Am I still a Restorationist?

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.

19 thoughts on “Am I still a Restorationist?

  1. I think part of the problem with Restorationism (speaking as someone who has spent the last 4 years in NFI) is that (in my experience at any rate) it has almost completely cut itself off from the historical church which has left it rather impoverished and I often think its appeal to the NT is often very selective and a lot of ‘biblically-based’ preaching is often very shallow.

    On the plus side there is still a great fervour for prayer and the Spirit of God, though I think that you’re right in mentioning the fading vision because (up in Manchester at least) the churches seem to have lost their way a bit. I think what is required is to abandon what seems to me to be a lot of short-term-fixism and revivalism and for NFI to realise that if it is going to be around for the long term it needs to start digging deeper and connecting with other churches and also the historical church.

    That said, I am about to move on from NFI to pastures new so I realise that affects my viewpoint but the next few years in restorationism will be interesting.

  2. On p152 Andrew Walker states bluntly “Restorationists show no interest in the first few centuries of church history”. This testimony is true!

    I’m not surprised you are moving on. I have detected from your blog that your theological influences have expanded somwhat. I pray that God will continue to teach you and that you will be used by him wherever you end up. Hopefully you will be able to bring some of the good parts of restorationism with you.

    I think theological students tend to one of two extremes. The first are ‘party line’ people who amazingly come to the exact same conclusions as their esteemed leader on every single point of doctrine (one suspects a man-pleasing tendency here). And on the other hand there are the ‘independent thinkers’ who end up despising everything that anyone else (particularly those with less theological training) has to say (one suspects not a little bit of pride here). There is a fine line to be steered between these two extremes.

  3. I have recently started attending a different church (fairly conservative evangelical) after spending 3 years within ‘Newfrontiers’ (mainly due to logistic/geographical reasons), and since leaving have had a bit of space and time to think about ‘Restorationism’. My background is fairly diverse ecclesiastically (covering most ‘types’) and I like to think that I’ve considered most of the theological options, but have come to rest in a sort of humble but academic critical-historical traditional but evangelical-ecumenical-now/not yet eschatological-semi ’emerging’-‘proto’charismatic place (basically very big fan of N T Wright and Gordon Fee)!

    My perspective is that the ‘New Testament church’ was a lot more rich, varied and anciently ‘eastern’ than we give credit for and we often think we are more like them than we really are. Looking at early church tradition (coming out of the 2nd Centuary) one can see a rich background dating to the 1st centuary but only tantalising glimpses of what the church actually ‘looked like’ in the NT ‘text’ itself. There is just so much ‘silence’ which I think ‘Restorationism’ is too quick to make assumptions from and basically ‘rebuild’ a tradition of it’s own dressed up in the guise of the ‘New Testament church’.

    Looking at the people of Christ in the world one can see such a diversity and passion for God – mixed with the inevitable ‘straw, hay and stubble’. I don’t think the church is in need of ‘restoring’ as much as in need of uniting around God’s Kingdom mission. This will involve diversity of ideas, traditions, expressions, prayers, styles – with all being brought together to the benefit and maturity of all.

    The idea of ‘changing the expression of Chrisitianity across the world’ is fair in as much as *every* system/stream will have something to add, some influence to bear – but one feels (having been at the heart of Newfrontier theology) that the idea is more one of ‘being’ the future of Christianity. In this form Restorationism becomes simply ‘imperialistic’ and naive (look to history for examples of the same error – but then again, for many evangelicals church history seems to have started in the 16th centuary!).

    My experience of Terry Virgo and Dave Devenish is of lovely, Christ-centred men – excellent bible speakers and passionate for the kingdom. I think because of such humility and integrity, God has used Newfrontiers (where other streams/forms have fallen by the wayside). In this way the churches will always be an important catalyst for Christian mission. However I agree that a greater sense of link to the rest of the body (both current and past) would provide some much needed balance and ‘structural humility’ which could only act for the good of unity in the church.

  4. Richard, thanks for the interesting feedback. I too am an appreciater of Wright and Fee (although not necessarily with them on every point).

    You’re right that the “changing the expression of Christianity” motto comes across as somewhat arrogant. I do think though that New Frontiers (and other Restorationist) groups have made good progress in forging stronger links with the traditional denominations over recent years (at the expense of some of their distinctives perhaps).

    I hope to post something soon about “New Testament Church”.

