In the letter the church's elders acknowledge Community Christian Church's relationship to the American Restoration Movement of the 19th century. It lists three reasons for the change:
- A biblical reason which is linked to the church's accusation the Restoration Movement is a "works righteousness" movement because of its emphasis on baptism. The letter accuses the Restoration Movement of teaching baptismal regeneration.
- A historical reason tied to the church's decision to link to the historic Reformation of the 16th century. In essence they would rather be tied to Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli than Jesus and the apostles.
- A pragmatic reason due to the fact that the change in name reflects the church's change in theology and approach to ministry.
In response to Community Christian Church's decisions, I simply want to make the following observations.
- As a locally autonomous and self-governing congregation the elders and the church have the right to make these decisions. The independence of each congregation to follow their understanding of the Bible and its teaching is, at the same time, the Restoration Movement's greatest blessing and its greatest curse.
- The changes leading to the abandonment of the Restoration Plea is an indictment on the ministry of Jack Martin who preceded Joel Ellis, the current minister. It is the responsibility of the teaching minister and the eldership to assure a church's adherence to sound doctrine. The fact Community Christian Church is choosing to leave the Restoration Movement during the ministry of the individual following Jack Martin reveals the church's lack of biblical grounding.
- The decision of the church's leadership demonstrate what can happen when a church calls its ministry from denominational sources. Ellis is a graduate of Liberty University and the minister of Discipleship is a graduate of schools with no relationship with the Restoration Movement.
- Warnings regarding the encroachment of Reformation and Evangelical theology have been issued now for well over a decade. Few seem to listen! The thinking expressed in the letter from the elders of Community Christian Church reflects Zwinglian thinking. Ulrich Zwingli's theology constitutes a major shift in the understanding of apostolic Christianity. It was Zwingli who denied the place of baptism in salvation issues. Believe me when I say Community Christian Church is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last, to adopt such teaching.
- There seems to be a studied effort on the part of those educated in Evangelical colleges and seminaries to "invade" Restoration Movement congregations with the intention of subversion. Although the example of which I'm aware are few, there are undoubtedly many others within all streams of the Restoration Movement.
- One major problem contributing to the ease with which subversion takes place is the way many preachers and teachers within the movement teach baptism for the remission of sins. It is all too easy for those educated in Evangelical or Reformation schools to interpret Restoration teaching on baptism as "baptismal regeneration." It is high time to begin preaching and teaching that a person is saved by faith. Alexander Campbell taught salvation by grace through faith. The Bible teaches salvation by faith in baptism. When a person believes and places their trust in Christ they are saved but salvation is formally conferred in baptism. The Bible still says, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved..." (Mark 16:15, 16).
I predict, and I am no prophet, many more congregations will follow Community Christian Church into Evangelical false teaching. All too many Restoration Movement congregations have an aversion to teaching "sound doctrine." When was the last time you heard a message from the pulpit on an issue of doctrine?
I've done quite a bit of diagnosis here. Let me offer a prescription or two.
- Restore the place of expository preaching and teaching to the pulpit. Leave behind the topical and textual messages and preach the Bible--the whole Bible. After all, the Bible only makes Christians only. Do not be afraid to preach doctrine as it is revealed in the biblical text.
- Restore the Bible school as a place where content can be taught. Small groups are fine but the average small group, unless strictly guided, become a pooling of ignorance. Small groups are horrible for teaching content. They are great for building relationships and accountability but are simply ineffective in teaching content.
- Hold our colleges and universities accountable to the standard of the Word of God and the position and plea of the Restoration Movement.