A brother in the Churches of Christ (who does not see his own fellowship as a “denomination”) comments, “I don’t know of any major denomination that appeals for the restoration of New Testament Christianity and urges people to drop all human creeds.”
* * *
In addition to Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, the Seventh-day Adventists, Nazarenes, many different “Church of God” groups, plus the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all claim to have recovered, regained, or even “restored” first-century ground. One Church of God group points with pride to the fact that it was established “in the top of the mountains” (Isa. 2:4ff) — in this case the Appalachians of North Carolina. Our “restoration movement” folks are simply not unique in claiming to possess the “marks” of the true church.
Such exclusive truth-claims tend to draw great numbers of people who feel unstable and are desperately searching for certainty. Our “restoration movement” churches grew fastest when that was our unembarrassed claim. Now that we are learning better, our growth statistics have decreased.
I was guest a few years ago at a regional meeting of Advent Christian churches, where the attendees discussed whether that denomination should continue to exist, now that people in other Christian groups were beginning to accept biblical teaching about human mortality and the final destruction of the wicked — two of this group’s cherished doctrinal “distinctives.” It is a provocative question for any “unique” group.
Consider what is happening in the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. In the beginning, it claimed to include all God’s “true” people, and it grew very rapidly (as are the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also make such a claim). After HWA died, his successor, Joseph Tkach, Sr. led the church into gospel light, renounced almost all the church’s unique views and its claims of exclusivity, and focused instead on Jesus himself as the way, the truth and the life. Among many factions that sprang off the parent body was one calling itself “Philadelphia Church of God” (labelling the parent body “Laodicean Church”) and it has been growing rapidly ever since. Why? Because many insecure people from the parent denomination, who do not yet trust in Jesus alone for salvation but in their “unique truth,” are rushing to join this splinter church with its familiar “distinctives” and its exclusive claims.
We will probably see some similar phenomenon occur in the Churches of Christ, as the mainstream becomes more gospel centered (“evangelical”) and leaves or lessens its traditional emphases on the ideas and practices which separate it from other Christian believers. The good news is that we don’t need to be frightened by the shifting ground beneath us, or tossed about by all these storms of doctrine, once we encounter Jesus Christ who is the fullness of deity in bodily form. We are made complete in him. Firmly grounded and planted in him, we are free to grow to maturity without sectarian distinctives or exclusive truth-claims that separate us from other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ (read Colossians and Ephesians to enjoy this point more).
That doesn’t call for us to abandon any truth we already have. We might be surprised to find how it actually enables us to share that truth more effectively with other Christians, who also have truth which they can profitably share with us. Meanwhile, all of us are secure in God’s grace because we are in Jesus, who is Truth personified, and whom to know is eternal life.