The New Testament was completed before the end of the first century, and contained therein is the function of the church. Paul wrote “unto the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). He said, “As I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you” (16: 1). The church of any generation is to abide by the orders, commandments, and examples of the apostles of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:1).
The “establishment” of the church in its universal sense, was more accurately the declaration of Christ’s rule (“both Lord and Christ,” Acts 2:36), so that now those who submit to his authority are saved from sin (2:38).
The church is an institution in much the same sense as marriage. Particular marriages may need restoring, but the “institution” itself has never gone anywhere. It is just like it was when God instituted it. The institution has not changed but people have changed, and that being so, the people need restoring. The declarations, commands, and approved examples and implications of inspired messengers are recorded for us in the New Testament. They were written so they could be understood (Eph. 3:3) and so we could have them after the messengers were long in their reward (2 Pet. 1:15; 3:1-2). This “seed” is incorruptible (1 Pet. 1:22-f), and capable of producing genuine Christians today as it did in the first century.
If Alexander Campbell “restored the church” at all, he did so only in the sense of teaching people to be content with the church revealed in God’s word. We have no less need, no less obligation, to be “restorers” today. This is an ongoing process that will continue as long as there are those who add to, take from, or change God’s revealed pattern for his people. It is dangerous, indeed, to think that the need for restoration was limited to Campbell’s day. The church of his day is not our standard. In fact, brethren of the first century were warned about “measuring” and “comparing themselves among themselves” (2 Cor. 10:12).
Should the word of God be cast upon the waters and drift to some shore where people had never heard of salvation in Christ, it could be translated, studied and obeyed. The “seed” would produce Christians, and the church would have come to that place. However, human nature being what it is, there could come a time when these people would stray from the truth, even to denying their first love (Rev. 2:4-5), and restoration would be needed. The truth is unchanged, and still in tact, but people often turn from the truth. It is people who need restoring in all generations. And this “restoration spirit” must be kept alive in our hearts. We must dedicate ourselves to restoration, and humble enough to apply its principle to our own practices. In short, the church of Christ which Christ built doesn’t need restoring or ever will, but wayward members must change back to the first century doctrine of Christ and his apostles if they intend to be saved come the day of judgment.