July 11, 2022
“If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way “(xii).
“The road of faith is not finished. There is beautiful land ahead, terra nova waiting to be explored. It will take a lot of us, journeying together, to make the road”(xiv)/
–Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking
For me, these two statements are the opposite side of the same coin; choosing one side excludes the other. For 45 years I’ve been part of a denomination—though it consistently refers to itself as nondenominational—that believes the divine pattern for every generation of the church lies in the first century CE. As an institution it believes that the golden age of Christianity is in the past and that in order to be faithful to Jesus we must imitate the earliest church in its teachings and practices. Well, sort of, anyway.
This denomination is part of what is often referred to as the Restoration Movement or the Campbell-Stone Movement, which began in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century. This institution promotes the foundational belief that the New Testament gives us all we need in terms of doctrine and practice regardless of when and where the church exists. When all the factors indicate that the movement is ineffective or even dying out, various efforts to revive and refocus on “restoring NT Christianity.” There will be a slight surge among the younger members and maybe a split off denomination or two which will prove ineffective within another generation.
I think what McLaren states in his preface is correct, “If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to the Gospels, Acts and the numerous epistles of the New Testament to find a basis for faith and practice, but there must also be an adapting of the principles derive therein to the times and the cultures in which we live. Why? Becuase “the road of faith is not finished,” and the stories of Jesus followers is still being written. We don’t live in the first century CE Roman Empire. The core principles of Jesus’ life and teachings need to be applied to our current situations, which are ever changing. So, must today’s Jesus followers and the communities they comprise also be ever changing in terms of how we live out and share the core principles of the Jesus Way.
And, in fact, my education (re: Second Temple Judaism and nascent Christianity) and my experience of 35 years plus as a pastor in Restoration churches finally convinced me that Restorationism is a dead. It just isn’t the right focus. And if we were honest with ourselves and each other—but we often aren’t—we dont’t preach all the same doctrines nor practice our faith in all the same ways that the earliest Jesus followers did. The claim or goal of restoring New Testament Christianity is hollow, because just like so many other denominations we pick and choose what we teach, preach, and practice.
The only road I want to walk now is a road that is best for my current circumstances and is anticipating what is to come and preparing for it. A static faith that believes it has God’s nature, working and will figured out is stuck in its tracks. And I want to journey on the road together with others who are certain about one thing—that faith lived out needs to be adaptable to whatever obstacles lie in its path. There are mountains to climb, valleys in which to descend, rivers to cross and distractions to deal with or to ignore.
For the last 15 years I’ve been increasing more excited—though sometimes really stressed—by how my understanding of God’s nature, working and will—and my faith response to my non-static theology—has changed, is changing and, no doubt, will change. With whatever time I have left in this world, it is my intention to continue to “make the road by walking.”