A New Reformation?

by Mike Ratliff

In a careful reading of the Apostles as they explain the gospel, the workings of the Church, the way to know God, doctrine, et cetera, it is amazing that their appeal is never to their position as Apostles to be believed because of their authoritative position. Yes, they used that to be heard, but the appeal to belief was never unto that, but unto the Word of God and the completed work of Christ. It was always for the glory of God, not their glory. Paul’s suffering for the gospel was legendary, but he knew that God used that to both humble him and prepare him for even greater service (Acts 9:16). In our day, the appeal to truth should be no different, but in reality in the visible church; we see the exact opposite nearly everywhere we look. We are told to believe what we are told because of subjective reasoning. The person speaking claims that what he is saying is the truth because he or she experienced something that is in no way verifiable nor is it in any way a biblical standard. What this sort of thing does is point people to focus on their leaders rather than Christ and His Word. Christ gave us His doctrine in His Word and we are told in Matthew 28:20 to teach only that which he has given us to teach to those we disciple; nothing more, nothing less. 

During my forced Sabbatical at the end of April into May, I did a great deal of reevaluation of my walk and my ministry. When I came back, I decided to tackle some things that were really bothering me in the visible church before dealing with some other things. Those things that I dealt with had to do with the recovery of the Gospel in the Church and the refocus of the Church from the things on this earth to where it should be, on Christ and the will of God. Before I focus on where God is taking me from here, let me say that since this all began back in 2004 with His radical spiritual awakening or whatever it was He did in me that took nearly the whole year, nothing has been the same. My expectations have been proven wrong on almost everything. The closer I walked with my Lord the further He drew me away from the workings of the visible church. What? I know. It made little sense to me as well. The closer to Christ I walked the more obedient to His will I was in every part of my life and this became an indictment against the simply religious. Those ensconced in their positions of authority in the churches I served in or tried to become part of wanted nothing to do with someone like me. Those churches that had no issue with me were usually either too far away to attend or my wife and I could not agree on them for one reason or another. What I am trying to say is that it is my perception that God has been using this whole thing to train me or to teach me about something vital for me in this ministry and it is now starting to come together.

In May, I was asked to read and review a book titled Corinthian Elders by Jack Fortenberry. I had just finished with Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola’s book Jesus Manifesto so I was a bit leery of doing this, but I agreed. I was not able to read it until this week, but I am very glad I was finally able to do so. When I first started reading it my first impression was that this was just another attempt to restructure the Church to become “Missional,” but that is not what it is about at all. It is an honest reassessment of the structure of the local Christian Church since the time of Constantine as opposed to that which existed prior.

Jack uses very good Greek word studies to show that passages throughout the New Testament used to support a clergy class or a silent laity with teaching elders are based on incorrect interpretation of those words. He shows that the Church model that Paul and the other Apostles implemented in the First Century was very different than what we have now. Elders taught, but they taught as part of discussions rather than sermons with everyone simply being silent. The Elders were unpaid. The only workers in the early Church who were paid were the Apostles who were paid with meals and lodging so they could concentrate on planting churches. The Elders in the Churches worked just like everyone else and everyone came together, fellowshipped and discussed Christ and His doctrines and were edified as Christ came into their midst for His glory. That is the essence of a local house church then and is no different today.

Here is the book’s Prologue from pp 7,8

Jesus says, …I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit. The purpose of this essay is to encourage a biblical examination of the role of Christian preach and teacher in order that we may enjoy he one-on-one relationship with our Savior that He designed.

The absence of a New Testament model for the present role of preachers or leaders has not slowed the prevalence of the current model of one or two elders leading a congregation of followers since the time of Constantine. But Scripture warns us of being defrauded of our prize by following leaders in the church. Not just bad leaders but leaders.

By eliminating our use of a favorite teacher and turning to New Testament commands in order to grow in knowledge of our Father, we will have an unobstructed view of Christ. By our progress in understanding and trusting the person and character of Jesus Christ, God will grow us into conformity with His joy, holiness and loving kindness.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. II Corinthians 3:18

II Corinthians 3:18 tells us that our transformation is being accomplished through the revelation to us of the character of Christ. The character of the Lord is revealed by the truths of Scripture but also in the application of our know and trusting Him.

Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. II Peter 1:3

The result of this one-on-one relationship of trust and love of Jesus will then be evident in our joy and fellowship with God’s children. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him 1 John 2:10.

I know that some of you reading this are asking yourself if I am suddenly turning on all my Pastor and Elder and Bible teacher friends across the world, throwing them under the bus and moving into a strict house church mode with simply a few Elders who only assist the Body in worship and Bible study. Well, no I am not advocating that. I am asking questions. I am praying. I am asking God what He has been showing me since He has driven me from the visible Church and what I am to do in response to that. I am convinced that the visible church is consuming itself in apostasy. There are still some good churches and good church leaders out there. There are still some churches that have not apostatized. However, when I visit these churches as an outsider, and that is what I am anymore, I see the compromises. I see the world creeping in. I see things going on that would never have been tolerated not that long ago. This is only my theory, but I am convinced that we are in for a new Reformation of the Invisible Church. That is the genuine Church, the elect, not the professing, non-elect that make up a large part of the visible church. Could this new Reformation be a turn back to the model implemented by the Apostles in the 1st Century? That would be a model of small local bodies of believers lead by a few elders very well documented by Jack Fortenberry in this book. Of course, in these last dark days before the light, we could be driven underground anyway and I cannot think of better place for the church to go than into this model. What do you think?

I highly recommend this book to you my brethren.

Soli Deo Gloria!



37 thoughts on “A New Reformation?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A New Reformation?: by Mike Ratliff In a careful reading of the Apostles as they explain the gospel... #books #writing -- Topsy.com

  2. Wow! For the last few years we have been “homechurching” for lack of a better word. Your post has moved me deeply. I always find myself questioning this decision. Are we forsaking the assembling? Are we rebellious because were not under the authority of a “headship”? …we have attended a number of churches, the latest being a “church” with good doctrine, yet there was no life there, no passion! I’m not talking about Charismatic emotion. I’m talking about being so Thankful for Christ that you want to talk about Him all day long. It’s still a mixed multitude, there isn’t any church discipline and it’s still full of mans traditions. I’m not saying going to a building is bad, I just do not believe that this is the book of Acts. “you will never find a perfect church” I have heard this from so many people that it literally makes me sick. It’s just an excuse for compromise and we all know what happens when you compromise, that’s when the apostacy slips in!!! I am very interested to read this book and I know it will confirm alot of things for our family. Also know that we are not ostricizing ourselves but have a great fellowship with an amazing group of people that God has placed in our lives. People we wouldn’t have thought to come together with yet God chose them for us. His Elect, from all walks of life founded on Grace and His Word! SDG!!!


  3. Amen Mike. You have put forth an abbreviated account of the testimony I share. Through much name calling and false accusation, I too have found myself to be an ‘outsider’, and this at the hands of the ‘visible church’. Yet does this not bear witness to the influence of the ‘world’ in the ‘visible church’? We will be hated, mocked, etc.; they hated Him first.
    Through much prayer and study, I questioned this odd reality as I attended different bible studies and ‘churches’. I found this same common factor in the discussions and disagreements with different people; not one of them could ( or even cared to,) open the scriptures to show what and why they believed what they believed. A lot of ‘stuff’ they had been taught by lots of men and women.
    Anyhow, not to ramble, but you nailed it Mike. He IS building His church… she is alive and well, maybe broken, yet being sanctified in Truth! Gives whole new meaning to “few”!
    Be encouraged brother! He is faithful!


  4. Mike, I found your article very timely as well as knowledgeable. These are some of the very questions that some very good friends and I have been discussing lately. We, too, are praying for God’s direction and will in all this. You are so correct that in some churches the world has crept in; some congregations have compromised and apostatized; the truth of the gospel is hidden, and rather than being a Spirit-led body of believers, the congregants would rather follow someone who tickles their ears and makes them comfortable in their social-club environment.

