Restorers, Not Conformers!

What the Church Needs Today are
Restorers, Not Conformers

Kevin L. Ziegler, Evangelist
Delivered at Men’s Fellowship
Laughlintown Church of Christ, Laughlintown, PA
June 11, 1994

Published in two Parts in the TNT Journal by TNT Ministries
Winter 1994 – pp. 12-14 and Spring 1995 – pp. 13-15, 17

     Luke, writing about the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 says, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so”.

It is time that we, the churches of southwestern Pennsylvania, begin a real revival! Revival does not take place when a big name evangelist comes in for a three day meeting to stir our spirit! True revival is not some gushy feeling in your soul! For real revival to take place, we must turn back to the Book: the Bible! Revival comes from faith and what does faith come from? Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ! What we in the churches of Christ/Christian churches so desperately need today are restores and not conformers!

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation, such as Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and others aimed at restoring the Roman Catholic church. Wesley’s goal was to move the state church of England closer to the Bible. In both cases, these reformers did not set for themselves the task of returning to the book of Acts and restoring the New Testament church, but rather they tried to restore the theology of the book of Romans to the existing state church. That is one reason, not the only, but one reason, I am neither Catholic nor Protestant. I am a Christian and a Christian only!

This evening I want to look at some of the fundamental principles of the Restoration Movement. There are some key principles that have fallen into the hands of wolves and are in grave danger today. If we don’t rescue them, the restoration plea will be lost!

Incidentally, you will find out very quickly that I am sold on the restoration plea. That plea is to go back to the New Testament for simple and pure New Testament Christianity. The sound teachings of the restoration plea, I believe, are well worth our time. They are well worth our effort and our struggle! If we will not contend for the faith once delivered, it can only mean that we are not convinced that New Testament Christianity is of any great worth. If the New Testament is truth, we should care about it intensely, simply because we care about it at all.

I want to affirm to you this evening that doctrinal truth is affirmable! I reject the idea that truth is a never-ending process and that all conclusions are tentative. I say to you men, if we are not sure about doctrine, then let’s study until we are convinced! If we believe we know the truth, then let’s take a stand on it! We should not be lukewarm or fence-straddlers in regard to doctrine! It is time we restore “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”! It is time we restore the restoration plea! What the church needs today are restorers and not conformers!

I. The church needs restorers and not conformers when it comes to Bible Study.

In the early days of our movement we were known as a “people of the book”. “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”. We were a people who held up the Bible and it alone. There were no creeds or traditions that would get in the way of the Word of God. No opinions of ours stood above the Bible.

In 1798, Barton Warren Stone was presented with a call to ministry from the united congregations of Cane Ridge and Concord through the presbytery of Transylvania, Kentucky. He accepted and knew that on a day, not too far away, he would be appointed for his ordination. He also knew that at his ordination he would be required to adopt the Westminster’s Confession of Faith (which was very Calvinistic). These systems of doctrine would have as much, if not more, authority than the very Word of God. To clear his own conscience, he decided to examine this confession of faith one more time. Stone wrote that “this was to me the beginning of sorrows”. He stumbled at the doctrine of the trinity as it was taught in the confession of faith. He had his doubts about the doctrines of election and predestination as they were taught in this document.

In this state of mind, he went to be ordained and had actually decided to ask them to defer his ordination until he was better informed. The presbytery tried to remove the objections Stone had with this confession of faith. When they realized that they couldn’t, they asked him how far was he willing to receive the confession. His answer was, “As far as I see it consistent with the Word of God”. The presbytery concluded that this was sufficient and Barton Warren Stone was ordained.

(summarized from The Biography of Barton Warren Stone by B.W. Stone and John Rogers Reprinted by College Press, 1986, pp.29-30)

“As far as I see it consistent with the Word of God”. The problem is this, men: As the years have gone by, we in the churches of Christ/Christian churches have become Biblically illiterate. We no longer get in the Word daily. Hence what happens is our own opinions take the place of Scripture itself. It comes out like this: “What does that Scripture mean to you”? I say who cares what it means to you! The real question is: What was the author’s original intent on writing this Scripture?

At the Hillsboro Family Camp in 1993, Bob Chambers quoted the old saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”. He suggested, and I agree with him, that we change it to “The Bible says it, and that settles it; whether I believe it or not!”

