Restorationism: A Contemporary Theological Extreme
By Scott Bullerwell
Written in 1987, Canadian pastor and Bible College professor Scott Bullerwell's article is as every bit as timely as today. His analysis of the variety of restorationism currently fueling much of the strange fires of Pentecostal and Charismatic excess is still on target and we've reformatted his outstanding and concise assessment for the Strange Fires page and have added it to our articles. For reasons as yet unknown, the article was removed from the Eastern Pentecostal Bible College website in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Bullerwell's contribution to our understanding of this errant church philosophy is one we must not lose to the long overlooked and often forgotten discernment wisdom among us. RDM
In a message delivered before the First World Pentecostal Conference in Zurich, Switzerland in 1947, David J. Duplessis concluded his address to the delegate with this statement:
There is nothing that can ever take the place of the Holy Spirit in the church. Let us pray for a greater outpouring than ever, and remember when the flood comes it will overflow and most probably cause chaos in our regular programs.
There was a sense of prophetic ring to DuPlessis’ declaration, for within a number of months, a controversy erupted within the Pentecostal theatre threatening to split the movement wide open and usher in the predicted chaos conditions. History came to identify this controversy as the “Latter Rain Movement,” with its origins in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. It’s extravagant, lax exegesis of Scripture became the cause of their far afield doctrinal drift on a variety of theological themes.
In his book The Third Force, author Gordon F. Atter, a recognized authority on the history of Pentecostal revivals, cites a number of distinguishing traits which doctrinally set the Latter Rain Movement apart from orthodoxy. His list includes:
While the effects of the movement were minimized by 1955, it would be presumptuous to suppose that it has completely faded from view. Today it exists in a more contemporary form as “Restorationism,” a current theological extreme calling for a ‘recovery’ of Davidic worship, praise and service, said to have been lost to the Church between the death of the Apostles and the Dark Ages. This ‘recovery,’ which is said to have commenced from the time of the Reformation under Martin Luther (16th. Cent.)(2), supposedly enables man to experience all that God had planned in the very beginning.
To call Restorationism a cult is premature. Their views with respect to the deity of Jesus Christ and the need for a ‘born-again’ experience appear solid. What is regrettable, however, is their spiritualizing hermeneutic which repudiates the plain sense of Old Testament prophecy and seeks to apply these patterns fundamentally and primarily to the Church. Its doctrinal system rests on an unacceptable pattern of allegorization.
Close cousin to the “Latter Rain,” Restorationism may be identified under a broad assortment of other names: New Kingdom Teaching, Ultimate Movement, the Praise Movement, Manifest Sons, the Melchizedek Order, the Tabernacle of David.
One should not expect uniformity on all matters of creed among Restorationists. Like a patchwork quilt, its proponents display a variety of shades and hues. It is sufficient to adequately and accurately reconstruct some of the salient features of the teaching of these contemporary leaders who claim a Kingdom-Now emphasis, and respond in limited fashion to the challenges they create for serious minded evangelicals.
Feature 1. Dethrones Biblical Revelation
Among Restorationists, the prophetic voice is of paramount importance. Consider the words of Earl Paulk in his book The Wounded Body of Christ:
. . . prophetic voices of God must take the lead and speak as God in the flesh . . . . Before the church can become the glorified church God is waiting for, our ears must be open to hear prophetic words of God. It is not prophecy to teach what has already been prophesied. Prophecy opens up to new revelation, insight and dimension (3).
Paulk continues this theme by further informing us that “. . . the prophet is the only means God has of communicating to the world.” (4) We are advised that “Mysteries are being unfolded today for the church that have never been under understood . . .” (5)
This idea is further expanded in his book, Ultimate Kingdom. In Chapter One, “Principles of Interpretation,” we read: “Many things that were not recorded are now being revealed unto the sons of God by the Holy Spirit.” (6)
The Bible is the expressed written Word of God and because it is, the Old and New Testament Scriptures are authoritative and inerrant. In all matters of doctrine it stand infallible. However, Paulk would have us believing and yielding to the 20th. Century utterances and revelations to the same measure as canonical Scripture. It is not that Restorationism denies the revelatory quality of Scripture. Rather, it subtly exchanges the Bible as the reforming voice within the Church for a man-orientated Word. We cannot exalt current revelations to the stature of Scripture nor allow persons or groups to lay claim to exclusive revelation — as though the Bible needs constant redefinition. Restorationist methodology is not new. Roman Catholic tradition, the Book of Mormon, Science and Health with the Key to the Scriptures, are all examples of man’s attempts at this same thing. However, to go beyond the revelation of Scripture is to set sail o an uncharted sea. It is a prelude to shipwreck and disaster.
