Can what is lost be brought back? With God all things are possible. But can it be brought back by human effort? Or can men of faith put pressure on God to act at a time and place of their choosing? It seems many throughout history have reasoned: yes. Let's look at how that turned out.
I can scarcely find a Protestant denomination that doesn't claim to be a restoration of the original Apostolic Church. But at first they came to the position reluctantly. Most of these started as reform movements, which failed as such (rarely, it seems, does an attempt to reform a church from within succeed.) Onyl by necessity did they assert that the established church was corrupt and that they themselves were the restoration of true Christianity.
Even before the Reformation there were the Waldensians, Lollards and Hussites. The Hussites split into two factions which set to slaughtering each other. Eventually the Catholic Church simply shoved aside the surviving faction. The Waldensians fled persecution and managed to survive long enough to merge with Protestant churches. The Lollards were nearly persecuted to extinction after a failed rebellion, before Protestantism cmae along for the remnants to merge with.
The Protestant movement had somewhat more success. Luther and others began by attacking specific abuses by the then dominant Roman Catholic Church, with no explicit intention to overthrow that church's authority entirely. But when the Catholic Church responded with the Council of Trent, the lines were drawn. Martin Chemnitz asserted that Trent was a clear break from the Apostles' doctrine, implying that Protestantism was now a restorationist movement.
Protestantism survived, but fell into factionalism - sometimes violent factionalism. Over centuries, it split into dozens of denominations. Eventually, some concluded that the Protestant churches themselves needed reforming. The various groups known as the Radical Reformation were particulalry troublesome. Most of these movements took the tack of claiming to be restoring the original New Testament church. Martin Luther would have approved - he had maintained that no reform could be permanent, and that periodic housecleanings would be needed. But this assumes that at least one demomination out there is the True Church as described in the Book of Acts. Both for reasons I've already shared, and others I'll get into in a later installment, I don't think any of them were.
In the early 18th century, the Dissenters underwent with the Church of England a process closely parallel to that of ealry Protestantism with the Roman Catholic Church. This movement quickly split into countless denominations, including Puritans, Baptists and Methodists - generally along doctrinal lines. All claimed to be going by the Bible, but all saw entirely different things in the same Bible.
Gradually, the fragments of Christendom gave up using violence to try to enforce their ideas of unity on each other, and settled for disunity as the lesser evil. Splintering off into another denomination was simply how disputes were setled.
After a few centuries of this, it was hard to embrace the fantasy of reform even at the start. And so restorationism as such emerged. It began in the early United States - the Stone movement in 1801 and soon after the Campbell Movement (Disciples of Christ.) In 1832 they merged, peacefully, to form the American Restoration Movement. I would count this as a glimmer of genuine Christian spirit, perhaps of the Holy Spirit. But it was only a glimmer, and it didn't last. Since then the 1832 union has split into eight or nine identifiable factions. This includes many of the so-called nondenominational churches. I say denomination is as denomination does. They have done less than nothing to bring about the unity of Christendom under the banner of true faith. They are simply another part of the problem.
(I suppose I should mention the New Church Movement, a Charismatic offshoot that claims it can bring back Apostles. They seem vague on what that means. Likewise with regard to prophets. To prove that they are wrong, it's sufficient to point out that their reasoning makes no sense.)
There are currenlty multiple movements looking to re-unify Christendom. The fact that there are more than one ought to be a clue, but the history I have shared here should be reason enough to doubt them all.
Each one of these countless denominations insists that it is going by the Bible. But they all disagree on what the Bible says. Each one insists that its leadership has spiritual authority because... wait for it... it is going by the Bible. But how can they all have authority from God? God is one, but they are Legion. It doesn't stand to reason.
The Catholics might look at all this and say, smugly, "we don't have that problem." But who's we? The point is Christendom is not unified, and when we trace the problem back to the start, it's the Papacy to blame. The sale of indulgences, for example, was an unforced error. But never mind that. I've attended a Catholic school, and... save that for a later installment.
When I was young, I thought there might be perhaps as many as a dozen denominations. It nagged me that they even existed, but I figured one of them must be right. Later, much too late, I tried to do the math. When I passed thirty with no end in sight, the cognitive dissonance overwhelmed me. That's when I finally knew that my search for the right church was pointless.
I have not visited every single denomination out there, nor have you, for the simple reason that it can't be done. Is the True Church out there? Then let it reveal itself by overwhelming signs and wonders. Am I asking far too much? I say expecting us to hunt endlessly is asking far too much. Looking for it simply is not practical.
And yet looking for it is exactly what I did for years of my life. Why? Because I did not yet understand the scope of the problem. But I'll tell that tale in my next installment.
Reformation - Wikipedia
Restorationism - Wikipedia
List of Christian denominations - Wikipedia
List of Christian movements - Wikipedia
How many Christian denominations are there
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- This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Restorationism and Beyond.
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- This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Restorationism and Beyond.