It is time that we in the restoration movement return back to a real study of the Word. I received a letter from Eugene Wigginton, publisher of the Christian Standard, on August 7, 1993, that addressed this very issue. He wrote, “I was talking to Sam Stone (editor of the Christian Standard at the time) last week about the need for better Bible Study today. Even the church, it seems, is filled with biblical illiteracy. The biggest challenge church leaders face is to provide a well-organized, systematic Bible-study program that will equip Christians to deal with our changing world. You’re surely facing this problem in your ministry. People don’t know the Bible, even basic Bible facts, like they did just one short decade ago.”

Why is it that in churches of Christ/Christian churches across the country Sunday School classes are dropping in attendance? Why is it that Wednesday evening Bible studies are dying? I believe that in many cases we have found ourselves entertaining people and not teaching them. There is less of an emphasis on the study of God’s Word.

To keep people in the church, we feel we must entertain them. We feel we have to have preachers who will pound the pulpit. We want him to be polished and use all the right illustrations. Doctrinal? As long as he is close, that is enough! We wind up entertaining our young people instead of teaching them! It is time, men, that we restore Bible study to our churches and to our personal life. We need good expository Bible-based sermons. We need good Bible-based lessons in our classrooms. Kevin Yeager, Timothy of the Bolivar church and now the director of GAP Ministries, says, “what you win them with, is what you win them to”. You win them with music, you win them to music. You win them with entertainment, you win them to entertainment. You win them with the gospel, you win them to the gospel!

In 1807, a man of great humility and deep Christian convictions came to America from Ireland. In Ireland, Thomas Campbell was the minister of an “Old Light, Anti-Burger, Seceder Presbyterian Church”. Thomas Campbell did not like the ecclesiastical hairsplitting of the denominational churches. Burdened because of the division and strife in the church, Thomas Campbell was told by his physician to take a long sea voyage and rest. Upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1807, he presented his credentials and was initially accepted. It did not take long, though, for Thomas Campbell to see the same divisiveness among the American churches. A year later, in September of 1808, Thomas Campbell declined “all ministerial connection with, or subjection to, the Associate Synod of North America”. He had been an ordained Presbyterian minister for eleven years or more. He now found himself with no official ministerial connection. (That does not mean much in today’s society — you just go out and start a new church. It was different then.)

In the early summer of 1809, at the home of Abram Altars, located between Mount Pleasant and Washington, PA, Thomas Campbell insisted upon a return to the simple teachings of the Scriptures, and upon the entire abandonment of everything in religion for which there could not be produced a Divine warrant. Finally, after having again and again reviewed the ground they occupied in the reformation which they felt it their duty to urge upon religious society, he went on to announce in the most simple and emphatic terms, the great principle or rule upon which he understood they were then acting, and upon which, he trusted, they would continue to act, consistently and perseveringly to the end. “That rule, my highly respected hearers”, he said in conclusion, “is this: Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”.

(summarized from Christians Only by James DeForest Murch, Standard Publishing c1962, pp. 39-40)

Where the Scriptures speak, we speak — but often times we do not know where the Scriptures speak on an issue! Often times we cannot tell the difference between our opinion and what is truth! Men, I plead to you to return to the study of the Bible! This will take time and it will take commitment. Some of us may have to be taught how to properly study the Word. But we must return to Bible Study.

Men, in particular you men who are elders and deacons: How can we expect our congregations to come out and study the Word of God, if you do not see the importance of it yourself because of your lack of commitment to these services? Leaders — we lead not by forcing the sheep, we lead by our example. They will follow our lead. If it is our practice to come in after Sunday School, the sheep will follow. If it is our practice to not come to church Sunday night, the sheep will follow. If it is our practice to miss Wednesday evening, the sheep will follow. If the sheep do not see your lives changed because of what you learn from studying the Word of God, they won’t let the Word of God challenge them either. They will follow the leaders’ example. The experts say, and I am no expert, that the congregation will only be as strong as its weakest leader.

