As I write this blog post, I’m sitting in a Starbucks with the window in front of me. As I look at the window, it appears to be a beautiful day outside…very sunny, some clouds in the sky, and a light breeze (though I’m sure a very warm breeze too). There are many cars in the parking lot and I can even see the Nissan dealership across the road. Outside sits a couple of mothers with their young children in strollers enjoying one of the many barista beverages Starbucks has to offer.
Ok, why am I telling you this? Because I am looking at the window but it’s not the window that I see. It’s what I see through the window that makes the scene such a beautiful portrait of ordinary life here in suburban New Jersey. But some…yes some, would look at the window and only see the window itself, seeing only smudges, spots, and the transparent poster advertising the various iced-beverages.
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5.39-40).
The problem with the religious leaders was not there refusal to read scripture and respect its authoritative role within the community of God’s people. The problem was that they could not see through the scriptures what the scriptures were pointing to…Jesus.
I don’t think the same problem exists today, at least not in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (SCRM) I am most familiar with. That is, churches/Christians of the SCRM have clearly seen the scriptures pointing to Jesus as the Son through whom God is redeeming creation and offering the promise of eternal life. However, I do believe there has been a historical problem of reading scripture in such a way that scripture became the object and subsequently the means of extrapolating an assumed pattern for the universal church of Jesus Christ rather than a means of seeing Jesus in order to become better followers of Jesus.
Thus, the goal of Restorationism became the goal of patternism or restoring an assumed pattern of the early, apostolic church practice rather than restoring the life of Jesus among the churches. That is not to say that the life of Jesus was ignored or regarded as insignificant but it is to say, as Bobby Valentine suggests in a very well written blog post “Sound Doctrine, Pattern, Timothy: Reflections on Restoration Hermeneutics #2” (very much worth your time to read), that this approached allowed scripture to eclipse Christ when it came to being church. To put it in other more formal terminology, it allowed Christology to be eclipsed by Ecclesiology, turning Christianity more into the pursuit of Churchianity.
This was not done for malicious or godless reasons. Though I believe this approach to restoring Christianity is wrong, it was done by Christians who sincerely and faithfully loved God and sought to uphold the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, I believe this approach must be critiqued because I believe it has come to a point where it stands in the way of churches actually living the life of Jesus.
For instance, let’s take think briefly about two issues of a concern for all churches: worship and church leadership.
- Worship: Rather than focusing singularly on the question of how are we too sing and pray as assembled Christians, what if we started asking the question of how is our singing and praying is pointing to the reign of God as Jesus did and help to bear the burdens of each other as Paul instructed the Galatians to do as a fulfillment of the law of Christ (cf. Gal. 6.2).
- Leadership: Rather than turning to the New Testament to for the singular focus of whether or not the governance and leadership of the local church matches that of the assumed pattern in the New Testament, what if we started asking the question of what form of governance and leadership of the local church would best equip Christians for good works and maturity of faith (cf. Eph 4.12-13).
In each case, scripture is neither abandoned nor treated in a flippant manner but neither is it the object. Instead, the pursuit is to live like Jesus as corporate church and scripture is a means of this pursuit (it’s not the only means, as surely we do not want to forget the means of the Holy Spirit at work among us). It requires us to read both the Old and New Testaments as we explore our questions with the goal of becoming more like Christ and thus being a people who are salt and light among a world that desperately needs to see more of Christ and less of church.
And I maintain that the more we live like Jesus, the more will be like the church Jesus wanted us to be.