7. The Illusion of Restorationism

The Unfinished Reformation

An Analysis

Neil Girrard
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Isa. 1:13-14 π Mt. 7:21-23 π Mt. 13:30 π Mt. 20:25-26 π Mt. 24:12 π Lk. 12:51 π Lk. 15:4 π Jn. 1:12-13 π Jn. 6:29 π Jn. 7:12 π Jn. 8:44 π Jn. 14:23 π Jn. 16:13 π Acts 1:8 π Acts 2:40 π Acts 4:8 π Acts 4:31 π Acts 5:29 π Acts 19:29 π Acts 19:32 π Rom. 16:17 π 1 Cor. 3:3 π 1 Cor. 5:1 π 1 Cor. 5:11 π 2 Cor. 6:14; 2nd π 2 Cor. 6:17 π Gal. 5:20; 2nd; 3rd π Gal. 5:22-23 π Eph. 1:22 π 2 Ths. 2:10-12 π 2 Ths. 2:13-15 π 2 Pet. 1:20 π 1 Jn. 3:10 π 1 Jn. 4:6 π Rev. 2:4-5 π Rev. 2:6; 2nd; 3rd π Rev. 2:15; 2nd; 3rd π Rev. 17:5
Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Divisions, Dissensionsdichostasia – [1370]

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Unfinished Reformation by Charles Clayton Morrison (Harper Bros., New York, 1953)

In this chapter, Morrison exposes his personal bias against “restorationist groups.” He wrote,

“The restorationist heresy has diverted the Christian mind from the path of realism into a blind alley of fantasy.” (p. 157 – emphasis added)

Let us examine the shaky premises his poorly conceived conclusion rests upon.

A Bad Start

His evaluation of the various denominations which have come from the Reformation is done primarily on the basis of their reaction to the ecumenical movement as it stood in the late 1940s. Morrison clearly states,

“Our classification…is intended only to suggest an explanation of the differing reactions of the two groups as each is confronted by the [ecumenical movement’s] ideal of Christian unity.” (p. 136)

What a strange prism to force and filter church history (since the Reformation, at any rate) through!

The standard is flawed at its base: It presumes that the “ecumenical ideal” of the 1940s – as it was understood and implemented by the people of that time – was the correct and only interpretation of the movement’s

“message from Christ, the head of the church.” (p. 141)

Morrison had already stated that

“The ecumenical movement is the call of God to awaken the conscience of the churches to the sin of their churchism and bring them the enlightenment and liberation of the ecumenical gospel.” (p. 68)

But he thought the sin of denominationalism (dissensions and heresies – Gal. 5:20; top ) could be retained in some sort of modified form:

“It is also unrealistic and unnecessary to assume that the fellowship with which we have long been familiar in our denominations would have to be obliterated.” (p. 87)

And he failed to see the similarity between Roman clergy and Protestant clergy:

“In no denomination throughout the whole of Protestantism is there a division between the rulers and the ruled.” (p. 126)

The mere fact of there being “the rulers and the ruled” is evidence of two classes. That the division is not being broadcast with robes, pomp and ceremony (in some Protestant denominations it is!) does not mean the division does not exist. The Protestant clergy is as much a separate class as is the Roman clergy and the truth is that Protestant and all denominations that practice clergyism (Nicolaitanism, “delegated” authority – Rev. 2:6 , 15; top )

“degrade the church into an irresponsible multitude of docile subjects and followers, instead of the corporate body of the faithful which is directly responsible only to Christ its living head.” (p. 70)

From Bad to Worse

Morrison’s flawed standard is then used to create a categorization so that he can label the original denominations (Anglican Episcopalians, Lutherans and Calvinist Presbyterians) as “reformist groups” and the later, “dissenting” denominations (of which he chooses four as fairly representative of the whole – Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists and Disciples of Christ). This categorization is primarily the result of Morrison’s observances of the various groups’ differing reactions to the ecumenical movement. The “reformist groups” were somewhat more receptive to the movement but the “restorationist groups” were more aloof and reserved toward it. This is a classic case of using a modern phenomenon to evaluate a historical trend. This categorization has very little else (other than Morrison’s offering) to suggest that it is a genuine, viable and useful historical categorization.

