In our last sermon from the 2016 Ozark Memorial Meeting, evangelist Matthew Barnes addresses a very topical question: Is it more important to have ‘unity’ or restoration of the New Testament church? We hope you will listen to this engaging presentation.
Attitudes Necessary To Restore New Testament Christianity MP3 Link
Is there a Divine standard of church order to which Christians must subscribe? Many passages command the servant of God to ‘keep the traditions’ and ‘follow the example.’ Roger Boone addresses this issue and considers the all-important topic of restoring God’s perfect and wondrous church of Christ.
The grass withers,and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever. (1 Peter 1:24-25)
In the nineteenth century men such as Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell led what has been called the Restoration Movement. It was called such because these men and others, disgusted with the religious division produced by the doctrines of men, set out to restore New Testament Christianity by calling people back to the Bible. However, this was not the first restoration movement. The Bible, from beginning to end, deals with the theme of restoration. In Nehemiah chapter 8 we find several timeless restoration principles that will lead anyone, regardless of the age in which they live, back to a restored relationship with God.
God allowed the Jews, because of their sins, to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. In 606 B.C. Babylon deported the citizens of Judah to begin the seventy years of captivity that had been foretold by Jeremiah and other prophets. Following the first deportation came two others, one in 596 B.C. and the last in 586 B.C. during which the entire city of Jerusalem was destroyed including the temple area. However, in 539 B.C. Cyrus, the Persian king, overthrew Babylon’s world rule. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus allowed a remnant of God’s people to return to their homeland (II Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe a great restoration movement that took place when the Jews returned to Palestine.
Just as there were three deportations from Judah into captivity, there were three exile returns to Judah from captivity. Zerubbabel and 50,000 Jews returned to Palestine in 536 B.C. (Ezra 2). He rebuilt the temple and tried to restore the temple worship in 516 B.C. In 458 B.C. Ezra led a second expeditionback and restored the temple service (Ezra 8:1-20). However, the city of Jerusalem itself remained in ruins. In 445 B.C., during the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, led the third group of exiles back. Rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls was Nehemiah’s priority. At great expense he rebuilt the walls and did it in only fifty-two days in spite of incredible oppositions (Neh. 6:15). As daunting as it was, rebuilding the city was not going to be enough. The people had to rebuild their commitment and relationship to God. In Nehemiah 8 we have recorded for us their efforts to do exactly that.
Bring The Book
Within a week after completing the walls, these Jews, were about to do what had not been done in well over one hundred years, meet together under the protection of their ramparts.
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. (Neh. 8:1)
The very first step on the road to restoration began with this single most important directive: “bring the Book.” After several years of spiritual deprivation, which led to their spiritual separation, the Jews demanded the only thing that could bring about restoration: God’s Book. Until people demand the Book, their spiritual state will not change. People who are religiously divided from each other and are spiritually separated from God must realize that unity, reconciliation, and forgiveness can only be accomplished on God’s terms. We, being unholy, would never know how to approach our holy God and be reconciled with Him if He had not revealed how to (1 Cor. 2:11-13). God has planned and provided everything necessary for man to be restored. Because He revealed His will to the “apostles and prophets” who wrote it down, we can know for certain what He expects and likes and what He does not (Eph. 3:3-5).
The scriptures are profitable, can make us complete, thoroughly equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and include all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Peter admonished, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The apostle John warned against tampering with the message of God (Rev. 22:18-19). These scriptures are demanding that we bring the Book and the Book alone. The doctrines of men result in division, vain worship, and a false sense of security. Only the Book of God can bring true restoration.
Hear And Understand The Book
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Neh. 8:2-3)
Ezra read the Law to the people because it was necessary for them to hear it. Hearing the word of God is absolutely essential for restoration. The Apostle Peter opened the very first gospel sermon with the demand, “hear my words” (Acts 2:14). Peter realized that in order for these men to be forgiven of their sins it was necessary for the gospel message to be communicated to them. The Apostle Paul asked,
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?…So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14, 17).
Further, the Jews in Ezra’s audience were eager to hear. “The ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). They desired to hear what the book had to say and demonstrated their respect by standing in its presence (Neh. 8:5). They respected it not merely because it was ancient, but because it was authoritative. It was that which “the Lord had commanded Israel.” In order for the Bible to have the needed impact in our lives we must poses attitudes that reflect our belief in it as the authoritative Word of God. We must approach the scriptures with a readiness to hear and a willingness to accept its teachings. We must have the “if the Bible says it, that settles it” attitude. Note that Jesus warned in Mark 4:24, “take heed what you hear,” but in Luke 8:18 He admonished, “take heed how you hear.” An irreverent attitude towards the scriptures can hinder our reception and understanding of them.
That being said, comprehending what they heard was vital. God does not call for us to follow mindless superstition, vain repetition, or human tradition. Our faith is to rest upon intelligent interpretation and application.
“So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading…All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:8, 12).
When Philip approached the Ethiopian’s chariot and heard him reading the scriptures he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). When Jesus explained the parable of the sower He said, “he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). Obviously many people hear the word of God but react differently. The fruitful person is he who hears with an honest and good heart and understands (Luke 8:15). The soil in which the seed is sown must be receptive.