    There are many, many souls who are hungry for the truth, who are seeking God and praying much like you are for God to show us which direction to follow. Thank you for sharing what He sparks within you, and as we all seek His face and listen to His voice, may we be determined to do as He leads…even if it eventually means becoming the Underground Church…and yes, that would be the best model to employ!

    Thanks, Brother!


  5. Not only is it a superior model, but the true believers would must-needs become students of the Word themselves, taught by the Holy Spirit, so that in gathering, all teaching could be screened through the Word of God in all discernment and wisdom, to keep at bay heresy and error. Our current system leads a believer to become overly reliant upon spoon-feeding and extravagant attachment to one or a few pet teachers. Nothing wrong with great teachers of the Word, but we should all think enough of our God to want to learn His Word ourselves, with our brethren there to guide, rebuke, correct, encourage, and sharpen us in the love of Christ, both in manner and end result.

    I have yet to find a local body that is not steeped in error or going the way of pragmatic growth models (and error). More and more, a small, loose coalition of fellow believers and I discuss the Word and attempt to keep each other honest in exegesis and away from a pooling of ignorance and vain speculation. While having a few believers more ‘elder’ in the faith would be extremely valuable, the internet can provide material for consideration by more mature believers both past and present, provided we search things out in the Word as the Bereans did before just jumping on them and assuming they are scripturally accurate.

    Smaller groups would also make accountability more realistic and discipleship more effective.


  6. I think you’re spot on Mike. We were asked to leave our last church 12 years ago because we questioned the unquestioning attitute to the leaders. We were very hurt and not at all mature enough in Christ to cope too well. We have been through a period of falling away and graciously being drawn back. We have not found anywhere else since that is actually Christ centred not people centred. I often long for other Christians that think the same way as us, but the Lord has not given us that yet. However the time that we have had away from the ‘church’ has meant that exactly as you described above :

    ‘when I visit these churches as an outsider, and that is what I am anymore, I see the compromises. I see the world creeping in. I see things going on that would never have been tolerated not that long ago’

    It is almost as if having grown up in a churched environment we have both needed to be ‘unchurched’ and refocussed on Christ alone.Before we were focussed on what WE wanted out of God for our lives, instead of what HE wants for us. In fact I cannot ever see us returning to the traditional pattern of the church,( unless of course God has a purpose in it and sends us ), it seems in many ways now to have very little to do with Christianity to us now!
    Love in our Marvellous Lord.


  7. Mike:

    I am extremely wary of so-called “primitive”/”restorationist”/ “anti-institutional” “Christianity”. I have read Frank Viola’s book Reimaginig Christianity and the arguments were extremely unbiblical and irrational.


  8. In 2008 I attended my last service at a PCA church I had been a member of for 21 years, only knowing I was “uncomfortable” with much of the new terminology I was hearing there and not understanding their new focus on the “kingdom of God”. After two years of daily internet research, scripture reading, and Bible study, I feel that I understand exactly the direction so much of the visible church is taking today, which has made it nearly impossible to find somewhere else to worship in my small town. I too have tried many other churches since then.

    As I’ve grown in Christ I have also been thinking about the development of church leaders being paid to deliver the gospel to the sheep. I wonder too if that has led to all manner of problems we are seeing in our institutional churches since that time. I keep coming back to “the merchandising of the Gospel” and how wrong that seems. Christ was not “paid” by anyone to give the gospel; quite the contrary. Paul made sure he was not “paid”, but worked as a tentmaker. I will certainly read the book Corinthian Elders. Thank you for the information.


  9. Amen HB! I too am forever questioning this very thing. However, when we do try to be part of a local church we find that the focus is all over the place an everywhere, but where it should be, Jesus Christ. Do I miss the fellowship? Absolutely! Do I miss the man-focused nonsense of a traditional church? Absolutely not! Like I said in the post, I am still asking questions. I am attempting to be obedient in this so I am being very careful. I am condemning no one. I am not saying all church going is evil. I am just saying that God has driven me out of that and enabled me to see the hypocrisy inside. Therefore, I write about it and ask for guidance, wisdom, and discernment. I am still in that mode and expect to be for until our Lord returns or He takes me home.


