Reformation or Restoration?
From the Protestant point of view the religious movement known as the Reformation did reform the church because it did amend, make better and remove defects from the existing church. This process is generally held to have begun when Luther nailed his ninety-three theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517.
However, the Holy Spirit had been prompting change for some time. John Wycliffe, known as the Morning Star of the Reformation, was the theorist of ecclesiastical reformation and was active in England in the 14th century. John Huss in Bohemia came after Wycliffe and was the first actual Church reformer. Savonarola in Florence in the late 15th century also preceded the active leaders of the Reformation such as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin.
As the Reformation gathered momentum it soon became clear that although some radical changes had been made in the theology - 'saved by faith'; 'Solar Scriptura'; the 'priesthood of all believers'; etc. the church practices had changed very little. The Pastor had replaced the Priest but as John Milton said in 1653 - “New presbyter is but old priest writ large”. The focus had changed from the altar table to the pulpit but essentially the forms, rituals and stylized liturgy embodied in the Roman Catholic Church were carried over into the Protestant Church.
One group who objected to this and called the reformers 'half way men' were the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists insisted upon the "free course" of the Holy Spirit in worship, yet still maintained it all must be judged according to the Scriptures.
They were early promoters of a free church and the separation of church and state. One reason given for not attending the state churches was that these institutions forbade the congregation to exercise spiritual gifts according to "the Christian order as taught in the gospel or the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 14."
The Swiss Anabaptist document titled "Answer of Some Who Are Called Ana-Baptists - Why They Do Not Attend the Churches" stated that -
"When such believers come together, "Everyone of you (note every one) hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation," and so on. When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Corinthians 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through His Holy Spirit with His gifts, impelling them one after another in the above-mentioned order of speaking and prophesying".
It is clear that the Anabaptists did not seek to 'reform' the church, that is to amend and improve the existing, but to 'restore' it by bringing it back to its original state. The Anabaptists and those who came before them such as the Waldensians and the Hussites, were led by the Holy Spirit to restore the church to what was originally the normal way for church to be practiced and experienced.
Moving on to today it is generally agreed that the contemporary church at large is failing to impact the surrounding culture and effect radical change. This is in direct contradiction to how the early church 'turned the world upside down' (Acts 17:6).
Attempts are continually being made to 'reform' the contemporary church in whatever form it comes - whether denominational, free, evangelical, charismatic or traditional. Home groups being a good example but they only replicate and are part of the top down hierarchical model of church as it is. The reforms undertaken often show an apparent success but in time these successes are shown to be but temporary responses to something new. What is needed is not 'reformation' but a radical 'restoration' of the core elements of the early church model.
These can be summarized as follows:
1. Each member had experienced a life-changing encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ and had been, in Jesus' own words, born again.
2. The sole purpose of their congregating together was to share and celebrate this event, to focus on Jesus and be involved in mutual ministry - one to another.
3. Every member of the group understood that the Holy Spirit was the leader and that no individual person in the group was spiritually superior to another.
4. All those who had a leadership function in one area or another understood that their leadership was after the style that Jesus commended and demonstrated when he washed the feet of the disciples.
5. Anything that interfered with, obstructed or did not enable the purpose as in '2' above was not of God and was to be avoided.
In much the same way that the mediaeval church went through a period of gestation before the birth of the Reformation, the church today is being prepared for another radical move of the Holy Spirit and that is the Restoration of the church to the model as originally intended. In many cases this worldwide move of the Holy Spirit has no name - it just is.
The choice is ours. We can choose to remain in the mainstream of religious Christianity weighed down by the traditions of men and centuries of changes and additions. This is what the majority did in Luther's time, or we can choose to become part of the move toward the Restoration that the Holy Spirit is bringing to pass.
I know where I want to be.