It is time, men, that we restore plain and simple Bible study to the Restoration Movement and not conform to the world’s entertainment pattern. People don’t need to be entertained to go to heaven, they need to be saved! If you will take such a strong stand on the Bible, you will undergo some name calling. People will call you narrow-minded. They will say you don’t care about people. “Who made you the judge?” But let me remind you men, that truth is truth, and truth by its very nature is narrow-minded. Truth often times will hurt. But we must be willing to take a stand on the Word of God! But how can we do that if we do not know the Word ourselves?

Let me suggest as a sub-point to restoring Bible study, we need to also begin to teach and be proud of our Restoration history. In Ohio, I had the privilege of helping out with the Senior High Outpost camp for five years. I remember the first year. That week had all Christian kids in it. Every young person had been immersed for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and had done so in the church of Christ/Christian church. Our vespers speaker one night early in the week asked these sixteen church of Christ/Christian church high schoolers how many of them knew anything about what is called the “restoration movement”. Two kids raised their hands. Fourteen of sixteen kids had never heard of the restoration movement. What is going on in our churches today?

The late Dr. Roger Chambers of Florida Christian College, who taught Restoration History to me, said that there are at least two valid reasons why a course in Restoration History is required. He said, to start with, “the principles are sound”. Second, there is a philosophical reason: “it is impossible for a civilization to maintain its balance without a sense of history”. If Dr. Chambers was right, and I believe he is, then we need to make sure we teach and study Restoration History so that the church can maintain its balance. By studying the past we grow to appreciate the things we are able to do today.

Many of our churches are conforming to the world in regard to this and throwing out their past! I am not suggesting that we make Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Raccoon John Smith or Walter Scott into cult figures. But we should be able to study their works and their battles with denominationalism. But that is just a side note to restoring Bible Study in the church.

II. The church needs restorers and not conformers when it comes to Unity.

Too many in the Restoration Movement are saying that it is time to claim the ecumenical spirit of the day and seek unity with other believers, and they say that this unity should be based on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not on doctrine. In other words, let’s unite with the denominational world — hold joint services, do things together, etc. Why not? They (the denominations) believe that Jesus is Lord and isn’t that enough? So they haven’t been immersed for the forgiveness of their sins — we’re all in this together anyway. Most of those seeking denominational unity claim that the Restoration Movement was a mistake.

This type of thinking was the basis of the book, Stone-Campbell Movement (Leroy Garrett, College Press Publishing, c1981), later reviewed by Dr. Roger Chambers:

“The Stone-Campbell program was to have been a unity movement from within existing denominations; it betrayed the Declaration and Address when it allowed itself to become a restoration movement from outside”.

(Restoring Movement to the Restoration Movement, workshop by Dr. Roger Chambers, Oak Hill Christian Men’s Clinic, 1986)

The Restoration fathers, true, started out with a vision of mild reform. When Thomas Campbell wrote the Declaration and Address, he thought that the Protestant churches were already united on matters of faith, and divided on only matters of opinion. But the commitment to the authority of the Scriptures gradually forced the Restorationists to acknowledge that division, as a matter of fact, involved matters of faith as well as matters of opinion. Reformation became restoration; the movement became a revolution. The authority of the Bible, including doctrine, still forbids ecumenism! A unity that sets aside doctrine is not the answer to the prayer of Jesus; it is the rejection of His authority!

I was at the North American Christian Convention in Louisville, Kentucky in July of 1989 where this idea was given a standing ovation at one of the main sessions. This is what was said from the pulpit:

“Now I have some doctrinal disagreements with Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, James Dobson and Charles Colsen. Don’t tell them, I’m sure they would be crushed (laughter). But I also believe that those are some of the giants of the faith right now, and I’m going to spend eternity with them, and I’d like to get to know them here on earth (applause). And I don’t pretend to speak for our movement or anybody but myself, but I would like to say to Bill and Gloria Gaither, to Buddy Greene, Sandy Patti, and Steve Green, and R.C. Sproul and a host of you in here who claim the Lordship of Jesus Christ: ‘You are my brother and my sister, come take me by the hand and together lets work till Jesus comes’.” (standing ovation)

“Growing in Holiness” by Robert L. Russell, 1989 North American Christian Convention Christian Audio Tapes (618)945-8751.

Russell, who writes a weekly column for the Lookout, wrote in his December 12, 1993, article: “But I’ve determined that if a believer acknowledges Jesus as Lord and lives a righteous life and loves the brothers and sisters, he passes the three tests of fellowship that are outlined in the first letter of John, and so is my brother or sister in Christ”.

