By James W Adams
(EDITORS NOTE: The following article constitutes one of the brief chapters in a new book published by Biblical Research Press of Abilene, Texas. J. D. Thomas is the Editor, and I presume the owner of Biblical Research Press. The first books were received by me on October 10, 1974. So it is a brand new publication! In his Introduction, Brother Thomas said: “. . . we have asked forty-seven men to briefly state their views on what the brotherhood lacks–what they feel could be improved upon and which would give great aid to the progress of the Cause of Christ. We chose these men from among leaders all across the spectrum of Brotherhood thought-from `liberal’ to conservative’ and from `left’ to definite `right.’ Each of these men is influential within his own sphere and is looked upon as a leader.”
The title of the book is WHAT LACK WE YET? It is nicely printed and case bound, with an attractive jacket, and consists of 319 pages. brother James W. Adams and I were asked to write a chapter each in the book. Though Brother Thomas makes no attempt to classify particular men. I suspect that he would classify Brother Adams and me as the most “conservative” and “definite `right’ ” of those men chosen to write chapters. Having just received the book, I must confess that 1 have not read it entirely, as yet. However, I suspect that many brethren would find some interesting reading in this book. No price is published in the copies I received, but I have been informed that the price is $7.95. If you want a copy, we will stock some in the Bookstore. I felt readers of TRUTH MAGAZINE might want to read what Brother Adams and I had to say in this book. My article appeared in the October 31st issue. You will also find some “way-out” stuff in it, but those who want to keep informed on what is occurring among us will most likely want to read this book.-Cecil Willis
“Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing” (Haggai 2:3)?
A careful study of the book of Ezra will reveal that the Lord had stirred up Cyrus, king of Persia, to release the Jews from captivity that they might return to Judea and build again the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. They returned to Judea and laid the foundation of the house of God, but because of opposition, they ceased their labors. Fourteen years passed, and the opposition ceased, but they had not gone back to work on the house of God. In the meantime, they had built themselves houses in which to live in comfort while “the house of God lay waste.” Haggai was sent by God to rebuke the Jews for their conduct and to call them back to the task appointed of God; namely, the restoration of His house. It was in connection with these events that the prophet raised the questions of our text which suggest the title of this article.
Some were still living who had seen Solomon’s temple in all its glory, hence were greatly discouraged with the restoration efforts. Their altered circumstances made it impossible for them to rebuild as glorious a house as the original. Haggai took note of this fact and encouraged them with the assurance that the Lord was with them in their faithful efforts at restoration. “Be strong, O Zerrubabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:4).
A Pertinent Analogy
The situation of professed churches of Christ today is analogous to the condition that obtained among the Jews of our text. The New Testament contains much teaching concerning the church of our Lord under the figure of a temple-the temple of God (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 1 Pet. 2:4,5). The original,, spiritual temple of (god (the church) was laid waste by apostasy beginning near the close of the apostolic age and maturing by the middle of the seventh century. During his lifetime, Paul warned that such would occur (Acts 20:28-31; 2 Thess. 1:1-12). This state of apostasy continued for more than twelve hundred years. Its bleakest hours were probably during the Middle Ages. The Renaissance, followed by the Reformation dispelled engulfing clouds of ignorance, oppression, and religious error creating a situation in which serious efforts at religious “restoration” could be launched. Freedom from Roman Catholic tyranny, however, gave birth to the licentious forming of multitudes of human denominations. Each denomination emerged as an effort either to revive some aspect of New Testament teaching or practice which was lost in the great apostasy or to champion some doctrine or practice which was the direct consequence of rebellion against or overreaction to Roman Catholic error. Many of these doctrines and practices were equally as fallacious as the error which produced them. It is the nature of men to swing from one extreme to the other.
Out of this state of denominational chaos came the plea for “a restoration of the ancient order of things”-a plea for a return to the faith and practice of the apostolic church. In America particularly, this plea fell upon receptive ears and crystallized in a movement to make it a practical reality, familiar to members of churches of Christ as “The Restoration Movement.” Present day churches of Christ, whether they care to admit it or not (and I blush not to do so), are the direct descendants historically from this movement, hence they rest squarely on “the restoration principle”-the principle exemplified by the Jews of our text. The validity of the principle is seen in the fact that it was in obedience to a direct command of Jehovah that the Jews rebuilt the house of God and restored the practice of the law of Moses.