  10. I know what you mean Daniel. I approached this with the same wariness. However, Jack’s book is not like that. It is one long Greek word study essay. You should get it and read it.


  11. Lol. My husband Lazaro posted after me, he’s out of town right now. I just found that funny. You don’t have to post this. Lol.


  12. Hi Mike,
    I am sure a lot of people can relate to what you are saying and what the Lord is showing you. We have only been attending our new church for less than 2 months. I am grateful for it, even though we drive by many churches on the 40 minute drive to this one. It is a Christ centered church and the pastor seems to be passionate about preaching Christ. I am just grateful I don’t have to hear the phrase “God’s story” anymore! 🙂
    Will I meet like minded Christian women there? I am not too hopeful. I guess this is what I have right now, in God’s provision for my life— I can go, hear the word- which is wonderful, be an encouragement to this pastor…maybe he does not receive much, perhaps even serve in some area and pray for God to bring those into my life that He wills. But yes, Mike, it would be the biggest blessing ever to be a part of a small home church with like minded people with whom we could share life. That is a desire of mine.
    God bless you!


  13. Mike, we asked the ‘dutch dude’ the same questions about attending church and etc. His answer was “If you are growing in His Grace everyday, then that is enough.”


  14. Diane, God is good to those who love and serve Him. Sometimes we have to go through some rough times in order to be prepared for the good stuff though. I think that is what I have been through and and am still in somewhat. I think those people who want to be part of a large congregation in which they can go and hide and do nothing are not doing what God wants His people to do as Christians. That is not serving. That last part of your comment reflects exactly what I want as well my sister.


  15. I know what you are saying, Mike. This seems to be where God has us for now. Is it exactly what I want? I do not think so. It is a large fellowship and having left a large church it was with some hesitation we even considered it. I am not saying large churches are not good–it is my preference to be in a smaller body of believers. The teaching of the word of God was my main priority in looking for a new church.
    But the Christ centered preaching won out. It is what we want for our son. They do not have ‘children’s church”. The kids stay with the parents and that was a deciding factor for us as well.
    Yet the Lord knows my desire for a small, like minded group of believers and I will have to keep trusting in Him.


  16. Amen Diane. I think parents are ultimately responsible for the the spiritual instruction of their children so you have it right. I always hated turning over that responsibility to teachers in those churches we served in so I could go teach the classes I taught. I think we short-changed our kids in that area. However, God is good and knows what they need and we do need to trust Him don’t we?


  17. Thought provoking post, Mike, thank you for saying all of that. In many ways, you echo my own experiences of the past decade-and-a-half. *Especially* when you say, ‘The closer I walked with my Lord the further He drew me away from the workings of the visible church’.

    I had someone (a friend) write the following to me a couple of weeks ago in an email:

    ‘When you, Daniel, speak about the gospel – you are inspiring and alive – your body language and whole ‘being’ just echo the truth of what God has done for us in Christ. When you speak of churches there is a distinct difference.’

    My response to this was that the difference here is that, on the one hand, one is dealing with the perfect Son of God who gave Himself for us — the one who wipes away all of our sin, and whose righteousness is put to our account. And on the other, we have a bunch of fallen sinners — people like me.

    The Gospel brings life, healing and wholeness.

    The Church? Well, despite being populated with fallen sinners, church *ought* to be edifying too. That’s what it is for. But all too often, it is not.

    There is a problem here. Where does it lie?

    I used to think that the disconnect (between what church should be and my experience of what church actually tends to be) was because the churches I was part of didn’t ‘do church’ the way that it was done in the NT. And I still think we have a *lot* to learn from the patterns that we see there.

    But that’s not the underlying problem.

    No, the real problem is that the local church is designed to be the vehicle by which the gospel is proclaimed — both to the lost, but also especially to those of us who are being saved.

