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The Puritan Storm: An Update from the Heartland

This is an update on the activities of Shiloh Christian Church submitted here to encourage Chalcedon friends and its international readership.

  • Abby Oberst,
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This is an update on the activities of Shiloh Christian Church submitted here to encourage Chalcedon friends and its international readership. Why bother with an update on a 55-family church body meeting in a converted German Club (read: beer hall) on 31 acres of rural countryside in a densely populated county near Cleveland, Ohio? The fact is, Shiloh continues to find itself in the position of prototype, as the American church moves from its present sad state into Reformed orthodoxy. Much like the classic industrial prototype, this little assembly is consciously yielding to the tweaking and refining of its design engineers, and voluntarily submitting to the draftsmen's pencils.

The result? Inordinate pound-for-pound impact in a multitude of arenas when compared with "typical" local churches of our day. Those outside the Shiloh family, but who continue to bump into its members, usually assume that our numbers are far more daunting than they are, given our presence (it seems, "everywhere"). In operation here is the important David-and-Goliath principle, and one that ought to hearten small churches everywhere. We have never despised our small beginnings and from the start have trusted in God's using little things for his grand purposes.

Ground-Taking Areas

Some of the ground-taking areas in which we have recently been involved are penetrating local, state and national politics; smoking out and neutralizing apostate clergy; tenaciously living our pro-life commitment through permanent adoption of society's "throw-aways"; indefatigably supporting fellow churches that are Reformed wannabees; cultivating a very deep bench of editorial writers; developing a canon of (original) creed-based worship music; and taking the lead in such community battles as anti-pornography.


Even with this apparently eclectic mix of endeavors, the feature that onlookers seem to find the most intriguing is this church's capacity to adapt to the leadership's doctrinal direction. In barely five years, Shiloh metamorphosed from quintessential non-denominationalism (sort-of charismatic, sort-of evangelical . . .) into aggressive five-point Calvinism, Knoxian social activism and confessional orthodoxy — and proud of all. Having assiduously studied the various Biblical defenses regarding baptism, we honor both the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession (1698), according to the conclusions and convictions of our member families, with no fatalities.

We must either begin or end with the courageous pastoral team of Philip L. Vollman and Jeffrey A. Ziegler. Rejecting the timidity plaguing so many pastors (who "subscribe"to the tenets of historic orthodoxy but who can't quite get off the theoretical dime), Vollman and Ziegler put their necks on the line daily (reminding their people, mantra-like, that there is no neutrality). Outwardly, cynics (or cowards) might (and do) call their MO "reckless,""self-righteous" and worse. Those of us who have had the privilege of sitting under their painstaking instruction, however, know that it is out of the overflow of their doctrine that their powerful activism comes. Or simply put: Faith without works is dead.

Yes, we have the gift of a whopping right-left punch from oft-jailed-ex-Rescue-leader-and-ex-Marine-who-can't-get-enough-Bible, Phil Vollman, and scholar-orator-impassioned-reformer, Jeff Ziegler. Yes, we have a covenant body with a high level of trust in its leadership. It is also true that there is hefty per-capita talent in this congregation. The important point, however, is that Shiloh Christian Church is no more, and no less, "distinctive"than the horde of churches across the American landscape today. We just happen to believe that the Puritan model of robust, community-involved, torch-bearing Calvinism of the average church in colonial America (our prototype) is the right way to "do" Christianity. The mettle of the leadership is no small part of the success of this work in progress.

Keeping the Gates of the City

Given the Titanic-like plummet that our nation's moral sanity seems to be suffering, to speak of a local fight against a pair of smut shops — and the extraordinary effort expended in this fight — might give new meaning to the word-picture of the little boy with his thumb in the dike. But that's what the humanists would say. That's what the pietists would say. The Bible says that righteous elders are to keep the gates of the city. God's covenant promises kingdom-advancement and blessings of peace and safety to those who obey him.

In November, 1996, Pastor Phil Vollman drove along the main commercial thoroughfare of our county seat, and noticed that a new "adult" book and video store had opened for business next door to an old smut-and-cigar store (both of which are situated directly across from the county fairgrounds). The older of the two sits back from the road, having enjoyed an almost-embarrassed anonymity for decades. (It's the "dirty book store" that has been in the shadows, much like the raunchy old uncle in The Home who's not mentioned in polite company.)

Suddenly, the families of Lake County, Ohio, were assaulted with new marquees, in-your-face curbside neon advertising and, now, competition. In tactical marketing self-preservation, the old shop beefed up its facade, and we had the makings of an avenue of sleaze that has been the blight of countless communities. In no time, there was a "bikini bar" proposed adjacent to the fairgrounds.

