Not to be evasive, but no and yes. If you mean by a valid concept that the true church went out of existence for centuries and we are to restore the church on the basis of doctrinal agreement and a legalistic patternism as per the church in the first century, then the answer is no. If you mean by a valid concept a continuing process of looking at Biblical teaching to reform our lives, individually and collectively, to conform to the image of Christ and be united in him, the answer is yes. Christianity is an historical religion, as contrasted with Buddhism, for example, which seeks god from within by contemplation, or with nature religions, such as pantheism. The existence and validity of Christianity depend on the historical events which created it. The Incarnation did occur. Christ did die on the cross, and did arise from the dead and ascend into heaven. The ongoing observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper bears witness to the authenticity of the Christian faith, and gives it meaning. The new covenant scriptures are a record of these events and conveys to believers how they should behave and live with regard to what Jesus did and taught.
The events and instructions related to us in the scriptures do have eternal cosmic significance. It is important to us that we know what Jesus said and did, and how that has meaning for us. It is vital to us how we respond to Jesus’ will. The new covenant scriptures help us to do this. Thus, in this there is a need for a restoration of Biblical faith or a continuing effort to reform our lives to the image of Christ.
The American Restoration Movement started as a reformatory movement in the sense to which I answered yes. In fact, they referred to themselves as reformers, not restorers. Alexander Campbell said that if the church did not exist continuously from the apostolic age until the present Jesus was a false prophet for saying the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Later Alexander Campbell would say that consistent devotion to the Lord takes priority over obeying particular commands and “It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known”
A document that gave initial impetus to the movement was Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address”. Had the attitude and principles expressed in this document been followed the movement would not have degenerated in what it is today and we might not be questioning the validity of the concept. With the passing of time though a major change or shift occurred in the Churches of Christ which undermined the intend and efforts of those early reformers.
That change or shift was that fellowship in Christ is contingent upon agreement in matters of interpretation or opinion rather than agreement coming about as a result of our fellowship. This was not the view expressed in the “Declaration and Address”, nor the modus operandi of the early leaders in the movement. It is very evident by the purpose stated in that instigating document – “to unite the Christians in all the sects.” Later leaders in the movement denied this premise and gravitated to an attitude and position that we have restored certain doctrines of the first century and since we are right without question, you must assent to them and join in our practice of them or you are not to be recognized as a faithful and loyal Christian. This exclusivity and demand for conformity caused division after division. The party spirit produced the same confusion and situation in the Churches of Christ which gave rise to the movement in the first place.
There are definitely some problems with the Restoration concept as it is understood and practiced today. Brethren are ignorant of our heritage and each party has made the mistake of concluding that they represent a finished restoration and all the faithful and true believers constitute their body which they equate to the one Body of Christ.
Yes, I believe in a sense the Restoration Movement is a valid concept. At this point in time I would be elated if brethren would restore and relate on the basis of the propositions enunciated in the “Declaration and Address” rather than following its counterpart of 1889, the “Address and Declaration”.
Who will deny that we need to continually work at restoring the image of Christ? Who will say that they have reached a state of knowing and understanding wherein they are free from error and being imperfect to some degree? Certainly we also need to restore traditions as practiced in a positive way and for the purpose intended as per the example of the early church and taught in the scriptures. Not as a basis of fellowship based upon exclusive patternism coupled with legalism and ignoring the fact that not all brethren are at the same place in their knowledge and understanding and spiritual development. Instead, relating to one another on the basis of the attitude, principles, and spirit represented by the image of Christ and so clearly repeatedly revealed in the scriptures. Let our creed only and truly be Christ as advocated in a slogan by our spiritual forefathers in the American Restoration Movement.
Let me finish this answer with a quote from Carroll D. Osborn.
Now it must be observed that antiquarianism is not a virtue. There is no point in time at which one can say that the church was restored and that now all we have to do is preach it. Restoration, you see, is not something that ‘happened back then’. Restoration is a continuing dynamic plea that biblical norms, responsibly derived, be lived in culturally responsible ways. As I have come to understand it, restoration is incumbent upon every generation. Make no mistake, however! The calling is not to become Restorationist, but to become a ‘Christian’. Restoration is but a mind-set, a perspective on religion out of which to operate. One does not have to be a Restorationist to be a Christian, but every Christian should find the concept of restoration, if properly understood, attractive. I have dreamed for years of a time when ‘restoration’ will be taken out of the domain of the historians and become a life-style for the people in our pews. That dream now has come within reach.