The Road to Restoration
In the nineteenth century men such as Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell led what has been called the Restoration Movement. It was called such because these men and others, disgusted with the religious division produced by the doctrines of men, set out to restore New Testament Christianity by calling people back to the Bible. However, this was not the first restoration movement. The Bible, from beginning to end, deals with the theme of restoration. In Nehemiah chapter 8 we find several timeless restoration principles that will lead anyone, regardless of the age in which they live, back to a restored relationship with God.
God allowed the Jews, because of their sins, to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. In 606 B.C. Babylon deported the citizens of Judah to begin the seventy years of captivity that had been foretold by Jeremiah and other prophets. Following the first deportation came two others, one in 596 B.C. and the last in 586 B.C. during which the entire city of Jerusalem was destroyed including the temple area. However, in 539 B.C. Cyrus, the Persian king, overthrew Babylon’s world rule. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus allowed a remnant of God’s people to return to their homeland (II Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe a great restoration movement that took place when the Jews returned to Palestine.
Just as there were three deportations from Judah into captivity, there were three exile returns to Judah from captivity. Zerubbabel and 50,000 Jews returned to Palestine in 536 B.C. (Ezra 2). He rebuilt the temple and tried to restore the temple worship in 516 B.C. In 458 B.C. Ezra led a second expeditionback and restored the temple service (Ezra 8:1-20). However, the city of Jerusalem itself remained in ruins. In 445 B.C., during the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, led the third group of exiles back. Rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls was Nehemiah’s priority. At great expense he rebuilt the walls and did it in only fifty-two days in spite of incredible oppositions (Neh. 6:15). As daunting as it was, rebuilding the city was not going to be enough. The people had to rebuild their commitment and relationship to God. In Nehemiah 8 we have recorded for us their efforts to do exactly that.
Bring The Book
Within a week after completing the walls, these Jews, were about to do what had not been done in well over one hundred years, meet together under the protection of their ramparts.
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. (Neh. 8:1)
The very first step on the road to restoration began with this single most important directive: “bring the Book.” After several years of spiritual deprivation, which led to their spiritual separation, the Jews demanded the only thing that could bring about restoration: God’s Book. Until people demand the Book, their spiritual state will not change. People who are religiously divided from each other and are spiritually separated from God must realize that unity, reconciliation, and forgiveness can only be accomplished on God’s terms. We, being unholy, would never know how to approach our holy God and be reconciled with Him if He had not revealed how to (1 Cor. 2:11-13). God has planned and provided everything necessary for man to be restored. Because He revealed His will to the “apostles and prophets” who wrote it down, we can know for certain what He expects and likes and what He does not (Eph. 3:3-5).
The scriptures are profitable, can make us complete, thoroughly equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and include all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Peter admonished, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The apostle John warned against tampering with the message of God (Rev. 22:18-19). These scriptures are demanding that we bring the Book and the Book alone. The doctrines of men result in division, vain worship, and a false sense of security. Only the Book of God can bring true restoration.
Hear And Understand The Book
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Neh. 8:2-3)
Ezra read the Law to the people because it was necessary for them to hear it. Hearing the word of God is absolutely essential for restoration. The Apostle Peter opened the very first gospel sermon with the demand, “hear my words” (Acts 2:14). Peter realized that in order for these men to be forgiven of their sins it was necessary for the gospel message to be communicated to them. The Apostle Paul asked,
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?…So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14, 17).
Further, the Jews in Ezra’s audience were eager to hear. “The ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). They desired to hear what the book had to say and demonstrated their respect by standing in its presence (Neh. 8:5). They respected it not merely because it was ancient, but because it was authoritative. It was that which “the Lord had commanded Israel.” In order for the Bible to have the needed impact in our lives we must poses attitudes that reflect our belief in it as the authoritative Word of God. We must approach the scriptures with a readiness to hear and a willingness to accept its teachings. We must have the “if the Bible says it, that settles it” attitude. Note that Jesus warned in Mark 4:24, “take heed what you hear,” but in Luke 8:18 He admonished, “take heed how you hear.” An irreverent attitude towards the scriptures can hinder our reception and understanding of them.
That being said, comprehending what they heard was vital. God does not call for us to follow mindless superstition, vain repetition, or human tradition. Our faith is to rest upon intelligent interpretation and application.