  5. Recently, Sven and Richard have made some very insightful comments on my post Am I still a Restorationist?, so I want to continue my look at the ongoing relevance of Restorationist thinking. This post has got a bit long, and isn’t quite as polished as I w

  6. Mark – it is interesting to read of your journey. I am yet to read Walker’s book – I will do so shortly – but I expect that it will confirm much of what I am currently thinking. There is much to honour, cherish and carry forward from my background in the house-church movement, but there are indeed areas that we should amend or perhaps even leave behind. This is now the key challenge of second and third generation NFI/Covenant Ministries etc Christians – what should we keep and what should we leave. The last thing we should do is settle and set up camp around the heady heights of the 70s-90s.

    Of all the different movements I perceive the Salt & Light movement to be doing the best job in this area. There is a strong push to embrace the historial church and to reallign their theology – where necessary – with the wider evangelical church, whilst still holding onto their beloved distinctives. I think this is an extremely positive way forward, and I hope other more radical movements start to do the same (although there is little sign currently that this will happen). In my view some of the key areas that need readdressing/correcting would be things such as hermeneutical practices, discipleship/shepherding practices, the so-called normative charismatic experience, the unity of the church body and the so-called ‘governemental role’ of church leadership etc

    As to Restorationism? Well – clearly much revival prophetic words in the 70s and 80s has not materialised. And perhaps the rosy picture of the future church was overly optimisitc rather than biblically based. BUT – I too hold very close to my own faith the hope and prayer that the church can and will enter into a maturity and potential that far outsrips where we are today. The Bible gives me this hope. I can’t accept that the church will forever be a divided, stumbling and incoherent community. But I am also aware that the we do not have the grounds to stretch this as far as the restoration movemnets have done.

    As for me? I decided to take time out of the house church movement in order to work out some of these issues in my own life. Hence, I am currently at Regent College, Canada – to the dismay of some of my friends back home, but I am pretty confident that my late father – Bryn Jones – would be supportive.


  7. thanks for the comments Ger, and I have added your blog to my RSS reader. I hope that your time at Regents is a fruitful one. It is interesting to me that many from within house church movements are attracted to the writings of people like Tom Wright and others from outside Restorationism, and seeing how they can take the best of the house church movement and supplement it with the best of other streams of evangelicalism.

    Your post on housegroups caught my attention. If Jim Packer loves an ‘ideal Anglicanism’ though the real thing be in a sorry state, then perhaps I love an ‘ideal Restorationism’ – the idea that the church has potential to be closer to God’s intention.

  8. Hey there Mark – do you have any idea how I can get hold of the latest edition of Walker’s book? Nothing online seems to have it in stock? Any ideas – I have just read the 1985 edition and can’t wait to read the update. Ger

  9. Hi there BM,

    Eph 2:19b,20 “…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”

    I don’t think Restorationists have any problem with Eph 2:20. Are you trying to say that Eph 2:20 does not allow for modern day apostles and prophets?

  10. ‘apostle’ is a greek noun derived from the verb ‘apostello’ meaning ‘send out’. The word ‘missionary’ is derived from the Latin for ‘send’.

    Are missionaries for today?

    Moreover, some Christian leaders function naturally (according to their gifts and to the grace that God gives them) as planters and waterers of multiple congregations and as disciplers of new leaders.

    This leads me to ask the question – if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck. In other words, the term apostle really fits some people.

  11. As an ex-restorationist who knew Arthus Wallis well, I think he was a good Christian man, but was deceived somewhere regarding the true nature of Christ’s Church.Also, these restorationists use modern bible translations such as the NIV and Revised Standard etc. which are not the true word of God. The revisers Westcott and Hort added to and subtracted from God’s word, which is expressly forbidden in scripture. The only true word of God is to be found in the original King James version of 1611. All other bibles are satanic deception. “Shepherding” is certainly wrong as it places mediators between God and men. Every Christian is entitled to have a direct relationship with God. ‘Go betweens’ are not required.In a restorationist church one forms the distinct impression that all are saved, but the leaders are just a little bit more saved than the rank and file members! Some of these leaders have a dictatorial power similar to that of Nazi leaders in WW2!

  12. hi sven as someone who has spent time in a New frontiers (6yrs long years)church totally convinced of the teaching of restorationism i can see that the reason that a / close of stoneleigh b/shallower and shallower teaching is an obvious proof of the failing of this teaching along with apostollic order they claim to have .

  13. hi mark just like to comment on if walks like a duck talks like a duck /why do they insist on being known as apostles rather than missionarys answer because they are claiming that apostolic authority. well lets see their proof !!!

  14. Pingback: Book Review – Restoring the Kingdom (Andrew Walker)

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