The original three divisions of the Reformation are seen by Morrison to occupy some sort of higher ground because the original Reformers

“conceived their task as that of reforming the church by emancipating it from its ‘Babylonian captivity.’ But they had no idea that they were starting new churches.” (p. 130)

He also wrote,

“…the actual event [of the Reformation] could be described as the casting off of the trappings of the Roman system and the reclothing of the existing church… But the reclothed church was the same church of Christ’s people…” (p. 132)

This historical revision unfortunately obscures the real truth. Did the Roman Catholic “church” cease to exist entirely in the original Reformation countries (Germany, Switzerland, England, Holland, Scotland and the Scandanavian countries)? In some cities, yes, all the Catholics converted or fled but in many places there remained Catholics who still claimed faith in Christ. So the Reformation “churches,” where they did not take over the Catholic “church” buildings, were forced to build their own buildings and practice religious competition with the Catholics – the very same competition Morrison deplored in later Protestantism, calling it

“the scandalous overlapping of local churches.” (p. 91)

But Morrison’s claim that the resultant “reformist churches” were the same people, is simply not historically supportable. Once again, Morrison looks at the larger groups of people, forgetting that God always looks upon the hundredth sheep ( Lk. 15:4; top ), the one percent who fall through the cracks of men’s systems and labels.


Morrison sees the “restorationist groups” as of a differing nature because

“Instead of reforming the existing church, they conceived themselves as restoring the New Testament church in its original purity.” (p. 130)

“In contrast [to the original Reformers], the Anabaptists and the other sectaries were ‘come-outers,’ radical dissenters, not only from Rome but from the Reformation churches… Each new denomination was animated by the intention of restoring the church of the New Testament.” (p. 132-133)

Somehow, to Morrison, the “restorationist” groups were apparently operating under “private interpretation” ( 2 Pet. 1:20; top ) but somehow Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Cranmer were “truly led” by the Lord to establish their own particular, contradictory sectarian divisions. Shaky premises always result in faulty conclusions – and this is a tangled web indeed!

A more simple and perhaps more accurate explanation is that the Reformers called upon the Roman leadership to change. When that failed, they preached the truth (as they understood it) in the “churches” they controlled. The conflict with the Roman hierarchy is what the Reformers are remembered for. The so-called “restorationists” followed (for the most part) the exact same procedures but they are remembered for calling on the people to “come out.” Such is the fickleness of history!

The Mother Error

Underneath all of Morrison’s biases and assumptions is the belief that the dissenting denominations had

“severed [themselves] from their true ecclesiastical mother.” (p. 91 – emphasis added)

That is, “classical Protestantism” is the “true ecclesiastical mother” to which we all owe some sort of loyalty. The flaw in this is twofold: first, the divisions of Protestantism have no claim or even call whatsoever upon Catholics, Orthodox or Evangelical divisions and can not possibly be confused with the overarching transcendent ekklesia of Christ to which we all owe our loyalty. Secondly, all the people of Christ are said to be the bride of Christ and Paul calls a man having his father’s wife a sin not even found among the Gentile heathens. ( 1 Cor. 5:1 ) But now, somehow, the Father is supposed to take the Son’s bride to produce “children of God.” What is really produced by mistakenly conceiving of either the “church” or the ekklesia as a mother figure is a blasphemy – it is the counterfeit, the “mother of the earth’s abominations” ( Rev. 17:5 ) John wrote, “To as many as received Him He gave the right to become children of God…who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” ( Jn. 1:12-13 - emphasis added; top) To assign to the people of Christ any real part (as a source) in producing children of God is to contradict Scripture.

A Genuine Standard

What is really absent from Morrison’s book – and probably the ecumenical movement as well – is the standard by which we are to know whether a person is a genuine believer or not. Morrison certainly defined the overarching ekklesia as

“those whom Christ has received into fellowship with Himself” (p. 69),

but he (and the movement) seems to embrace anyone who calls themselves a “brother.” The notion of abandoning and avoiding one who claims to be a brother but who habitually lives in sin (see 1 Cor. 5:11 , 1 Jn. 3:10 , etc.) seems lost. How are we to know whether an individual has been received into fellowship with Christ? The fruit of the Spirit ( Gal. 5:22-23 ) will be evident. Where are these characteristics most easily manifested, seen, confirmed and cultivated? The truly local, genuine ekklesia home gathering! Anywhere else, the individual can simply commute in with his “Christian” façade (smile) firmly in place and convince the attendees that his mere presence confirms him as a “Christian.” Until the local ekklesia home gathering is restored and recognized as the proper base for individuals (who must operate in unanimity, one accord, oneness), the “sacred assembly” will remain empty, futile, an abomination. ( Isa. 1:13-14; top )

