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Restorationism And Beyond Part 3 - That Was Then, This Is Now

  1. I say again: the early Church was about the acts of the Apostles. There is nothing like the Apostles in the current age.

    To begin with, the Apostles' powers did not persist to this day. According to the Church fathers themselves, they ceased sometime in the mid 2nd Century.

    But wait, you say. Are there really no miraculous signs today? What of the most compelling and undeniable sign: healings? Frankly, this has been done to death. Faith healing is shot through with scams and hoaxes. Must of the rest can be simply the placebo effect. And besides, even non-Christian religions can claim the occasional healing or supernatural sign. But don't get me wrong. I've already admitted to glimpsing what I took to be faint signs of the Holy Spirit. Not healings, but can I completely rule out any healings in this age?

    No, not entirely. I'm not quite that cessationist. But if they happen, I have to conclude that they are exceedingly rare. The presence of the Holy Spirit has never been anywhere near as strong as it was in the days of the very early Church. What we see today is mere glimmers.

    And these glimmers are not enough to assert that anything like the Apostolic authoroty exists today. I'm willing to grant that the Apostles could pass down their gifts - at least in some degree - by the laying on hands. But the laying of hands was not transitive. Those who were not Apostles could not pass it on. No third generation. That kind of massive evidence of God's activity in this world ended centuries ago.

    Moving on. Let's talk about scandal, or the lack thereof. Today we hear of sexdula and monetary scandals in all denominations. This is not a new development. The Protestant Reformation was a reaction to centuries of scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. But the Apostles? Scandal free.

    Let's talk about why that matters. We tend to put spiritual leaders up on pedestals, expecting them to be pure. Why? Because otherwise, they have no business telling us about God or morality. Those who presume to teach are judged more harshly, and that's as it should be. Those who can't endure the scrutiny should stay away from the pulpit.

    Fair enough. When a pastor is caught in scandal, fire him and move on. When it happens again, same thing. But when it happens a third time, don't you start to wonder?

    Are we asking too much of our spiritual authorities? It depends. Too much by what standard? It seems to me that the minimum requirement for a credible denomination exceeds the limitations of human nature. Am I setting the bar too high?

    Well, it's not me setting the bar. It's the Apostles. The Apostles were above reproach. How did they do it? Maybe the Holy Spirit had something to do with it. But that was way back then, and this is now.

    In whatever age, those who claim superhuman authority must give superhuman proofs. Or... resort to mass violence. Church history is a deplorable parade of violent persecutions and religious wars. The Apostles never had to burn anyone alive to keep control. Violent repression of dissent is a sign of the weakness of your arguments. It's a concession that you can't win your case on merit.

    Conclusion: No denomination can legitimately claim continuity with the Church of the New Testament (and yet they do.) On what, then, rests their authority?

    Don't give me your denominational creeds or statements of faith. Each one is the record of a schism that got out of control, and I'm not going to choose among them. And don't give me Clement on the Apostolic succession. Clement is not Scripture. You say you're a nondenominational movement? I say you're a denomination in denial.

    Why did this happen? I'm not certain. Not enough evidence is available. But it seems that in the 2nd or 3d Century, the Church somehow necame polluted by various heresies. This is what the early Protestants called the Great Apostasy. But why did this happen when it happened, and not sooner? My theory is that with every passing of the Spirit by the laying on of hands, the proportion of Spirit passed was diminished. At a certain point, it was entirely depleted, leaving the Church defenseless. But I can't prove this.

    In my next installment, I'll talk about attempts to restore Christendom to its New Testament purity and glory. Huzzah!

    Cessationism - Wikipedia
    Great Apostasy - Wikipedia

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