“So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading…All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:8, 12).
When Philip approached the Ethiopian’s chariot and heard him reading the scriptures he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). When Jesus explained the parable of the sower He said, “he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). Obviously many people hear the word of God but react differently. The fruitful person is he who hears with an honest and good heart and understands (Luke 8:15). The soil in which the seed is sown must be receptive.
The Jews of Nehemiah 8 were receptive. “All the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (8:9). Why were they weeping? They had hearts that were tender and touchable. Were these tears of joy? Perhaps. But certainly these were tears of sorrow as the scriptures made them aware of their sins. One will not journey down the road of restoration until he sees his sin and becomes sorry about it. The prodigal son of Luke 15 had to “come to himself” before he would head home. In Neh. 8:9, the Jews were weeping tears of sorrow because as they began to hear and understand the word of God they realized just how far from God they had journeyed.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions the results of the first letter he sent to them:
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor. 7:8-10)
Paul rejoiced because their sorrow produced results. As difficult as it may be, sincere self-examination is needed in order to make the necessary changes or corrections in our lives. It is not that God wants us to be sorrowful, but that our sorrow might motivate us into action.
Obey The Book
The day after Ezra read from the Book, the heads of the families gathered to Ezra to receive further instruction from the law of God. It was then they discovered that in the seventh month the Law prescribed that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in observation of the Feast of Tabernacles (Duet. 16:16: Lev. 23:42). Nehemiah 8:15-17 reads:
And that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths…So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness (Neh. 8:15-17).
They did not merely learn what God wanted, but they did what God required. They read the Book and they obeyed it. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22). When we suppose that we are right with God when we have yet to obey God we are deceived. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Jesus taught the difference between the wise and foolish man is that the wise will act on what he hears and the foolish will not (Mt. 7:24-27). It will not matter how much we read, hear, or learn, if we do not apply and practice the truth our relationship with God will not be restored.
Continue To Follow The Book
“He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance” (Neh. 8:18).
Restoration was not an experiment but a commitment. Once restoration takes place, we must be committed to following the ways of God. Jesus told some Jews who believed on Him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it will be blessed in his deed (James 1:25). Restoration requires faithfulness unto death (Rev. 2:10). Your commitment of yesterday or yesteryear will do you no good if you are not faithful now. Regardless of what previous generations have done, it is the responsibility of each new generation to learn and practice the ways of God.
Nehemiah 8 records a wonderful time in the history of God’s people. During this remarkable period it was clearly demonstrated what can be done when people have determined minds. The simple principles set forth in this chapter can be emulated by anyone who truly desires restoration. If people make up their minds they want to restore New Testament Christianity nothing and no one can keep them from doing precisely that.
This article is by Evangelist, James Cating
Noah Found Grace
There is much talk today about the grace of God that is altogether different from any language found in the New Testament. We hear about grace “coming down and overwhelming” and people who are “covered with grace.”This language is really not new at all and finds its roots in the Augustinian concept of grace as some sort of mystical, nebulous force that is imposed on men from heaven in two ways: actual grace, being the supernaturally endowed ability to do good things, and sanctifying grace, being the supernatural power of salvation working in one’s life. The Catholic and early reformation churches, influenced by this thinking, believed that they could contact and receive the “divine power of grace” by certain rituals called “sacraments.” Although this is the widely accepted idea in the religious world, and its jargon has entered the vocabulary of nearly every religious person, with such clichés as, “an outward sign of an inward grace,” the Bible seems to present a very different view of the subject.
Noah Found Grace…
The first mention of grace in the Bible is in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” That simple little verse, when considered in its context teaches us volumes about the subject of the grace of God. The world, relatively young, but mature in malice and evil imagination—had become so depraved as a majority that it caused God to regret having ever created man. In His righteousness He resolved to no longer strive with him, but to send down judgment and wipe him off the face of the earth. However, rather than destroying it in an instant, which would have been both possible and just, God chose to be longsuffering for 120 years and give the world a chance at repentance. (Gen. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:19)
The Bible says Noah “…was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9b) Noah responded to God’s gracious offer and was able to escape from the deluge. There is nothing in this story that would define the grace of God as mystical divine power, but rather it is clear that the proper definition would be divine favor, and loving kindness. Because of his great love for man, God gave him a chance that he did not deserve to be given.