Just Some Whack Idea

Morrison’s category is based on the assumption that the “restorationist groups’”

“fundamental presupposition, common to them all, namely, the concept of restoring the primitive church” (p. 132)

is somehow just some flawed notion, some whack idea. It could not possibly be an urging from the Holy Spirit – however imperfectly heard, understood and implemented it was (much like the “ecumenical ideal” of his time!). Obviously, one cannot rejoin the first, so-called “primitive” group of believers – they are all dead now and belong only to the overarching, transcendent assembly of saints! But one can return, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, to the practices of the first ekklesia – practices which did not include (and in many ways almost naturally precluded) the sins of denominationalism and clergyism.

The ecumenical council stood at this very nexus in Amsterdam in 1948. Morrison records that in the final draft of “The Nature of the Church” there were three sentences that read:

“The very name, ‘World Council of Churches,’ implies a situation that ought not be, because we acquiesce in calling our denominations ‘churches’ in a way which the New Testament will never allow. There is but one Lord and one Body. Because we know this, we cannot rest content with ‘churches.’” (p. 67)

Even then many people recognized there was something fundamentally wrong with the usual practice of “church”! But these sentences were stricken from the document without discussion or dissent. Morrison writes,

“Thus Amsterdam was put in the regrettable position of refusing to face the sin for which it had been fervently praying to be forgiven.” (p. 67)

Seen But Misapplied

Morrison’s categorization (and resulting dismissal of the driving agenda) of the “restoration groups” is unfortunate for similar reasons. Morrison writes,

“In some respects [the restorationists] had good reason for their radical criticism of the reformed churches. Had the Reformers given heed to certain of their criticisms, the Reformation would have profited greatly…” (p. 132)

This is an excellent, but unapplied, insight. Morrison affixes all the blame for division on the dissenters for preaching “come out and be separate” (see 2 Cor. 6:17; top ) and leaving their parent sect (which Morrison doesn’t see them as merely another sect!) Then he places no blame on the parent sect for not repenting of the sins the dissenters were rightly pointing out! This double standard will always circumvent the kingdom of God. Since the parent sect would not adjust to the “new” truth God had opened up to the dissenters, the dissenters are left, as Morrison said of the Methodists, with

“no alternative course…but to constitute them into a separate church.” (p. 152)

Since the parent sect will not repent of what are obvious sins to the dissenters and the parent sect is demonstrating an oblique unwillingness to discard its human traditions and understandings and follow the Spirit of truth, there is neither example nor requirement which might compel the dissenting sect to either repent of their own (other) errors and remain with those who (obviously – at least to the dissenters) prefer idolatry and unrighteousness to the Headship of Christ.

Historical Revision

Morrison wrote:

“The proliferation of sects since the early seventeenth century would have begun in the early sixteenth century had the Anabaptist restorationism been embraced by the Reformation. Each of the three tributaries of the Reformation would have been split into a congeries of impotent sects which the Roman church could easily have overcome. The wisdom of the Reformers in steering clear of these sectaries, however sincere and, in some points, however more advanced than the great Reformers, is thus vindicated by history. Protestant denominationalism is thus not the true child of the Reformation but the offspring of the biblicistic restorationism which the Reformation rejected.” (p. 157)

It is very easy to implant hypothetical results onto historical events. If the South had won the American Civil War (1861-65)… If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated… This “what if” game is easy to play and is especially useful to support one’s presupposed opinions. But there are certainly other explanations, equally if not more plausible, to the events Morrison cites.

Perhaps if Luther had not been so inordinately focused on his own “theology” – even Morrison refers to this:

“Luther grew more and more intemperately dogmatic and could envisage no form of union except on a creedal basis which fully embodied his own theological ideas.” (p. 21)

Or if Cranmer, in his role as

“the Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII, who, having broken with the papacy [who refused to recognize Henry’s divorce and remarriage because of political considerations], had made himself the head of the Church of England” (p. 18)

had chosen to obey Christ rather than Henry VIII…

Or if any of the other Reformers had heard from the Spirit of truth those things He had revealed to the Anabaptists and the other “sectaries,” and humbly admitted the truth and their guilt, perhaps there would have been no division, the unity of spirit and oneness might even have even won over the Roman Catholics! Perhaps God just simply delayed the division process (which was already in place in the Roman system as is seen by the willingness of its despots to persecute and even execute their dissenters) until such time as the Roman Catholic “church” was no longer a threat to the Reformation process. It is equally true that God had already provided protection from the Catholic “church” through another source. Gene Edwards observes:

Frederick the Wise, alias Frederick III, just happened to command the largest army in Europe, and he was royally peeved because he had not been made Pope. In fact, there was a lot of unrest all across northern (non-Latin) Europe over the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy down in Italy.