Men, if you believe that this type of thinking is limited to the North American Christian Convention and the brotherhood journals, you are mistaken. At Bolivar, I read and pass along church newsletters to the elders, and I suggest you do it in your churches. In these newsletters, we find churches of Christ/Christian churches promoting “community-wide” services (especially around Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas), having pulpit exchanges with denominational preachers, canceling services for a special evening in a denominational church, and “shaking in” someone immersed for the right reasons or not! I can somewhat understand why God says that lukewarmness makes him sick. It turns my stomach just thinking about it! It is time that we are restorers, not conformers in regard to unity.

In restoring the church we should not try to gain unity with churches of the denominational world just for the sake of unity, disregarding the foundational principles of the Bible. The interdenominational thought says “it doesn’t matter what someone believes, just as long as they believe”. The Bible simply does not teach that! We must be convinced of the Bible message. If someone can be saved without being immersed, then let’s stop demanding people to be immersed.  And if the partaking of the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day is just our opinion, then let’s stop serving it! But if these and other foundational doctrines of the Bible are true, we must be bold and preach them! The Bible is our only source of absolute truth — not the Campbells, not the evangelist, not the elders, not ourselves, but the Word of God! To be true to the Restoration plea, we cannot make the Bible say what we want it to say. We must take it for what it says! Be bold and stand firm for the restoration plea and keep it alive to further the kingdom of God!

III. The church needs restorers and not conformers when it comes to Leadership.

Our churches hate confrontation. Men, we need to restore courage, boldness, guts and nerve. The way church polity is set up today, an evangelist is scared to death to confront sin — commonly called “stepping on people’s toes”. I mean, it will cost him his job, his friends and his home all because he said some things with  courage and boldness. We desperately need evangelists in the Restoration Movement who are not preaching to tickle someone’s ears. We need evangelists who will preach and teach the truth, that is, sound doctrine — and if the truth hurts, so be it!

We need elders in the Restoration Movement who are not afraid to offend people when offending needs to take place. Some in our movement would have us believe that we are not to confront people. “Jesus brought the little children unto Him”, the non-confronters say. “Jesus had a kind and gentle spirit”. Yes He did, but I will remind you that the same Jesus who sat the little children on His lap is the same Jesus who offended the merchants in the temple by turning over their tables! We speak the truth in love, of course, and remember that truth often times hurts!

How much love are we showing our people if we do not have the nerve to discipline them? The modern church whispers repentance and shouts forgiveness. We know how to sing, but we have forgotten how to spank! We must work up the nerve to confront our pro-abortion people, our life-destroying gossips or our womanizing deacons!

George Faull of Summit Theological Seminary presented a workshop a couple years ago on a new look at church growth. Basically it was a study of the book of Acts, and how the church dealt with problems. His proposition was, and I agree with him upon further study, that anytime there was a problem and the leadership handled it decisively, there was always multiplication! Maybe some of us men should start praying for problems. But before you do that, make sure you pray for boldness!

We need to restore Biblical leadership and church government in our churches. Just a note here: It is an unfortunate trend in our movement for the evangelist to be called “the Pastor”. Men, if we are going to “Do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names”, then our preachers should not be calling themselves “pastor”. “Pastor” is a term used in the New Testament to describe someone who is an overseer of the flock. The “pastor”, as it is used in the New Testament, is an elder. The elders are the pastors of the church. I am not an elder, I’ve never been an elder — maybe someday I will meet the qualifications. And even if I was an elder and an evangelist at the same time, I am still not “the Pastor”. Why not call Bible things by Bible names and call your preacher an “evangelist”. Jesus “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). A newsletter from the Bethlehem Church of Christ in Winchester, Ohio, calls their elders “pastors”. Call Bible things by Bible names, do Bible things in Bible ways. It is time to restore and not conform in regard to church leadership!

IV. The church needs restorers and not conformers when it comes to the plan of salvation.

What does someone mean when they say “ask Jesus into your heart”? The Bible never commands that! What do preachers mean by “follow Jesus in baptism”? In Acts 18-19, we find some people who followed Jesus in baptism and they are told to be immersed again!

