A gracEmaiI subscriber writes: “I am a Psychiatric Social Worker and an avid reader. Only a few years ago did I learn of so many branches in our Restoration Movement heritage. That grieves me severely because it is contradicts Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. Can you tell me how these divisions started?”
* * *
The Restoration Movement, like most tribes within the Christian church, began with small groups of people meeting in simple fellowships doing things in uncomplicated ways. As time went on and the people became more numerous, prosperous and sophisticated, the mainstream would propose some new practice, a minority would object, the mainstream would adopt the change anyway and a minority would form a separatist movement committed to perpetuating the “old paths” on whatever point was at issue. In the RM, this process led to divisions involving Sunday Schools, multiple cups, multiple loaves, a “professional” ministry, accompanied singing, extra-congregational institutions, cooperative issues and others. Other Christian groups experience the same process in terms of their own particular issues.
A few times in the past 2,000 years–but probably very far fewer than have been claimed–divisions have resulted when the mainstream so departed from fundamental apostolic teaching that conscience required a faithful minority to leave the parent body to assume a distinct identity. Movements with a “Bible only” approach to authority (which I fully endorse, rightly understood), tend to give every individual, however cantankerous or uninformed, equal voice in what often are small congregations to begin with. “Sound” (healthy) teachers are sometimes thought to be the ones who make the most noise. Unfortunately, they usually are not inhibited by biblical warnings against foolish controversies, sect-making and strife.
In my opinion, the fundamental causes of divisions in the RM have been people forgetting that the main point of Christianity is Christ, substituting “restoration” of first-century externals as the way to salvation rather than internal trust in the timeless Jesus, valuing “doctrine” (usually really opinions) more than character and loving their own preferences more than they love each other. For a more detailed critique of this particular fellowship, see “The Restoration Movement Fulfilled in Jesus Christ” here.