|"A GREAT RETURN TO THE BIBLE" |
by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)
THE RESTORATION PRINCIPLE
The Great Return finds its application today among men who are seeking to restore New Testament Christianity by going back to the Bible.
ONE ONE ONE ONE ONE ONE
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." (Eph. 4:4-6)
The confusion and division in Christendom today points to the need of a restoration of that which was formerly held and followed by Christians in the beginning. Had Christians throughout the ages continued unwavering in following the commands and precepts of Christ and His inspired apostles, there would never have been a need for restoration because there would have been nothing which needed to be restored. But, the chaos and confusion of warring sects and denominations stands as mute testimony of the many changes and alterations which have occurred through the intervening years. Reformation, not to be confused with restoration, has solved nothing. It merely added to the morass of confusion among religious factions.
Early in the history of man, it was a wrong attitude toward God which brought about the changes in worship. See Romans 1:20-25. Instead of glorifying God, they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. If men had held God in the right esteem instead of resorting to human reason and the foolish imaginations of men, the worship of God would never have been changed.
Later in the history of man, it was a wrong attitude toward God's word, the Bible, which brought about changes in the church of Jesus Christ. Just like the heathen of former days, their hearts were changed, and consequently the counsel of God was rejected in favor of human reasoning and opinion. Paul clearly alludes to this in II Timothy 4:3 by saying that the "time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears."
This being true, any restoration of the principles and precepts of pristine New Testament Christianity must be preceeded by a restoration of right attitudes toward the word of God. It took wrong attitudes toward God and His authority to make changes in His worship and His church. In like manner, a reversal in these attitudes must come before a return to the original pattern may be instituted.
Two Dangerous Attitudes Toward God's Word
Paul said, "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (I Thess. 2:13). The Christians at Thessalonica had received and esteemed the teachings of Paul as they were God's words -- not men's words. There have always been two dangers in men's attitudes toward the Bible: (1) Elevating man's words up to a position equal with God's words (2) Lowering God's word to that of the level of men's words. The whole of Christendom is in disarray and confusion today because men have invariably succumbed to one of these temptations.
ELEVATING MAN'S WORD UP TO THE LEVEL OF GOD'S WORD
Roman Catholicism and Protestant denominationalism have both been following man in preference to God and elevating man's words to that of the level of God's words. Paul said to the elders at the church in Ephesus, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your ownseIves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them' (Acts 20:29-30). I Corinthians 1:10-13 points up this tendency of men to follow other men instead of God even more vividly.
One of the primary features of the apostacy was the acceptance by the Roman Catholic church of a man, the pope, who was supposed to be endowed with infallible powers. This development came many years after the church had fallen away into complete Roman Catholic error. Roman Catholics accepted the word of the pope, when he spoke ex cathedra (officially in church affairs), regardless of whether it agreed with the Bible or not. In other words, they placed the word of a mere man up to a level with and even above the word of God.
Protestants point the finger of scorn at Roman Catholics because of their willingness to take the word of the pope instead of God's word, thinking the Catholics alone are at fault. But such is not the case because Protestants have done the same. Those who sought to reform the Catholic church began doing almost the same thing. They claimed that their preachers were especially "called of God" to preach. They argued further that God would not call a man to preach a lie so whatever the man preached must be the truth. Thus, they proceeded to make their preachers infallible proclaimers of God's word. Protestants sat like little birds in a nest while these infallible preachers fed them the morsels just as though their words were the words of God.
The only difference between this and Roman Catholicism is that there was one man in Roman Catholicism and the Protestants had a multitude of men. But, the problem was that they did not all preach the same thing. One group of people followed the preaching of one man and went in one direction. Another group followed the preaching of another man and went in the opposite direction. Both groups took the words of their preacher as though they were God's word, and yet that word led them in opposite directions. The inevitable result was denominational division and chaos. Thus, we see that Protestants were just as willing as the Catholics to follow the words of men in preference to the words of God. Men like to blame others and point the finger elsewhere, but it should be pointed at ourselves. James spoke of the perfect law of liberty -- James 1:25, and Paul said, "All scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16-17). We all need to repent and confess our sins and put God's word back up where it alone is entitled to be -- above the words of men.
Men need to go back to the Bible (Jude 3), back to "the faith once for all delivered to the saints", and let no man's word be equal to or stand parallel with the Bible. If men would exalt the word of God to its rightful position, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism would be destroyed, but not Christianity. And if it would do this, true Christianity must be something different from either of them. A wise Christian once said, "I wouldn't give a penny to unite men on man's words, but I would spend my life to unite men on God's word."
LOWERING GOD'S WORD TO THE POSITION OF MAN'S WORD
Some try to convince men that the Bible is unreliable and merely the work of human hands -- the product of man's ingenuity. They are quick to point out what they believe to be errors and contradictions in the Bible. They would reduce religion to a philosophy and offer the world a hedge podge of materialistic platitudes in preference to God's word.Some find it appealing because it caters to their sense of worldly wisdom. To them, it is smart. Young college and university students are especially susceptible to these lines of thought. They often take the sound principles of philosophy and make the wrong application
or follow them out to hurtful conclusions. But, an experienced logician who understands the principles of philosophy can prove that Jesus Christ was divine using the very same philosophical principles. He can also meet and defeat anyone who does not accept the Bible as God's word. It was Francis Bacon who said, "A little philosophy inclines man to theism; a depth of philosophy brings him to religion."
