We who are in the church, especially pastors and denominational executives, have a vested interest in maintaining the church as it currently exists. Of course we’d like our church and/or denomination to grow, but what we mean is that we would like more of what it already is, more of the same kind of people, more resources, etc. What we really want is a better status quo, churches like the ones we have, but bigger. But is that what God wants or what God is doing at this time in history? It doesn’t seem to be. The church plural is in crisis. I don’t have a magic solution for this problem, but it is worth discussing, worth facing up to some harsh realities, and taking stock. Which is better: harsh realities or false hope?
The change that is needed must involve the top, the leaders. If the church were a corporation, that change would come in the form of new leadership. Of course churches and denominations do that all the time by getting new leaders. It usually involves firing and hiring, and churches have been doing that for eons, with little to show for it. We mostly get more of the same—better packaged, more efficient, different way to maintain the same status quo. The new leaders believe the same things. Most of what has been happening in America in the past fifty years is church consolidation. Small churches are folding, and large churches are getting larger, while overall market share continues to be lost. It’s time to ask if that is really what God wants.
But how can we who have a vested interest (pastors, denominational leaders, church leaders who depend for our livelihood on the church as we know it) even consider any alternatives (or truths) that would undermine our vested interests or positions of leadership? We need something radically new—or perhaps the renewal of something very old, something largely forgotten and of little consideration in our fast paced lives.
One of the themes of much of my writing deals with various misunderstandings of Scripture that cause us to beat dead horses in the hope of taking the gospel to the world. Most evangelism efforts are still couched in the language of the Second Great Awakening, which is of little interest to the younger generations, and puts the older generations asleep because they have heard it all before.
The language of Christian liberalism is in direct opposition to this language, and therefore is equally handicapped and equally dependent upon it—but is even more lethargic. The Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are locked in a theological battle with the Mainline Liberals, which is just where Satan would like us to be. All of our energy and attention are consumed in struggling with one another. The struggle is not as enthusiastic as it used to be, so our energies wax and wane between trying to work up enough enthusiasm to care, or letting our differences languish in the bureaucratic language of ecumenism.
For instance, we (pastors, denominational leaders, and church leaders) have a vested interest in church property (buildings and bank accounts – cash flow). But to what extent do we limit (and harm) the gospel by forcing the Spirit to work through the channels of finance? To what extent do our vested interests actually impede genuine gospel expansion? It’s like we are trying to wrestle the Holy Spirit into our churches, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us wheresoever He will.
The world is hungry for the gospel, but a very large number of people can’t or won’t connect with it through “traditional” channels (churches, denominations, missions). If the gospel is going to reach the majority of people, and if by “reach” we mean that people must be connected to “traditional” churches and denominations, we won’t be able to build enough churches fast enough to meet the real need. And all of our energies will be inward directed toward more materialistic stuff. Rather than working to get people into church, we need to work to get Christ’s church into people. As long as we are focused on maintaining, expanding, and improving the churches, we are focused on doing more of the same thing—which isn’t working very well, at least not as well as it needs to work to meet the need.
We need to turn our attention to the larger culture, get out attention out of the confines of the ghettoized churches. The idea that the church is supposed to provide an alternative culture produces an insular Christianity. It quarantines the church from society, which is exactly what the culture of sin wants the church to be! The church is not to be an alternative way of life in a world filled with sin (which is a common view among pastors, churches, and denominations). Rather, the church is to be the engine of culture – the primary driving force of culture. The church (God’s people) and biblical wisdom should be at the cutting edges of education, science, technology, and finance. The church is a mindset, a worldview, a way of life, not an institution, building, or social organization. It is life itself, not just something to do on Sunday mornings.
Unfortunately, church theology is stuck in the 19th, or the 16th, or the 7th, or the 4th, or the 1st century, depending on your preferred tradition. We look to the past for guidance into the future, as if the ideal is to make the future like the past. The church (pastors, denominational leaders, and church leaders) are not on the cutting edge of anything in sufficient numbers, but are overwhelmingly in the ghettos. Which is why the vast majority of pastors are discouraged and languishing! We like to draw our hope from the ministry “successes” who are doing very well, who have large churches and large followings. But doing that only compounds our problems for several reasons. First, large churches tend to be good at worldly success, which the New Testament spends much ink opposing. So, modeling our efforts on “what’s working” will bring success to a few more large churches, but not to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the suffering servant who sacrificed His life for us. Suffering and sacrifice are hard to sell. We don’t understand that worldly success is not our friend.
The answer is not building more churches, or growing existing churches and denominations, or starting new churches and denominations on the model of “what works.” We don’t need larger, more effective, and better funded Christian ghettos. The idea that the church is a hospital in the midst of a sick and sinful world is fine. But the mission of a hospital is not to get more people into its beds. Rather, the greater mission is to get them out of bed and keep them out of the hospital. The church needs to work to keep people out of the hospital, not work to get more people into it. The church needs to become proactive in its healing mission, and not just heal the brokenhearted. The church must address the causes of sin and illness – most of which are self-inflicted, just as most physical health problems result from bad choices and wrong lifestyles. As Pogo once said: I have met the enemy, and they are us!