The danger is not one of “Bibliolatry,” the veneration of the Bible with a reverence that belongs only to God. The danger is in deflecting attention from the Scriptures and concentrating on a insipid, uninspired “Thus saith man.” We need to be on guard against any increasingly ambivalent attitude towards the supremacy of the Word of God alone.
Feature 2. Destroys National Israel’s Place
There can be little argument that similarities prevail between Israel and the Church. Scriptures would show that both have covenantal relations with God (Gen. 12:1-3; Rm. 9:1-4; Eph. 2:11ff); both are related to God by blood redemption, centered in Christ (Heb. 11:19ff; Eph. 2:13); both are of the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:6-9, 28-29); both are called the elect of God (Rm. 9:11ff; 11:28; I Pet. 2:9; I Thess. 1:4). However, it would be the poorest of logic to assume that such similarities should effectively blur any of the solid distinctions between the two. (7) Yet this is precisely what Restorationism seeks to do. It embraces a ‘refashioned’ amillennial, covenantal eschatology which serves as a convenient mechanism for interpreting the Church as the New Israel as well as the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. (8)
Through a systematically irritating hermeneutic, Restorationists destroy the future centrality of Israel, claiming the Church to be heir to all that is Israel’s, because of her refusal to accept Messiah. Consider the words of Dick Iverson in his Bible Temple publication, Present Day Truth:
The Jew has no corner of the Kingdom of God. Those Jews that reject Christ are no more God’s people . . . . The ultimate restoration coming to the Jew is a spiritual restoration that comes to all who receive Christ . . . When he does this he becomes a member of the Body of Christ, the Church . . .” (9)
This pattern of belief is further reflected in a book by Australian author Kevin J. Conner, entitled The Church of the Firstborn and the Birthright: “In former times Israel was the Church of the Firstborn . . . . Now in New Testament times it is Christ and His Church who receive the birthright.” (10)
God’s program for Israel is embedded in both Testaments. Even a cursory survey of Ezekiel’s vision will reveal her political (37:4-8, 11-13) and spiritual (37:9, 10, 14) revival. Furthermore, Restorationists are going to have to do a better exegetical job than they have of Romans 11, that locus classicus of passages, offering incontrovertible evidence that God is not finished with the Jewish nation.
A classic example of the incongruity of their hermeneutic is witnessed in attempt at equating “David’s fallen hut” (KJV, “tabernacle of David”) of Amos 9:11, and later quotes by James in Acts 15:14-17, with the Church. Dick Iverson writes:
Most people have never even heard of the Tabernacle of David. The reason may be that God has in a measure reserved the understanding of this Tabernacle for the Church of the last days. . . . Thus, the Church of the New Testament is a rebuilt Tabernacle of David. (11)
In understanding what the Tabernacle of David means to Restorationists a brief historical review is necessary. When Israel regained the Ark of the Covenant, following its loss to the Philistines at the Battle of Aphek, it came to rest at Kirjath-jearim (I Sam. 4:1-7). Later, during the reign of David it was brought to Jerusalem and placed in a structure (2 Sam. 6:17), even though the Tent of Meeting was set up at the high place of Gibeon (I Chron. 16:39; 21:29; 2 Chron. 1:3). Hence the Restorationists nomenclature, the “tabernacle of David.” (12) David Blomgren, in his article “Restoring God’s Glory,” offers a more precise definition of what they mean by a tabernacle of David.