Now, in Saxony, where Frederick ruled, there was this perfectly delightful, beer-loving German monk who taught Augustinian theology at the University of Wittenberg. And he was really upset with the church.

Luther’s conduct and writings were reprehensible to the Roman Catholic Church, and normally he would have been put on trial as a heretic and burned alive. But Prince Frederick, bless his heart, took a shine to Luther, and decided to give protection to the Germanic radical. Essentially what Frederick said was, “Let that man say what he has to say; let no one touch him.” And no one else had an army big enough to argue with him. (The Open Church, Jim Rutz and Gene Edwards)

The bottom line is this: the sectaries had some truth (which history and the spiritual life in Christ has truly vindicated) which the Reformers rejected. So why do we call them “great”? This is merely looking at history through rose-colored glasses.

And if the Reformers “steered clear” of the “sectaries,” who was practicing division first? Denominationalism – which begins where the Catholic “church” first deviated from following only Christ, a moment now shrouded in antiquity and controversy – was only one of the sins which the Reformation failed to fully abandon. The roots of dissension and heresy (modern denominationalism) has roots that go far beyond the Reformation back to the divisions created by the first bishops who stepped into “the place of God” (Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, c. 6). Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Cranmer (and all their followers) were as guilty of it as was the pope (and all his and his system’s followers) as were all the so-called “restorationist” denominations – and so too with the so-called “non-denominational” denominations that have since followed them! Denominationalism is not attributable only to the “restorationists” – the guilt belongs to all who follow any corporate path other than Christ’s pure Way.


Morrison wrote,

“That the Christian faith requires the restoration of the details of the primitive church is a belief without any foundation either in the spirit or the letter of the New Testament.” (p. 157)

Paul, however, wrote,

“God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” ( 2 Ths. 2:13-15 - emphasis added; top)

The traditions Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians were closely connected to their sanctification and belief in the truth which demonstrated their salvation that gave them hope for future glory. Those traditions then have great significance and are to be ignored at one’s own risk. These traditions are all the more important for us today because, in context, they stand directly in contrast to the “strong delusion” God will allow to come upon all who fail to love and believe the truth and who prefer some type of unrighteousness. ( 2 Ths. 2:10-12; top )

What were these traditions?

The failure to follow the original traditions as originally given is the root of the “churchism” which pervades our time.

The “Church” Stereotype

Morrison wrote,

“Those denominations which imagine that they have restored it have only created a stereotype composed of a few arbitrarily selected features of the biblical pattern and omitted other far more important features. Especially have they been blind to the overarching ecumenical character of the apostolic church.” (p. 157)

There is much truth in this assessment. The “church” stereotype (more “inherited” than “created” by the dissenting denominations) needs shaken off perhaps the most as it virtually and “subliminally” and “subconsciously” equates what the New Testament is speaking of with a building where paid professionals control and dispense the things of Christ and God. It has been the most stubborn and pervasive of deceptions. And it is what virtually every denomination has clung to. The home “church” denomination actually managed to jettison the building but too often incorporated the Nicolaitan clergy mentality and practices and failed to look forward to localizing each home gathering. That is, rather than becoming a truly local ekklesia attending to the local affairs of Christ’s kingdom of light, the home “church” became simply another, small-scale commuter “church” which gathered because those there thought meeting in a home was consistent with the New Testament pattern of assembly. Indeed, it is closer (in physical practice) but in the absence of being intensely local and unanimously committed to the Headship of Christ in all things, the home gathering quickly devolves into yet another type of “church” denomination.

