Leaving Restorationism

My posts on Restorationism continue to stir some interest, with Richard Collins weighing in with his assessment of what can be known of the very early church with a number of interesting comments. You can read three comments starting here and two more starting here.

I wanted to address his comments in a post, but I am now beginning to think that it will require a series of posts, as a huge number of difficult issues have been raised. But first I want to think about the factors that cause people like Richard to move beyond Restorationism, as indeed many of the early Restorationist leaders have done themselves (read Andrew Walker’s book for the details).

Richard was once part of a New Frontiers church, but now finds himself in the more historical denominations, apparently as a result of extensive reflection and reading on what the early church was like. He asks whether the zeal of those leaders who came out of established denominations to form house churches was somewhat misguided. It would appear that Sven is making a similar journey to Richard, as he retreats out of the narrow straits of New Frontiers to swim in the broader sea of Christianity.

While Restorationist churches often receive new members from the traditional denominations, delighted to have found something more “New Testament” than their previous church, what are we to make of those headed in the other direction, and for exactly the same reason?

Is it simply that “the grass is greener on the other side”, where the weaknesses of your home church are magnified in your mind, while the faults of others are not seen? This is a common enough reason for switching churches. Is it a “declaration of independence” – a sort of belated teenage rebellion, where those who have spent their life in one denomination start to become disillusioned with its exclusive claims to be the “real deal”? Could it be intellectual pride, as those who know far less dismiss the dissenter’s arguments without ever understanding them? Leaving to find a church that will recognise you for the true genius that you are might seem a promising option.

But these factors, though they may explain some “sheep transfers”, may still be too unkind to people like Richard and Sven. They are thinking people, who have eventually concluded that the Restorationist model is indefensible. They are always questioning their assumptions, exploring new avenues of thought, trying out different pronunciations of Shibboleth. This is found quite threatening by many evangelicals, and by questioning the assumptions, these people can find themselves marked out as problem people who are plotting a coup. They realise they have no future in ministry where they are, and make a (hopefully) courteous but prompt exit.

I found it interesting that Terry Virgo invited Philip Greenslade and Ian Stackhouse to speak at the New Frontiers leadership conference this year. While remaining committed charismatic evangelicals, these men are both deep thinkers who are not afraid to critique the movement they are part of. John Hosier also seems to be exploring how exactly New Frontiers contributes to the bigger picture of the church. So perhaps there is hope that future Richards and Svens will be able to stay in New Frontiers to help make sure that our zeal is properly tempered by knowledge.

None of this should be misinterpreted as me saying that we should celebrate those who publicly voice their criticisms of the essential truths of the gospel. It must be guarded (2 Tim 1:14). Neither am I suggesting that in a gloriously post-modern way we allow anyone to get into the pulpit and advocate whatever model of church life seems like a good idea to them. But even the fairly dogmatic John Piper has recently expressed the importance of receiving those who differ on the non-essentials. We need to revisit the lessons of Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8, and learn to be more accepting of one another despite our differences.

7 thoughts on “Leaving Restorationism

  1. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the kind mention. I don’t consider the restorationist model to be indefensible, I still think it is a good model and vitally important for the wider church as a whole, and I am thankful for the years I’ve spent there. NFI is of course a very diverse church (I’ve only been to about 6 NFI churches and they are all quite different in many ways) and one that I shall miss but one that I had continued to have all kinds of personal and spiritual conflict with which is why I’m trying to broaden out a bit.

  2. Sorry Sven, I didn’t mean to put words into your mouth (or Richard Collins). I was picking up on something Richard McIntosh said in another comment, where he suggested that the Restorationist model was “terribly hard to defend”, and that no one was willing to put the effort in to do it.

    I think you have shown considerable maturity to leave graciously without feeling the need to denounce the movement as rotten to the core.

    And you’re right about diversity in NFI. There really is no one restorationist model out there.

  3. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my copious posting!

    To fill you in a bit more…

    My situation was one of being actively involved on the leadership team, but due to many issues (some parallel with Sven on his blog) but also over some bad leadership choices and weak theology I found myself heading rapidly for a nervous breakdown.

    I ‘snapped’ emotionally. Basically I physically couldn’t ‘go’ to church.

    That was a year ago. Through it all God emphasised the importance of ‘local church’ (something very valuable that I’ve learned from the Newfrontiers ‘preaching’ even if it’s not quite ‘practiced’ as they say it!) and he led us to a local village independant evangelical church. So not ‘very’ traditional (in the pre-modern sense) – although I find myself sharing many affinities with the Orthodox tradition (my wife keeps suggesting I should grow a beard and name myself Theophilus!).

