Restoration: A Historical Example

Restoration: A Historical Example

Simply put, restorationism is the effort to align our faith and practice with the biblical pattern. As John wrote in 1 John 2:24, “Let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning.” But is restoration a practical reality? Is it possible to overcome centuries of departure from God’s pattern and truly abide in what was taught in the beginning?

Second Kings 22–23 records the reign of Judah’s most righteous king, Josiah. A boy of eight when he ascended to the throne, Josiah faced the greatest spiritual crisis in Judah’s history. His grandfather, Manasseh, led Judah into a downward spiral that would ultimately prove fatal (2 Kings 21:10–15), introducing Baal worship (21:3), idolatry in the temple (21:7), and child sacrifice (21:6). Manasseh’s son and Josiah’s father, Amon, continued this trend for two more years. It was in the face of this half-century of apostasy that Josiah came to the throne.

Due to Manasseh’s impiety, the temple had fallen into complete disrepair, and Josiah’s first initiative was to refurbish it. “Now in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan, the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam the scribe, to the house of the LORD saying, ‘Go up to Hilkiah the high priest that he may count the money brought in to the house of the LORD which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people. Let them deliver it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD, and let them give it to the workmen who are in the house of the LORD to repair the damages of the house’ ” (2 Kings 22:3–5).

In the process of making these repairs, Hilkiah the high priest made a shocking discovery. “Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD’ ” (22:8). Commentators are unsure as to what is meant by “the book of the law.” It could refer to the section of the law called the book of the covenant, Exodus 21–23. Perhaps it refers to the Book of Deuteronomy, or maybe even the entire Pentatuch. In any event, here is the significance of the find. The Law was written around 1400 BC. Josiah lived around 640 BC. Even though the Law was written centuries earlier, and even though a substantial period of apostasy had taken place since that time, it was still possible to restore the pattern found in that Law! This restoration took place in four steps:

Step 1: Remorse

When Shaphan the scribe read the book in the presence of the king, Josiah “tore his clothes,” and then “king commanded...‘Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us’ ” (22:11-13). The first step in the process of restoration is genuine remorse over the departure from God’s will.

Many critics of restorationism caricature the concept as a cold and calculated form of legalism. And surely that can be the way some approach the task. But true, biblical restorationism flows from a heart deeply moved to love and please God. Such a heart will not dismiss departures from God’s will as a non-issue. That is the very opposite of love (John 14:15).

Step 2: Renewal

Once Josiah recovered the law, the next step was to renew the covenant between the nation and God. “Then the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. The king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant” (2 Kings 23:1–3).

Notice the characteristics of this renewal. It involved “all the men of Judah,” “all the words of the book,” “all his heart and all his soul,” and “all of the people.” True restorationism is not a half-hearted effort to emphasize a few pet doctrines. It is a total commitment to the total will of God. It is a mistake to associate the need for restoration with a select group of issues, such as the work of local churches. The need to return to the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, KJV) applies to every aspect of Christian commitment, whether as individuals or as congregations.

Step 3: Removal

The next initiative of Josiah was to remove the vestiges of Manasseh’s corrupt regime. This ambitious undertaking involved the removal of pagan items in the temple (23:4), idolatrous priests (23:5), the houses of cult prostitutes (23:7), the horses and chariots of the sun (23:11), the pagan altars and high places (23:12–14), and the altar of Jeroboam at Bethel (23:15). Second Kings 23:24 summarizes his cleansing of the land: “Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.”

If you restore a piece of furniture, part of the process involves removing the dirt and stripping the aged varnish on the furniture. Likewise, spiritual restoration involves removing those false beliefs and practices which have accumulated over time. Other kings of Judah removed some of the most offensive aspects of pagan practice, but often retained the high places (such as Amaziah in 2 Kings 15:4). Our task is not simply to be less wrong than those who came before us! Our task is to remove all spiritual impurities.

Step 4: Restoration

Josiah’s work was not simply to destroy and tear down. He also restored positive obligations of the Law which had been ignored. I have already mentioned his refurbishing of the temple. He also re-instituted the greatest feast day of the Jews, the Passover. “Then the king commanded all the people saying, ‘Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.’ Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah” (2 Kings 23:21–22).

When my mom stripped the old varnish off of a piece of furniture, her work was hardly finished. She also had to restore the piece to its original beauty and function. In the same way, it is not enough for us to simply remove all that is unscriptural. In many was that is the easy part. Restorationism is also the revival of attitudes and actions which are biblical but have been lacking.

The biblical historian offered this epitaph of Josiah: “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25). Every disciple of Christ should have this same goal, to follow the whole will of God with our whole heart.