But was there really this

“overarching ecumenical character of the apostolic church” (p. 157)

or is this just another incidence of historical revision? The apostles didn’t follow Christ’s instructions to reach out toward Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth ( Acts 1:8 ) until persecution drove them out of Jerusalem. While the original twelve apostles were still alive and others like Paul, Barnabas and Silas were making their journeys to spread the gospel to the Gentiles, the number of genuine apostles, evangelists and teachers remained relatively small. These men certainly had in mind they were establishing new fellowships! These were certainly calling out those who would be saved. ( Acts 2:40 ) But was there an “overarching ecumenical character”? Not really. All the actions are more attributable to their simply following and adhering to the one Spirit. ( Acts 4:8 , 31 , etc.) There certainly was no overarching, representative council of apostles that set policy for all the subordinate “churches” – that would not come for a hundred years or more. There were no Scriptures (except what we now call the Old Testament) and there was no historical “church” (apart from the “congregation of Israel”) to maintain continuity with. They even separated themselves from the Sanhedrin’s authority. ( Acts 5:29; top ) Any overarching character of unity is completely attributable to their being carefully under the Headship of Christ and Him alone.

The Ecumenical Illusion

Morrison wrote:

“Instead of restoring the New Testament church, these separatist churches have denied and rejected its most outstanding feature, namely, the fact that the New Testament church was ecumenical. The restorationist heresy has diverted the Christian mind from the path of realism into a blind alley of fantasy. The church of New Testament times was the infant church. Protestantism should be that church grown up.” (p. 157)

The New Testament ekklesia was ecumenical? The word simply means “general or universal” – much like the word “catholic” means “universal.” But the description is a word never used at the time. It is not found once in the Scriptures. The apostles and disciples of Christ did not think in those terms – just as they never used words like “Pauline” or “Petrine” or “Christocentric” or “kerygmatic” to describe their teachings and practices. Their’s was a different language than that of the scholar and, while the language of the scholar contains many accuracies, scholarly labels and phrases do not always perfectly align with spiritual realities. Such is the case here – and it is certainly true that the New Testament ekklesia was not “ecumenical” in the “tolerate and embrace all forms of Christianity” sense ecumenicalism seems to have acquired today!

But yet again, there is much truth here in Morrison’s observations but it is looking at facts from the wrong end of the telescope. When a group claiming to belong to Christ demonstrates that it is not subject to the Head Christ Jesus, what options are left but to separate oneself from the sin one sees? Who is really the divisive one – the man who holds the preeminence and refuses to submit to the Headship of Christ or the man who humbly listens to the Spirit of truth and seeks to quietly and obediently follow only Him? Certainly the dissenting sects held to various errors but so did the supposedly superior “classic Protestant” divisions.

Where is the real, substantive difference between the “reformists groups’” efforts “to be consistent with New Testament Christianity” and the “restoration groups’” efforts to “restore the church of the New Testament”? Both groups are, however imperfectly, calling on the whole to step away from practices inconsistent with the New Testament (or, more properly, their own private interpretations of it). Is it the dissenting sect’s fault if the adherents of the parent sect refuse the truth and refuse to join the “dissenters” who are clinging to the truth. Both types of sects are at fault wherever they fail to attain to a rightly divided word of truth. But simply because other individuals and groups cannot or will not hear what the Spirit is saying does not make these “dissenters” divisive. If this were the case, so too were Jesus and all the apostles divisive – as indeed they were to those walking in darkness! ( Lk. 12:51 , Jn. 7:12 , etc.; top)

The only real difference is whether one is willing to divest oneself of all the sinful practices, most of the sinful practices or only a few of the sinful practices that had accumulated during the Roman system’s reign over virtually the whole of the practice of following Christ. Both the Reformation (both so-called “reformist” and “restorationist” groups) and the ecumenical movement have failed to repent and turn away from all the sins which the “church” routinely practices. The “church” has historically and consistently failed to allow Christ, who is supposed to be Head of all things for His people ( Eph. 1:22; top ), to expose all that is the sinful systems of men and to lead His people into the fullness of what is truly His Way for His people. What option is left but to “come out and be separate”?

Morrison himself admits that

“in neither [‘reformist’ nor ‘restorationist’] group is the denominational self-consciousness [sin] canceled out.” (p. 136)

Where is the “grown up” part in that? There is no reasonable or historical basis for the idea that a sinful modern “church” ought to be more mature than the first ekklesia. Only the pure, spotless and blameless bride (accumulated from all ages) will be mature and ready for her Husband. A group stained with the habitual, nearly unstoppable sins of dissensions, heresies and Nicolaitanisms can hardly claim for itself purity!

