"Radical Restoration"


     Radical Restoration is the name of a new book and also a "new" movement. The author is F. LaGard Smith. The book has the subtitle of, "A call for pure and simple Christianity." When I was initially contacted about the inception of this movement several years ago, I totally discounted it as being able to achieve any serious credulity. I was wrong. Radical Restoration was introduced at the right time. I say this because the United States, England, and some other parts of the world were ready for it (timing is the main factor in the success of any movement). This is the case because many are presently opposed to organized religion, they want something different, social, and they seek spontaneity because the informal and casual are important to them. Radical Restoration offers all these things and more. The appeal of Radical Restoration is based on the corruption of religion, but Smith does not offer the solution, only an extreme reaction that only constitutes another problem.

     Crucial to the acceptance of the book and the practice of the movement is chapter one. In fact, chapter one is the only chapter of any substance out of the thirteen chapters comprising the book. Some have viewed chapter one as weird, but I see it with its basic design in mind. Chapter one is an excellent attempt toward mind preparation and manipulation, even a mild form of hypnosis. Author Smith uses Edwin Abbott's book Flatland to set the stage. Smith wrote:

     "Abbott's genius was to create a fantasy, two-dimensional world called Flatland, which is inhabited by geometric figures who think, feel, and speak very much the same as we humans do, but who have no appreciation of three-dimensional space. To better understand the world of Flatland, imagine yourself looking down at a triangle cut out of cardboard lying on top of a table. As you lean over it, naturally it looks precisely like the triangle it is. But if you draw back to the edge of the table and gradually lower your eye, the triangle will begin to take on a slightly elongated appearance. Lower your eye even further to the edge of the table, and the triangle (now with one of the sides facing you) will suddenly appear as nothing but a straight line. At that point, you, yourself, will have entered Flatland - a world of length and breadth but not height" (Radical Restoration, pg. 18).

     Smith masterfully continues to play with the reader's mind:

     "Now imagine a broard sheet of paper on which triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons, and other geometric figures move about performing normal human activities….Because the citizens of Flatland can never rise above, nor sink below, the surface of the paper, their worldview is exclusively two-dimensional…." (Ibid.)

     Smith progresses to introduce the Sphere family, those with superior enlightenment whose perception is able to see things that the inhabitants of Flatland cannot see in their limited two-dimensional world. Hear Smith as he reaches the climax of his mind preparatory venture:

     "But Abbott's exhilarating experience in Spaceland (three dimensional instead of two-dimensional world, dm) is short lived. Hardly a day passes before he reluctantly finds himself once again in Flatland, and is faced with the greatest dilemma of his life: to tell or not to tell (such is suppose to represent Smith with his superior knowledge of a new three-dimensional world, dm)…Abbott spills out his heresy and pays the predictable price of perpetual imprisonment. All that, and not one convert! To this day, the citizens of Flatland remain in a world of their own, certain that there is simply no other way to look at life….By Flatland standards, the Gospel of the Third Dimension was radical thinking of the highest order…." (Radical Restoration, pg. 20, 21).

     I understand that a number who have reviewed Smith's Radical Restoration do not at all understand chapter one. However, Smith must play with the reader's mind and manipulate him into thinking in "three-dimensional terms." What are these three-dimensional terms? Smith's ideas, logic, and mental gymnastics, of course. In reality, Smith has nothing new to sell, just old false doctrines presented as three-dimensional. Let us now turn our focus to the seven basic tenets of Radical Restoration. Let me suggest that Radical Restoration achieves all the goals of a movement seeking to alter. For instance, Radical Restoration admittedly seeks to address and change the organization and worship of the local church (Radical Restoration, pg. 7).

     Radical Restoration on preachers. First, please appreciate what the scriptures teach about preachers of the gospel. There were preachers in the first century such as Paul who planted or started churches and those that came and edified these churches (I Cor. 3: 4-9, 2 Tim. 4: 1-5). Men, such as Timothy, often served as regular pulpit men for churches (2 Tim. 4: 1-5).

     Radical Restoration denies such a legitimate placement and work of preachers. In a hint of where he will subsequently journey in his book, Smith wrote:

     "Do we, for example, observe the Lord's Supper in the same way as the early disciples? Are our assemblies anything like house-church worship in the first century? Have we veered from the pattern in maintaining the traditional roles played by elders and preachers? What would it be like today if we really and truly radically restored primitive Christian faith and practice? (Radical Restoration, pg. 13).

