When Is Restoration Successful (Jan-Feb 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

By Rubel Shelly

In this brief article, first published in Lovelines in June of 1993, Rubel Shelly articulates simply and powerfully the only principle of restoration which can succeed, using the metaphor of restoring classic art.

In the spring of 1990, it was my good fortune to visit Rome ever so briefly. While I was in the “city of seven hills,” work was going on to restore some priceless art.

The Sistine Chapel is one of Rome’s most familiar tourist attractions. It was built in the fifteenth century and serves as the private, official papal chapel. Conclaves for the election of popes are traditionally held there.

Although the walls are adorned by paintings from such artists as Botticelli and Rosselli, most of us associate Michelangelo’s name with the Sistine Chapel. Between 1508 and 1512, he frescoed the barrel-vaulted ceiling with scenes from the Book of Genesis. His depiction of the creation is among the most famous pieces of art in the world.

As the centuries passed, however, his ceiling frescoes and some other paintings he added later were nearly taken from view. Soot and grime collected on these valuable works until they were reduced to flat, inexplicit shadows. What had once been vibrant color became shades of gray. Fine details were utterly lost even to the most attentive eyes.

So scaffolding was built, and workers set about a deliberate, painstaking, and careful project. With brushes and special solvents in hand, they climbed and patiently applied a cleansing paste. It was allowed to dry. Then crews brushed away the powder.

They knew their plan had worked when the color and detail of the original art emerged. When I was in the chapel, its before-and-after sections were astonishing for their contrast. Seeing the work nearly complete but still in progress let me appreciate what had been done.

The historic goal of the American Restoration Movement will be realized only when the world sees a viable and faithful portrait of the Savior in the life of his church.

Hermeneutics, theology, and worship are merely scaffolding useful for the larger project. We must be careful lest we think that merely building the platform has accomplished the restorative task. What shortsightedness we would exhibit to confuse the tools with the real project!

Our restoration will be successful only when the vision of the Savior it offers is authentic and convincing.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1579 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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