In what can only be described as typical leadership style, Phil Vollman organized a meeting of pastors that netted nearly twenty attendees; and, within 45 days, 58 pastors from 55 churches were "on board" (representing a spine-tingling mix of all "types" of Christian churches, it should be noted) to combat this virulent mess. The strategy was simple: Work within the confines of the legal system, craft a public statement to which all could attach their imprimaturs, and work with local civil magistrates.

The official statement was drafted and read aloud at a meeting of the township trustees (within whose jurisdiction the porn shops are located). Openly pledging that the churchmen were there to help, not hinder, the civil authorities, Vollman summed up their position with, "We're going to be very stubborn about this." A series of meetings followed with the county's sheriff and with County Prosecutor, Charles Coulson. Billboards and large newspaper ads were purchased with $5,000 raised by partner churches. Letters to the editor cataloged the harms to families, to women, to children, to men (and to the economy, safety and soul of the community) — if these porn shops stayed.

On May 10, 1997, at least 300 church people showed up for the first of the planned weekly pickets. For many, including the pastors involved, this was by far the most "radical" step they had ever taken for their convictions. There was a palpable assent at this first picket that God had more in mind than closing a couple of porn shops in Painesville Township, Ohio. One could almost hear the stretching sounds of Christians who were putting feet to their faith. The mere example of the unblinking leadership coming from the Shiloh warhorses served to embolden several pulpit-potato pastors, some of whom would become permanent comrades in dominion-taking Christianity.

Vollman, a seasoned abortion-mill protest organizer, knew that the long haul would be the key. This was May. This was a cake walk. From this four-hour demonstration under daylight-savings-time skies, all through the winter-evening doldrums of '98, Shiloh's leadership team has motivated, inspired, cajoled, admonished the faithful not to faint, not to quit, until this wicked and insidious sin-pandering is banished from the community. Since the first of the "porno pickets" (as we call them), there has been a sizable group of sign-carrying protesters walking in circles (literally), in front of the neighboring smut shops every single week. Rotating leadership among partner churches, there has been a sidewalk march an average of four nights a week with added "minute-man" pickets to keep it interesting.

". . . In my adversity they rejoiced"

What about the original group of clergymen who came out for the organizational meetings? Not coincidentally, the heat over this gate-keeping has come from local "ministers" openly lobbying that a) such public protest is unbiblical, or b) that it is unloving (and therefore unbiblical) to risk embarrassing the customers. The question, "What if one of my church members is a patron of these stores?" has been too difficult for the antinomians to handle.

Not surprisingly, there are barely seven churches left . . . led by "the best" brothers in Christ a man could hope to labor with, according to Vollman. Get this: The names of partner churches still standing strong (for most, in their first-ever social activism) are Trinity Baptist Church, Lake Shore Assembly of God, Painesville Church of Christ, Mentor United Methodist Church, Living Waters Cathedral, and Painesville Church of The Nazarene. The anecdotes of revolutionary growth and of theological paradigm-shifting among these fine men are too plentiful and too exciting to see this core group as anything other than a great win.

It is hoped that those who expect societal reformation to occur in cataclysmic proportions, while individual clergy and their local churches remain unreformed, will take heart — and take heed of this little prototype: one or two solidly Calvinistic preachers living out the Faith in the messy marketplace, patiently convincing peers to be consistent in doctrine and practice. The long-term fruit of this joint, and very public, stand against evil (among this odd coalition of church families) is known only to God.

While the ongoing porno-drama is tempting to rehearse in detail, the synopsis is this: "video peep booths" are permanently closed (since it was discovered by public health officials, due to our stalwarts, that unspeakably disgusting conditions existed therein due to homosexual liaisons and other "private" practices). Zoning is now in place to prohibit the return of such viewing booths. Snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, "moderate Republican" Prosecutor Coulson has thus far sabotaged the final coup — shut-downs — in ways too numerous to count, with cowardice and compromise. With the magnanimous support of Jerry Kirk of the Cincinnati-based Coalition Against Pornography, and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, our leaders know that there is both precedent and help; and they intend to win.

As in all adversity, this protracted struggle has served to strengthen the saints. It has also been an instructive object lesson for newcomers and young people. "Nobody's been more faithful than Shiloh," say Vollman, "Forty percent of the church is out there every Saturday night. The bonding has been intense. Walking around in circles for two to four hours has produced sincere fellowship among our families and with denominational churches — all over dominion-taking and battle."

