“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
-1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
We had some work done in our house this week by a company that characterizes its work as “restoration.” The word is part of the company name. It’s on the truck that’s been parked in front of the house, on the signs that have been planted in the front yard. Restoration.
The implication, of course, is that they don’t build their own designs. Their goal isn’t to change a floor plan, or install central heat and air, or put in a new kitchen. They restore: they refinish wood, they do custom carpentry to restore wood trim, they repair masonry, and they paint. They make homes and buildings look like they were built to look. Sometimes they need to build something new, but when they do it’s in service to restoration.
That word restoration caught my attention, I guess, because my faith heritage is in a group of churches known, collectively, as “The Restoration Movement.” The movement began - at least as historians would describe its beginnings - on the American frontier in the nineteenth century. It sort of coalesced, really, from several independent efforts to return the church to apostolic Christianity. It was the Restoration Movement because its stated goal was to restore New Testament Christianity and thus help bring about unity among the various denominations of Christianity.
Somewhere along the line the Restoration Movement - as all movements eventually do - lost its way and lost its steam. (Not everyone associated with it, or every church associated with it: there have always been prophetic voices that recognize our shortcomings and call us back to the task of true restoration.) In our case, the way was lost because we convinced ourselves that we had finished the task of restoration. We managed that by allowing the grand idea of restoring apostolic Christianity to be boiled down to a small checklist. On that checklist were highly tangible, easily measurable goals consisting of things that we were or were not to do in our Sunday gatherings, matters of church organization and leadership structure, and conviction that baptism was the means by which a person took hold of the promises of the gospel. Once those items were checked off, any church could tell itself that it had restored New Testament Christianity within its walls.
Would that it were that simple.
Let me be very clear: I’m still enough of a child of the Restoration Movement that I believe that the restoration of apostolic Christianity should be the goal of every person who claims faith in Jesus.
I just don’t believe that the movement of which I’m a product, and of which the church I’m a part of is a product, has finished the work of restoration.
When we think we’re done with restoration, we turn our eyes, our tongues, and our pens toward everyone else. That’s what happened to the restoration movement of which I’m a part, and it happened within a generation. That’s why - if you’re not a part of Churches of Christ, for instance, but have heard of us - you probably think we’re contentious, argumentative bumpkins.
That’s what happens when we think we’ve restored what we’re supposed to restore. We take our sledgehammers and trowels and paint rollers and go to work on everyone else. Whether they’ve asked us to or not.
But look at the way the Bible uses that word, “restore.” It’s all over the Old Testament, particularly on the lips of the psalmists and prophets. In those cases, it’s God who does the work of restoration. The people can restore their temple. They can restore the walls of Jerusalem. They can restore the faithful observance of the Law.
But only God restores the people.
His people wait, and hope, and pray, and repent, and cry out for him in their distress.
But, in the end, it’s God who restores.
That’s why Peter talked about Jesus in terms of restoration. In Jesus, God is bringing about his plan to “restore everything.” It’s God’s restoration - we only participate in it. And God’s restoration certainly doesn’t have to do only (or even mainly) with restoring particular doctrinal emphases, organizational models, or Sunday worship practices. God’s restoration is much broader - he intends to restore “everything”. And it’s much narrower - he intends to restore human beings to himself. We can restore our doctrine and practice, get it all in line with the New Testament. But restoration still isn’t done, because what needs restoring is people to God. And that’s always God’s work.
That’s not to say that we don’t participate in it. Peter reminds us that restoration and “times of refreshing” come when we repent - when we take an honest look at ourselves and do a 180 away from whatever we find in ourselves that God didn’t intend. That’s why a restoration movement that thinks they’ve arrived is no restoration movement at all. That’s why a person who’s content with himself will never experience God’s restoration of his heart and mind.
That’s why Paul ends his second letter to the Christians in Corinth by saying, “Strive for full restoration.” He’s been praying for their full restoration. But he doesn’t encourage them to sit idly and wait for God to answer his prayer. “Be restored,” he tells them. “Be what you know God is making you.”
That’s good advice for anyone who values the restoration of apostolic Christianity, running pure from its source: “Be what you know God is making you.” In Jesus, God has given us a glimpse of what he wants us to be. He’s given us a look at his creation restored to perfection. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he has given us a place in that world. His Holy Spirit is a deposit. And so restoration isn’t the implementation of a checklist, however biblically-derived a checklist it may be. It’s no less than welcoming God’s remaking of our hearts, so that we may continue the work of restoration in the broken world around us.
So our efforts at restoration - whatever they may be - anticipate the day when God restores all things in Jesus. The restoration the psalmists and prophets longed for, that God always promised his people is coming, has come in Jesus. But it’s still arriving, and will be complete only when Jesus comes back. Until then, let us never again make the mistake that the work of restoration is over. Let us be busy participants in the restorative work God is doing in our communities, in our churches, and in our hearts. And let our standard always be the one who lived and died and lives again to bring about God’s restoration.
And may we never look away from that day on the horizon when God restores everything that’s been broken and damaged and corrupted. May we look forward to that day, and speed its coming.