Restoration And Renewal
Churches of Christ is a uniquely Australian expression of the Restoration or Stone Campbell movement that had 19th Century origins particularly on the American mid-western frontier. There a simple, uncluttered New Testament Christianity resulted from a dissatisfaction with a formal European ‘religion’ that had been initially imposed on the first cities of America—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc.—and then on those in the wild frontier. These are our roots: frontier, pioneering, radical, maybe a little 'rebellious' and innovative.
Often the global collection of churches of which we are a part is still known as the Restoration Movement. It’s an interesting concept. But an important question is what are we restoring? A series of conversations over the years circa 2014/15 in Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania has caused us to think that maybe Churches of Christ could better be seen as a ‘renewal’ movement rather than a ‘restoration’ movement.
It seems that the purpose of ‘restoration’ for the founders of Churches of Christ in the 19th century was to facilitate renewal within the church. The church was seeking to be a group of God’s people living out and proclaiming God’s Kingdom in a changing mission context. Historically this renewal seemed to have as much to do with church governance as it did with doctrine and practice. A goal of that renewal was the formation of alive and dynamic, simple and uncluttered, reasonable, and spirit-led communities led by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as described in the scriptures (and in particular the New Testament) rather than organisations being confined by the systems and the traditions of ‘denominations’. The five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4:11-16 became central, as God’s Spirit releases all people into ministry and mission, not only those who are paid to do it. This shook up old power and political structures, in the same way that the events of Pentecost did. The Good News of Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world was once again in the hearts and minds and mouths of the ‘common people’, out in the streets and lanes and town squares, and out of ‘Temple’ and ‘synagogue’. It became a faith of and for the road, rather than a faith found in a building visited on holy-days or holidays.
The emphasis then was on the direct renewal of the Christian church by God. This had great relevance on the frontiers of the mid-west of the US in the 19th Century, and it has resonance with us as we continue to work out what it means to follow Jesus on the ‘crazy’, constantly changing, frontiers of the 21st Century. Then as now, old language and old ways that were relevant for another culture and another time have been marginalised and caricatured. Then as now, renewal must come from God; it must be an action of the Spirit rather than a human scheme or conspiracy.
This is a renewal we need God to continue doing among us, because true to our movement DNA, we seek to be in constant renewal.
The Deeper Story Of Churches Of Christ
A People Of The Text
One of the early popular slogans of our movement was: ‘where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent we are silent’. We are not a people of a system; we are people of the book.
An Invitational Culture
This deep story incorporates endless stories of:
- Inviting people into a relationship with God the Father, Son & Spirit, through Jesus;
- Inviting people to be baptised (by immersion as believers);
- Inviting people to ‘break bread’, to participate the Lord’s Supper (an ‘open table’);
- Inviting people into a relationship with all other like-minded and like-spirited Jesus-followers around the corner and around the world;
- Inviting all people (women and men, young and older) to receive the gifts and the fruit and the passion of the Holy Spirit, releasing all into life- and world-changing ministry and mission.
An Inclusive Movement
This has always been a part of our deeper story too. We are an inclusive movement, generous—and excelling in our generosity—and because we are always seeking to be a bigger body, practicing hospitality and offering shelter, making room for everybody…
We celebrate the unity of all Christian believers around the New Testament and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ; a simple, uncluttered Christianity that everybody can understand and participate in; unity in diversity.
Seeking To Be Influential
In Earthly, communal, and social ways we seek to be influential; not from a position of power, but from the position of loving, sacrificial service…
For God’s alternative reality is not just about ‘collections of individuals who will one day be re-united as souls in God’s presence. God’s life starts and is available to people in the present—and heaven is understood to be that place where God’s rule and reign are active among his people’ (Tim Keel, Leadership Journal, winter 2008, p21). The Kingdom begins now.
A Strong Christology
Woven into the story of the early church is a clear and strong Christology. While all of the above reasons for belonging to Churches of Christ are important, for me this is the most important (probably because it encompasses all the others mentioned, and other things not mentioned).
After all, we are Churches of CHRIST!
From sermons preached in our churches by Paul Cameron, EO.