Book Review: “Radical Restoration” (Mar-Apr 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Kenne Whitson
March-April 2002

To what extent we as the churches of Christ have been able to restore the first century church is a topic of great debate in the brotherhood. A good deal of that debate is whether or not we should be looking to the first century church as an example or not, or if instead we should only take into account the functions that we have received from the writers of the new testament and apply the lessons learned to our own culture and discount the forms as a part of their culture. These topics and others just as hot and debatable are covered in the recent release by F. LaGard Smith Radical Restoration.

Radical Restoration: A Call for Pure and Simple Christianity is a very challenging book that causes the reader to reevaluate all aspects of our denominationalized way of thinking and truly focus on the church that Christ intended as His bride. It introduces a fresh new perspective on how we should view the church and what changes would have to be made to achieve these goals.

The book is broken into three parts with the first two containing Smith’s thoughts on the topic and the third containing the opinions of others on Smith’s work. Part one sets the background for the book and gives Smith’s beliefs on what the church is and what it should be. Part two delves into the way the Church of Christ operates in form and function and how we have sadly missed the true picture. The whole of the book stands on the premise that the church that Christ intended bears no resemblance to the denominational organization that we have become.

Chapter one, in Smith’s own words, is “a rather protracted analogy based upon what is essentially a mathematical concept”. It deals with Edwin Abbot’s work Flatland and the two dimensional world of flatland itself. In Abbot’s book the two dimensional inhabitants struggle grasping three dimensional concepts and therefore don’t see the world as it truly is. This in turn is Smith’s view of the Church of Christ and how our inability to perceive the church in all of its dimensions hinders us from achieving all that God intended us to be.

In chapter two Smith uses several examples from scripture to argue his case that God used radical restoration to effect change in His people repeatedly, and we are no less obligated to use the same form of radical restoration to change the current situation that the church is in. In chapter three Smith takes issue with our belief that we are neither Catholic nor Protestant. He points to several forms that we have adopted from either of these two religious entities that did not exist in the first century church and that we brought along with us as we broke from these groups throughout history. Chapter four looks into the current cultural battle being waged over whether or not history is relevant at all to the way we live our lives today, and in chapter five he looks at what he describes as a first century model of perfection in regards to the church. He finishes part one with a chapter on the Holy Spirit and how He still works in the church today.

In part two of the book Smith looks more specifically at our worship and organizational practices. He first discusses the Lord’s Supper and his belief that it was a memorial meal or love feast that incorporated the cup and bread into a larger communion meal. The next chapter deals with worship services as a whole and is the foundation on which most of what Smith has to say rests, and that foundation is this: house churches were the rule and not the exception in the first century. These house churches provided them with a greater sense of intimacy and fellowship and allowed them to mature and grow faster. It is this setting in which the first century church functioned and it is on this point that we all have sadly failed. Our current operating systems of bigger is better is not what was intended in the beginning. Instead of a church that grows into bigger and bigger buildings we should be a church that grows and plants other house churches that grow and plant etc.. The house church theory is also a part of the next chapter that deals with elders. In the house church model we have no need for a board of directors and a greater need for shepherds that teach and nurture the flock. We are also in need of evangelists instead of pulpit ministers which is the focus of the following chapter. It addresses the function of our pulpit ministers and places that preaching and teaching responsibility on the elders thus freeing up the evangelist to evangelize full time. Smith then looks into our youth driven culture and how this is tearing apart some churches. It is again noted that in a house church the children and youth are all present during the assembly and love feasts, therefore we do not have a separation between the generations nor do we build an unnatural gap from their worship style and our own. In fact the house church model bears a great resemblance to the “church camp” model that many youth groups long for. In the final two chapters Smith gives his ideas to how we could implement these radical changes. The fact that the majority of the churches in the brotherhood are already 200 members or less is a huge step toward the right direction. Smith gives his ideas of how we might make the move back to where we should have been all along.

Part three of the book is dissenting and concurring opinions of Smith’s book. As you can imagine they are from one end of the spectrum to the other and show that this topic is one that needs to be discussed.

Radical Restoration is a book that must be read. It gives a fresh new way to look at the current hard issues in the church that, while not an easy fix, could bring all of the different sides together. Traditional and contemporary, Older and younger, new Christians and mature Christians. It would help to further an intimate community that shares the love of God and the saving power of His Son with their families, friends, and neighbors. It would again give us a renewed spirit and would put an end to the finger pointing and fighting that is so prominent today. In short it would restore the church to the glorious state for which it was intended. Sound too good to be true? No. Just Radical restoration

 

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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