“The Restoration Principle”
The above being true, I agree with Dr. Alfred T. DeGroot that churches of Christ “will live or die, prosper or decline, in accordance with what they think and do about the restoration principle” (The Restoration Principle, The Bethany Press, 1960, p. 7). Dr. DeGroot, distinguished college professor and preacher among “The Disciples of Christ,” repudiates “Legalistic primitivism or restorationism.” He believes that such has “stunted the spiritual development” of many professed restoration movements in history. He, insists that “a restoration movement in the church or elsewhere can never wholly reconstitute the exact conditions of life that formerly obtained or the original structure of an organization within that life” (Op. cit., pp. 7, 165). DeGroot’s “restoration principle” stated simply is a restoration of the spirit of New Testament Christianity rather than its form. In this connection, DeGroot lists six attributes of the spirit which should be restored in professed believers today. It will suffice to say for the purposes of this article that DeGroot represents the most liberal element among so-called “Disciples of Christ” who, since the writing of his book, have formally constituted themselves a human denomination and have joined the mainstream of liberal “Christendom.”
I believe with DeGroot that the attitude professed “churches of Christ” assume with reference to “the restoration principle” will determine their future. I do not agree with what he conceives “the restoration principle” to be. It is my conviction that no informed and honest person among the brethren will deny that the various attitudes which are extant today among us toward said “restoration principle” are directly responsible for most of the schisms and open divisions (parties) that harass us. Therefore, it should be evident to all that the crying need of our time is for us to come to a meeting of the minds relative to what the absolutely essential elements of “the house of God” (spiritual) as originally constituted by its Divine builder (Mt. 16:18) were in order that we may form proper judgments as to how far we have digressed therefrom, hence what needs to be rebuilt or restored.
Though the rebuilt temple of God in Jerusalem obviously did not possess the same glory as its original, it is clear from Haggai’s statements that Jehovah was pleased with the work done and gave the Jews assurance of His continued presence and blessing. Therefore, the essential features of the original house of God must have been restored. It is not difficult to accept the fact that twentieth century Christians might not be able to restore certain aspects of the apostolic church and her practice which contributed to her original glory (This is particularly so of the miraculous manifestations.) but we can restore her essentials as to form, teaching, worship, and work. To me, it is axiomatic that whatever was absolutely essential to the existence and acceptability of a church of the Lord in the first century is essential to the existence and acceptability to God of a church of Christ in the twentieth century. If not, why not?
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Where opposing concepts and consequent division exist among brethren, proper motivation is basic to any hope for peace and unity. Dissident groups must approach a consideration of the issues which divide them with intellectual honesty and objective moderation. This is often easier said than done. Passion and self-interest too often rule in such matters. Joined with these qualities must be sincere love for God, for truth, and for one another. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Yet, it must be recognized that proper motivation is but a first step. Particularly is this true when the issues which divide are intellectually rather than emotionally rooted.
A Proper Standard of Authority
Theoretically and traditionally, modern churches of Christ are committed to the necessity of having Divine authority for religious faith and practice and to the teaching of the New Testament as constituting the allsufficient standard of that authority. However, this can no longer be taken for granted. Many among professed churches of Christ today believe that the Scriptures contain the truth but that not all things therein are true. Others, while accepting all things in the Scriptures as true, do not believe that we must have authority from Scripture for all that we believe and practice in religion. Particularly, do they believe this to be true in so-called “areas of silence.” This suggests two things which I conceive to constitute a “lack” among churches of Christ today: (1) We must come to an agreement as to whether we are right or wrong in contending for the necessity of authority from scripture for every item of faith and l or practice in religion (This has been our plea; snau n continue to be?); and (2) we must develop a sound hermeneutics acceptable to all by means of which we may determine what is and what is not authorized by the Scriptures. The first of these is basic but easier of solution. The second involves the problem facing the great majority of the brethren and it is much more difficult of solution.
A Sound Hermeneutics
Though we accept the fact of the necessity for scriptural authority for religious faith and practice, this is meaningless if we cannot agree on a system of hermeneutics by means of which we can determine what the Scriptures do or do not authorize. Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation. Its province is to formulate rules by means of which the meaning of Scripture may be determined. Exegesis is the art of applying the rules of hermeneutics to specific passages of Scripture and determining their meaning. Hermeneutics always precedes exegesis. Application is the practical use of Divine principles (ascertained from Scripture by hermeneutics and exegesis) in determining whether any given item of faith or practice is or is not authorized by the Scriptures.
The thing most lacking in our time is a sound system of hermeneutics universally recognized by the brethren. Exegesis and application will be fairly simple if we can ever settle the matter of hermeneutics. I suggest, therefore, that the best minds and the most informed Bible students among all elements among professed churches of Christ should concentrate on this problem. Some work has been done and some progress made, but it is my conviction that the last word has not been said.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 3, pp. 43-44
November 21, 1974