Passersby honk approval at the protest, and the porn sellers devise snares. One is to run sprinklers all day, creating puddles for drive-by splashing. Picketers have endured the splashing and sprinkling, snowballs, drunken cursings and taunting. Someone sicked a sheriff's deputy on the group one cold night, threatening involvement of "social services" for (you guess it) child abuse, for having children on the picket line. Porno is okay; working to stop it might harm the little ones. Vollman dealt with this perversion with military dispatch.

Shiloh's senior pastor sums it up this way: "Yes, we're tired. Yes, we want our Saturday nights back. But we believe it's a winner-take-all — the pornographers or God's elect. I can't conceive of God's elect quitting. Because Calvinists are leading this, a covenantal world-view is being preached on the streets. The community has been forced to consider the effects of pornography. We're going to stay in it to prove the nay-sayers wrong. We're not going to win it. God's going to win it."

The Politics of Reformation 

While magistrate Coulson and his ilk are hiding behind the skirts of the Supreme Court and allowing criminal venom to go unchecked, we are working on fielding a viable candidate for county prosecutor. While some pastors are still scratching their heads over political involvement, the folks at Shiloh are working the phone banks and polling places, giving money, and giving time to seat righteous candidates (by door-to-door lit drops, letter writing and more). We are driven by the fact that when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn (Pr. 29:2).

In November, 1996, member Ron Young was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He has done a stunning job of influencing fellow legislators for the good, has served the people of Ohio extremely well, and is running for re-election this year. Member Jim O'Leary made an impressive run for township trustee in '97 against two entrenched incumbents (while keeping the zoning issues surrounding the porno fight alive). The overwhelming consensus is that Jim is destined for office. Joe Slovenec, U. S. Senate candidate in '94, is also part of the Shiloh family, and is running to unseat ultra-liberal Dennis Kucinich in the House of Representatives this year. Perhaps most significant is that, in our small congregation (which until recently was holding at around 40 families), we have six precinct committeemen. Not only is this number growing, so too is the political acumen and assertiveness of the rank-and-file church membership.

"Shilohites," young and old and in the middle, are frequently published on the editorial pages of the regional daily. Husband-and-wife team, Bernie and Donna Kromer host a local radio program, "Taking America Back," aired twice weekly and simulcast on the local cable TV system, in addition to their lively e-mail newsletter. Associate pastor Jeff Ziegler has been making the media rounds with the publication of the National Reform Association's new book, Explicitly Christian Politics, co-authored by a number of Chalcedon friends and NRA board members. The fact is, with moral bankruptcy blanketing the entire political spectrum, there is an invisible "welcome mat" being set out for principled folks who simply have the nerve to step on the platform.

Returning to the prototype analogy, we know that (by example and by the willingness of our leaders to encourage others), these efforts are being replicated elsewhere. In Dayton, for example, Rev. Bruce Moore has recently announced his candidacy for the State House, and has brought his large AG church into the world of Christian Reconstruction with the help of our elders. Pastors converting pastors can indeed change our sociopolitical landscape.

We would be remiss not to celebrate here that Rev. Jeff Ziegler opened the Ohio House of Representatives in February of this year with an invocation that is still causing tremors in Columbus. Entered into the permanent record, this booming prayer (chocked full with the Reformed approach to the Throne of Grace, to civil government and also what ails us), has been a shot heard 'round the state. Pity that such a prayer would be "remarkable," but praise God for the days ahead when it will be                                                         the norm!

At a loss whether to defer to the chicken or the egg (on the activism question), the fact is, Shiloh seems to attract men of political passions, and men who see our high esteem for the shoulders upon which we stand in the history of Christian liberty. In the past fifteen months, we have had the privilege of pulpit visits by such men as historian Marshall Foster (of The Mayflower Institute), former vice-presidential candidate Herb Titus, second-amendment advocate Larry Pratt (president of the Gun Owners of America) and others. The "others" have included such friends as Andrew Sandlin, William Einwechter and Steve Schlissel, when we have hosted conferences on Christian Reconstruction.

There is an unspoken "Why-Not?" consensus among the people, whether it is the caliber of visitors, or the next fight. Thanks, again, to the laborious instruction of our preaching elders, the people seem to be open to whatever God is going to bring us next!

Many Hands Make Light Work Smitten by the historic ecumenical creeds, Shiloh worship leader, Franklin T. Ulle, has composed a body of majestic music that prompts regular corporate confession of the tenets of the Faith. The creeds, along with imprecatory "war psalms," are included in his "New Songs for the Old Faith" (in tape and songbook form). Frank has also compiled a new tape of original music for young people, "ReconMan," that is guaranteed to turn up a smile of approval on the mug of the grumpiest old CR around. Frank's prolific compositions continue to astonish us, given that he is a full-time U. S. Postal employee and also presides over a household with eight children.

