Church Growth: Why are the Unchurched Unchurched?

churchgrowthl.jpgGeorge Barna concludes from several surveys,

[N]early four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.

Ponder that one! We’re supposed to be the light of the world. Moreover,

Demographically, the self-identified Christians among the unchurched stray from common assumptions. Within this group, women outnumber men; Boomers and their elders outnumber the young; downscale adults double the number of upscale unchurched; conservatives are more common than liberals; and whites outnumber minorities by nearly a three-to-one margin.

Well, that destroys several theories on how to reach the unchurched. Of course, there are millions of people who need Jesus in each category. We need to go after them all.


52 Responses

  1. I would like to see the questionnaire filled out before membership is accepted done away with.

    Today almost 50% have been devorced for example and that will get you rejercted for membership real quick. So, that’s half the unchurched not gone after.

    Many in the other 50% never devorced answer negatively on some other question and that knocks down another % of unchurched.

    Sure cuts down on our % to evangelize.

    Maybe we ourselves are part of the problem and could use some improvement? Looking inward when there is a problem should be the first thing done.

  2. Alabama John has it pretty much correct in his conclusion: The modern manifestation of the “church” is almost the entire problem.

    We have turned the gathering of Jesus disciples into exclusive membership organizations — regardless of the denomination — which seem to exist as social cliques more than loving communities.

    Christian, in general terms, are seen as political bigots who seek to impose their views on others.

    If believers could become pre-occupied with loving one another and even outsiders, the way Jesus loved us, people would flock to us, because we would be like no one else on earth.

    But it is difficult to love the way Jesus loved. We fail at it every day. Thanks to God for his indescribable gift of grace and forgiveness.

  3. The one word that is not taken seriously by most church members when discussing the reasons given by the unchurched is “Hypocrisy”. Granted, it is used so often that it is the one reason given that church members think they can ignore. We have all heard statements like, “Yes, the church has hypocrites, but there is always room for one more, so come on in”. So I will go at it from another angle.
    The honesty about how human we really are is not in many churches; and I will go as far as to say most conservative churches, regardless of denomination. It is common for many to look around at the others in a church service and think to themselves, “If they only knew what I am going through right now.” Of course, if they themselves only knew what the others were going through and doing right now. But there are standards laid out in many congregations that frighten people into believing that it is not possible to be honest and fit in. Whether they have weaknesses or trials, the common responses of other members is to lecture or shun; not, “I am one of you”. But we only have to watch the news and see from time to time the moral and religous “giants” taking a fall, living the life of those they are fighting, those they claim are bringing this country down. Mercy and humility, in their way of thinking, is dangerous for the strength of the nation. But, and I do not claim to have coined this, Mercy, compassion and humilty has never destroyed a nation worth saving.
    Ask anyone who is part of AA or any other addiction help group and is also a church member where they feel most at home. I am not saying they do not enjoy their church, but where do they find the courage to stand up and say, “Hi, I’m John, and I’m an______. Does everything have be confessed in detail? No. But I know when I am around people which ones are saying to me, “I’m like you”.

  4. I have one problem with the Barna conclusion that people don’t go to church because of a negative past experience. That may be true, but also some people lie. Having been associated with ministry for 20 years I’ve found that many times the first reason people give for not attending, sin, etc is not usually the real one. Sometimes it is as in the parable of the soils, bad soil.
    Also I hate to be an old grouch, but I get tired of the problem is always ours, “we don’t love enough”, “we’re too judgmental”, “we are a bunch of hypocrites”. God did everything possible for the Israelites and showed them all kinds of love and still they didn’t follow God. All they did was complain and go after other gods. Yes, we should show the love Jesus did and love others as Jesus did, but people still turned away from following him when the teachings became something they didn’t want to hear. Sometimes, no matter what love you show people, the care, changing the services to make them more interesting for them, care groups, music, etc., like the rich young ruler and many others in the Bible, they just simply walk away.

  5. A farmer replied when was asked to loan a man his tractor, “I’m sorry but my daughter is getting married next month.”
    “What has that to do with loaning your tractor?”
    “Simple. If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another!”

  6. @Richard, LOL –that has to be an old preacher’s story!! And ain’t it the truth.

