What is restoration?
When we speak of ‘restoration,’ whether it refers to automobiles, furniture, a monarchy, or biblical Christianity, we must make an attempt to define the term. By ‘restoration’ we usually do not mean something that is fake, having a superficial resemblance to the original, but without the substance that makes it authentic. A true restoration involves intensive research to determine what the original was really like, followed by painstaking work to reproduce those same features in the replica.
In this post, we will briefly examine the idea of restoration in the Bible, beginning in Genesis and looking at select passages in both Old and New Testaments. We will also gain an overview of the idea of restoration in church history. We will then briefly examine the modern Restoration Movement, especially with regard to the features it has identified as needing to be restored. Finally, we will consider some of the internals that pose a considerable challenge to anyone seeking to restore New Testament Christianity.
Restoration in the Old Testament
Almost as soon as the fall happens in the book of Genesis (chapter 3), the Bible begins the theme of restoration. An angel with a flaming sword prevents Adam and Eve’s return to the Garden (Genesis 3:24), but the tree of life returns in the visions of Ezekiel and the Apocalypse. Likewise, the River of life of Ezekiel, Zachariah, and Revelation recalls the rivers that watered the Garden of Eden (Ezekiel 47:1-7; Zechariah 14:8; Revelation 22:1-3). The Bible closes with an open invitation to anyone who wants to drink the living water that God makes available (Revelation 22:17).
We tend to think that Israel’s time in the wilderness was a horrible trial they had to endure, but the brief time they spent at the foot of Mount Sinai (and before the Golden Calf incident) the Hebrew people later recall with nostalgia and eager longing (see Psalm 105:23-45). In the eighth century, the Lord promises a new Exodus experience (Isaiah 43:16-21) and in the sixth recalls the Exodus as the time when the Israelites were closest to Him (Jeremiah 2:2-3). If only Israel could regain that original enthusiastic devotion to their God!
During the reign of David and the early reign of Solomon (2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1 – 10), the Israelites reach a Golden age marked both by the spiritual fidelity and material prosperity. Once more, their poets recall these days with yearning (see Psalm 89:19-37). The Temple worship of this time, devoted as it was exclusively to the worship of the Lord, becomes the paradigm that later generations replicate when attempting to “restore” the worship of the Lord during the reigns of Joash, Hezekiah, Manasseh(!), and Josiah (2 Chron. 24:4, 12; 2 Chron. 30:1-27; 2 Chron. 33:13-17; 2 Chron. 34:3-33). Josiah carries out this final reform in response to reading the “Book of the Covenant,” which many believe to be the book of Deuteronomy.
The Hebrew Bible closes with a promise that Elijah will come and “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Mal. 4:6). If this restoration does not happen, the prophet warns, the Lord threatens to “come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Restoration in the New Testament
During the 400 years between the Testaments, a movement begins with the hope of restoring Israel’s obedience to God’s law. Known as the Pharisees, they were a brotherhood of devotees that the Pharisee Josephus says numbered 6,000 in the first century (Antiquities of the Jews 17.42). Jesus says that they, along with the teachers of the law, “sit in Moses’ seat, so you must be careful to do everything they tell you” (Matt. 23:2-3), which in the context means that they have the authority to explain to the people what the law means. But Jesus immediately adds, “but do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matt. 23:3).
In the chapter that follows, Jesus describes how the Pharisees turn aside from truly obeying God: they are oppressive in their requirements; they fail to be sympathetic towards sinners; they seek attention, honor, and praise from people; they hinder people from entering God’s kingdom, refusing to enter themselves; they overemphasize minor points and neglect the major ones; etc. Their attempt at restoring Judaism by going “back to the Bible” is a colossal failure.
In its place, Jesus establishes a community of believers who proclaim and practice his teachings. The early chapters of the Book of Acts describe the Jerusalem church. The 3000 who repent and are baptized in response to Peter’s preaching on Pentecost devote themselves to the teaching of the apostles, sharing with one another, and eating and praying together. Luke tells us they are “filled with awe,” meeting together daily, sacrificially giving to meet the needs of any, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
Despite persecution, the apostles continue to teach, even as the number of believers continues to grow, soon reaching 5000 (Acts 4:2, 4). The testimony about the resurrection of Christ spreads under the blessing of God’s grace. The believers’ unity ensures that they continue voluntarily to share their possessions with those in need. (Acts 4:31-37). Although flogged and threatened, the apostles continually proclaim Jesus as Messiah, both in the temple courts and from house to house (Acts 5:41). After the apostles delegate the ministry of feeding widows to seven worthy men, Luke tells us, “So the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Many seek to restore New Testament Christianity look back to those heady, early days of the Jerusalem church with a nostalgia similar to that the Israelites of late Old Testament times had toward the Exodus or the golden age of David and Solomon. They call for the simple organization, the nonsectarian unity, and the undiluted proclamation of the apostolic church. Of course, they would also welcome the sacrificial generosity, the wholehearted devotion, and the rapid statistical growth that are also features of the pattern.
The externals, however, are easier to focus on, easier to reproduce, and easier to call attention to. I fear that, just like the Pharisees, we run the risk of over-emphasizing these externals, to the neglect of the more important internals, the unseen yet powerful spiritual dynamics of New Testament Christianity. Next week, we will examine the theme of restoration throughout church history, beginning with prophecies in the New Testament that some were going to neglect, reject, and pervert the teaching and practice of the apostles.
Want to dive deeper?
John Fischer. 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2000.
This book does an excellent job of drawing comparisons between the Pharisaic movement and Christians you know today (or may the one you are).
The Exodus is a theme in Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, and parallels with the Exodus recur throughout Ezekiel.
Steve McKenzie. “Exodus Typology in Hosea.” Restoration Quarterly 22, 1-2 (1979): 100-108.
Discusses the same theme of Israel’s marriage to God during the wilderness years as recalled by the prophet Hosea (see especially Hosea 2:14-23). Later on in Hosea, the figure of Israel changes from God’s bride to His son (see Hosea 11:1, quoted of Jesus in Matt. 2:15). God promises in Hosea a new Exodus, which Hosea’s purchase of Gomer symbolizes (Hosea 3:2ff).
- Desmond Alexander. From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2005.
Uses a comparison of the Garden of Eden with the Book of Revelation’s images of the New Jerusalem to form a structure on which to hang all of the major themes of the Bible.