The Restoration Principle

9 — Congregational Apostasy

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead“ ‘” (Revelation 3:1).

THE CHURCH IN SARDIS WAS NOT THE LAST CHURCH TO BE DEAD WHILE STILL CONSIDERING ITSELF TO BE ALIVE. And if churches like Sardis could be in denial, it’s also possible that churches today may not see (or admit) the Great Physician’s diagnosis of their condition. It worries me that so much of what passes for “Christianity” in so many churches — indeed, the vast majority of them — has no scriptural precedent or authority to give evidence of the Lord’s approval. Indeed, it is denied that there is any need for such evidence.

Granted, no church is everything it ought to be. But there is a big difference between falling short in the implementation of an acknowledged standard and not even admitting there is a standard to be acknowledged. Now let’s apply that specifically to our discussion of apostasy and restoration. Churches committed to the norms laid down by Christ’s apostles are going to fall short of those criteria and need to repent. But I, for one, am not going to presume the Lord is pleased with a church that flatly denies even the principle of restoration — which is the belief that churches now must set their practices “in order” just as congregations in the New Testament were obliged to do under the apostles’ authority (1 Corinthians 11:34; Titus 1:5).

Christ is patient, as we see in His warnings to the churches in Revelation 2–3. If we have veered off the path, He is not going to cut off His relationship with us until we’ve been given time to repent and get back on the path. But if we don’t come back, He is going to disown us — and living in denial of that fact only makes matters worse.

For congregations, as for individuals, there is no such thing as “autopilot.” We will never get to the point where we can think we’ve perfectly restored first-century Christianity — and then we can just relax and enjoy the ride. Adjustments will always be needed, and the more humble we are in acknowledging that need, the better off we’ll be. One day, the Lord is coming back. Until then, we must constantly reassess where we are and return to the apostolic standards which were given to the world to define “the Way” (Acts 9:2).

“The life of the church depends on one thing: her return to biblical principles” (Otto Riecker).

Gary Henry — +

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