The Restoration Principle

By Mike Willis

For the last two years, controversy has filled the issues of this periodical regarding ,a new heresy, one which has been variously called the new unity cult, the grace-unity heresy, etc. Those of you who do not take many of the periodicals might not know just how widespread this heresy has gone. Since I have been editing Truth Magazine and been receiving the magazines with which we exchange papers, I have been appalled at the number of magazines advocating the grace-unity heresy. Here is a partial list of those papers: Mission, Restoration Review, Integrity, The Ensign Fair, Outreach, and the Firm Foundation. I know that there must be some papers teaching this doctrine which I have inadvertently overlooked.

Because some of our readers did not like the way in which the recent controversy was handled, they dropped their subscriptions and have acted as if the issues were merely personality clashes which had been escalated into brotherhood issues. My brethren, I do not ask that you agree with how we have handled this controversy; I only ask that you wake up to the fact that another apostasy is in progress. The issues at stake in this controversy are greater than those at stake in the institutional and sponsoring church controversies. Whereas those controversies denied one aspect of the work and organization of the church, this one concerns itself with the very foundation on which the church is built-its basis of authority.

Recently, some among us have written articles in which they speak very critically of the restoration principle. Here is how one author spoke of it:

“But I have become alarmed at the tendency of many brethren to begin using what is known as the `restoration principle’ in a creedal sort of way. One influential brother wrote a while back that `Churches of Christ will live or die, prosper or decline, in accordance with what they think and do about the restoration principle: Well  isn’t it our good fortune that someone has finally identified the one principle that will determine the fate of sincere Christians across the land! How ignorantly we had heretofore thought that the important thing was how people responded to the gospel. What a pity that those Christians across the globe who have never heard of a restoration ‘principle’ or ‘movement’ do not have access to this vital pronouncement; those poor saints will just have to settle for the New Testament.”

This good brother, who, by the way, is one of my personal friends, either does not understand what we mean when we speak of the “restoration principle” or does not stand where we stand. My friend, express it how you may, what is meant by the term “restoration principle” is the very basis of authority for the New Testament church.

Reformation, Revelation or Restoration?

So far as I know, there have only been three concepts of authority ever posited for the church. They are the three mentioned in our heading: reformation, revelation and restoration. Let us look at these three:

1. Revelation. The doctrine of continuous revelation maintains that one cannot have the New Testament church unless the miraculous gifts and continuous revelation are restored in the church today. The final appeal for authority in such a movement is not the New Testament but the modern day revelations. Such persons as Ellen G. White, Joseph Smith, Jr., Mary Baker Eddy, etc. are people who believe in continuous revelation. Those who have been involved in the charismatic movement are a part of the group which believes in continuous revelation.

2. Reformation. This principle states that we need not and cannot go back to the primitive church of the first century. Where an apostate church exists today, the members have an obligation to reform it. There is no need to restore the New Testament church, one only needs to reform the existing churches. Of course, to reform an apostate church, one would have to go back to the New Testament to learn what must be wrong with the apostate church and how it can be reformed. Hence, this principle is inseparably connected with the restoration principle.

3. Restoration. The restoration principle maintains that we must plant the first century truth in today’s world in order to establish New Testament churches. It is based on the affirmations that the Bible is the full and final revelation of God to man on earth and that to the extent men have departed from the New Testament church to this extent they need to go back to the New Testament to find and restore that which has been laid aside by the traditions of men.

The restoration principle asserts that the Bible is a blueprint or pattern which must be followed by men of all ages. Men have not been left to pick and choose exactly what they will believe and practice in the church today. Rather, God has forever settled such matters and revealed them to men in the Bible. The “restoration principle” is a twentieth century term which completely expresses a biblical idea, namely, that men must have authority for everything they believe and practice. Those who are speaking very critically of the “restoration principle” either do not understand what it is saying or do not agree with the biblical principle which underlies it.

The restoration principle is not the gospel. However, the restoration principle says that we cannot know what the gospel is unless we go to the text of the New Testament. No one can prove what the gospel is without proof texts. When men preach a different gospel, which in reality is another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), they have apostasized. The only scriptural theological method is to go back to the New Testament to learn what the gospel is.Is The Restoration Principle Biblical?

