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Have We Finally Restored New Testament Christianity?

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crossI love the Church my Lord started in the 1st century. Members of churches of Christ are dedicated to restoring New Testament Christianity. Go ahead, play the semantic word game by calling us things like “legalists” or “patternists.” Name-calling is to be expected. We simply want to resemble the Bride that Christ loves (cf. Eph. 5:22-33).

Yet many of the churches in the 1st century, just like churches in the 21st century, were far from perfect (Look at all the problems at the church in Corinth, for example). Yet the New Testament model – comprised of the apostle’s inspired teachings – is perfect. As men & women of faith, we simply want to be the One Church Jesus instituted (cf. Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4). And how have we pursued this noble ideal? By making Jesus and His Last Will & Testament our sole source of authority.

Christ commanded His apostles to “make disciples of all nations, […] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words that you heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13), and then to “entrust” what he heard “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:2). The Lord expects His teachings to be preserved and transmitted. Furthermore, His teachings have set boundaries beyond which we cannot venture. We are “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6), and “to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” (Rom. 16:17). 

To the early disciples, faith was no mere theory about
Christ – it was a deep personal connection with Him

But how well have we duplicated New Testament Christianity? I believe we have done a pretty good job restoring the apostolic teachings. This is, after all, what we like to talk about when we tell people about the Church of Christ. But what about restoring the zeal, commitment, service, and sacrificial love we see among 1st century Christians? How well have we done? Perhaps we still have a ways to go.

When the Jewish counsel observed the boldness of Peter and John in speaking of Christ, “they were astonished, and they recognized they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). To the early disciples, faith was no mere theory about Christ; it was a deep personal connection with Him. How can we be satisfied with a faith any less than the kind that will make even our enemies see “we have been with Jesus”?

Paul said,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal. 2:20, ESV) 

Paul used the common Greek word for faith, pistis, which means “to be persuaded, to have confidence” and implies “trust, assurance, fidelity, guarantee, and complete loyalty”[1]. Restoring New Testament Christianity means totally trusting and surrendering to the person of Christ.

To many of us, “faith” has lost its meaning. We talk about “guarding the faith” and those who have “left the faith.” Of course, these are legitimate ways to use the word “faith” – Jude teaches us we are to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3). But these expressions do not refer to the person of Christ so much as they do His body of religious teaching. There is a difference between restoring a belief system and restoring faith in the person of Jesus.

We put great stock (and rightly so) in being members of the right church, with the right name, and simply want to do the right things according to the New Testament. But, if we are not careful, we can unintentionally make the Bride of Christ the very pinnacle of our faith, thereby becoming a substitute for the Groom Himself. The body of Christ is dead without the Head (cf. Col. 2:19). The Kingdom depends on the King.

Perhaps we get close to replacing the Head with the Body when our primary confidence lies is in how we do not worship, how we are not organized, and what we are not called. Again, we must be very clear about how we are separate from those who have perverted the New Testament. But when “what we are not” becomes our zenith, we are no different than the Pharisee who thanked God “that he was not like other men” (Luke 18:11). We must first love Jesus, then we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Not vice versa.

Let us never say we’ve done a better job restoring “the faith” than we have “faith” in our risen Savior

The most foundational element of restoration Christianity is the object of our faith, Christ Himself. When we place our confidence in Jesus, then restoration Christianity becomes our constant pursuit. Let us never say we’ve done a better job restoring “the faith” than we have “faith” in our Savior.

The 1st century faith produced many fruits that are sadly absent in some churches today, such as unwavering brotherly love, unity, and evangelistic compassion. Perhaps the reason is because their faith gave them a personal connection to the Divine Son. They fully surrendered to their risen Savior, and then devoted themselves to His Word (Acts 2:38-47).

We still have work to do. Let us continue “pressing on toward the goal” in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-15).

(Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.)


[1] Spicq, Ceslas. 1994. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Vol. 3. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

 

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3 Responses to Have We Finally Restored New Testament Christianity?

  1. Jacob Simpson December 18, 2013 at 5:50 PM #

    Ben, thanks for these thoughts. I am inclined to agree with you on this point. In my mind I conceive faith as a three-legged stool with the legs being Love for Christ, Obedience to God’s Will, and Knowledge of God’s Word. Faith without Obedience is dead (James 2:20). Faith without Knowledge is misguided (Romans 10:1,2) . Faith without Love is Pharisaical (Matthew chapter 23).

  2. Kenneth Koh December 18, 2013 at 9:27 PM #

    “But what about restoring the zeal, commitment, service, and sacrificial love we see among 1st century Christians?”

    Bravo bravo! About time somebody said this – true faith is NOT worshiping a theory – it is the real life living out of the Word – a life broken as bread for others and poured out as wine for the sake of His love!

  3. Phillip Shumake December 19, 2013 at 4:29 PM #

    Ben, I live in Lexington so we are practically neighbors. Have you seen the Bible class workbook I wrote on “restoring the zeal” of the New Testament. It is called “Lifelong Zeal: How To Build Lasting Passion For God” I would be happy to send you a free sample via email or you can check it out on Amazon.com or at http://www.LifelongZeal.com. Have a great week!

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