  7. Alabama John said, ” would like to see the questionnaire filled out before membership is accepted done away with. ”

    John, maybe the first question should be, who among you is worthy to throw the first stone.?

  8. They dont come because we dont care. Jesus cared.

  9. Yes, most do not attend church because they do not want to, and many of those offer one excuse or the other.
    But the number of those who live continuously in the presence of God, who bare their hearts and minds to God each day, who live the resurrected Christ each day because they die each day, and experience their faith as part of being human, yet do not darken the door of any church cannot be counted. The reasons are many; but I’m convinced that one reason is that they see many of the churched separating their lives into perfectionist Sundays and empty weekdays. And they feel that God does not expect them to open up to such.

  10. Church of Christ teaching is generally a regimented philosophy that centers around a “plea”. It does not focus on the needs of families or lifestyle unless there is some Biblical need to do so. What I’m saying is the unchurched get it. Either you accept the “plea” or you move on down the road to the more progressive church that is not so much about the “plea”. This does not mean the “plea” is bad. It does mean that churches that have confused the “plea” with the gospel get what what they ask for. That is only people about the “plea”. This is why the mainstream church is finding itself in turmoil. There is a lot of the church now rejecting the “plea”. So buckle up and hold on!

  11. I may be losing it, but what on earth is a “plea”?

  12. Anne and laymond

    I think you misunderstood my post. Might not be familiar with the questionnaire I spoke of.

    Around here it is common to be required to fill out a questionnaire asking about your past and have it reviewed before you can become a member of the local Church of Christ.
    It is worse than I posted because many times there are two people wanting to worship in that local congregation, one that has been divorced that is married to a spouse that has not been divorced, but is married to a divorced person.
    Doesn’t count the children that witness the scene.

    Divorce is only one question answered negatively that will get you refused.

    When one is refused membership, the other always, leaves with their wife, husband that has been denied membership and the children, so, we lose two or more instead of the one I posted above.

    Half of Americans are divorced so we start off willing to work with or accept only half or less of the unchurched if we continue this practice.

    I would like us to receive ALL that want to worship with us, leave their past up to God to judge and lets do as Jay, and church the unchurched.

    Thank God, I see this headed in the right direction.

    Lets go after um!!!

  13. I may be losing it, but what on earth is a “plea” \


    I’ll let the church of christ internet ministry answer!

    It is primarily a plea for religious unity based upon the Bible. In a divided religious world it is believed that the Bible is the only possible common denominator upon which most, if not all, of the God-fearing people of the land can unite. This is an appeal to go back to the Bible. It is a plea to speak where the Bible speak and to remain silent where the Bible is silent in all matters that pertain to religion. It further emphasizes that in everything religious there must be a “Thus saith the Lord” for all that is done. The objective is religious unity of all believers in Christ. The basis is the New Testament. The method is the restoration of New Testament Christianity

  14. the Bible is the NOT THE only possible common denominator! In fact who cares about a denominator when people are in need of Gods grace and mercy……

  15. common to be required to fill out a questionnaire

    Yes I have to agree that the old practice of filling out something is at best unfriendly but worst it is a way to prey on weak people……The church is family not an institution we exsit to save souls not add membership….

  16. John, I understood your statement, I should have made mine more clearly, I meant that the following question should be ask of the questioners.
    ” maybe the first question should be, who among you is worthy to throw the first stone.?”

    as it was asked by Jesus of the accusers of the adulterous woman. as you might recall, none could. I doubt many could withstand their own test.

  17. Thanks laymond

    I just wanted it understood that these folks are coming and wanting to worship with us. WE are not allowing them to.

    Yes, I like the first stone casting thinking. I know I couldn’t even pick one up, much less throw at anyone as my past as is many others probably much more checkered than theirs.

    Maybe that’s why we sinners are the most understanding and patient with others. I know for a fact we are easier for sinners to talk to.

    Jesus being the exception. Sinners could sure talk to Him.

  18. It seems to me that the unchurched see exactly what we many times don’t see. That Jesus was more about loving God and loving others than he ever was about getting church doctrine right or even maintaining first century Christianity (which most in the church don’t understand anyway because most don’t study what all of this meant in a first century culture) .

    What Jesus imparted to his disciples before he knew he was going to die was about the importantce of unity and love, not all the stuff we split and argue over like worship style, leadership, women’s roles, etc. that had not even been written about at the time. This is what bad church experiences are about that seems to me Jesus commanded us to stay away from.

