Meet Our Contributing Editors: This month we talk with Jim Tune, senior minister with Churchill Meadows Christian Church in Toronto, Canada, and director of Impact Canada about why he still believes in the Restoration Movement and thinks you should, too.
You’ve developed this reputation as “the Restoration Movement guy.” And I’ve always appreciated your balanced perspective on it; on the one hand, you live in a post-Christian country and you’re more interested in telling people about Jesus than engaging in doctrinal battles. At the same time, you have a high value for the movement. What’s the story behind the story?
When I had this huge conversion and left the marketplace and entered ministry, I was called to a 120-year-old church of Christ that really could’ve been dropped into Toronto from some Kansas cornfield. It was old-school Restoration Movement.
And some parts of it grated on me, because sometimes it seemed like people were more concerned about winning people to the church of Christ than winning them to Christ.
This just blew me away. So when I planted Churchill Meadows, I acted like it came out of nowhere, that it was rootless. But then I began to attend some conferences, and I met awesome and amazing people who had a much more irenic spirit and more kindness while still believing in our movement.
So I understand why some church planters and megachurch pastors shy away from movement things. If they’ve experienced that strong sectarian approach, they often want to distance themselves, and they may even feel an embarrassment about our movement.
Yet now you’re not only a fan, you’re a scholar. I heard you’re listening to all the sermons that have been preached at the North American Christian Convention?
All of them since the 1960s—hundreds of messages—plus I’ve studied other archival material on topics and texts going back to 1927. When I’m doing my 20-hour drive on vacation, I’m popping them in and we’re taking notes and I’m reading the manuscripts. I’m actually doing this for fun. It’s not a thesis I’m working on or anything. But I went pretty deep with it, and began to categorize themes and topics over the years.
For better or worse, there used to be an incredibly stronger focus on doctrine. Today, messages that talk about our movement or its key ideas, even in a winsome way, are virtually nonexistent. They’re certainly not keynote. And I understand some of the reasons for that, but now we hear almost nothing about it from the main stage, and I don’t think that’s helpful, either.
For years I’ve heard, “People aren’t interested in the movement. You can’t teach the movement.” But when I teach about it at our church—simple things like measuring faith and practice by the Bible only or doing Bible things in Bible ways—people actually find it compelling and relevant. Only one of my elders comes from a Restoration Movement background, but they’ve all bought in because I’ve presented it as what’s great and beautiful about our plea instead of what’s wrong with other churches.
Right—because while those old sermons might have been great in many ways, they certainly were focused on what we were against. I’m more interested in talking about what we’re for.
Absolutely. David Wells [of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary] says movements need to exhibit three characteristics: a commonly owned direction, a common basis upon which that direction is owned, and an esprit that informs and motivates. I think it used to mean something significant to affiliate with this movement. I’m not sure that’s still there for most leaders.
I hear criticism that all we do is bang the baptism drum, but I would say that in a lot of our churches, they can’t even find the drumsticks anymore. Even our distinctive position on baptism for the remission of sins—I think some church planters, and I’ve been there, are afraid to teach that. And I’m not talking about water regeneration, because I certainly don’t believe taking a bath is going to save anyone without faith and repentance and confession and all of those things. But our understanding of what the Bible teaches about baptism as the biblical response to the gospel—a generation of people have really backed off on that as well. And I just don’t think we need to be ashamed of our movement or ashamed of what we believe.
It’s a balance. There’s a saying that if the mailman stops to fight with every dog that barks, he’ll never get the mail delivered. There was a time in our era that we stopped to fight with every dog that barked, and that’s not who I want to be. We need to know Jesus the person, not just the plan. But if we do still have a commonly owned direction, we need to get better at passing it along to our church planters, our students, and our leaders.
This dynamic is affecting other groups, as well.
Sure, it’s going on everywhere. I recently read a blog post by Ed Stetzer pleading with young Baptists to stay with the Southern Baptist denomination and offering several reasons why they should. I see it primarily in my work with church planters—there’s a sense of free agency that really bothers me. It’s like we become such unembarrassed pragmatists, we’ll just go with whoever will write the check.
I’ve seen church planters who I knew fundamentally disagreed with some of the reformed teaching of the Acts 29 Network sign off on a doctrinal statement they didn’t agree with so they could get the Acts 29 money, even though their entire Christian leadership training had taken place in one of our schools, and maybe was even subsidized by old-timers in the congregation who thought there was value in sending this kid to Bible college.
You mentioned you’ve successfully taught this at your church. How are you doing it?
We have a training and equipping center with eight courses spread over two years, because the people coming to our church don’t even know the words to “Jesus Loves Me.” We have to really start from the beginning.
One of the courses is church history, and we talk about the characteristics of the New Testament church, the first one being love. We spend three weeks on the Protestant Reformation and three weeks on the Restoration Movement, and they eat it up, Jen. They do. The freedom we have that makes us so attractive to the maverick comes because some people really had to go against the grain. Our movement was radical, and our people really like it.
So we teach it, and our elders have to know it. Our church planters have to get the Christian Standard. Again, that might sound old school, but it’s sort of a family journal, and we think it helps them identify with a sense of something bigger, especially when there’s only seven or eight of our churches in this province of 16 million.
We proudly support the institutions, and we make it fun. It’s not hard. We had over 100 people from our congregation decide a 12-hour bus ride to the NACC might actually be fun. And it was. We had a lot of young people come, and it was a church adventure.
I think we sell people short when we assume they don’t want anything deeper.
And there’s still this way to excuse a lack of commitment to our tribe and to our history by bringing up junk that used to be part of the problem. There’s this temptation to substitute technique for truth and therapy for theology and management for ministry, and sometimes we’ve become more enamored with church growth than theological substance.
Martin Luther said, “Softness and hardness are the two main faults from which all the mistakes of pastors come.” I think many of our younger leaders today—in repudiating one danger, which is a hardness—have fallen into sort of an open-armed, undiscerning ecumenical embrace.
I just want to be about being a Christian only, and no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible. There could be worse things to be known for than that, and I’m trying to be a bridge between both camps.
We’re so careful about not wanting to sound sectarian today that we go to the other extreme. And yet the Southern Baptists have an Identity Conference. They’re not ashamed to go for two or three days and celebrate what it means to be good Baptists. That doesn’t thrill me a whole lot, but. . . .
For all of its shortcomings, I believe the Restoration vision is intrinsically valuable and that if we relinquish that vision, we will do so at our own peril. This is because the Restoration vision is finally nothing more than a tool that allows us to take our bearings from the earliest Christian age. It helps us to discriminate between human traditions and the divine will. It allows us to ask if such and such a doctrine, practice, or perspective is really authorized by Scripture, or only by some human system devised at some point along the path of Christian history.
D. A. Carson was reflecting on how movements lose their edge, and he said, “One generation believes something; the next generation assumes it; and the third generation denies it.” I think the group of leaders who were at our churches in the 1980s and ’90s, backing away from the legalism, assumed our heritage would continue. If we neglect our heritage and fail to teach our doctrine, will our legacy be a generation that denies both?
Jennifer Johnson, herself one of Christian Standard’s contributing editors, is a writer living in Levittown, Pennsylvania.