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Introducing Reformed Heritage Churches

By Brian M. Abshire
December 31, 1998

In the thirty-five years of Chalcedon’s ministry, Rush has affected literally millions of lives. Through his writing and speaking, he helped create a hunger for a truly Biblical faith by throwing down the gauntlet before a compromised evangelicalism. As a consequence, thousands of people have become dissatisfied with “business as usual” Christianity and expect the church to be more than a spiritual social club or an ecclesiastical bureaucracy.

Steve Schlissel extended Rush’s vision by pioneering a new way for churches to relate to each other through his Council of Reformed Officers. His concept of an “ad hoc” presbytery offers a viable alternative to the concentration of power and money that has made most Presbyterian denominations little more than tempting targets for hostile liberal takeovers. However, Steve’s method only works within established churches. To use his mechanism, one must belong to a church ruled by elders.

But there are thousands of families across the country who cannot find a good local Reformed church to join. Many have given up on the idea of belonging to a “real” church and have had to be satisfied with conducting weekly worship in their homes. In a way, this is Rush’s fault; he gave us a vision for what the church is supposed to be, and helped make us dissatisfied with the status quo. What else were people to do but leave apostate and culturally irrelevant churches, even if that meant that a home church was the only option?

Of course, this is not a satisfactory long-term solution. As important as is the father’s role as the family’s spiritual head, the family and the church are distinct spheres of government. God has entrusted certain duties and responsibilities to the church that he has not given to the family. He has given the church gifts and graces that the family—no matter how godly—does not have. There are ministries to the family that the church and only the church can provide; and the family is poorer without the care and government of godly elders.

However, what alternatives are there when the only local churches available are pietistic, antinomian, Arminian and hopelessly compromised in worship and practice? How can a godly man submit himself and his family to the government of such institutions? On the other hand, how can his family grow in grace and wisdom when deprived of the godly oversight of God’s church? Therefore, though many people have been “going it alone” for years, they still long to be a part of a broader group of believers who share the same values, priorities, and theology. A many-stranded cord is hard to break; two walking together are stronger than one walking alone. We all need to be part of a broader church.

One solution is for families lacking a good local Reformed church to move where there is such a fellowship. However, it is not always possible for people to uproot their families and find employment in another section of the country. Furthermore, in today’s mobile society, one might move to an area to join a church, only to find that the pastor soon intends to leave for another work!

I receive calls weekly from people around the country who want to belong to the kind of church we are building in Modesto. Each day, my email box is full of questions, queries, and concerns from godly families who struggle in intolerable situations. My heart goes out to them, and I have come to treasure some of these people greatly. Yes, I can help them resolve some of their present problems (and am honored to help do so), but they need a church, a local church, with elders to watch over them.

A number of these families have asked to join us as associate members. They are tired of going it alone; they want a council of godly elders to care for their souls; they want to be identified with a specific church. While we are pleased to offer them oversight, it does not solve the problem. They need a local church. Modern technology, as wonderful as it is, is not a substitute for personal, day-to-day contact. We decided that we had a responsibility to these precious saints to help them organize local churches to which they can belong.

It began with a number of families in the San Francisco/San Jose area (about 70 miles from Modesto) who were long-time Chalcedon Report readers. They were scattered in various tiny house churches or enduring antinomian-type traditional evangelical churches. We invited them to Modesto for our monthly, all-day seminar that Andrew Sandlin and I teach.

The response was explosive. Within three months. Reformed Heritage of Modesto had grown to more than five times its original size. By the end of the summer, we had more people attending from the Bay Area than from Modesto! But commuting two hours to church once a month does not meet the criteria for local church involvement. Therefore, with the help of a number of godly leaders from the Bay Area, we organized Reformed Heritage Church of San Jose—one church, two locations.

The Bay Area members now meet weekly as a separate congregation. I share preaching duties three times a month with my predecessor. Reformed Heritage’s pastor emeritus “Smoky” Stover. We will help provide the congregation with a full-time pastor next year. Meanwhile, on the fourth Sunday, both congregations meet in Modesto for an all-day service that includes the sacraments, worship and teaching from new books on which Andrew and I are collaborating.

However, the story does not end there. The folks from San Jose were just the beginning. In October, we took the first steps to help organize Reformed Heritage Church of Bend, Oregon. Again, long-time Chalcedon readers were struggling without a consistently Reformed church nearby. Several families were meeting weekly to worship and listen to Rush’s and Steve Schilssel’s tapes. Now, they have decided to join us as members, and we are helping them organize this small fellowship into a new Reformed church. News seems to travel fast; now, across the country, a number of other Chalcedon Report readers have also asked us for help in startling a good, consistently Reformed church in their area.

Reformed Heritage provides government and pastoral care for these fledgling works until they get off the ground. We supply teaching tapes, Bible study aids, training materials, and technical expertise to help them start a good church. We show them how to reach out to their neighbors, start home Bible studies that work, and minister to their community. In January we will begin video-taping each week’s service so that our “daughter” churches can follow the order of service, watch the sermon, and make local applications. In this way, we can provide teaching for these groups until they are ready for all the responsibilities of being an organized congregation.

If there are any problems, cares or concerns. Reformed Heritage offers oversight, counseling, and guidance. Once the church is up and running and can support a full-time pastor, we will use Steve Schlissel’s mechanism to ordain elders, adjudicate disputes, etc.

Do you see the vision? Rather than isolated households holding the enemy off alone, we are joining forces and extending the Kingdom.

Does this sound too ambitious for one small church to help organize so many others? Well, the Baptists, and Methodist circuit-riding preachers won a continent using a low-tech version of this same strategy. One man would minister to thousands of people separated by hundreds of square miles.

If you have been deeply influenced by Rush’s work over the years and found yourself at odds with contemporary evangelicalism; if you want to be a part of a church that emphasizes the historic Reformed Faith without compromise; if your dedication to providing your children with a Christian education has made you an outsider; if you are tired of the bland, tasteless pabulum that passes for preaching; if you hunger to he part of a group of likeminded believers who are committed to advancing the kingdom, call us. If possible, we’ll put you into contact with other like-minded believers in your area and help you organize a church. If you are a pastor tired of having to watch every word lest an enemy “out” you and destroy your career, talk to us. Maybe we can hook you up with a small house church that could be the beginning of something wonderful.

It is time to stop going it alone. One ember by itself, soon cools and dies. But many embers placed together can start an unquenchable fire. We need each other, and Reformed Heritage Church wants to help. For more information on how you can become part of a Reformed Heritage church in your area, please contact Brian Abshire at Reformed Heritage Church, PO Box 578357, Modesto, CA 95357, Telephone (209) 544-1572, email [email protected] Visit our Website at RHCA.org. Call now and receive a free subscription to Reformed Heritage’s News, Views and Snooze-Letter, an irreverent and slightly scandalous alternative to the normal boring church newsletter. We wanted to offer a special deGoder ring and secret hand-shake hut Andrew Sandlin said we were being silly again and nixed the idea.


Topics: Church, The, Reformed Thought

Brian M. Abshire

Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.

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