     I admit that reform is often needed regarding preachers, but what does Smith have in mind? Smith advocates the old mutual edification doctrine in which "evangelists" are men who only seek to teach the lost and only elders address the church (Radical Restoration, pg. 152, 153). Consider Smith as he disparagingly speaks of elders and preachers:

     "And abdicating responsibility for teaching and preaching of the Word by hiring professional 'pulpit ministers' (as distinct from full-time elders) couldn't be more misguided….Of course, it's what happens when we are assembled for the memorial meal, and the edification and worship that accompany it, which most naturally defines our mutual ministry. Each a song, each a word, each a prayer. The very concept of worship focused around a pulpit flies in the face of the dynamic, mutuality-participatory house churches in the apostolic age. Houses don't have pulpits" (Radical Restoration, pg. 189, 211, see also pg. 271).

     Regional elders, a teaching of Radical Restoration. The scriptures teach that each autonomous local church is to appoint men to serve as elders or overseers when men who meet the qualification are present (Acts 14: 23, I Pet. 5: 1, 2, I Tim. 3, Tit. 1, I Tim. 5: 17). The scriptures know nothing of elders of one local church overseeing another local church or of regional elders.

     Radical Restoration distorts biblical elders. Hear Smith:

     "Perhaps there were elders shepherding the disciples in each house church, depending upon their size and make-up. And perhaps elder oversight may have been exercised throughout a group of house churches which collectively comprised a larger, recognizable 'congregation'…. Elders in individual house churches might also have come together as a group of city-wide elders to discuss matters of importance to the entire community of believers" (Radical Restoration, pg. 178).

     Smith has stated that each house church constitutes a local church. Yet, he has elder's oversight extended and even advocates churches making up a larger and recognizable congregation. Such language and concepts are foreign to the New Testament.

     Radical Restoration regarding the designation "church of Christ." It seems that every major apostasy has sought to attack not only the organization and worship of the Lord's church, but also her very identity. "Churches of Christ" is a scriptural designation (Rom. 16: 16). Jesus is the founder of his church and he shed his blood for her (Matt. 16: 18; Acts 20: 28). It is, therefore, no surprise that early churches were identified in a way to glorify Jesus. I concede that "church of Christ" can and has on occasion been denominationally used. However, an abuse does not negate that which is proper and authorized.

     "My personal preference would be almost any account name and payee other than 'Church of Christ," Smith writes regarding how a checking account should not be identified, "simply to move us all beyond the current denominational usage of that term" (Radical Restoration, pg. 247).

     "Church of God" is also a scriptural adjective and one that is severely abused by some; yet, Smith recommends "The church of God" (Ibid.). Again, I suggest there is an obvious agenda to destroy the structure, worship, and identification of Jesus' church.

     Radical Restoration pertaining to house churches. Early Christians met in a number of circumstances and facilities. They met, for instance, in the temple, an apparent commercial building, and in houses (Acts 2: 46; 20: 8; Phili. 1: 2, Rom. 16: 4).

     At the very core of Radical Restoration is the matter of Smith's concept of house churches. Therefore, Smith insists that the early Christians simply met in houses and that Christians today are to do the same. Smith contends that the church at Corinth met in privates houses (Radical Restoration, pg. 178). He so contends even though we are told that the Corinthians "came together in one place" (I Cor. 14: 23, it appears that they were not meeting in houses, I Cor. 11: 22). Meeting in houses is necessary to having the required climate and ambiance to produce Radical Restoration. Consider Smith's teaching:

     "That no evidence exists of large congregations meeting in spacious 'church buildings' for observing the memorial meal together…tells us much about what we aren't always told by way of detail: that first-century Christians obviously met together in a variety of homes, large and small…. Have we robbed ourselves of special opportunities by shifting the venue of evangelism from the warmth of hearth and home to the relative coldness of auditoriums in church buildings…? I have no doubt but that moving away from the house-church concept has given rise to a system without scriptural support which has fundamentally changed the form and nature of worship as practiced in the apostolic church…" (Radical Restoration, pg. 150, 151, 166).

     Smith views buildings owned by churches in which to meet as so opposed to his brand of "Christianity" that he urges Christians to do away with the meeting places (Radical Restoration, pg. 244, 245, 269).