One approach to the Bible is to discard the teachings on heaven and hell. They reason that every person creates for himself his own heaven or hell depending upon how he faces life. It is of little wonder, then, that they would change the Bible practice of baptism by a burial, or immersion (Rom. 6:4) to sprinkling or pouring. They have no respect for the Bible anyway so why shouldn't they permit changes in its teachings and allow it to be dragged down to a level with man's literature? The same thing is true concerning the government of the church. Since they have no respect for the Bible who would expect them to be concerned about whether there were any changes made in the Bible, either great or small. Men ought not be surprised when these so-called "learned" men reject the Bible and insist that "it does not matter" if changes are made in God's word. Because of a bad attitude toward the Bible, one wouldn't expect it to be otherwise.
The religious world today is more keenly aware of the need for unity than in many generations. The ecumenical movement is at the forefront in the world's religious news. There should be just "one church for one world". Jesus bought only one church (Acts 20:28). He has only one bride (Rev. 21:9 and Eph. 5:22-33). He prayed that we might all be one (John 17:21). He is coming back to receive unto Himself just one church. But, this unity cannot be achieved on any man, or man's church. It can only be brought about by men placing the word of God, the Bible, back up there where it should be -- above the words and books of men. When men accept the Bible as their only guide and rule of faith and practice, there will be unity. Unity is the by-product of the acceptance of truth, for when truth is accepted, there is unity.
Every person must measure his own faith by the Bible, and if he is not practicing something now that is taught in the Bible, he should begin to do it immediately. If he finds that he has been practicing something not taught in the Bible, he should stop it immediately. Unity can be achieved when men respect the Bible, speak only where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.
Not Reform Rome -- But Restore Jerusalem!!
After many centuries of the Roman Catholic Church, there emerged the movement in the 16th century, known as the Protestant Reformation, studied earlier. It started out of the darkness of Roman Catholic error. It sought to reform the corruption in the Church. Since many of the men who led the reform movement were themselves Roman Catholic priests, they were not rebels against Rome from outside that organization. They wanted to "clean it up" from the inside. Many Protestants are today advocating the same thing, thinking that Catholicism can be changed from the inside. But, that is not possible. Corrupt bodies can never be truly reformed. The truth of this assertion is self-evident in Paul's statement in II Corinthians 6:17. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord..." Read also II Corinthians 6:14-17. The only way to correct error is to change it and leave it. Men must leave error in order to restore right.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others who led the reform movement were great men and we owe them much for what they did. They were able to correct many errors and false doctrines in Romanism. They succeeded in bringing to a halt the evil doctrine of indulgences and the corruption of that system. They helped clean up the priestly vices and curtail image and saint worship. They changed the man-originated practices of transubstantiation and the mass. They freed many who had been slaves of the Roman priests. They honestly tried to go back to the Bible, and it is largely through their efforts that we today have an opportunity to study our Bibles. In substance, they accomplished much and did a lot of good. But, they stopped short. They did not go all the way and consequently the reformation was, at best, incomplete. A living testimony to this fact is the confused and divided state of Protestant denominations today.
While those behind the reformation movement had some impact on Catholicism, many of the erroneous practices were carried right on unchallenged. They fought hard against some few errors but many were simply accepted without question. For example, the Bible practice of baptism by immersion had been changed to sprinkling by Catholicism. Many Protestant denominations merely assumed this to be the Biblical form of baptism and carried it on. Another case in point is the use of instruments of music in worship. The Roman Catholic church and the Creek Orthodox spilt in 1054 A.D. and one of the issues was the use of instruments of music in worship. The Greek Orthodox Catholics rejected the practice and still do today. Early Christians used no instruments and it was over 600 years before the Roman Catholic church accepted them. However, many of the leaders of the Reformation adopted this unauthorized practice in worship. Thus, it can be seen that a great step toward reformation was taken and a lot of good accomplished, but the problem was not solved. People saw that they could not reform Rome, and would have to restore Jerusalem. Men will never reform Roman Catholicism but they can restore New Testament Christianity. Men's hearts are wrong and the only solution lies in a return to the Bible. We must go back to the Bible -- back to God's inspired word which was written and recorded for us.
In the light of these convictions, the searchlights of truth were even turned on Protestant denominations. As they were examined in the light of the Bible, they were found wanting. It was noted that each denomination was following a number of unauthorized practices. Therefore The Back to the Bible movement was launched. It was termed the Restoration Movement because it sought to restore primitive New Testament Christianity. The leaders of this movement declared -- If it's in the New Testament, we practice it and preach it. We must preach it. Creed-bound Protestant groups refuse to accept this principle. They further declared -- If it's not in the New Testament we don't preach it or practice it. We must not preach it! In like manner most Protestant churches decline to follow this principle.
Millions today are embracing this plea to "restore Jerusalem" and primitive New Testament Christianity.
Note: This lesson is a synopsis of thoughts taken from three addresses delivered by Reuel Lemmons, editor of the weekly religious journal, Firm Foundation, in Saigon, Vietnam, December, 1964.
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