TV shows about restoration have become popular in recent years. Whether it’s antique furniture, vintage cars, or old houses, we love to see rusted and weathered products restored to their former glory.
The process, of course, requires knowledge, skill, and effort. The original blueprints have to be carefully researched, or else old photos examined at length. Layer after layer of paint might have to be removed. Damage must be fixed. Original parts are essential, even if they are rare and hard to find. Even so, some perform this labor with love, knowing that it’s well worth it to bring the original product back to life.
Restoration and innovation
Others, however, disagree. Why bother with old stuff, when you can make something new, shiny, and adapted to modern life? Our generation, obsessed with the rapid progress of technology, is trained to disdain anything old as necessarily inferior and obsolete.
Which way of thinking does God want us to have with his church? Is the Way to be modified to fit the whims of every generation? Or does he expect careful preservation of the original tenets and practices taught by Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets? Both philosophies are present in 21st century “Christendom.” If a first century Christian were to walk into the assemblies of some churches, he or she might find very little to recognize. Is this bad?
The New Testament and restoration
Several New Testament passages indicate that it is indeed bad. Paul, towards the end of his life, was deeply concerned to see that the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) was passed on without the kinds of alterations that he was already witnessing in his own lifetime. He solemnly enjoined upon a younger evangelist, Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Note that Paul envisioned, including himself, four generations of teachers passing the pattern on into perpetuity. The characteristic that qualifies them for the job is faithfulness — not innovation, creativity, or a sense for what’s popular. Faithfulness equips us to defend the doctrine against change, be it slow evolution or sudden shifts, and to continually return to that pattern that Paul taught.
The apostle John agreed with this principle: “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).
Finally, the prophet Jude declared, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The faith, or system of teaching, is worth contending for!
A call to restore
The gospel deals with an unchangeable God and eternal and universal needs of the soul. We would be fools to think new human ideas could improve on it! If that is the case, then let us eagerly set our hands to the task of stripping away man-made additions and changes and restoring the church to its original plan. May the beliefs, practices and attitudes we read about in the New Testament be alive in us.