     Spontaneity in worship, Radical Restoration style. Christians are to worship in "spirit" and in "truth" (Jn. 4: 24). Simply ritualistic worship is condemned, but worship without structure is also forbidden (I Cor. 14: 31, 33, 40). Smith writes about the advantage of house church arrangements and says:

     "What all of this suggests is that the primitive church had an intimacy, informality, and degree of mutual participation largely foreign to our own experience…The gathered assemblies of the primitive church appear to have been far more participatory than what we experience; and, almost of necessity, therefore, more spontaneous and informal…. Just as a family interacts with one another around the house, in the house churches of the first century the family of God actively participated with one another in their mutual worship" (Radical Restoration, pg. 152, 153).

     An example of informality used by Smith is a Thanksgiving at his house. "…Then we eagerly filled our plates and scattered all over the house…All afternoon, the talking and laughter never seemed to stop…" (Radical Restoration, pg. 145).

     No Lord's Day contribution, according to Radical Restoration. The local church has work assigned to it by God. This work consists of teaching the lost, edifying the saved, and relieving needy saints when the circumstance is present (I Tim. 3: 15; Eph. 4: 16; I Tim. 5: 16). The scriptures emphatically teach the support of preachers (I Cor. 9: 14, see 9-13). In a specific case that required financing, we find detailed teaching as to how it was to be done. On the Lord's Day, each was to contribute, and this was to be placed in the treasury (I Cor. 16: 1, 2). Since the church requires financing to do its work, it is apparent that the Holy Spirit meant for the specific example to serve generally. The original expression (kata mian sabbatou) literally means, "Upon every first day of the week." Hence, it is apparent that the Holy Spirit had more in mind than an isolated, one-time event. Radical Restoration, though, is opposed to such giving. Smith wrote:

     "I'll never forget the first dawning of disillusionment, which came in the chapter on 'Church Finances' (Smith is referring to a book he read, dm). Certainly, I was not surprised when the study guide cited I Corinthians 16: 1, 2…as authority for the proposition that we are commanded to make a 'contribution' each Lord's Day as part of the divine plan for financing the church…" (Radical Restoration, pg. 7).

     It goes without saying that if Smith has his way, there will be no buildings owned by churches, no regular preachers in the pulpits, and utility bills, etc. to be paid. If there is no checking account and no established identity of a local church, really preferred by Smith, much can be done on a cash basis; hence, really no need for a treasury.

     Radical Restoration on the Lord's Supper.  The early church regularly partook of the Lord's Supper (Acts 2: 42, 20: 7, I Cor. 11: 23-29). In fact, the Lord's Supper was an important part of the Lord's Day worship. The Lord's Supper consisted of the fruit of the vine, representative of Jesus' blood and unleavened bread, emblematic of Jesus' pure body (Matt. 26: 26-29). The Lord's Supper was and is far removed from being a common meal, consumed for physical nourishment. Radical Restoration, however, has concluded that the Lord's Supper must be partaken of along with a common meal. He refers to this whole act as "table fellowship" in the house churches. Smith began to attempt to cause doubt about how Christians today observe the Lord's Supper even in his preface, "Do we, for example, observe the Lord's Supper in the same way as the early disciples…?" (Radical Restoration, pg. 13). Smith calls the Lord's Supper "A memorial within a meal." Consider some excerpts from Radical Restoration:

     "In this regard, perhaps the most universally-overlooked feature of the Lord's Supper as practiced in the primitive church is that-from all appearances-it was observed in conjunction with a fellowship meal. That is, a normal, ordinary meal with the usual variety of food. However, unlike normal, ordinary meals, this combined table fellowship and memorial was shared among the disciples for the special purpose of strengthening, not just their physical bodies, but their common bond in the spiritual body of Christ…" (Radical Restoration, pg. 128, 129).

     Smith believes that the early Christians used fermented drink at their meals and, apparently, regular bread for the Lord's Supper (cp. Prov. 23: 31).

     "That ordinary table wine was being consumed in large quantities (some were getting drunk!) underscores the significant point that, for the early Christians, gathering around the Lord's table was not the token ritual with which we are familiar, but an actual food-and-drink meal. Certainly, the bread and the wine consumed on those occasions were understood to be symbolic of Christ's body and blood, but they were not just 'emblems'-not just our typical 21st-century crackers and grape juice!…" "What 'eating and drinking' was Paul talking about: the Lord's Supper, or the fellowship meal? (Smith is referring to I Corinthians 11: 17-34, see my addendum below.) Both! That was the whole point of the exercise. The Lord's Supper gave meaning to their table fellowship, and their table fellowship gave meaning to the Lord's Supper. Each was a picture of the other" (Radical Restoration, pg. 132, 133).