    This church is far from ‘perfect’ – as you say the grass is always greener and I’ve never moved church just ‘cos I don’t like the ‘flavour of ice-cream’ they serve there!! But there ‘is’ a quality that is simply richer than I found in Newfrontiers. The worship is clunky, and the format fairly stand up – sit down – stand up – sit down. But there is an openess to God and a searching, an engagement with the wider world and an openess to the rest of the body of Christ.

    Since I plan to stay in my village for many years to come, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever attend another Newfrontiers church (unless they plant one in my village, but given the ecumenical move that’s going on in it I don’t think it ‘needs’ another church…..maybe NFI would think differently…?!). However I continue good relationships with many NFI’ers and hope to be able to ‘input’ to the wider Christian scene in Bedford from my context.

    My own view is that God uses all different types of streams, shapes and denominations as part of his natural ontological diversity but it’s the working of unity that is key.

    So my position is not one of ‘critiquing’ NFI, or even restorationism for that matter, but being honest to where I’m at and seeking to work in parallel.

    I, too, have been to the NFI conferences and welcome the ‘extra-restorationist’ speakers, however those speakers are still ‘extra-restorationist’ and probably wouldn’t want to join a Newfrontiers church! Maybe the voice from ‘outside’ is better heard than from within? (something about a prophet having no honour in his home town….!). So maybe it’s best I’m on the ‘outside’!

    Take care,


  4. Hi Richard. I’m glad you have found a church you can be part of now, and I hope you find opportunities to use your gifts to serve there.

    I couldn’t agree more about God’s use of different streams and groups to accomplish his kingdom purposes. Unity needs to work at a variety of different levels – within individual churches, between local churches in the same or similar streams, and between the church universal.

    There are signs I think that evangelicals are working together more. In the non-charismatic world, the FIEC seems to be getting increasingly friendly with the evangelical Anglicans (e.g. Proc Trust), while New Frontiers are very supportive of Anglican charismatic initiatives such as Soul Survivor and Alpha. In America, the Together for the Gospel conference brings together some like-minded but by no means unanimously agreed evangelicals.

    I’ve got some more posts brewing in reply to your comments, which should be appearing soon.

  5. I’ve got a quote to throw into the discussion:

    “How have these things become as they are today? Take these verses; Romans 12:6, 7, 8 and 1 Corinthians 14. Is that a picture of the functioning of the church today? And this becomes important for us in this way. Are you going to say; “Oh no of course that has nothing to do with us – that was the early church before we got the Scriptures!”.

    But if you begin to say that, you will find that very little of the New Testament applies to us today. You will have to keep saying about most of it; “Ah yes but that was the early church”.


    No that is about the worst form of dispensationalism that one can ever be guilty of – yet there is a great deal of this teaching at the present time”.

    Any reader could be forgiven for thinking this was a quote from Terry Virgo or Arthur Wallis … yet this is actually from one of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons from Romans 12.

    Interesting that his theological view of church as expounded in Romans 12 would fit in very comfortably with New Frontiers!

  6. It is an awkward question of hermeneutics. Nowadays, most evangelical churches have made their peace with women not wearing head covering (1 Cor 11). Just for the early church because that was their “culture”. Similarly we don’t greet one another with a holy kiss.

    At the very least, we must strive to be faithful to the principles behind these practises, as these surely have not passed away, even if we might want to argue for a different cultural expression of those principles.

  7. The main reason that Christians choose restorationism(in the Millerite sense) is that they believe that mainstream Christendom has departed from the scriptural truth. It can be well established that many doctrines – the trinity, hellfire, Apostolic succession, veneration of the physical cross to name a few, are the offspring of Roman councils during the late Roman age which were lead by political appointees to authoritive positions within the early “Church”. At this time The “mystery of iniquity” was already underway as prophesized, and the gospel truth was being mixed with the pagan beliefs of the Romans in order to assimilate the non-Christian masses.
    It is impossible in the minds of many Christians that the Holy Spirit could continue to reside within any organization that has strayed so far from the gospel truth, and this would include all catholic and protestant denominations. These are seen as “Babylon the Great”, or “the drunken prostitute” of Revelations.
    It is said in Revelations that she would sit on a “seven headed beast”, this has symbolic meaning regarding her colobarative relationship with the seven world powers that have ruled the Earth since ancient Babylon. Also, keep in mind that Rome has been known as the city of “seven small hills” for ages as well.
    The “drunken prostitute” rides on the back of the “wild beast”(United Nations). The U.N. is the embodiment of Satan’s system of world rulership(Rev.16:14)as it represents the “Kings of the Earth”. Now consider that the Catholic church is the only religion to actually have a “seat” at the U.N. as a representative nation! Thus all other denominations of Christendom in union with her in the sense of adhering to her pagan doctrines, will suffer her fate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *