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Restorationism Overview

Discussion in 'Restorationists DIR' started by Green Gaia, Aug 26, 2005.

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  1. Green Gaia

    Green Gaia Veteran Member

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    Restorationism is an attitude that typifies a religious movement which sees itself as a rediscovery and establishment of the original form of Christianity in recent times. The term has been used to describe several comparably motivated Christian religious movements, some of which originated in the British Isles, but which only began to prosper in the eastern United States and then in the American frontier, in the 19th century in the wake of the Second Great Awakening.

    More generally, this attitude is referred to by the less appealing term, Primitivism (which describes many movements going back to early Christianity, and up to modern times, including Baptists, and before them, the Anabaptists). However, the religious movements referred to as Restorationists ordinarily:

    * sought a restoration of primitive Christianity
    * originated as distinct movements primarily in the United States
    * originated between approximately 1795 and 1881, or
    * may include any movement with a goal or perspective reminiscent of the 19th century restorationists
    * originally tended to resist identification as a Protestant church

    The term has special application to the Restoration Movement, and by comparison it is applied to other groups, whose similarity is largely coincidental. The name "Restoration" is also used by groups descended from early followers of Joseph Smith, and is preferred for a self description over the name better known to outsiders (Mormonism). These two movements have a briefly overlapping history; but other groups also are called restorationists, because of their comparable goal to re-establish Christianity in its original form, as they thought it to be.

    Preparation

    Leading up to the 19th century, the Calvinist and Wesleyan revival, called the Great Awakening, had established the Congregationalist, the Presbyterian, the Baptist, and the new Methodist churches on competitive footing for social influence in the new nation. However, as that great "revival of religion" began to wane, a new era of secularism began to overwhelm the social gains that had been experienced by the Evangelical churches. Furthermore, that revival had popularized the strong opinion that the Evangelical religion was weakened and divided, primarily due to unreasonable loyalty to creeds and doctrines which made salvation seem unattainable.

    The Second Great Awakening made its way across the frontier territories, fed by intense longing for a prominent place for God in the life of the new nation, a new liberal attitude toward fresh interpretations of the Bible, and a contagious experience of zeal for authentic spirituality. As these revivals spread, they gathered converts to the Protestant sects of the time. However, the revivals eventually moved freely across denominational lines, with practically identical results, and went farther than ever toward breaking down the allegiances which kept adherents to these denominations loyal to their own. Consequently, the revivals were accompanied by a growing dissatisfaction with the Evangelical churches and especially with the doctrine of Calvinism, which was nominally accepted or at least tolerated in most Evangelical churches at the time.

    A protest against Protestantism

    Restorationists were not content with mere cooperation between denominations. The leaders of these movements did not believe that God intended to simply fatten the old institutions, and perpetuate the old divisions, with the revivals. They perceived the new religious awakening as the dawning, or at least the harbinger, of a new age. Restorationists sought to re-establish or renew the whole Christian church, on the pattern set forth in the New Testament. They had little regard for the creeds developed over time in Catholicism and Protestantism, which they claimed kept Christianity divided. Some even counted the Bible as a casualty of ancient corruption, leaving it also in need of correction.

    The Protestant Reformation came about through a kind of restorationist impulse to repair the Church and return it to its original obedient pattern. But the Protestant reform movements, including the Puritans, accepted that history does have some "jurisdiction", according to historian Richard T. Hughes. Mark Noll similarly says that Protestants "apprehend the Bible's treasures as mediated through history." The Protestants believed that they must respect history, as interpreted through faith. Even John Calvin made the bold (if enigmatic) claim that the past is a "living magisterium". In contrast, restorationists sought to transcend history, to rebel against the "jurisdiction" of past historical development, in order to be free to embrace the heavenly pattern originally revealed to Christ's apostles, which is the Kingdom of God.

    Restorationist organizations include Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and others. These are widely disparate groups, and they may appear to have few similarities. But when regarded in terms of the restorationist theme, their common relationship stands out. All of these denominations arose from the belief that the true pattern of the Christian religion died out many years before and was finally restored by their churches. Some believe that they embody this restoration exclusively; others understand themselves as conforming to a rediscovered pattern of original Christianity that is now found in many churches, including their own.
     
  2. Green Gaia

    Green Gaia Veteran Member

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    Restorationists

    Restorationism draws attention to the reason it exists, which is sometimes called the Great Apostasy, or the fallen state of traditional Christianity. Because of its divisions, errors, and compromises with the world, the corrupted church fell out of line with the church founded by Jesus. If there were no apostasy-at-large and a church on the true-and-legitimate pattern was present, there would be no need for a Restoration. Thus, Restorationists can be compared to one another in their conviction that there has been an apostasy, which they undertook to correct.

    Some who adopt the restorationists' basic standpoint simply abandoned certain features of their own tradition, in favor of beliefs that have frequently appeared in other primitivist movements in the past. Typical of such non-traditional views might be adult baptism by immersion, congregationalism, indifference toward trinitarianism, disbelief in hell, lay ministers, non-substitutionary theories of atonement, free-will conversion, and often an elevated role for women.

    In some cases, these groups believe that the Great Apostasy's departure from essential Christianity was so total and disastrous as to render futile any plan to remodel Christianity on existing foundations, necessitating a restoration so radical that the only feature familiar to traditional Christians is the name of Jesus the Christ.

    Restoration Movement

    Of these movements, the most optimistic about the then-present state of Christianity was the "Stone-Campbell" Restoration Movement. Others sometimes refer to the followers of this movement as Campbellites; but the movement itself never adopted the term, which it considers disparaging. These churches strongly prefer to avoid applying to themselves any of the labels of convenience, which divide Christians from one another, calling themselves instead by generic New Testament names, such as Disciples of Christ, the Christian Church, or Church of Christ. They brought together many from Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, and other Christians across a spectrum of Evangelical and also Unitarian Christianity, at first with astounding success. But, as the movement progressed, it developed non-negotiable distinctives of its own, sometimes referred to disapprovingly as unwritten creeds and fractured into three major groups—each of which has become a recognizable denomination. Perhaps, no movement more typifies the Second Great Awakening than the anti-denominational movement, the Restoration Movement.

    Latter-day Saints

    Main articles: Latter Day Saint movement, History of the Latter Day Saint movement

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sought, as the "Christians" and "Disciples" did, to restore original Christianity: but they were much more pessimistic about the state of Christianity. The Great Apostasy was of such disastrous consequence, the Mormons believed, that a new Prophet and Apostles were required in order for God's Kingdom on earth to be re-established. They claimed that their founder, Joseph Smith, was just such a prophet.

    As part of his prophetic mission, Smith published the Book of Mormon, said to be translated from Golden Plates as directed by an angel Moroni. Members of the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism) believe that the Book of Mormon contains doctrine of the original church of Jesus Christ given to people who lived on the American continent between about 600 BC and 421 AD. Smith also founded the Church of Christ in 1830, which he and his followers viewed as the restoration of the church created by Christ, since he considered the Great Apostasy a removal of God's Kingdom from the earth.

    Adventism

    Adventism is a type of Christian eschatology which looks for the Second Coming of Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, usually in the near future. This view often involves belief that Jesus will return to receive only a small group of those true Christians who are expecting his return, and in anticipation of it have made themselves ready.

    Millerites and Sabbatarianism

    The Millerites are the most well-known family of the Adventist movements. From the Millerites descended the Seventh-day Adventists. This group revived apocalyptic teachings anticipating the end of the world, and did not look for the unity of Christendom, but busied themselves in preparation for Christ's return. Millerites sought to restore a prophetic immediacy and uncompromising biblicism that they believed had long been rejected by mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches. The Worldwide Church of God movement belongs to this category because it fused with the Adventists and the Seventh Day churches and spawned, among others, the personal ministry of Herbert W. Armstrong which became the Radio Church of God which became the Worldwide Church of God which then splintered into many other churches and groups while the Worldwide Church of God disassociated itself with the Restoration movements and has made major attempts to join the Protestant branch of Christianity. More recently, the Nazarene (or using the Hebrew word Netzarim) movement claims that Jesus did not intend to replace the Torah, but only to demonstrate how to follow it. The Nazarenes generally hold to Aramaic Primacy, that the Christian New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, not Greek, and make their defense from Semitic languages.

    Christadelphians

    John Thomas (Christadelphian), a convert to the restorationist "Christian" movement, began to publish strong criticisms of his colleagues, condemning them for their unwillingness to fully embrace primitive Christianity. His followers formed a new movement after their leader began to distinguish himself by his adoption of Adventism, a doctrine of a corporeal God, avoidance of political and military involvement, and other distinctives.

    Jehovah's Witnesses

    The Jehovah's Witnesses originated in the 1870s as a Bible study group led by Charles Taze Russell. Like other Restorationists, the Witnesses believe that some time after the death of the last apostle, the Church generally departed in a Great Apostasy from the original faith on major points. Like the Millerites, the Witnesses believe that the original faith could be restored through a generally literal interpretation of the Bible, and a radical commitment to follow its teachings. The Jehovah's Witnesses focused on the restoration of a number of key doctrinal points evident from their interpretation of the Bible, including the use of the word "Jehovah" in reference to the Biblical deity, a rejection of trinitarianism in favor of a type of unitarianism, active proselytization, condemnation of the ingestion or transfusion of whole blood, strict neutrality in political affairs, total abstinence from military service, and a belief in the imminent inauguration of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
     
  3. Green Gaia

    Green Gaia Veteran Member

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    Restorationist dates for the Great Apostasy

    The Latter-day Saints date the apostasy earliest, beginning after the death of the all of the original Twelve Apostles, at approximately 100 AD. With this early date, they claim the least need to reconcile known writings and practices of the early church and Church Fathers as these are all considered apostate.

    The Sabbatarians have generally agreed on the approximate date of 135 AD as the start of the apostasy. Justin Martyr in about 160 AD had specifically defended the first day assembly, and so is considered an apostate to Sabbatarians. Nevertheless, the early church history recorded the continued keeping of the Sabbath for creation and Sunday for the Resurrection in Hippolytus's time. They view the apostasy as not complete until the church stopped keeping the Sabbath sometime after Constantine.

    The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement views the Great Apostasy as a gradual process. Ignatius promoted obedience to the Bishop in about 100 AD, which is viewed by some as signalling the introduction of the idea of a professional clergy, who began to elevate themselves over the people, leading by a gradual process of corruption to the prophesied "man of lawlessness." Infant baptism, which restorationists condemned as coercive church membership, is a similar step toward apostasy. They believe that only adult baptism was practiced at least to the time of Tertullian, but that infant baptism was introduced locally around the time of Irenaeus. They often reject notions of original sin which entail a corruption of human nature, and admit only a defilement of mankind's habitual environment, traditions or culture. As do other restorationists, they saw the church-state alliance under Constantine as a kind of taking captive of the church, through the foolishly centralized power of the bishops. And finally, the development of the idea of the supremacy and universal authority of the Bishop of Rome is considered the completing step of the Great Apostasy, from which the Protestant reformation only imperfectly recovered, but most nearly did so among the Anabaptists and the Baptists.

    Reconstruction difficulties

    A major difficulty in Protestantism lies in its premise that the Reformation was justified in order to re-establish worship according to its biblical pattern. Protestantism seeks to reconstruct Christian worship from the New Testament alone, and frees itself from any duty to conform to an attested tradition, or even from any obligation to draw from any historical documentation of traditional practice. This left Protestantism with a stark minimalism on the one hand, and on the other hand a spectrum of more or less borrowing from Catholic tradition. This led to new traditions, which caused the Protestant churches to grow in parallel, away from one another, rather than to come together.

    Restorationism sought to solve this Protestant problem by rejecting its basic definition of the issue. The problem is not a matter of outward forms of doctrine and churchliness so much, as of a pattern of spirituality and authenticity. It seeks not so much to return to the Bible (as Protestantism did, in contrast to the magisterium), but to return to a lost interpretation of Christianity itself.

    Thus, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints developed an arresting blend of new Scriptures, an alternative history and a distinctive folklore of providential history, individualistic mysticism, rites of initiation into higher teachings and privilege, a broadly inclusive priesthood, an eclectic spirituality, a distinctive philosophy and culture, centralized organizational control under a divinely appointed council, and guidance by a succession of living revelators, in addition to the Bible. The narrow way of Mormonism seems to the outsider to have tributaries from every form of rejected Christianity ever invented; but Latter-day saints see themselves as set on a path of original Christianity, under the direct guidance of God.

    Similarly, the Adventist emphasizes the Spirit of Prophecy, which assures them of a divinely inspired interpretation of the Bible, which they have in the writings of Ellen G. White. The Jehovah's Witnesses have guarantees too, of the correctness of their teaching. Spiritualism, the Unity School or the Christian Scientist's metaphysical and universalist spirituality, likewise are not interested in Biblical interpretation, in any traditional sense. They sought instead a spiritual way of life, a renewed sense of what Christianity is supposed to be. Pentecostalism also is restorationist, in this sense. Pentecostals believe a spiritual aspect of original Christianity has been missing from the world since shortly after Pentecost, but is now restored as evidenced by the renewed gifts of speaking in tongues, and anointed preaching (prophecy). According to them, the present is the time of a "latter rain", when true and spirit-filled worship and the abundant Christian life is being re-established, and God is guiding and speaking to his people in a new way.

    The early Restoration Movement also was guided by leaders who believed that common sense rationalism, dispensing with sectarian loyalties, favorite lies, prejudices and superstition, could restore a clear minded view of history and of Scripture that would guarantee the re-establishment, for the first time in millenia, of real Christian worship and community. Even fundamentalists of the 20th century are a kind of restorationism, in the sense that their interpretation of contemporary events makes the present time seem to be immune to correction by history, or tradition - now the Bible is alive in daily events, in a way that it hasn't been since the first days of the church.

    Under the sway of such a mindset, at the outset of these movements, not only were historical documents relating to the early church seldom, if at all, consulted; but, when they were read, if they contradicted the new insights, they seemed only to give evidence of the Great Apostasy, in even the very earliest church doctrines and practices. Thus, with the consensus of history or tradition silenced to an unprecedented degree, the doctrines of these groups are set free to differ without an arbitrating voice to reconcile them. Their various approaches, their new principles of authority, and novel notions of unity, spirituality and worship, have led to a proliferation of interpretations, and intriguing spiritual experiments which prospered in the new American Land of boundless frontiers. Each with their own supporters, who believed that their way was right, the pioneering leaders developed vivid and compelling new portraits of what really is authentic Christianity.

    Thus, very far from transcending denominational divisions, restorationism accelerated Protestantism's trend to make schism into a new kind of normalcy. The commonalities of Restorationist splinter groups, such as baptism by immersion and other similarities, are superficial and expressive only of the common temper of the times. But together, these groups typify an epoch in history, at least as radical in its implications for Christianity as the Protestant Reformation had been; and, they are still the fastest growing Christian sects in the world.

    From Wikipedia
     
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