. . . a house of God where any priest, not just the High Priest, could minister before the Ark of the Covenant . . . . Those who ministered in David’s Tabernacle entered in daily, without animal sacrifice, serving as priests on the basis of faith and grace alone David’s Tabernacle was a house of God which existed apart from the Tabernacle of Moses; it gives the clearest picture of the pattern of praise, worship, and service which we, as New Testament believers are to follow. (13)
In response, first, there is not a spark of scriptural evidence suggesting that the reference I Amos 9:11 is anything less than an unmistakable reference to national Israel, as the latter words of Amos’ prophecy (12-15) would indicate. The prophet Amos envisions the “tent” (sukkah, a hut) or royal house of David in a degenerate condition. The predicate ‘nopheleth’ (“fallen down”) removes any doubt that the seeds of death were present, even though it had not yet collapsed. Nevertheless, even with the anticipated demise of the Judahite dynasty, God’s promises are never impaired. Out of the dust of decay He will restore the royal offspring with David’s Greater Son. (14) James’ use of this Amos prophecy in Acts 15:16-17 is best capsulized in the words of Richard Longenecker, Professor of New Testament, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto:
In the end times, James is saying, God’s people will consist of two concentric groups. At their core will be restored Israel (i.e. David’s rebuilt tent); gathered around them will be a group of Gentiles (i.e., “the remnant of men”) who will share in the messianic blessings, but will persist as Gentiles without necessarily becoming Jewish proselytes. 15
Second, it is far-fetched Old Testament exegesis and misplaced emphasis that allows one to decontextualize the full historical and literary meaning of selective biblical narratives like 2 Samuel 6:217 and I Chronicles 16:1, and thereby claim a restored Davidic tabernacle and pattern of worship. The basic laws of context are violated, subsequently diminishing any credibility as exegetes in the academic community. Charles Feinberg rightfully states: “Let no one rob Israel, hoping thereby to enrich the Church, but at the same time impoverishing both Israel and the Church.” (16)
Feature 3. Deprives God of His Sovereignty
God’s sovereignty is that attribute by which He possesses unlimited, absolute authority and power to rule over the affairs of nature and history (Isa. 45:9-19; Rm. 8:18-39). His sovereignty requires that He be omniscient, omnipotent, and absolutely free to carry out His eternal purposes without any interference. Anything less makes Him less than sovereign.
Kingdom-Now teaching, intrigued with the possibility of God-like mastery, challenges God’s sovereignty on at least two fronts: (1) Their emphasis with respect to the Law of Perfection and, (2) the Law of Dominion. The former is demonstrated in a publication by Bill Hamon, entitled The Eternal Church:
The church will demonstrate all the attributes of the Kingdom of God before the translation and establishment of the literal, kingdom of God on earth. (17)
Similar sentiments are mirrored by Iverson:
Before Christ can come again, praise must be fully restored . . . . It will be with high praise of God in our mouth that we will conquer all our enemies, even the last enemy — death . . . There will be a generation of people created in the last days who will break their appointment with death. (18)
Paulk’s vigorous exegesis of Acts 3:21 magnifies this law of perfection even further:
Jesus is waiting in the heavens until the earth has been restored by the Church . . . The Bridegroom cannot come back again until the Bride has finished the preparation. (19)
This law of perfection is believed among Restorationists to be achieved by entering into the pattern and worship of David’s restored tabernacle, which includes, among others thing: shouting, clapping, bowing, dancing. (20) For Kingdom-Now teachers, the perfection of the Church becomes an eschatological necessity, with Christ unable to appear until then. Among many of its proponents, these seeds of ‘recovery’ germinate into subsequent denials of the rapture and its imminency, the great tribulation, and a literal antichrist — opting in its place for a “spirit of antichrist.”
On the latter front, Kingdom teaching stresses that the spiritual person exercises total dominion over the environment. Pat Robertson of C.B.N. fame writes in his book The Secret Kingdom:
When man . . . reasserts God’s dominion over himself, then he is capable of reasserting his God-given dominion over everything else. That is the way everything on the earth will be freed from the cycle of despair, cruelty, bondage, and death. (21)
The record of the Church is hardly admirable, as even a casual review of Revelation, Chapter 2 and 3 suggest. Likewise, there is a serious flaw in reasoning that human action conditions, controls or otherwise governs the divine calendar. The independent sovereignty of God is not within the scope of jurisdiction of human calculation and control. God alone initiates and completes His program. Further, any tendency towards making perfection in this life the natural end of man’s creative efforts is biblically obtrusive. The believer will not be complete in every part, before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. First John tells us that it is when we see Him that we shall be like Him (3:2). Likewise, the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12, testifies, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on . . . “ God is completing His grand design for my life and His world. My salvation, inheritance, future, stands secure in the heart and work of a sovereign God — not a Church, not any Church. As Paul declared to the Romans (11:35-36):
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him (SOURCE) and through him (MEANS) and to him (GOAL) are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.
Sola fide (only by faith), sola gratia (only by grace), sola Deo gloria (to God only be the Glory)!
Feature 4. Devalues the Incarnation
Earl Paulk, in his book Ultimate Kingdom, writes:
I believe that just as Jesus was the incarnation of God, the Church of the Living God today is God’s incarnation of light in this world. . . We must now pursue and finish the crusade he began. (22)
A similar point is made by him in The Wounded Body of Christ.