    A local church is thus edifying precisely to the extent that it preaches Christ and Him crucified.

    It always comes back to the gospel, to Christ and His cross.

    If a church is proclaiming that message, then it can be doing 101 other things badly or not at all, and all those faults pale into insignificance. But if a church isn’t proclaiming Christ front and centre, if the gospel isn’t at the heart of all that it does, then it does not matter how great all its activities might be, how charismatic and inspiring its leaders, nor how many people it has in attendance. None of those things benefits one iota in the absence of the gospel. The Letters to the Seven Churches have much to say to us on this.

    You can have something that calls itself a church, and in many ways looks like a church. But if it isn’t preaching Christ, and if it is being led by people who are demonstrably unqualified on scriptural grounds for the positions they have assumed, in what sense do we really have a genuine church of Christ? Sure, there may be some members of the body of Christ within it, but is it really a church as we would understand from the New Testament?

    And so, I am not anti-Church. I am anti-things-that-pretend-to-be-churches-but-which-are-not. Especially things that manifest themselves as proclaiming the gospel, but in reality keep people from enjoying the true grace and love that has been won for them on the cross by Christ’s shedding of His blood, and instead keep them enslaved and bound by a false gospel. Things that inoculate people to the true gospel. *Them* I am against, and without apology.

    All I really want is to be part of a Christ-centred church that will week-by-week call me to repentance and remind me of the forgiveness of sins that is mine in Christ. Only a church that does that can build me up and equip me for whatever day-to-day service of my neighbour Christ gives me the privilege of undertaking.


  18. Amen Daniel!!! I never tire of hearing the Gospel preached. I never tire of hearing about Christ and the work of God in us to save us et cetera. None of that is the issue with me. The issue is all of the rest of ‘the stuff’ that churches are all about that seem to get between us and those things. And, it seems to me that church leaders seem quite good at laying guilt trips on people for not being busy enough for not being involved in those stupid things that are meaningless in the Kingdom of God. I love good fellowship. I love good Bible studies. I love to hear the Gospel. I love sharing the Gospel. I hate churchianity, that is, busy work of no Kingdom value. No thank you. Again, great comment my brother.


  19. Wow. This is so confirming and affirming. We have felt like outsiders for so long in the visible church. Many times my husband and I look at each other and say “Is it us?” “Is there something wrong with us?” “Are we just not getting IT?” By reading here and the responses as well, I for once dont feel like an outsider. That there are others who truly just want Jesus, to honor and glorify HIM, to live for HIM passionately, without compromise, according to the word of God and not mans opinions and traditions.

    As the days get darker we must cling to God and HIS word. We are called to be separate from the world, holy. We are supposed to be and look different. Thank you Mike and to those who responded. What a blessing. And thank you for rightly dividing the Word.


  20. I am so encouraged when I read comments like this……it is a comfort to know you are not alone. We recently lost our fellowship to “hostile take-over”. We had been there several years, believe the Lord led us there after being out of “church” for two years. At that time, we basically left behind denominations, easy-believism, programs, clergy/laity, and several other of the issues which have been discussed here. We did have a full-time pastor, he lived on a very modest salary and his being “full-time” was suggested by other members/elders of the fellowship, so he could devote himself to Biblical preaching and teaching, WHICH HE DID! Small local fellowship, sound Biblical exegesis, other elders, other men also taught, joyful singing, testimonies, prayer……a little bit of heaven on the way to heaven. The losing of it is a story in itself…….. BUT, I wonder about something which he taught us. It has been touched on by several people here, but not specifically stated. Aren’t we by very nature of our salvation a “church”?? Church is not a place you go, but what you are. Is this possibly what the Lord himself referred to when he said, “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo , here is Christ; or, lo , he is there; believe him not” Mark 13:21. If we have been truly “translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light”, we ARE the church, we ARE the kingdom, vessels of flesh and bone where the thrice holy God has enthroned himself.
    We certainly have not worked our way through all this either, but we do truly believe that the emphasis on “attending church” is more “religious” than Christian. WE do not believe in ” Lone Ranger” christianity, we currently still have friends which left the fellowship at the same time we did that we are in contact with several times a week. WE all look out for one another, pray for one another, enocourage one another and have the kind of relationships which would cause us to speak to one another about pitfalls, sins, weaknesses. BUT, we do not “have church”. Many years ago when we left a mainstream denomination we were so thrilled to get into a real Christ-centered, Word upholding fellowship, so glad we had gotten out of the “religiousity”. NOW, I miss so much what we had, but it no longer exists, for whatever the reason the Lord has allowed that door to close, I still miss the Word preached so hard I limped home on sore toes, I miss the joyful praises raised in congregation, I miss hearing all the men praying for a need in that little body…….BUT the Lord has brought us out of that apostasy….and we daily feel his arm upholding as we trod the wilderness path……what a blessed place to be, we would not go back….. I do not know what the Lord has in store for us in the days ahead, but I do know, the Lord has ALWAYS had a people, a “church” if you will, and he never has nor ever will forsake them. There has always been a “few” faithful who love him and his word more than anything else, and he will make sure they persevere to the end……. THe Church Triumphant

