I think the key thought in the first chapter of Introduction to the Restoration Ideal is:
“It may be impossible to restore the church perfectly as Christ conceived it and as the apostles guided it. It might always remain in the realm of the ideal. But virtue will be found in striving for that goal or aiming for it” (p. 11).
There are three ideas that I want to pull out of this thought. The first idea is that the ideal that is important is not our own personal ideals of what the church should look like, but the ideal of Christ Jesus. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:19-23 Jesus is the head of the Church, and we are His body. That means that He has great say in what our church families look like and in what we do. How do we allow Jesus to guide our church families? I think we need to be people of the Book and know what expectations Jesus has laid down for the church. An excellent place to start is Revelation 2-3 for in these two chapters we read Christ’s critique of seven churches, which can give us an idea of what He would say to us.
The second idea that I want to mention is we have to be willing to be flexible when it comes to the look of our church families. Remember there are certain bedrock doctrines that we cannot compromise on, and if our church family is asking to make changes in these core doctrines we have to be able to stand firm on the truth. Most of the time the issue in our church families is not one of doctrine but of style and purpose. As we try to apply God’s mission to our lives and fulfill the ideal that Christ has for our church that means we might have to do things we are not entirely comfortable with, but we sacrifice our comfort in order to accomplish what God desires. This is why there is great virtue in pursuing the ideal, because it is often in these areas of sacrifice that we learn to trust God more and that we are able to experience Him at work in and through our lives.
The last idea is to remind us that there was never a time when the Church was perfect. The Church has always been shooting for the ideal of what Christ has for it. Even the early church with all the disciples failed to do things perfectly. I don’t know if we fully appreciate the difficulty many of these men and women had as they moved from Judaism to Christianity. The New Testament shares these struggles, like the struggle Peter had with accepting Gentiles into the community of God’s people. Even after receiving a vision about God declaring all things clean Peter is still persuaded by people not to associate with the Galatians Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). I think there are times when people in the Restoration Movement have held the New Testament Church as the ideal, forgetting they were trying to figure things out as they were guided by the Spirit. The goal isn’t so about making ourselves look like the early church as much as it is learning to be guided by Christ as we try to establish the “ideal’ church in our respective communities. It is the the headship of Jesus and not a some model of New Testament Christianity that is important.
In the New Testament, through the teachings of Jesus and His disciples, we are giving an ideal for the Church. It is up to us, those who bear the name Christian, to adjust our lives and church families to match up with that ideal. It might never happen, but we will be better off because we have made the effort.