. . . I believe that God is calling us to a new level. Jesus was God in the flesh, and even as he was in the world, so we must be in the world and even greater. (23)
Citing I John 4:2-3 and Romans 8:18ff as biblical evidence for his position, Paulk continues: “. . . until we recognize God’s authority in the flesh, we will never see God." (24)
To understand the significance of these statements, it is necessary to probe deeper. His logic is essentially this: Any denial of the Incarnation is characteristic of the “spirit of antichrist” (cf. John 4:3). Therefore, it is reasoned, a denial of God’s authority in the flesh as personified in the members of His Church is tantamount to the same thing — an antichristic spirit.
In response, let it be said that there is an imbalanced hermeneutic here that seeks to make the Church equal with Christ, and that can never be. In the Incarnational ministry of Christ, the entire reality of salvation has been completed. While the Church does participate with God in Jesus Christ, nevertheless, it is the life, death, and resurrection of the Incarnate Logos that has brought redemptive reconciliation — not the Church, never the Church. It is because of His exalted position that those “in Christ Jesus” have position and authority. The Church does well to pattern its theology of ministry after that of Christ, however, let us not seek to subtly replace Him with an unwarranted, aggrandized view of our own importance.
Feature 5. Dwarfs the Work of the Spirit
On this point of theology Restorationists and Latter Rain defenders are twins. Consider for example an article appearing in the Sharon Star (official organ of the Latter Rain Movement), November 1, 1948. Earnest H. Hawtin writes:
When hands are laid on a believer and prophecies are given, many things may be revealed concerning his future life and ministry, his Gifts and how they are to be operated. (25)
In a similar vein, Dick Iverson writes in a 1975 publication:
The Church of His day should be using the laying on of hands . . . in the conferring of the Holy Ghost . . . the impartation of spiritual gifts . . . in connection with prophecy to give confirmation and guidance . . . (26)
This emphasis on the “conferring” of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and of the “imparting” of the gifts of the Spirit by prophecy and the laying on of hands is biblically unsound.
In the first place, the language of the Scriptures is “manifestation” (I Cor. 12:7), not “confirmation” or “impartation” — both of which are terms suggesting that the Spirit’s gifts are resident in the believer, which they are not. A person cannot confer or impart to another a gift of the Spirit. The apostle Paul writes, speaking of the Spirit, “he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (NIV, I Cor. 7:112). In the second place, the language of I Corinthians 12:8-11 underscores the point that the one through whom the manifestations of the Spirit are channeled, is not the reservoir of wisdom, knowledge, or any other gift of the Spirit. Rather, they are in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, who gives enough “for the need.” (27) Thirdly, there is no biblical premise for the imparting of a ministry by the laying on of hands. The point of I Timothy 4:14, a verse sometimes cited to suggest otherwise, is to show thew endorsement of the gift that God has already given. In keeping with a consistent Old Testament pattern (i.e. Gen. 48:14, 20; Lev. 16:2; Num. 27:18, 23), the New testament here shows that the imposition of hands is symbolic, not efficacious. Paul’s use of the Greek expression meta (“with”) denotes an accompanying circumstance, not agency. The laying on of hands does not produce the gift, nor is it the cause of the gift. Every person is to prove his own calling, independent of the influence of anyone else.
In conclusion, let it be stated that the Church’s march through “The Book” must always be in harmony with sound hermeneutical principles. After all, the Christian cannot glibly affirm the integrity of Scripture on the one hand and on the other treat it like wax to be twisted and squeezed to fit our theological perceptions and biases. That the “Scriptures can never say what they did not mean” is still axiomatic. (28) The theology that underlies the text cannot be altered. The intelligent use of the context is still the first and last principle of good hermeneutics.
The problem with Kingdom-Now theology is that is erects a system built on the shaky foundation of spiritualizing and allegorizing, and in the final analysis it becomes an appeal to every individual person’s judgment. Its proponents use the Word of God to sustain a theological pattern that lies outside its orbit. Further, it embraces a hermeneutical circle which is constantly redefining and reshaping the Scriptural text to bolster a theological point of view which a literal interpretation will not sustain. To discard a consistent, coherent, literal methodology for the ethereal fog of an over-realized eschatology is unwarranted and unconvincing.