The Jews of Nehemiah 8 were receptive. “All the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (8:9). Why were they weeping? They had hearts that were tender and touchable. Were these tears of joy? Perhaps. But certainly these were tears of sorrow as the scriptures made them aware of their sins. One will not journey down the road of restoration until he sees his sin and becomes sorry about it. The prodigal son of Luke 15 had to “come to himself” before he would head home. In Neh. 8:9, the Jews were weeping tears of sorrow because as they began to hear and understand the word of God they realized just how far from God they had journeyed.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions the results of the first letter he sent to them:
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor. 7:8-10)
Paul rejoiced because their sorrow produced results. As difficult as it may be, sincere self-examination is needed in order to make the necessary changes or corrections in our lives. It is not that God wants us to be sorrowful, but that our sorrow might motivate us into action.
Obey The Book
The day after Ezra read from the Book, the heads of the families gathered to Ezra to receive further instruction from the law of God. It was then they discovered that in the seventh month the Law prescribed that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in observation of the Feast of Tabernacles (Duet. 16:16: Lev. 23:42). Nehemiah 8:15-17 reads:
And that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths…So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness (Neh. 8:15-17).
They did not merely learn what God wanted, but they did what God required. They read the Book and they obeyed it. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22).“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Jesus taught the difference between the wise and foolish man is that the wise will act on what he hears and the foolish will not (Mt. 7:24-27). It will not matter how much we read, hear, or learn, if we do not apply and practice the truth our relationship with God will not be restored.
Continue To Follow The Book
“He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance” (Neh. 8:18).
Restoration was not an experiment but a commitment. Once restoration takes place, we must be committed to following the ways of God. Jesus told some Jews who believed on Him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it will be blessed in his deed (James 1:25). Restoration requires faithfulness unto death (Rev. 2:10). Your commitment of yesterday or yesteryear will do you no good if you are not faithful now. Regardless of what previous generations have done, it is the responsibility of each new generation to learn and practice the ways of God.
Nehemiah 8 records a wonderful time in the history of God’s people. During this remarkable period it was clearly demonstrated what can be done when people have determined minds. The simple principles set forth in this chapter can be emulated by anyone who truly desires restoration. If people make up their minds they want to restore New Testament Christianity nothing and no one can keep them from doing precisely that.
Opposing Innovation in Religion
There are certainly those who will ask: why do we approve of innovations in material matters and oppose them in divine matters? Well the answer is very simple. There are two types of Innovations:
- Those Involving Man’s Arrangements
- Those involving Divine Arrangements
With the first we have no problem. Why? It is because such innovations do no alter or affect the holy commandments of God. Refrigerators are an innovation in the storage of food from the day of the New Testament Church, but it is not sinful to own one. God did not instruct us on how we were to store our food. 747 Airliners are an innovation in travel from the days of the Apostle Paul, so is it sinful for our preachers to use them to fly to foreign nations to do missionary work? No, God did not give divine instruction on how we are to travel, it is the same with using the television and Internet or sending out Bible Tracts, these are innovations in man’s arrangements not God’s. God has instructed us on how to teach the saved, and public bible classes were never a part of his plan.
Bible Classes: A liberty, or an Innovation?
Now many may say, “We understand why we must prevent ‘harmful’ innovations, but what would be wrong the Bible Classes they are strengthening the personal knowledge of Christians aren’t they?” Rather than answer this question with my own frail, fallible words, I will give an example found in the Word of God. Let us look at a story that is found in 1 Samuel 15:1-22. The gist of the incident goes like this: King Saul was commanded to go over to the land of Amalek and utterly destroy the people, and all they possessed. After reaching the land, Saul, instead of doing exactly as he was told, spared the best of the flocks and oxen, and even the King of the Land. Behind his action was a noble purpose; at least it would appear. But let us not forget that God commanded this man to do something, and regardless of the motives behind his actions he failed to do what God had commanded. Will he be held responsible? Let us see – “And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken, than the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:20-22. In the eyes of Saul and the people, the thing they did by bringing back these fine animals and the King of the Land was doing an extra service for God. They took the liberty of expanding somewhat on what God had told them. But Samuel told him the finest oxen and sheep and the greatest riches in all the land were not as good as obedience. The same lesson applies today what we might see as a liberty that would seem to be beneficial to the mission of the Church, is in the eyes of God an innovation and corruption of His command.
Closing Comments on what is Wrong With Public Bible Classes
The wonderful thing about having the Word of God to guide us is that it is perfect, harmonious and clear. If followed exactly as it is written there will be no division, no controversy, and when there is it can only be due to mans foolishness of deceit. When Acts 20:20 is seen for what it is than we have a distinction, public and private. With public we have Worship Service and Evangelism which, according to 1 Cor. 13:44-45 and 2 Tim. 2:11-12, are times when women are forbidden to speak (the assembly) and teach or take an authoritative role (publicly). In the story of Pricilla and Aquilla studying with Apollos we see two men and one women talking together in private. In private a woman is authorized to teach a man. These lines and boundaries are very clear, but when a system alien to the scripture is placed in the picture the lines become distorted. When Public Bible classes are advocated one will be ready to stand and say “Lets have women teachers in these Bible classes.” How will you rebuke them with scripture? We have already determined that the Bible class cannot be classified as either of the two authorized methods of public teaching of the word, nor can it be classified as private. This means that you would not be able to rebuke them using the Word. The only way you would be able to, would be to admit that because of a lack of scriptural backing, the Bible Class system is unscriptural. Finally, in 1 Peter 4:11 there is a command to all Christians, a command that the early Restoration preachers knew had to be strictly followed if the will of God was to be done, it says “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” If we are to truly worship God in accordance with His will we must hold to what was said in that verse, when we speak we must “speak as the oracles of God.” “Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is Silent” is recognized as an old Restoration plea. Examine the scriptures and see if they anywhere mention or authorize “public bible classes”, if not than please run “back to the Bible” and hold fast to the Ancient Order. –CED