” including that written by Joseph Smith (Book of Mormon), Mary Baker Eddy (Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures), Ellen G. White (Seventh Day Adventists), Mohammed (Koran), etc.
f. One baptism. The one baptism of the gospel has always been water baptism – that which is commanded in the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:15-16). Water baptism is an immersion in water. The candidates for water baptism are penitent believers. The purpose of baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), to “wash away sins” (Acts 22:16).
The church cannot be united so long as men teach and practice that there are many “forms” of baptism (sprinkling, pouring or immersion), administered to believers or unbelievers (such as infants), and for reasons other than “for remission of sins” (an outward sign of an inward grace, as a testimony to the world that one already has been saved, etc.).
g. One God. The early church recognized only one God and rejected every form of polytheism. Even as they rejected the worship of pagan deities (Dinah, Mercury, Jupiter), we also must reject the polytheism of our own day. The socalled “world religions” which teach another god are just as unacceptable in the twentieth century as the world religions of Egypt, Rome, Greece, and the east were in the first century.
Wherein these seven ones are found there can be unity among believers. Where these are not found, Bible unity cannot be attained or maintained.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 13, pp. 386, 406-407
July 2, 1992