The very idea of the New Testament gospel of Jesus Christ being a convenant insists that it is a blueprint or pattern which must be followed in all ages. The Bible calls the New Testament revelation a “covenant” (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15-17; 12:24; 13:20). A convenant is a binding agreement between two parties; once the covenant has been fixed, it cannot be altered or tampered with in any way. Paul said, “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void, or addeth thereto” (Gal. 3:15). Hence, God’s revelation is fixed forever. It cannot be changed to fit each existing period .of history; He has one pattern for all time.

The job of revealing this covenant to man was that of the apostles and prophets. They could teach only “whatsoever I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). Hence, the early church was required to continue steadfastly in the “apostles doctrine” (Acts 2:42). What these apostles revealed was to be handed down from one generation to another (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 2:2). God’s pattern was fixed and final for all men of all time.

Every commandment in the New Testament which forbids apostasy or warns against false doctrine presupposes that there is a blueprint or pattern which every Christian is expected to follow. There could be no warnings about falling away from the truth unless the truth was fixed forever. All of these verses, therefore, assure us that there is a pattern or blueprint which must be followed: 2 Jn. 9-11; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rom. 16:17-18; etc.

These and a number of other principles learned from the scriptures force me to the conclusion that the authority for the church is fixed forever and final. James Alexander Haldane, once said, “If we carefully observe the express precepts delivered in the New Testament, the practices of the churches mentioned with approbation, and what is said respecting the abuses which so early crept in, through slight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lay in wait to deceive, we shall find a complete system, calculated to answer every purpose which Jesus had in view in the institution of churches” (A View of the Social Worship and Ordinances Observed By the First Christians, p. 52). This, my dear friends, is what is meant by the “restoration principle.”

Deniers of the Restoration Principle

I have before me a number of quotations from men who deny the validity of the restoration principle. Each of them are ultimately left without a chart or compass as they pass through the sea of life. They have abandoned the authority of the New Testament and have nothing left to use to determine what is right and what is wrong.

Some among us are either upset with the terminology or the principle of restoration. If it is the terminology, let them suggest something which is superior which does not have the same kinds of objectionable features in it. If it is the principle to which they object, let them come right out and say what principle of authority they recognize. I defy one to sustain a biblical principle without using restoration theology. When such a person sets out to prove that the restoration principle is wrong, he no doubt will appeal to the Bible. What he is in essence doing is trying to restore something he feels is lost from Bible. Hence, he would be using the restoration principle to prove that the restoration principle is wrong. I greater inconsistency I cannot imagine.


In conclusion, I would like to quote some of the they hear the word used. But John uses the term to statements from Alexander Campbell as he described carry the thought of a deep and mutual sharing what is intended by the restoration principle:

“A restoration of the ancient order of things is all that is necessary to the happiness and usefulness of Christians. No attempt ‘to reform the doctrine, discipline and government of the church,’ (a phrase too long in use,) can promise a better result than those which have been attempted and languished to death. We are glad to see, in the above extract, that the thing proposed, is to bring the Christianity and the church of the present day up to the standard of the New Testament. This is in substance, though in other terms,. what we contend for. To bring the societies of Christians up to the New Testament, is just to bring the disciples individually and collectively, to walk in the faith, and in the commandments of the Lord and Savior, as presented in that blessed volume; and this is to restore the ancient order of things (The Christian Baptist, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. 1,” p. 128).

“When we have found ourselves out of the way we may seek for the ancient paths, but we are not at liberty to invent path for our own feet. We should return to the Lord.

“But a restoration of the ancient order of things, it appears, is all that is contemplated by the wise disciples of the Lord; as it is agreed that this is all that is wanting to the perfection, happiness, and glory of the Christian community. To contribute to this is our most ardent desire — our daily and diligent inquire and pursuit. Now, in attempting to accomplish this, it must be observed, that it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice every thing that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Savior, and to believe and practice whatever is there enjoined. This done, and every thing is done which ought to be done” (Ibid., “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. 2,” page 133).

This, my friends is what is meant by the “restoration principle.”

Truth Magazine XXI: 22, pp. 339-341
June 2, 1977