I have just returned from a week’s visit to Scotland, which gave me the opportunity to read a couple of books I bought at New Wine this year (reviews to follow shortly). The first was one I had read before but wanted to re-read in light of having joined a New Frontiers church since. “Restoring the Kingdom”, by Andrew Walker, tracks the history of Restorationism.
Note: if you have not heard of Restorationism before, please note that it has been used to describe a wide variety of teachings. I am referring to the British house-church movement of the 80s epitomised by the teachings of Arthur Wallis
The book is of great interest to me, as I was brought up in an independent Baptist church that was extremely Restorationist (at the time – it is nothing of the sort now). The pastor Stanley Jebb had previously worked with Denis Clarke, and Ern Baxter provided what was known as “covering” for the church and regularly visited. The church itself became known as a centre of restoration and many leading restorationists would come to speak. We even ran a Bible week called “Anglia Bible Week” for four years, which ran along similar lines to the Dales and Downs Bible Weeks.
At the present time I am in a New Frontiers church, which is one of the few strands of Restorationism that is still alive and well, although some of the emphases have changed and the name “Restorationist” is almost never used. My pastor, Martyn Dunsford is even listed on the first page of the book as being one of Andrew Walker’s sources, and his own background includes working with Bryn Jones. Again though, most people in our church probably don’t know what being “restorationist” is, even though many of the core values are still alive and well.
Reading the book has got me thinking about the whole Restorationist vision. So many of the original values are ones that I still hold dearly myself. It is true that many leaders lost that vision, and even those who have continued have modified it somewhat. Andrew Walker viewed the Dales Bible Weeks as crucial in passing the vision over to the people (and indeed recruiting new adherents), but with the closure of Stoneleigh Bible week, do church members even know what the vision is any more? Are we content to simply find a church whose worship and sermons are to our taste, or are we driven by a vision of what the bride of Christ could and should be?
It would seem that even the concept of there being a “New Testament model” of church life is decidedly out of fashion these days. It is viewed as arrogant, and out of touch with church history. And perhaps too much has been deduced from shaky exegetical foundations. But I am convinced that in the Scriptures we have the blueprints for something altogether more glorious than many have realised.