Now the question we must answer is this: How did Noah go about finding this grace? Well, the first thing we are told about Noah is that he was a just and good hearted man who “walked with God.” As a family leader in the Patriarchal age, we can expect that this carried some very profound meaning. It seems that Noah actually had moments of conversation with God on a rather frequent basis, as many other Patriarchs did, and in these conversations Noah received instruction on how he and his household might be saved, and trusting in what God told him, the Bible says: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” (Gen. 6:22)
Hebrews 11:7 says: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
No person could read the story and conclude that Noah saved himself. His salvation, in providence, patience, plan and in power was by the grace of God. God had provided him with the opportunity, bore with him in patience, instructed him in the plan and purged the world of sin by the outpouring of his power. 1 Peter 3:19-20 shows that God showed this same grace to the whole world of Noah’s day, as Noah preached the message of salvation to the world around him, even while building the ark. The others however, did not have the faith and obedience to lay hold on it.
The Grace of Christ
This old story prepares us very well to approach the subject of the grace of God through Christ that is taught in the New Testament. The Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) This is exactly how Noah was saved. By faithful obedience, not by plans of his own design or of his own strength, he claimed the gracious gift of salvation from God, and according to Paul that is basically the same way we find salvation today.
1 Peter 3:19-21
The Apostle Peter taught that not only was the salvation of Noah like the salvation of men today, but it was in fact divinely orchestrated, as an action prophecy, or a type, pointing forward to the work of Christ and His gospel:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:18-21)
In this passage the Apostle Peter shows us how the grace of Christ (His sacrificial death on the cross) is able to save men’s souls.
Let’s notice as the providence, the patience, the plan and the power are unfolded. First, he shows that in the days of Noah grace was shown to the wicked antediluvians, now spirits in prison (Hades), by the preaching of righteousness that Noah gave through the inspiration of the Spirit. This is the providence. It would have been righteous for God to punish the ancient world for their sin without providing any way of redemption, and the same is true today. The foundation of any hope of salvation is the graciousness of God. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) By the sacrifice of Christ, and the gospel message preached, man is given a way of escape from the penalty of his guilt.
But the grace of God does not stop at the provision, it continues into the patience of God in giving men an opportunity to respond. Peter says of the ancient world, “the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared…” This too is an essential feature of the Grace of Christ as God is “longsuffering toward us… not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Next Peter carries us to the plan, now watch this – the plan is a part of the grace of God! “…while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” Examine the passage. The antecedent of “in which” is the ark. The ark was where the eight souls survived and were saved by following in faith the plan of God. (Hebrews 11:7) In like manner there is a plan given to men today. Those who hear the message of Christ’s Gospel, and in faith accept it unto obedience, repent of their sins, confess the divine sonship of Christ and are baptized in water for the remission of sins (Rom. 10:17; Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:32; Acts 2:38) are saved by Christ.
That is the plan for man to follow, but the plan is efficacious because of and by the power of God. Notice, “in which a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water.” Here the salvation of Noah and his family is not attributed only to the ark but also to the flood! Pay close attention. If Noah and his family had built the ark correctly and trusted in God and entered into it, that alone would not have saved them from the wrath of God toward the evil and sin of the world. The wickedness had to be taken away in order for the family of Noah to be truly saved. That is precisely what the flood did! It washed the world clean of all unrighteousness and gave a new life to those who had obeyed God.
Peter writes that this same thing occurs in our obedience to the Gospel when we are baptized. While a mere dipping in water would normally profit us nothing, baptism as obedience to the gospel is given power by the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that it is not merely an outward cleansing, but an inward cleansing. (Acts 22:16; Col. 2:12) As the flood waters did to the ancient world, in baptism our souls are washed from all sin by the blood of Christ. This is what it means to be saved by the grace of God. For someone to suggest that salvation by grace would exclude baptism or any other act of obedience shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what grace is. Not some ethereal force, but the goodness and favor of a loving God for his creation, man.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-15)
Bible Only Religion
Is the Bible a safe guide in matters of religion? Most people will answer this question in the affirmative. And yet, the vast majority of people don’t believe that it is necessary that we follow the Bible only.