It is here that we also see a smug arrogance peeping through Morrison’s analysis. The first ekklesia was an “infant,” a “primitive.” No. The first ekklesia experienced an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit that the same experience of has yet to be fully reproduced. The history of Christ’s people (including those who falsely claimed to be) is a history of occasional similarities to the initial outpouring. There is no one today (known to this author) who comes near the quality and depth of spiritual understanding of the writers of the New Testament. Given the deep nature of the sins which the “church” (of both Morrison’s day and our own time) refuses to acknowledge, let alone reject, there is not much basis, other than a smug, self-satisfied intellectual’s blind arrogance, to claim spiritual maturity for the “church” in comparison to the first ekklesia. Seeing the modern “church” as mature is much more of a “fantasy” than is attempting to re-experience a purer expression of the Spirit outpoured!

All Have Sinned

There is no doubt that “the [many] ideosyncracies of these numerous [‘restorationist’] sects” was (at the least and in large part) the result of unrestrained dissension exacerbated by the inflexibility and unwillingness to yield to truth. But to separate “reformist” groups from “restorationist” groups is to invent categories that are spiritually and historically insupportable. Each of these sin-tainted sects have walked in lawlessness (what was right in their own eyes) as they have chosen which sins of the Romish system (and/or their Reformation predecessors and counterparts) to reject and which truths (or private interpretations) from the Scriptures they would embrace. But no group from this time period is entirely blameless – all have sinned. And they have all partaken of the same sins – dissensions and heresies ( Gal. 5:20 ), Nicolaitanism (clergyism – Rev. 2:6 , 15 ) and lawlessness. ( Mt. 7:21-23 , etc.; top) The Reformation rejected criticisms which rightly should have been heeded and thus it became the seedbed for explosive, rampant division. The Reformation did not start the division process it but neither did it curb it. It’s unfinished nature is the real cause of the “proliferation of sects” almost beyond number. Blame is rightly divided across all denominational lines (even the so-called “non-denominational” denominations) and no one division can claim absolute superiority over all the others. And so long as the fundamental sins common to all remain, the “church” will never be the spotless, blameless bride and all that is left is to “come out and be separate” as we search, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, for those who truly are His bride.

It is not heresy to believe the New Testament pattern of local assembly should be followed. Rather, it is heresy (divisive) to teach the Nicolaitan model of clergyism (even in “restrained” form) and to acquiesce to the sectarian practice of “local church” (which, in truth, is neither local nor ekklesia). It is a most serious error to approve of Luther’s, Zwingli’s, Calvin’s and Cranmer’s private interpretations while disapproving of Congregationalists’, Baptists’, Wesley’s and Campbell’s private interpretations. Men are still men – none of them are the sole repositories and dispensaries of the ultimate truth. That role is reserved for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, alone. ( Jn. 16:13; top )

The Disciples of Christ

Morrison gives one example that may serve as an opportunity to make specific applications to what has been said. Morrison wrote:

“The particular [‘restorationist’] features upon which [the Disciples of Christ denomination has] relied to justify this conviction [that they were truly restoring the New Testament Church] are 1) the independence and autonomy of the local church, 2) believer’s baptism, 3) immersion baptism, 4) weekly observance of the Lord’s supper, 5) elders (or presbyters) and deacons in the local church, 6) ‘no creed but Christ,’ 7) a rational or ‘common sense’ theory of conversion, and 8) a plea for Christian unity upon the basis of this pattern of the church which they found in the New Testament.

…these particularities are knitted together in a rich context of sound evangelicalism, warm fellowship, evangelistic zeal and deep spiritual devotion.” (p. 153)

This group, coming as the historically latest sect which Morrison (who had much personal familiarity and interaction with this group) is using as representative of the whole of the “restorationist” sects, demonstrates well the progression toward truth and unity which sectarian denominationalism inherently resists. This group has received the revelation that the local assembly should be free from any and all secondary headship (denominational controls) and should be answerable only to Christ the Head. Those who see this decentralized approach as utopian have failed to recognize that local problems are best dealt with locally, that the sins so prevalent to human flesh (power-mongering, greed, etc.) are inherently curbed (if not eradicated at the root) by a truly local ekklesia and that large-scale, manmade systemic problems tend never to get dealt with at all – or if and when they do get dealt with, they generally require a tumultuous upheaval (like the Reformation) to resolve any (but to date, never all) of the fundamental issues. And these scoffers would also seem to severely underestimate Christ’s ability to be Head over people submitting to His rule. Can He not weed out the frauds and counterfeits at a grassroots level?