    The Church’s one foundation
    Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
    She is His new creation
    By water and the Word.
    From heaven He came and sought her
    To be His holy bride;
    With His own blood He bought her
    And for her life He died.

    She is from every nation,
    Yet one o’er all the earth;
    Her charter of salvation,
    One Lord, one faith, one birth;
    One holy Name she blesses,
    Partakes one holy food,
    And to one hope she presses,
    With every grace endued.

    The Church shall never perish!
    Her dear Lord to defend,
    To guide, sustain, and cherish,
    Is with her to the end:
    Though there be those who hate her,
    And false sons in her pale,
    Against both foe or traitor
    She ever shall prevail.

    Though with a scornful wonder
    Men see her sore oppressed,
    By schisms rent asunder,
    By heresies distressed:
    Yet saints their watch are keeping,
    Their cry goes up, “How long?”
    And soon the night of weeping
    Shall be the morn of song!

    ’Mid toil and tribulation,
    And tumult of her war,
    She waits the consummation
    Of peace forevermore;
    Till, with the vision glorious,
    Her longing eyes are blest,
    And the great Church victorious
    Shall be the Church at rest.

    Yet she on earth hath union
    With God the Three in One,
    And mystic sweet communion
    With those whose rest is won,
    With all her sons and daughters
    Who, by the Master’s hand
    Led through the deathly waters,
    Repose in Eden land.

    O happy ones and holy!
    Lord, give us grace that we
    Like them, the meek and lowly,
    On high may dwell with Thee:
    There, past the border mountains,
    Where in sweet vales the Bride
    With Thee by living fountains
    Forever shall abide!


  21. Wow Stella, excellent comment. Your words are replete with the very grace of God! That poem is awesome as well, did you write it? If so may I copy it to share with the body here? Thanks Stella, and thanks again Mike. This post has been very encouraging and timely as usual. Praise God, He is faithful beyond ALL expectation!


  22. Mike, thank you for this timely post. I am in the process of leaving my church, after seven years. It is dead, the worship is stale, the prayers are from memory and always based on temporal concerns. I recently played a Paul Washer video for the congregation. In the video, Paul speaks out on man’s method of salvation, specifically ‘inviting Jesus into your heart’. After the video, one of the members commented, ‘I didn’t care for that’. That pretty much sealed it for me. These poor deceived souls read the likes of Osteen and J. Meyer, they defend their spouses ‘religion’ of the Roman Catholic church and none seem to be open or responsive to truth. God be merciful.

    Please pray for the Lord to guide me in this matter, I am thankful for ministries like yours Mike, and like J. MacArthur, as well as Spurgeon, Ryle, Watson,and a host of others the Lord has used to guide me.


  23. You are very welcome Lyn. What you described is the “majority” or “default” condition in the visible church… Sad, so sad… Yes, all we can do is ask God to guide us and show us what to do as we wait on Him. His will be done.


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