Many claim that one’s conscience is a safe guide. As long as they “feel good” and do not violate their conscience, they think everything is all right, even though the Bible may not teach certain things. Still, others believe in following their feelings. Their reason for believing they are saved is that they “feel it.” They, too, will agree that we should follow the Bible, but in certain instances if you “feel you are saved”, nothing else matters. Then we are reminded by some of the value of church creeds, disciplines, confessions of faith, etc.
They argue that these are necessary for a proper understanding of the Bible. They also claim that they help pronounce and define certain Bible doctrines that are rather obscure. Of course, they don’t completely object to or reject the Bible, but they definitely feel that these additional helps are necessary. At the extreme end of this position are those who claim that other books, such as the Book of Mormon, The Koran, and the writings of Mrs. Ellen White, are inspired like the Bible and are to be taken with equal weight and consideration.
However, in view of all the facts, we are constrained to stand opposed to all the foregoing reasoning. We believe, that the Bible only should be accepted and followed by man. Anything else constitutes an addition or a change in that which has been given and approved by God. We believe that the Bible completely furnishes us to every good work.
In 2 Peter 1:3 it reads, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” If in the Bible we have been given all things, then there is no need for additional creeds or books. Notice 2 Tim. 3:16-17,
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
If the Bible furnishes us to all good works, what need is there for further revelation? Again, in Eph. 2:10 it reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ ‘;Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” What can a church creed or discipline do for us that the Bible cannot?
Human creeds are responsible for much of the division in the religious world today. They have erected walls and barriers that include all who agree with their teachings, and exclude all who disagree. Not only do they cause division, but they also perpetuate it. If all these human documents could be removed, a great stride in the direction of unity wiIl have been made. Jesus said in Matt 15:&-9, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching/or doctrines the commandments of men.”
Why the Bible Only?
Perhaps you are wondering just why we insist upon the Bible only. There are several good reasons which we shall give you just now.
A. It is the seed of the kingdom. In Luke 8:11 it reads, “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” A seed is an amazing thing. It contains the germ of life, and the power of reproduction. God decreed in the beginning that every seed would bring forth after its own kind. Since every seed produces after its own kind, and the word of God is a seed, then it follows that the Bible produces Christians only. Another thing about a seed that we should notice is that it brings forth only one thing. Never have you seen a seed that produces two things. So it is with the Bible. It produces but one thing. But someone says, “What about all the different churches in existence today?” The answer is forceful and simple. The Bible did not produce them. They exist as a result of another seed being planted. The seed of the kingdom is not responsible for them.
B. It is a light. One of the most powerful forces known to man is light. It will banish darkness immediately. Wherever there is light, there is no darkness David said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Psa. 119:l05: Again in verse 130, “The entrance of thy words giveth light.” It is the Bible that lights the dark corners of the pages of history. Such questions as, “Whence came man?”, “Where is he going?”, “Is there life after death?”, are all answered in the Bible, but nowhere else.
C. It is the sword of the spirit. In Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper , than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” A sword is a weapon of warfare. It may be used to defend one’s self or to defeat the enemy. However, one unskilled in its use might do great harm to himself. The Word of God is much like this. It is the Christians defense, and destroys the false and untrue. However, many who do not properly handle it, use it to their own destruction. In the language of Peter they “wrest the scriptures, unto their own destruction.” – 2 Pet. 3: 16. This is both dangerous and serious. Many an enemy of the Lord has felt the razor-sharp edge of the Spirit’s sword. It can do what no other sword can, penetrate to the depths of the human heart.
D. Finally, the Bible is the mirror of the soul. In James 1:25 it reads,
“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
By looking into the Bible we are able to see ourselves as we really are. No mirror shows our reflection as we would like to see it, but exactly as it is. If I look in a mirror and see that my face is dirty, I don’t get mad at the mirror and blame it, for I realize that it is only reflecting what is there. Why then should I get upset when I see something in my life that shouldn’t be, shown to me by the Bible, and try to change the Bible instead of self? This should not be. Used as God intended the Book, it can aid and help us greatly in living a life pleasing to Him.
Yes, friend, we must follow only the Bible. We have no need of human creeds and manuals. It alone is able to lead us through this life and ultimately to heaven with God.
For Your Edification
These articles are authored by various evangelists of the churches of Christ and are presented for your edification!