Reformation, Restoration, or Renewal?

[A personal friend, a former Baptist, has convinced me to post this article in my blog, telling me the great impact this would have if the world knows what we are and why we are what we are. There is nothing to be afraid of, he says. This has something to do with digging up our roots as a church, looking at it from the vantage point of one who has stayed in the movement for something like 40 years and withered all faith-shaking criticisms about it. For my two reasons for not posting this, he gave me five for posting it. I am not fully persuaded, my reservation still remains, but let me try to widely circulate this article. Comments from readers can alone tell me its general benefits (Ed Maquiling)]

There’s this very intriguing series of questions: What are we as a church? Are we restorers, reformers, or renewers? (This last word I have to invent; it’s not in the dictionary).

The churches of Christ are not the only religious group who claims to be the restored church; the Mormons (founded by Joseph Smith in 1830) and the Iglesia ni Cristo (by Felix Manalo, in 1914) do too.

Thomas and his son Alexander Campbell, as far as my studies are concerned, called themselves and their fellow disciples “reformers,” not restorers. At the close of the 17th century, forsaking their Seceder Presbyterian roots, they urged all believers to go back to the Bible. Brother Bill Humble goes on record as saying that the “Restoration Movement [rooted in the work of the Campbells, Abner Jones, Elias Smith, Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott] began in America in 1800″ (The Restoration Story, p. 1).

Greville Ewing, Robert and James Alexander Haldane, Robert Sandeman and John Glass, his father-in-law, they of the British Isles, never thought of themselves as “restorers,” but “reformers,” like the Campbells. Ewing, the Haldanes, Glass and Sandeman all had Anglican roots. Ewing and the Haldanes put up Bible schools and churches. The Haldanes started tabernacle meetings (the forefather of our lectureships and gospel meetings) and wrote commentaries. Glass and Sandeman put up churches and no Bible schools (none on record, I should say, but you may correct me). Glass wrote tracts (the forefather of our tract publishing ministry). Sandeman brought the movement to North America; the Haldanes brought it to Switzerland. And their “reformation movement” had antedated the “Restoration Movement” in America by hundreds of years. In a way, we could say that a “reformation movement” in the British soil had fathered a “reformation movement” in America that later called itself “Restoration Movement.” (A book I’ve read says that the Campbells may have met Greville Ewing, and that Alexander Campbell personally may have worshipped for a time with the church affiliated with the Haldanes. Walter Scott, who later cast his lot with the Campbells, was baptized by a minister of a church affiliated with the Haldanes).

But the Anabaptist Movement in Switzerland had preceded both the British and the North American movements, again, by hundreds of years. Their leaders, Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock, and a host of others, spurred by Erasmus’ publication of the Greek New Testament, began to read the Bible in Greek. They had heard of Martin Luther’s movement in Germany (remember that this was in the early 1500’s and the nailing of Luther’s 95 theses was still fresh in their memory). The Anabaptists leaders had read Luther’s tracts, they had met Philipp Melanchthon and Ulrich Zwingli, but decided that these men—Luther, Melanchthon and Zwingli– had not done enough, and pushed for the movement to go back the Scriptures, rejecting infant sprinkling and instituting the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week. The Anabaptists, who also fathered the Mennonites, never called themselves “restorers” but reformers.

As far as I know, it was brother J. W. Shepherd who made the distinction between “restoration” and “reformation.” Why this distinction? We owe it to the progress of our cause, which called for the crystallization of the things we taught. We owe it to our leaders who decided we should also make a name.

If one looks for the pattern of things, then, you have the Anabaptists, the British, then the Americans. We Filipinos are just the daughters of the movement sired by the Campbells, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, Elias Smith, and Abner Jones in the soil of America.

If we call ourselves “restorers,” what are we restoring? You cannot call yourself by something that you are not. Are we restoring the church?

Come closer and lend me your ears, please. If we claim to be “restorers” of a church, then we are admitting to the world that the INC (Felix Manalo) had been right all along– the church of Christ had been lost, and from the time of its departure, there had been no saved people until Felix Manalo came on the scene! Are you ready to believe that?

That is your first predicament–to be identified with the group that started from us (Gentlemen, hear ye, hear ye, Felix Manalo actually came from our Movement,
for he was introduced to the church by someone named Frederick Kershner, a missionary of the instrumental wing of the Church of Christ).

Your other predicament is that you have to skew the passages that speak about the eternal nature of the church in order to fit your doctrine, such passages as Matthew 16:18 (”the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”), Daniel 2:44 (”in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed”) and Hebrews 12:28 (”therefore we receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved”). I thought we’d like the Bible to speak for itself, rather than become its mouthpiece. So why skew these texts?