But the Disciples of Christ denomination apparently did not recognize the depth of the “church” paradigm. They still incorporated separate “church” buildings and facilities. They did not return to (or, in some cases, remain in) the home(s) where they met and did not invite all their believing neighbors over for fellowship and a shared meal. They still practiced a milder form of Nicolaitanism. Their “churches” are no more local nor ekklesai – though obviously the Lord was in their midst and drawing them more toward these things - than the previous sects before them.

The plea for unity based upon any pattern – however accurate or more accurate than the previous understanding – will always come up short. Our unity must be based on Him and Him alone. Then we will be enabled to walk away from the traditions of men and embrace His Way. We will come into the pattern of local ekklesia being the only needed expression of the mystery of the kingdom of God in a particular locality as we obey Him. But following (or at least progressively growing into conformity with) the pattern is only secondary proof that we are submitting to His Lordship and Headship over our lives.

True Restorationism

Restoration to the purer practices of the New Testament ekklesia is only an illusion to those who are blinded to the spiritual reality that the body is one and must be one, that the Lord truly is Head over His people and will not share that position with any counterfeit head (individual or institutional or corporate). Reformation and restoration are only semantically different terms that both point to our need for greater corporate repentance and purity.

The only question before us now is whether we will repent of all our sins or only those “sins” we want to recognize and whether we will embrace all of Christ’s truth or only those “truths” we want to embrace. The choice is righteousness or lawlessness ( 2 Cor. 6:14; top ) and the choice – with its the attending rewards or consequences – is ours alone.

Morrison concludes this chapter by saying:

“If the united church is to emerge from the Babel of restorationist tongues, each crying, Lo, here is the New Testament basis of unity! the ecumenical movement must candidly deal with this delusion which has been the radical source of militant sectarianism.” (p. 158 – emphasis added)

“Heresy” (p. 157) and “delusion.” (p. 158) These are two very strong words. Where do heresy and delusion come from? The devil ( Jn. 8:44 ) and the demonic spirit of error. ( 1 Jn. 4:6; top ) We have already seen, however, that Morrison is deluded into thinking that “classical Protestantism” is less denominational than the so-called “restorationist” denominations. He is deluded into believing that Protestant clergy is qualitatively (and not merely quantitatively) different from Roman clergy. He is deluded into thinking that denominationally-based “fellowships” can remain in a united ekklesia.

When we recognize that delusion and heresy – both of which Morrison has demonstrably exhibited throughout this work – are the works of the devil and the demonic, it is illuminating to note that the man who will condone the sin of denominationalism even as he denounces it and who mistakenly attributes the fruit of clergyism to the fruit of practicing denominationalism, feels so strongly against what he calls “restorationism” that he says

“the ecumenical movement must candidly deal with this delusion.” (p. 158)

Jesus said to the ekklesia of Ephesus,

“I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” ( Rev. 2:4-5; top )

Restoring the ekklesia to its first love and its first works is the only way for us to press on to being spotless and blameless. The first work out of which flows all our other works is to “believe in Him whom God sent.” ( Jn. 6:29 ) Our first love is to simply (both individually and corporately) walk with Him wherever He leads and obey Him. ( Jn. 14:23; top ) Restoring the genuine beliefs of the New Testament ekklesia is what the 16th century Reformation was about. Restoring the genuine practices and, most importantly, restoring the practice of simply walking with and obeying only the Spirit of Christ – the part left undone in the 16th century so that the wheat and the tares could finish maturing – is what will complete the Reformation now.

True restoration (of these genuine practices done by and with the Holy Spirit) is the genuine work of God in preparation for the day of Christ – and it is the one (and just about the only) version of Christianity that Morrison and the ecumenical movement seem most adamant about eradicating. That is, just about the only version of Christianity that is not entirely welcome at the ecumenical table is the so-called “restorationist” version that attempts and aims to restore the Christian faith to its original and intended practice, purpose and purity. We should not have to think too long and hard to realize who and what is the real force and factor behind this opposition. That Morrison, as a man who may have loved his concept of the ecumenical “church” more than he loved the Lord, should have missed such an obvious thing should stand as a warning to us all.

Let he who has ears hear.

6. The Christian Life in a United Church – Part 3 π 8. Surmounting Three Major Obstacles
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