If it is we—the church—who are the problem, then it is we who must change. And for leaders to lead us in the right changes, we must have rightly changed leaders. But what changes? And how can we make the needed changes? The first step to solving any problem is to recognize the problem as a problem. Scripture drives the churches, or it should! So, the solution is to reconnect with the drive train in the right way, to reunderstand the Bible—Old Testament and New, to see the old truths with new eyes. This is what I write about, so if you want more, that’s where you can find it.
Books by Phillip A. Ross
Marking God’s Word—Understanding Jesus, 1999, 2006, 340 pgs.
- Is confusion about the gospel of Jesus Christ new to the contemporary world? When did the confusion begin? What is the confusion about?
Acts of Faith—Kingdom Advancement, 2007, 323 pgs.
Has anyone ever completely understood what the Lord was up to? This study of Acts shows that Paul understood Jesus, and carried forward Jesus’ perspective, not his own.
Arsy Varsy—Reclaiming The Gospel in First Corinthians, 2008, 400 pgs.
- Paul thought, wrote and taught that some of the leaders of the Corinthian church had things backwards, and their getting things right meant that they first come to understand that they had things wrong.
Varsy Arsy—Proclaiming The Gospel in Second Corinthians, 2009, 326 pgs.
The Corinthian church had wealth, success and influence. But the false spirituality being taught was based on Greek wisdom. Paul saw through the charade and called the Corinthians back to Christ.
Galatians—Law / Gospel, 2014, 287 pgs
Freedom in Christ is foundational to the gospel, yet the relationship between the law and the gospel has stumbled the church for too long.
The Wisdom of Jesus Christ in the Book of Proverbs, 2006, 482 pgs.
- Here is the biblical message of Proverbs in the light of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of Christianity. While Proverbs was written by King Solomon, the Christian faith is eternally consistent.
Informal Christianity—Refining Christ’s Church, 1999, 2007, 144 pgs.
Discover the personal and informal realities involved in a personal relationship with Christ or personal discipleship, what it means to be born again, living in regeneration.
Practically Christian—Applying James Today, 1998, 2006, 141 pgs.
- Shine the light of Scripture into the darkened recesses of the contemporary church by shining the light of James into the hearts of contemporary readers.
Colossians—Christos Singularis, 2010, 263 pgs.
- God’s Trinitarian character is the “image” in which He created us because God’s Trinitarian character is the way that He has revealed Himself to us. It is the “image” of Him that we are to “see” in Scripture and emulate.
Rock Mountain Creed—The Sermon on the Mount, 2011, 325 pgs.
The ineffectiveness of the church is tied to the regurgitation of old answers. The answers themselves don’t change, but we do! We don’t need new answers, we need renewed hearts and minds.
Peter’s Vision of Christ’s Purpose in First Peter, 2011, 317 pgs.
- See Peter’s first letter with the eyes of modern, post-resurrection faithfulness, and how Peter’s vision of Christ fuel the ongoing scientific and technological revolutions.
Peter’s Vision of The End in Second Peter, 2012, 195 pgs.
- The end that Peter was talking about was the purpose of God for Christ, using Christ to bring salvation to the to the world, not the destruction of the world.
- Find a biblical perspective that issues out of the wholeness of the Bible and shows the Bible’s sustainable depth and breadth for the twenty-first century.
Engagement—Establishing Relationship in Christ, 1996, 2008. – 114 pgs.
- Engaging a relationship with Jesus Christ in the contemporary world is not what many people think it is.
It’s About Time!—The Time Is Now, 1997, 2008, 40 pgs.
- We all need to make more time to consider Jesus Christ. Christianity is not about a mountaintop experience but about life down in the valley where people actually live.
The Big Ten—A Study of the Ten Commandments, 2001, 2008, 100 pgs.
- Get a proper understanding of biblical Christianity that speaks to our problems and addresses issues of orthodoxy and error that plague modern society.
The True Mystery of the Mystical Presence, 2011, 355 pgs.
- An expanded edition of Nevin’s book, The Mystical Presence—A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (1846).
The Work At Zion—A Reckoning, Two-volume set, 1996, 792 pgs.
- A spiritual conversion turned a ministry upside down; a preacher’s rediscovery of classic, historical, Protestant Christianity in the midst of of apathy and apostasy.
Other Authors by Pilgrim Platform
Conflict of Ages—The Great Debate of the Moral Relations of God and Man, Edward Beecher, D. D., 1853, 2012 (editor), 482 pgs.
- About the most serious conflict in history, the one between believers and unbelievers.
Concord Of Ages—The Individual And Organic Harmony Of God And Man, Edward Beecher, D. D., 1860, 2013 (editor), 532 pgs.
- Conflict of Ages traces the problem through history up to 1860. And this book proposes a solution to the problem delineated in Conflict Of Ages.
The Religious History of Nineteenth Century Marietta, Thomas Jefferson Summers, 1903, 2012 (editor), 140 pgs.
- A brief religious history of Marietta, Ohio, up to 1905, with additional material about America’s religious conflict.
A Biblical Primer of Ethics, Mark Hamilton, 2014 – 114 pgs.
- An undergraduate study of Christian ethics specifically directed to those who think they understand of Christianity, but only have a casual acquaintance with it.
Inside Our Woman—Collected Poetry of Doris M. Ross, 2014, 183 pgs.
- My mother’s poetry.