The Way Towards Restoration
A recent Advent Christian Voices exchange captured my attention. It began with a four-part series by Corey McLaughlin covering four aspects of “theological fragmentation” in the Advent Christian Church. Tom Loghry then followed up with a brief response with a piece entitled, “Are Advent Christians Fragmented?” McLaughlin identified “four main sources of fragmentation that exist in the Evangelical world in general and the Advent Christians in particular,” with each part in the series expanding on this fragmentation in the areas of Christian education, Christian ministry, Christian perspective, and Christian worldview. In response, Loghry arrived on the scene as “the bearer of good news” by suggesting that “we are not as fragmented as we may seem.” Here is his summary:
The sum of the matter from my perspective is that most of our ‘fragmentation’ as a denomination can be attributed to disagreements over practical solutions. We agree on the ends but disagree on the means. I believe these disagreements can be overcome through collaboration and compromise if we will perceive the practical nature of our challenges. How can we holistically train our pastors? How can we more effectively teach and preach? How can we follow the example set forth in Acts today? How can we build disciples up into the full image of Christ?
Whether or not there is lingering fragmentation in the Advent Christian Church (or the scope and nature thereof) is outside the purview of this contribution to the conversation. The web that has been spun since the days of the early Adventist movement is indeed complex and difficult to disentangle. Whatever fragmentation we now face as a network of churches may be a concoction of various influences and ideas ﹘theological, theoretical, and practical (even if not in equal parts, nor in that order). Nevertheless, Loghry’s hopeful conclusion points us to a constructive way forward and remains worthy of our consideration:
I think maybe we just need to startlistening to one another. I think maybe we just need to come together to develop common solutions...Advent Christian solutions to reach the ends we all in fact agree upon. Christ compels us to come together, to hurdle our pride, to risk bruised egos, all for the sake of His Gospel. This is not the time for cynicism. This is not a season for throwing stones. This is the moment in which we must feel full the weight of our Master’s pending Return and take responsibility for the denomination the Lord has given us.
Here we have a compelling and timely charge for Advent Christians everywhere. We must come together and we must work together, and we cannot do either superficially. This sort of relational collaboration need not be preceded by perfect alignment on the “ends”, although there may indeed be more than we think. Our shared Advent Christian identity and, much more, our shared passion for God’s glory and commitment to His mission, offer us a center-bounded set more than suitable to serve as a foundation for collaboration. Yet, we too often lament our fragmentation and then use it as an excuse to avoid the hard work of dialogue and collaboration, which then only breeds further fragmentation. For the sake of God’s Kingdom, we must find our way forward through meaningful relationships and constructive dialogue.
This is where it’s my turn to be the bearer of good news. Our need for meaningful relationships and constructive dialogue has begun to be met - at least in part - by the Restoration Network. Advent Christian Voices introduced the Restoration Network one year ago, then still in its infancy. Our recently adopted Foundational Document now identifies a clear purpose: “[we are] a network of pastors and church leaders that exists to be a catalyst for the health, vitality, and multiplication of Advent Christian churches in the Eastern Region through meaningful relationships and constructive dialogue.”
As we’ve said many times in our development, the Restoration Network is not the solution to the problems that our churches and network face, but it is a vital component to the process of change that we must undertake. We believe the very pillars of the Restoration Network - relationships and dialogue - are practical keys to restoring vitality in our movement. To put this in the terms Loghry used, this network of pastors and church leaders is committed to finding the “ends” on which we agree, and then workingtogether toward the various “means” by which we might accomplish those ends ﹘ all through honest, constructive dialogue in the context of genuine, edifying relationships.
This network of pastors and church leaders is held together by a set of core values. These are seven guiding principles which hold us together and give shape to this forum for dialogue. They reflect our unwavering commitment to the gospel, to theological orthodoxy, to the priority of the local church, and to our own pursuit of holiness, while ensuring a culture of honesty, humility, and partnership. In the Restoration Network there is plenty of room for theological and methodological diversity, but no room for hostility; collaboration and constructive partnership are welcome, but there is no place for the undermining of the local church or the disparagement of our existing structures. From the beginning our aim has been to come together and to work together for the health and vitality of our local churches.
The purpose of the Restoration Network has been realized through a couple of gatherings each year held in Alton Bay, NH. These are 24-hour gatherings with several extended sessions of socratic-style discussions surrounding a particular issue or theme of relevance. We discuss, debate, and dialogue, with the hope that this time together serves as a launching pad for continued conversation and connection.
In our most recent gathering we opened our doors wider for the initial Restoration Network members to invite others to the conversation. Twenty-one pastors and church leaders gathered to discuss issues pertaining to leadership development, both locally and as a denomination. We began by working through various biblical principles of leadership development, discussing the biblical/theological scaffolding that ought to undergird our efforts. In our second session, we worked outward to the implications of these truths for our own efforts to raise up leaders within our local churches. This was an opportunity to hear from one another about the challenges, opportunities, and strategies that we face locally. As we have since the beginning, our next session broke away from the theme in order to give an opportunity for corporate worship, prayer, and pastoral encouragement. The next morning we widened the lens of our discussion to consider the ways that our churches can collaborate in this task of developing leaders, before finally concluding in a time of prayer for ourselves and our churches. This most recent gathering was an accurate reflection of the values now deeply ingrained in our network, and an example of what we hope to continue and promote in the years ahead.
We recognize both geographic limitations and the value of physical presence, so this effort, for now, is a network of relationships within the Eastern Region and for its pastors and church leaders. We anticipate that future gatherings will include the opportunity to livestream the dialogue from anywhere, but our hope is that forums like this one will emerge in various pockets across the Advent Christian network. Once again, the value of the Restoration Network will not be in the people who participate, but in the process it promotes: constructive dialogue in the context of meaningful relationships.
Our overarching aim is to see the restoration of health and vitality in our local Advent Christian churches and in the Advent Christian movement as a whole, and to help effect this restoration through dialogue. We believe that God has gifted the Advent Christian people already with all that we need to be faithful to Him, and that He will give us the wisdom we need for every challenge we face. We can be sure that we will not resolve these challenges from the comfort of our own trenches or with the echo chamber of our own ideas. For the sake of Christ and His Kingdom, for the advancement of God’s mission through the local church - that great plan of redemption and restoration - we must come together.