I may be a son of the restorationists who came to these islands of 7,100 after Spain had ravaged it for 500 years and sold me into Magellan’s religion. I am thankful for George Dewey, who pointed his big guns toward Intramuros, giving his gunner this signal: “Be ready to fire when I tell you, Ridley.” He ended Spain’s rule over my islands. Then we welcomed the Thomasites, then the Protestants, then the “restorers” from America. The rest is history.

If you call me a “restorationist, ” I have a problem wearing that scapular for the rest of my life. Yes, I learned “restorationism” in the Bible college, and I am always thankful to my American mentors (Kenneth J. Wilkey, Bob Buchanan, Douglas LeCroy, and Dale Chilton) for teaching me the Bible, and for making me learn Greek (thanks to Jeff Shelton). I have had Filipino teachers too–Brothers Eusebio Tanicala, Adriano Limbawan, Teofilo Alcayde, and Felix Bravo. Perhaps I differ from my former teachers and my fellow Bible students on the idea of the “restoration.” I am not a restorer of a church, because I wouldn’t be true to the purpose, intent and nature of that blessed institution for which my Lord died. I cannot restore a church that never vanished from the face of the earth in the first place! There was no general departure of the church and I trust the Holy Spirit who said to Paul that only “some shall depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1). The word “some” does not mean “all.”

I too have a problem calling myself a “reformer.” What do I reform? the doctrines of the church? The church itself? The true teachings of the Bible do not need any reforming at all. I am in the Lord’s church, and in a sense I can be a reformer of it. But those other churches which are not Christ’s do not need any reforming; they need to be taught about the basics of truth.

So what am I? I am just a Christian preacher, calling the people who have departed from God to go back to Him again. I am calling for a renewal of relationships.

These thoughts are just for you to consider. This is not to fault anyone of you for teaching something different from mine. Tell you what, I have arrived at these thoughts after many years of prayerful studies of the Word, and after many debates with the sects. You may say that my ideas have undergone some kind of crystallization also. Consider it. It is not a dogma of a pope. It is not the kind of teaching that demands I split the church because some of guys don’t agree with me. I am not going to die for that opinion, never.

What then are you saying, brother Ed? you may ask. Tell you what: One of those things that I like about the Campbells and other “restorers” is their motto that became the “restoration” movement’s guiding light: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.” Difference of opinion is what it is. And a healthy one, I suppose. Giving others the freedom of opinion, I don’t chop people for teaching that they cannot address the Father as Lord in their prayers. I believe that we can go to heaven even if we differ in our opinions– opinions that are not intended to fractionalize the body, but to become the springboard for healthy discussions in our forums, lectureships, and Bible studies, at church, at coffee shops, or at home. If this is the attitude we have, then we should not divide over the issues of orphan homes, Bible schools, plural cups, located preacher, benevolence for the non-Christians, house churches, sponsoring churches. If Daniel Sommer, Roy Cogdill and Fanning Yater Tant had not been too pushy of their “conservative” principles, then the movement that my beloved American brothers had brought to many shores would not have been too fractious. They ought to learn from the great Homer Hailey and Bennie Lee Fudge, not too pushy nor separatist. As it is I am a loss to explain why we plead for unity of all believers and then fractionalize the churches over minor issues (“majoring in minors,” as my teacher Bob Buchanan would often say). God help these fractious men! is all I can say in moments of frustrations.

Gentlemen, I love this church. There is nothing like it in the whole world. Whether we agree or disagree on minor points, let us not make big issues out of it, and let us learn to love those who differ from us. Let us rather push for the evangelization of the whole world–this is the most important. If a brother lacks the sense that others have, the church, consisting of different talents and mental resources could amply supply that lack. But the church must also be tolerant over small matters. I am of the opinion that no one goes to hell just because he believes that when the Lord comes again, He shall restore the kingdom to Israel (cf. Acts 1:6). If even Christ had been tolerant of this small fault in the apostolic band, why couldn’t we? Why couldn’t you?

Oh, you can keep calling yourselves “restorers,” or “reformers,” and I don’t really mind. Some messages sometimes don’t sink that deep; sometimes they bounce back.

Now, it’s your turn to bounce to me your opinions. I will listen (Ed Maquiling).


Below is a comment from brother Art Madlaing, elder of the Golden Gate church of Christ, which I am publishing for its being pertinent and timely. I appreciate the spirit of this brother. He says:

Dear Bro. Ed,

Thank you for this excellent and thought-provoking article. I’ve lived in the United States for more than 32 years and had the opportunity to read different articles and opinions about the so called “Restoration Movement.” I am not also comfortable, like you, wearing the name Reformer or Restorer. I just want to wear and live by the plain and most precious name “Christian” to honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Collectively, every local congregation must wear the name Church of Christ and not “Community Church,” etc. being used by many “change agents” in the brotherhood. The church is called His “bride” so she must wear His name.