College student and computer whiz James Pavlic took it on himself to launch an ambitious Shiloh home page. High-schooler Jessica Ferroni has been busy behind the scenes, using her considerable talent as a writer, and her servant's hands, to assist Jeff Ziegler and this writer in scores of tasks for Christian Endeavors, Reformation Bible Institute, and such Shiloh projects as the heavily-editorial weekly bulletin. In fact, Ziegler's many "hats" — as RBI and Christian Endeavors president, as moderator of the Association of Free Reformed Churches and The Ohio Reconstruction Society, and his National Reform Association boardsmanship (along with Vollman's involvements) — tend to draft assistants of all descriptions from the talent pool when the ubiquitous meetings and conferences come up.

Lest the impression be that Shiloh possesses some rare combination of seasoned professionals, one Sunday visit would quickly dispel it. Among our population is a very high percentage of ordinary working families with school-aged children and younger. The typical Shiloh couple is passionate about home schooling, and our families tend to be large. There is much help among members in such everyday areas as food co-ops, home-schooling tutorials and co-ops, and a club or two to pass on domestic and spiritual abilities to the next generation. Whether it is learning to crochet or learning Bible verses, the view here peers long into the future. In our commitment to the babies, mentioned at the start, we are corporately soft on special-needs children; and, through the ministry-agency of member Dona Setzer (NewStart Foundation), a half-dozen little ones have found permanent homes among us through adoption. Jim O'Leary sits on the board of the local crisis pregnancy center and women's clinic, Alternaterm, where a number of our members volunteer. Much of the deep friendship, mutual discipling and aid (the "glue" of local church life) comes through weekly home groups, currently led by Paul Ferroni, Ed Lloyd, Bill Tuscano, Frank Ulle and Jeff Ziegler. We do not have a mid-week service.

How Firm a Foundation Pastors Vollman and Ziegler have powerful reputations for being ornery, "unloving," confrontational, even dangerous. We have become accustomed to this. By speaking out, by being merciless on apostasy, and with a no-neutrality world view in a sea of compromisers, it is no wonder. James Watkins, a local UCC "minister" who is the definitive apostate — with visions of grandeur and a national platform (with "Americans United for Separation of Church and State") to boot — has been effectively neutered by our elders, as have a number of antinomian confederates who have tried (and failed) to build nice-sounding heretical syndicates under the radar of gullible regional churches. It ought to go without saying that two hundred years ago, contending for the Faith by demolishing the credibility of rebel prelates or shaming the heretics would be expected of the men of God. Today, alas, our champions are "unloving."

With remarkably few casualties, the preaching at Shiloh Christian Church has foregone the warm fuzzies in favor of doctrine, doctrine and more doctrine. This may be "the" key to whatever distinctions we can claim. As Pastor Vollman quipped to his congregation recently, "You don't do what you do because we have [titillated] you. You do it because you know it's the truth." If ever the expression "line-upon-line-and-precept-upon-precept" applied to a preaching philosophy, it applies here. Thematical series tend to be long, focused, and exhaustive.

The point here is not to aggrandize, but to explain why this small-but-exploding church in the heartland finds itself a lightning rod for so much attention and a prototype for others. It is because foundations have been carefully laid on various aspects of dominion, liberty, ecclesiology, eschatology and so on. Inquiries about these series are certainly welcome.

Back to the beer hall, permit a conclusion that speaks of the future. In a few months, we expect to break ground on a new sanctuary and classroom building, utilizing the existing building (which has undergone a very pleasing transformation, by the way) for such purposes as an income-generating pre-school. On our luscious acreage, we aspire to "grow" a campus that will serve the Reformed community near and far with a centralized library of resources, a center for meetings and think-tanks, a workshop for publishing projects, and a resource/support center for Christian home educators. Based on God's faithfulness thus far, we fully expect these needed offerings to come about, and invite others to help make it happen.

While this Abraham Kuyper quotation might not fit over the door of our new sanctuary, it is clearly our pastors' motto, and one that we at Shiloh have come to live by: " When principles that run contrary to your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling and peace has become sin; you must at price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith." 

  • Abby Oberst

Abby Oberst is currently serving on a free-lance basis for Cleveland-based Christian Endeavors and Reformation Bible Institute, and for writers and publishers in Christian Reconstruction, including Ross House Books. After extended terms in marketing communications, non-profit organizations and teaching, her role as bulletin editor for Shiloh Christian Church provides the medium for much of her writing. For more information about Shiloh Christian Church write to: P.O. Box 638, Painesville, Ohio 44077 or [email protected]. Shiloh's home page can be found at

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