The full title of this book is “Bind us Together … to be the church Jesus really wants”, and is subtitled “The restoration movement and its message for the church”. It grabbed my attention for two reasons. First, it offers a history of the Restoration movement in the UK, something that few other books have done (Andrew Walker’s “Restoring the Kingdom” being the most notable exception. And second, the author is from Southampton, where I live, so I was able to visit him to buy my copy and talk about it with him. John Fleming is a member of New Community Church in Southampton, a church which had its roots in the restoration movement in the seventies.
The book is broken into three main sections. The first offers a history of restoration in the UK, and although briefer than Andrew Walker’s book, it is perhaps broader, mentioning a wider variety of new church groups that have come out of this movement. He talks about the original desire not to create a new denomination but that restoration would become a focal point for unity amongst believers.
He traces the differences of opinion between restoration and “renewal” (mainly to do with ecclesiology) and quite perceptively draws out the key emphases of the early movement as well as those issues that became contentious.
After reviewing the various new church “streams” that have emerged from restorationism, a fairly lengthy chapter tells the personal story of the author, in particular focusing on three churches he was part of. The first was George Tarleton’s church “the Cong” in Chilford. The second was Kendal Avenue Pentecostal in Southampton. The main focus though is on the third – Community Church, also in Southampton. This section will be of particular interest to all those who like myself know this church and have lived in Southampton.
He goes on to examine the decline of many restorationist groups, due to disillusionment in some cases, and the vision becoming blurred in others. He notes that the emerging church takes a very different approach to ecclesiology, favouring being ‘experimental’ as opposed to the belief that churches can be built according to a New Testament “pattern”. He notes that many restorationist churches have embraced the idea of “cell church” but are actually becoming more “program based” in practice.
Part 2 of the book is entitled “What is the church?” In it he examines the Alpha course teaching on the church, before embarking on a tour of the Bible, starting in the Old Testament, moving on to Jesus, and then the book of Acts. In many ways, this section is almost like a second book. In places it felt like little more than a retelling of the story of Acts, but he did try to develop a model for church leadership based on the example of the early church.
The third part of the book is called “the way ahead”. Fleming asks “how is the church doing”? In particular his concern is that the New Testament teaches that there should not be many churches in a locality, but that there is just one church in a locality. Clearly we are a long way from this ideal. Even “churches together” initiatives are often little more than Christians “holding hands over the fences”, without any real desire to see those fences come down.
While he is generally very complementary about restorationist groups of churches such as newfrontiers, he is disappointed at their lack of vision to work with other local churches. For example, they would rather plant a new church into an area, than send people to join an existing church there. Much of the latter stages of the book could be described almost as John Fleming thinking out loud about the challenges associated with Christians joining together with all other believers in their locality to be the “church together”, not just “churches together”.
As an appendix to the book there is an essay from 1971 by George Tarleton entitled “glory in the church”, setting forth a restorationist vision of what the church should be.
It is hard to evaluate a book with three distinct parts. Section one is a great read for anyone interested in the story of the UK restorationist movement. Section two is useful perhaps as an introductory level overview of the Bible teaching and story of the development of the church. And section three is provocative in that the challenge for local churches to join together that is rarely heard amongst evangelicals, who tend to be pragmatic rather than idealistic with regards to ecumenism. The book is written in an informal, almost conversational style, and perhaps would have benefited from the second section being condensed considerably (or published separately). But despite having read over a dozen books on the church in the last year, this one managed to find some ground that had not been covered by the more prominent authors on ecclesiology.
It is not necessarily that easy to get hold of a copy. I can give you the author’s email address if you ask in the comments.