The current revival and interest in a Kingdom-Now theology among many believers is real, not imagined. Charisma magazine recently reported on the meeting of Jimmy Swaggart and Earl Paulk, over this very issue. It was reported then that while the meeting between these two was “cordial”, Swaggart, a critic of Kingdom-Now teaching admitted to remaining “deep theological differences.” (29) Swaggart is correct, and to endorse their view of Scripture is to inevitably initiate a theological trend downward.
From Scott's Bio once on the website of the Eastern Pentecostal Bible College:
I have been a member of the teaching faculty at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College, a denominational Christian ministry training centre of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, since 1981. Prior to this I served in pastorates in both Northern and Central Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. My academic focus is in Old Testament Studies.
A fascinating look at Restorationism in its more recent forms can be found HERE in PDF file form (you must have Adobe Acrobat to read it): however, the author of the article appears to have borrowed to the point of plagarization a significant portion of Bullerwell's article in its opening pages (we have taken no credit for any of the writing of this article whatsoever).
Having said that, however, immediately after this regrettable occurance, there is some first rate personal research from the author's perspective as a former participant in a charismatic Vineyard Church heavily influenced by the latest generation of Restoration teaching.
(1) Gordon F. Atter, The Third Force (Peterborough, Ontario: The College Press, 1970), pp. 143-4.
(2) Dick Iverson, Present Day Truths (Portland, Oregon: Bible Temple Inc., 1975), pp. 27-30.
(3) Earl Paulk, The Wounded Body of Christ (Atlanta, Georgia: K. Dimension Publishers, n.d.), p. 30.
(4) Ibid, p. 36.
(5) Ibid, p. 59.
(6) Earl Paulk, Ultimate Kingdom (Atlanta, Georgia: K. Dimension Publishers, 1984), p. 27.
(7) Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), IV, 47-53.
(8) A major point of contention between Premillenial (prefix "pre" meaning "before") and Amillennial (prefix "a" meaning "no") eschatology concerns the when and how of the Davidic Covenantal promises are to be fulfilled in Christ.
The fact that Amillenialism is sometimes referred to as allegorical millenialism is indicative of the interpretative tool some use. See Ernest R. Sandeen, "Millennialism", The Encyclopedia Britannica 15th. ed. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1974), 12, 201,
(9) Iverson, pp. 5-6
(10) Kevin J. Conner. The Church of the Firstborn and the Birthright (n.p., 1984), p. 124.
(11) Iverson, pp. 73-74.
(12) The expression "tabernacle of David" does not appear in the King James version. Nevertheless, it undergoes a systematic redefinition by restorationists which is unsupported by Scripture.
(13) David Blomgren, "Restoring God's Glory," Restoration Magazine. 3 (Summer 1984): 16.
(14) Amos is not speaking here of a future reincarnation of the historic Davidic empire. Amos 9:11 is to be understood in terms of the Davidic dynasty, the royal line descended from David. Amos' belief in such a restoration was shared by a number of other prophets (Hosea 3:5; Micah 5:2-5; Isa. 7:9, 11; Jer. 17:19-27; 22:1-5, 13-19, 24-30; 23:1-8; 30:9; 33:14-26; 36:31-32; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:15-28).
(15) Richard Longenecker, "The Acts of the Apostles" in The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 9:446.
(16) Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views (Chicago: Moody, 1980), p. 246.
(17) Bill Hamon, The Eternal Church (Phoenix, Arizona: Christian International Publishers, 1981), p. 328.
(18) Iverson, p. 8.
(19) Earl Paulk, The Wounded Body of Christ. p. 73. Thomas F "Tommy" Reid, pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Orchard Park, New York, appears to make the same point:
We must make ready the world for Christ's coming. The ayatollah could not return to Iran until his followers had sufficiently prepared the nation for his return. In a profoundly deeper way, the church must prepare the earth for the return of Jesus Christ . . . and then shall the end come.
See Thomas F. Reid, "Understanding 'Kingdom Now' Teaching," Ministries (Summer 1986): 79
(20) See David Blomgren, "Zion and the Key of David," Restoration Magazine, 4 (Winter 1985): 9
(21) Pat Robertson, The Secret Kingdom (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), p. 203
(22) Paulk, Ultimate Kingdom, p. 322.
(23) Paulk, The Wounded Body of Christ, p. 5.
(24) Paulk, p. 60.
(25) Ernest H. Hawtin. "The Other Side of the Picture," The Sharon Star, November 1, 1948, p. 3.
(26) Iverson, p. 42.
(27) Stanley Horton, What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976), p. 271.
(28) Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 27.
(29) See Steven Lawson, "Swaggart, Paulk Meet," Charisma (January 1987): 63.
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