NR is . . .
A call for community discourse among members of Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
Many members of Churches of Christ (CofC), particularly younger members and perhaps especially students preparing for ministry, are faced with growing uncertainty about the legitimacy of the Restoration Plea and the shape, limits, and direction of the CofC inasmuch as those are results of that Plea. The recent proliferation of publications focused on the identity and characteristics of the CofC past, present, and future has heightened self-awareness and allowed questions about the legitimacy or appropriateness of Restoration to become more focused and demanding. These writings provide many points of departure for the dialogue among members of the CofC, but other factors contribute to the urgency of the need for substantial community interaction.
- The general, rapid movement of CofCs toward mainstream Evangelicalism, for better or worse, is one such factor.
- The cultural milieu of postmodernism that is, in many ways, divergent from the modernist context in which CofC were planted and flourished raises many more questions
- On a similar note, the steady decline of the CofC in the U.S. gives cause for rigorous self-evaluation as well.
- Amid many other possible factors, one more certainly increases the need for dialogue
A significant portion of the future leadership of the CofCs stands poised to make decisions about what it means to minister among God’s people and what it means to be the church in light of often reductionistic, arrogant, and sectarian tendencies among the CofCs on one hand and many wholesome and hopeful options outside the RM on the other. Loyalty to a tradition is an insufficient basis for this decision. Commitment by way of loyalty is out of step with the RM in any event, for if there seems a “better” way of being the church, the Restoration impulse is to pursue it at all cost, including tradition.
In one sense, then, if future leaders (and others) are leaving the CofC because the tradition is unwilling to continue the work of restoration, they are not leaving the RM but rather the CofC has left it. This all begs the question: What is Restoration? That question stands at the heart of the NR dialogue, as does the assumption that what it has been is not necessarily what it should be. The answer(s) will clarify what value or contribution the RM has within greater Christianity, what distinguishes and will distinguish it from non-Restoration branches of Christianity, whether it is capable of engaging the postmodern world, what its steady decline signals, and many other important matters.
A vision for the future of the RM.
Inherent in the concept of NR is a tension between what is and what should be, between tradition and vision, between already and not yet. “Neo” is indicative of a passionate, unrelenting pursuit of greater coherence to the kingdom that has broken in with Jesus of Nazareth and is breaking in through God’s ongoing initiative. This is not a backward-looking, precedent-bound way of being. Instead, NR is the struggle to discern and participate in the new thing God is doing. It is the eschatological orientation toward “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) that redefines Restoration for us in terms of what God has yet to do.
At the same time, “Restoration” is necessarily rooted in what was. Even in regard to the eschatological dimension, God’s unfulfilled intention is his initial intention. For NR, there is necessary and appropriate continuity with the historical RM. Thus, in the very act of acknowledging the RM as a legitimate church tradition, NR reshapes the restorationism with which it is continuous—a restorationism that sought to reject all tradition and would not (or could not) admit its own tradition. By claiming continuity with the RM, NR creates discontinuity.
This is merely demonstrative of the many healthy tensions that characterize NR. NR, therefore, is not an attempt to separate from the RM but a hopeful vision of reforming it—of restoring it. It is a vision predicated on the many positive facets of the RM—some of which were actualized in history, some of which have been obscured, and some of which merely remained dormant potentialities. It is a vision inspired by the hopeful progressiveness and adaptability inherent in the RM’s commitment to pursue God’s original, ultimate intentions at all cost.