This article was originally written by W. Carl Ketcherside in 1983.
We tend too frequently to speak in the outmoded language of yesterday. This acts as a barrier to our communication with those whom we would reach, and whose lives we would affect. Few there are who understand what we mean when we use such words as “propitiation” or “reconciliation.” But these have become hallowed to us because they appear in the King James Version, a translation which came into existence in the year 1611 and was authorized to be read in the Church of England. And any other version than the King James, or its revision of 1901 is immediately suspect. It will be subjected to every kind of nit-picking criticism by brethren who propose to sit in judgment, not only upon the product, but upon the scholarship of the producers. Every living language changes as does every living organism.
We are continually talking in revered tones about “the restoration movement” as if Jesus had died for it and heaven had adopted it as the nineteenth century alternative to the church of our Lord purchased with his own blood. The fact is, of course, that it was a movement in history begun by men, carried on by men, and eventually torpedoed and sunk by men. We know who started it and when. We also know who scuttled it and when. It began as a noble experiment. It has ended up as an ignoble expedient. It never affected the world as it could have done. Today it lies bruised, battered and beaten. It has suffered abuse from its own proponents. It lies divided and fragmented by action of those who compose it. It is generally ignored by those who do not.
It accumulated all the trappings of the sects about it. I could designate them if called upon to do so. In reality, it developed four or five sets of these. It still trots them out at every opportunity. They are used to promote and encourage the rivalry which has characterized those who compose the movement that has ceased to move, and has become more interested in promoting parties than in proposing peace. Like every other human movement it has grown old and senility has fastened upon it because of its traditions. This worries a great many. I am not one of them.
I have long since distinguished between the body of Christ which was set in motion in Jerusalem nineteen centuries ago, and the restoration movement begun by men in America in the early part of the nineteenth century. If the latter breathes its last gasp and expires it will have no appreciable effect upon the former. The world has ceased to talk or think about restoration in our day. I can understand that. It has been led down so many devious trails by “restorers” and sold so many bills of goods by promoters that it has sat down in the middle of the road and refuses to budge. The church is looking for renewal. Words such as restoration and reformation have lost their meaning and forfeited their validity and integrity.
I grant you that the movement toward renewal will be like other movements. One day it also will become outdated. It will be supplanted by something else. Ever so often there is a stirring in the mulberry trees of men’s souls. There comes a great awakening. A movement begins and touches even obscure lives. No one knows how or why it happens, because it originates with the Spirit of God. Men do not begin revivals. They are caught up in them. God begins them. Men give form to them. They order them. They name them. But the rivulets which run together to make the river, and the freshets which combine flow through channels which God opens up.
The men whom God selects are strange men. They have to be. They would not be selected by their fellows. The criteria are different. Frequently they have been rejected, driven out, harassed and persecuted. Witness Thomas Campbell. If he had not been unfrocked by the Presbyterians the “Declaration and Address” would never have seen the light of day. Every reform that has ever happened was brought about by a heretic. Do not expect a significant movement to begin with “great preachers.” They are too busy erecting glass cathedrals or begging for a million dollars to finance a television production. God chooses the base things of the world, the things that are not.
It is high time for another breakthrough of the Spirit. All over this shrinking globe things are happening which seem to indicate its coming. Call it restoration, or reformation, or renewal — or whatever — but get out of its way and let it happen. Clear a way in the desert for our God. Fill every valley. Level every mountain. Let the hills become a plain. Let the rough country become smooth. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed. All mankind will see it. Renewal! “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not grow faint.” God’s long distance runners! The heavenly joggers!
God does not want his people lazing around, merely going to meetings and listening to canned sermons. He wants them all, everyone, to be living sermons. We’ve got the whole thing out of kilter. It is all screwed up. One man gets all of the exercise and the rest of us sit and watch and pay. We also go to sleep. Instead of using the sword of the Spirit it has been converted into a fencing foil. Once every Sunday, and twice if we are “faithful”, we gather to watch a fencing exhibition against an opponent who is not present. We assail Jehovah’s Witnesses in absentia. While we are doing that they are out lining up people and growing like crabgrass. We are spectators at a sacred wrestling match where a glib speaker ties an opponent, who is absent, into knots. We wrestle against flesh and blood. Why do we act this way. The reason is simple. It pampers the pride of the speaker and the ease of the beholders.
We need to be renewed. We are not soaring on wings like eagles. We are like fledglings afraid to leave the nest. And some of us have been in it for forty years. Even our pin feathers are undeveloped. We are like chickens with their wings clipped. We cannot even fly over the wall which encloses us. Let there be a new movement to unite the saints and let it begin with us. Renewal through recovery — of the apostolic proclamation, purpose and power. That will be our watchword. Print it on our banners. Fly it from our flag poles. Write it on our hearts. Engrave it upon our foreheads.
Let every footsore and weary pilgrim, slogging along the road, take heart. Let every youth who has become disillusioned and depressed find new meaning for his life. Let the churches reflect it. Let the lives of all rejoice in it. Let the messages repeat it. The body of Christians is not a human organization. It is a divine organism. Built into it is the power to renew itself. This is its heritage from its head who was dead and is alive again. So long as it recognizes and remains joined to the head it can recover its vitality and strength. We are Christ’s body and each one is a part of it. The body is not composed of congregations or denominations but of individuals. God put the different parts in the body just as he wanted it to be. He put no non-functioning organs in it. He gave us no spare parts.
Always before when we have talked about renewal we have had in mind getting the clergy or the elders of a certain sect, or the alumni of a certain school, to get up and get going. But we are now talking about something which will affect every life, every man, woman, boy or girl on earth, who is joined to the head, regardless of what kind of a theologically-contrived party he is affiliated with. All of us whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into one body, by the same Spirit. We must come to see that is true. The Spirit never baptized anyone into anything that is less than the body of Christ.
We have not time to debate and dilly-dally around. The little things which loomed so big yesterday are seen in their proper proportions when looked at through eyes of faith. It is now confrontation with the naked savageness of Sin. Let’s get on with the battle and quit playing around.