It was Walter Scott who introduced the restoration fathers to the plain and simple “plan of salvation”. He said there are three things that man does:

1. Believes that Jesus is the Messiah.

2. Repents of his sins.

3. Is immersed into Christ.

Then there are three things that God does in response:

1. Forgives all our sins.

2. Bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit.

3. Grants to the Christian eternal life.

Under Walter Scott, whole congregations accepted the restoration plea and became simple New Testament churches. Many of these people were re-immersed, this time for the forgiveness of sins! In Scott’s first year he reported 1000 converts!

The question is: do we still present the plain and simple New Testament plan of salvation? Too often we never speak of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. “As long as someone is immersed — then that is all right with me”! That, my brothers in Christ, is not what the Bible teaches. A person must be immersed, yes, but he must be immersed for the right reason! Does the order of the terms of pardon matter in Mark 16:16? “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved”. Maybe Jesus meant, “He that believes is saved and later is baptized”? Or maybe He meant to say that “he who has believed and is not baptized shall be saved”? That is not at all what Jesus said or meant to say! He said, “He that believed and has been immersed shall be saved”. That, men, is the only authority we have! To change this is to make a perversion of God’s Word! Who would desire to pervert the commandment of Jesus and seek to offer salvation for less than that required by the Lord?

Let me illustrate. Say I owned a store and you worked for me. I sell cookies in my store at four for a dollar. The price is clearly marked for the customer to see. You know the price at which I sell them. Now imagine that I left the store for a few minutes and you decided to sell these four for a dollar cookies at the price of eight for a dollar. Would that be the right thing for you to do? As the owner of the store, I could sell the cookies at whatever price I wanted. But if any salesperson sold the cookies for less than the stipulated price, without the authority to do so, it would be nothing short of dishonesty, to say the least!

Jesus has offered salvation to those who believe and are immersed into Him for the forgiveness of sins. By His authority, not mine, I offer salvation to non-Christians on the same condition: He who has believed and is baptized shall be saved! Anyone who would offer salvation for anything less than the requirements given by Jesus is dealing dishonestly with you and with the Lord! Jesus said “he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved”. Nothing less is sufficient!

One writer put it this way:

Scott’s famous steps of salvation led to a new definition of regeneration on the part of the reformers. The conversion accounts in Acts are simple, dignified, reasonable and evidently a recital of historical facts. Scott made up his mind that Luke, who wrote the book, and Peter, who preached the sermon, knew more about Christian conversion than 18th and 19th revivalists! Scott preached baptism for the remission of sins because Peter preached the same thing, and if he dared to change the obvious meaning of the text he felt he would destroy the whole authority of the New Testament, so far as he was concerned. It was not his business to define or formulate the terms of salvation.                  (Source unknown)

I say “amen” to that and say neither is it ours! We must be restorers and not conformers in regard to the plan of salvation. We can have big churches by preaching a popular message — faith only, only trust Him, or just ask Jesus into your heart. Or we can be restorers, and restore in our assembly the Biblical plan of salvation! Faith, repentance, confession and baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then living the Christian life.

One of the greatest compliments I received in ministry came just a few weeks ago when someone told me that they never heard the gospel message explained in such plain and simple terms. I firmly believe that what people need in our churches today is the Old Jerusalem Gospel. It will produce a dynamic church, not only for ourselves, but also for our children, if we but trust the Word of God enough to learn it and to preach and teach it.

I don’t want you to think that I am only negative, that I believe there is no hope for the restoration movement. No, I believe that we are on the verge of a revival if we will just contend for the truth. What a victory it was last week when we received the letter from Camp Christian (Mill Run, Pa.) saying that they were not going to open the camp up to denominational churches, resisting the temptation to increase the camp’s income. There is hope, if we just contend for the faith once delivered!

The Apostle Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy and said, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn to myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4). And here is my challenge to you, penned originally by the apostle Paul: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me. His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (II Timothy 1:8-9). “Guard what has been entrusted to you; avoid worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ — which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (I Timothy 6:20). What the church needs today are restorers and not conformers. Be true to the restoration plea of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Guard the plea of going back to the Bible as our only authority. Teach and preach the faith once delivered. “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”. “Call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways”. Be a restorer and not a conformer!