Reforming a Local Church


This past semester I finished up my last Historical Theology class from the Midwest Center for Theological Studies (stay tuned for upcoming name change!).  This course, covering Modern Church History from roughly 1700 to present, offered an introduction into the history of reformed Baptists particularly through the required reading, the biography of Ernest Reisinger.  I was only slightly familiar with Reisinger prior to this reading, but his influence on Southern Baptists and more broadly Christianity in the U.S. was profound.  Perhaps most impressive was his massive initiative to giveaway books, not just ordinary books, but classics of the Banner of Truth variety.  In fact, the volume of his giveaways in Carlisle, PA directly influenced the decision by Banner of Truth to establish their U.S. headquarters in that town.

Reisinger had a wide variety of church experiences, including some situations that might make others melt under the pressure.  In that biography, written by Geoffrey Thomas, some helpful thoughts from Reisinger on church reform are provided.  In the last post we looked this idea from Revelation 3:2, below are suggestions for the practical application of church reform from a man who experienced that several times.  The entire article is available here:

Some Practical Suggestions for the Contemporary Scene

1. Don’t try any reformation until you have earned some spiritual credibility with the church.

2. The first suggestion is study the Biblical principle of accommodation.  There is a little pamphlet on this subject, The Principle of Biblical Accomodation as Applied to the Invitation System, and an excellent message on tape by Thomas K. Ascol.[1]

3. Three questions should be asked, and carefully answered:

A. What is the right, Biblical thing to do?

B. How should these changes be implemented?

C. When should they be implemented?  Don’t try to do too much too soon.  Many mistakes have been made by doing the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time.

4.The principle of priorities must be applied.  You can’t change everything at once- first things first.

5. The principle of two churches must be before us at all times.

A. The church as it should be, conceived from the scriptures, in idealism – never abandon this.

B. The church as it is – the one you look at 11:00 on Sunday morning.  One must realize that the two shall never meet on earth, but you will find joy and satisfaction in narrowing the difference between them, that is, when you see the one you look at on Sunday morning make some steps toward the ideal one.

6. The principle of church membership.  Don’t make church membership any narrower than the New Testament.

7. The principle of restraint.  Don’t tackle the whole church at one time.  Choose a few men who are sincere, teachable, and spiritually minded, and spend time with them in study and prayer.  They will help you to reform.  This principle is found in Titus 1:5: “For this cause left I thee behind in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting and ordain elders in every city, as I have appointed thee.”  Acts 14:23 “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”  Acts 11:30: “Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”  Acts 20:17,28: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”  Don’t get bogged down with what you call these men until they are trained – they are called overseers – elders.

8. Don’t get hung up on secondary matters.

9. Don’t use theological language that is not in the Bible, in the pulpit, such as, Calvinism, reformed, doctrines of grace, particular redemption etc.  Most people will not know what you are talking about.

10. Use sound literature, not indiscriminately, but wisely.  Little things at first, that is, pamphlets and books with some doctrinal and experimental substance.

11. Don’t use the pulpit to scold people.  You cannot scold people into reformation.

12. Exercise common sense.

13. Depend on the only weapons we have: prayer, preaching, and teaching.

14. Be sure that you understand the foundational doctrines and how they are related to each other and to your situation.

15. I would suggest that you check the history of your church in respect to early constitutions or declarations of faith.  Often you will find, particularly, in older churches, a statement expressing the doctrines which you desire to establish.  A gracious appeal to this document will help to give you credibility, at least they will know you are not coming from Mars.  Hide behind these articles of faith.  Hide behind our Baptist fathers, such as Bunyan, Spurgeon, Fuller, Boyce, Dagg, Broadus, Manly, W.B. Johnson, W.B.C. Howell, and B.H. Carroll.

Most of these suggestions come from experience, and, she is a queer old teacher.  She first gives you the test and then the lesson – unlike other teaching!

Final Appeal

The proper motives for reformation are love to God and concern for His glory; love for man and concern for his good; love for God’s Holy Law as the only perfect, objective standard of righteousness; love for Christ and His Church; love and compassion for sinners.

Since nothing in this mortal life is more important than true religion in the soul, and in the church, reformation should be diligently sought after, and carefully looked into.  It is not enough to pout and complain about what is wrong in the visible church, but we must be occupied in forming and restoring what is right and Biblical.  A censorious spirit will not reform the church.

[1] These are available through The Christian Gospel Foundation, 521 Wildwood Parkway, Cape Coral, FL 33904, or Pastor Thomas K. Ascol, Grace Baptist Church, 204 SW 11th Place, Cape Coral, FL 33991

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Christian saved by grace through faith.


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