     Smith provides an example as to his idea of "table fellowship" in his own personal experience (inclusive of the Lord's Supper):

     "Last Thanksgiving, our house in Nashville was bursting at the seams with all the Smith clan in town for the holiday. By one o'clock, the turkey was roasted to perfection and the side dishes were piled high with dressing, sweet potatoes, butter beans, creamed corn, congealed salad, cranberry relish, and piping hot home-made rolls. Yum! (Did I mention the scrumptious pumpkin and pecan pies, and Ruth's special coconut cake?)" (Radical Restoration, pg. 145).

     In this connection, Smith makes his point:

     "Then we eagerly filled our plates and scattered all over the house…. In fact, from what we can tell, it's also very much like the house churches of the first century and their memorial meals on the Lord's Day…Earlier, I questioned how it's possible to mix a funeral (speaking of the Lord's death, dm) and a banquet. Admittedly, those two extremes are pretty much irreconcilable. But a joyous Thanksgiving meal is certainly not ruined by pausing in the middle of the festivities to reflect upon spiritual things, and to read the Scriptures and to pray…." (Radical Restoration, pg. 145, 146).

     At this point, it ought to be plain to the average reader that Radical Restoration centers on the "house-church" concept. Smith's house-church is essential to remove the pulpit and formal preaching, the pews that suggest something different than a social gathering, to remove any formality of a "church setting" and, instead, have a house, informal setting. This climate is essential to Smith's "table fellowship" in which the "Lord's Supper" is placed. Gathering around the dinner table, sharing spiritual ideas is Smith's version of worship, while they engage in "table fellowship."

     As an amateur historian, I am watching the acceptance of Radical Restoration, especially within some churches of Christ. Various degrees and stages of Radical Restoration are being seen. A number of churches that have informally accepted parts of Radical Restoration have now formed "house-churches" but they are retaining their buildings, coming together to meet in them on occasion. Some have formed "elders" to oversee each house church and then they use their buildings for their "regional meetings." Some "Churches of Christ" that have accepted the social gospel are having little trouble moving to Smith's "table fellowship" idea of the Lord's Supper. By setting up Smith's "house-churches" with their informal setting around the kitchen table and sharing religious ideas, some of the churches that have been hesitant to accept "table fellowship" (a common meal including the "Lord's Supper") are now leaning in that direction. In preparing this material on Radical Restoration, I have received numerous telephone calls and emails from preachers around the country telling me of the presence of Radical Restoration in their areas, sometimes in their churches. A couple of preachers within churches of Christ have told me of the churches where they preach dividing over Radical Restoration. I just heard of one church selling their building and meeting in houses, apparently under the influence of Radical Restoration. The Radical Restoration Movement is not a solution to corruption within organized religion, it is, I repeat, an extreme reaction. Taken to its ultimate application, Radical Restoration will reduce churches into groups of a hand full with little ability to do the work of the Lord, no regular meeting places, no treasuries, no legal designation, no qualified preachers, no autonomy due to the regional elders concept, and a reduced informal family setting. In my studies of various aberrant movements, I have never witnessed a movement that is more self-destructive than Radical Restoration. Notwithstanding, Radical Restoration is being accepted and is multiplying! Instead of viewing Radical Restoration as three-dimensional, I suggest it should be viewed as simply dementia.  (For related reading, see "I Corinthians 11: 20-22, 33, 34, What Were They Doing?")

     Addendum:   Scholars are not united as to what was actually taking place in I Corinthians 11: 18-22. For sure, it was a climate in which it was impossible to partake acceptably of the Lord's Supper (vs. 20). If it was intended to be a separate effort to assist the needy among them, they miserably failed and in view of their gluttony, were told to "eat and drink" at home (vs. 22). The presence of "food" and "drink" other than the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine is indicative of their total abuse of the occasion and substitution. The common meal was distinguished from the Lord's Supper. The large number of Christians in Jerusalem met in the temple and had meals in their houses (Acts 2: 46).