In Christian love,




3 Responses

  1. Hi there Bro. Ed. Again this article of yours about these “r” words is an excellent starting point for reflection on what are we really? restorers, reformers, “renewers” and we can add many other such similar and related “r” words.

    My readings on church history and yes secular history, led me to reconsider the teachings I received from preachers in the churches of Christ/Churches of Christ, and I can say that most preachers in our faith-heritage have either hazy or incorrect idea and understanding on this subject. But the one error that I guess tops all other errors on this subject is the assertion by some of our preachers that we are the “one true church” and that no one who wants to go to heaven can do so without himself/herself becoming a member of “our church.” In fact, there are church of Christ preachers who are of the opinion that baptism (believer’s immersion) done from other churches or denominations are invalid because that baptism did not add them into the true church — our church.

    My views on this matter is still developing and I expect as other can expect too from me, that we will not all have the same take on this issue, but that of course should not divide us.

    My readings on the Campbells tell me that many of us who are heirs to his movement have got it wrong. We have become hair-splitters and legalistic, most often that is!

    I have never been to a Bible school and my own faith-formation is 90% a product of my own personal effort to understand the Scriptures. And the way I see it, most preachers who have wrong understanding on church history came from our Bible schools. This observation makes me thankful that I had never been to a Bible school.

    Again a good article from you! Keep up the good work!

  2. Hello. I found this googling “Haldane brothers Glass Switzerland” because I am speaking on this very matter tomorrow, and wanted to see what others may have said on this. I am of the heritage of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and their stress upon “recovery” of what was lost. (Another “r” word. I also met for awhile with another group in my town that called themselves The Restoration.) What I am considering is indeed this matter: How important is it that we consider our stand as being upon others’ shoulders? Or should we simply consider how the Lord is seeking to lead us today, looking uniquely to the Word, irrespective of our heritage? (Among us we, for instance, commonly consider Luther, the Anabaptists, the mystics, Zinzendorf and the Moravians, and Darby and the Plymouth Brethren to be of the line of God’s recovery work on the earth, extending to T. Austin-Sparks and Watchman Nee in the 20th century.)

    Of course, we know considering such has nothing to do with our salvation, but what of God’s desire being accomplished on the earth? Shall the overcomers be those who eventually are able to push through along those paths others have cut to the extent that they were granted? Are we to take up where they left off? And if we are, is this done by looking to their example? Or is it simply the Lord’s revealing what it is He needs in this generation, even though those who respond may be unaware of the struggles of those who have labored before them?

    To me, the picture of the restoration of the temple and the city of Jerusalem with Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah seems powerful as a type (holding Jerusalem as a picture of Christian oneness and the parallel to church history), but I must agree with the above writer… we may learn from the accomplishment and struggle, etc., of those who have gone before, but what is primary is our focus on the Word of God. Perhaps this focus will also enable genuine fellowship among all those who are called in such a way, regardless their heritage and starting points. “Until we all arrive.”

    (There is one NT text I CAN think of as to restoration, and that is the Lord’s charge to Ephesus in Rev. 2 that they consider from whence they have fallen and to return to do the first works…having left their first love.)

    May the Lord gain for Himself what it is HE is after.

    He is worthy.

    your brother in Christ, John

  3. Hi brother Ed! Very nice article on the subject of our real title. Are we Restorers? Reformers? Renewers? Or neither?

    Let me poise this question for you: Let’s say I were attending a church of Christ that was filled with nothing but simple Christians. Christians who never even heard the names Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, etc and etc. Could I learn all I needed to know about Salvation from God’s Word alone and without hearing the sermons, doctrines, ideals, concepts or anything pertaining to the “Restoration” movement? Do I need to know about the Restoration plea or the restoration principle in order to be saved? Let’s remember 2 Tim 3:16, 17.

    I did not know anything about the history of the church other than what had been revealed to me and pointed out to me in the book of Acts, before my baptism. I never heard about Campbell and I don’t think I needed to know about him or what he taught in order to learn the truth.

    I can’t think of any New Testament text which designates Christians as anything more than CHRISTIANS. We are servants, we are disciples, we are brothers, but there is no text which indicates that we are restorers (or “renewers”).

    I understand the Restoration history and the value that it holds for us today. It’s something that should embolden us and we can learn from it but it is not something essential for us to claim as our heritage. The best way to honor the plea of the Restoration movement is to focus on God’s Word alone. Study of the movement itself holds very little value in contrast with the teachings of the Bible.

    That’s my opinion on it, brother. Thanks for allowing my comments to be posted. Keep up the good work.


    Michael Hildreth

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