Strengthen the Things that Remain

Founders Journal 64 · Spring 2006 · pp. 1-2

Strengthen the Things that Remain:
Reforming the Local Church

Tom Ascol

One of the great lessons that emerged out of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation was that the church of Jesus Christ on earth was not properly conceived as semper idem—always the same—but rather as semper reformanda—always reforming. The recognition that neither the church universal nor any local church will ever be once and for all reformed in this life led to the conclusion that the church must always be working for reformation according to the teachings of God’s Word.

This has been the overarching burden of Founders Ministries from our conception. We have tried to encourage the recovery of the gospel of God’s grace and the biblical re-formation of local churches. That burden has consistently led us to think about and try to serve pastors. If a pastor is helped, then a church will be helped. God uses men to lead His churches into those healthy pathways that are prescribed by the Bible.

When a church has wandered away from such paths and perhaps has even traveled far down wrong roads, the way back can be long and arduous. It can be and often is painful. Thus it has ever been and thus it shall ever be with the work of reformation.

Sometimes the difficulty of the challenge causes pastors to shrink back. At times the road to reformation in a local church can appear to lead right over the edge of a steep cliff. Thoughts of taking it seem suicidal.

At other times thoughts of leading a local church into (or back into) more biblically sound patterns of life and faith fill a pastor (especially a young pastor!) with romanticized notions of how wonderful it will be when people are taught what the Word of God actually says. It is easy to imagine that such teachers who would expose error and rightly divide the Word would be cheered as heroes in churches where the Bible is revered as God’s holy Word.

Neither despair nor naiveté is a helpful characteristic when the prospect of local church ministry looms on the horizon. This is true for both pastors and church members. Realistic expectations of the challenges and blessings involved in a reforming ministry are essential if one is to stay the course. The Bible regularly and repeatedly calls us to such realism.

In His letter to the church at Sardis, Jesus gives them what must have been a very painful reality check when He said, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Imagine being in the congregation when those words were read! The church’s reputation in the community was great. It had a name. It was known for its liveliness. A member of that church would probably have been full of hope and anticipation when the announcement was made that “today we have a letter from the hand of the Apostle John that was dictated by Jesus Christ and addressed specifically to our church.”

Yet, our Lord’s first words are a call to biblical reality. Your reputation on earth is not necessarily the same as your reputation in heaven. What other people are saying about your church is not always what Jesus Christ says about your church. He said that the Sardis church, despite its exalted status in the community, was in reality “dead.”

But what our Lord says next is equally surprising and must not be forgotten. “Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, …” (v. 2). He does not write them off as hopeless. He calls them to reformation. He calls them back to that which they had originally received and heard and He calls them to repent (v. 3). This is precisely the message that many churches in our day need to hear. It is the message that pastors must be willing to proclaim and apply as they commit themselves to the work of biblical reformation.

The articles that follow are about the work of reformation in local churches. They present that work through the eyes of pastors who have led the way as well as from the perspective of church members who were part of the process. These collective testimonies should encourage us to recognize that God does indeed have power to restore local churches that have gone astray either through neglect or false teaching. He very often is pleased to fan dying embers back into flame, to empower His people to “strengthen the things that remain.”

The way back to healthier, purer streams of church life is often very difficult, but the blessings are worth the battles. And the battles never really end. Because the church must ever be reformed and reforming according to the Word of God.