    I think we as a church need to strive to leave the judging up to God on these disputable matters and focus more on what it means to be Jesus to people. Such as serving the lost no matter how dirty they may be and giving them the opportunity to work through their own salvation knowing they have us as a resource God has given them to use. Then let the Holy Spirit do his work.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the politics of a local congregation and miss the big picture of the universal church as a whole that shares the same mission of the Greatest Commandments and the Great Commission. That is some of what the unchurched see or have expeirenced and don’t like. I’ve been guilty of that myself.

  19. @Mark, and going by the Bible is a bad thing?

  20. Anne, your first post is a surprise. Don’t you realize we don’t ever blame a person for their faults, its always someone else. A grown kid goes bad, its the parent’s fault. Someone doesn’t want our congregation, its a bad congregation.
    However, Jesus did not attrack everyone. The rich young ruler was a promising recruit, and He scared him away. Judas at the supper, was urged to leave, what a waste of years of training.
    Acts had 3 classes of folks to recruit: the Jews, John the Baptist followers, and Gentiles. The first two got the plea, that God’s revelation was Jesus, look at the OT or John’s teaching. Gentiles got the Mar’s hill sermon.
    Seventy years ago, the unchurched in America was small, so the thing was the plea to decide which church. Today, keep the plea warmed up but you’ll need more Gentle sermons.

  21. The practice of churches requiring new members to pass a test in order to place membership (or to teach) is indistinguishable from the practice that led Alexander Campbell to reject denominationalism and found a unity movement. This is by Leroy Garrett (, but the story is told by even the most conservative historians of the Restoration Movement —

    The year was 1809, the place Glasgow, Scotland. The occasion was the semi-annual communion service of the Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church. Eight hundred Scots had gathered for the occasion, a service restricted to that particular sect, which fastidiously excluded even other kinds of Presbyterians. But one of them, a 21-year old student at Glasgow University, lately come from Ireland, was troubled with gnawing doubts about breaking bread in such a sectarian atmosphere. Having been examined by the elders and found worthy of communion, he had been given a metal token by which he could gain access to the service. Token in hand, he waited for the last of eight or nine tables to be served, hoping he might resolve his doubts in those last moments.

    With doubts still plaguing him, he dropped the token in the plate as it came by, but refused to break the bread or drink the cup, realizing as he did then that it was a communion with Christ from which other believers were barred. He turned away and walked out-and life was never again the same for Alexander Campbell. His biographer and physician, Robert Richardson, wrote of that occasion: “It was at this moment that the struggle in his mind was completed, and the ring of the token, falling upon the plate, announced the instant at which he renounced Presbyterianism forever-the leaden voucher becoming thus a token not of communion but of separation.”

    As I’ve said many times, we’ve become the very thing the Restoration Movement was founded to flee.

  22. Anne,

    The “plea” is the Restoration Plea — the idea of a return to New Testament Christianity by a restoration of the its form of worship and organization. The problem with the plea is that for many, the plea has become an idol — becoming the definition of “faith” as opposed to Jesus. As a result, the church has become defined as those who honor the plea the same way we do, rather than those who worship the same Jesus we do.

  23. John said “They dont come because we dont care. Jesus cared.”

    But Jesus wasnt trying to get people to go to church either. He was walking around preaching and healing. He told people how to correct their lives, but did he once try to get anyone to go to church? do you read that in the Bible? The reality is that the word church is not even mentioned in any of the gospels but Matthew. Out of four gospels why would only one mention it? And even here it is mentioned only once as a judgement society, like if your brother does something against you talk to him then talk to him with 2 or 3 witnesses then finally “Bring it before the church” and the church meets like a litte sanhedrin to condemn the man as a heathen and publican (contrary to Jesus’ normal view of publicans which is norammally positive). The only other reference in the gospels to church is also in MAtthew on this rock I will build my church. Nowhere is it explained in matthew what a church is, unless the other passage where the sole function of the church appears to be condemning people who won’t make a wrong right is to be understood to be an explanation of what church is.

    So, John doesn’t mention church. Mark doesn’t mention it. Luke doesn’t mention. Only Matthew. And to MAtthew the church is something built on a rock and something to which you bring a brother who offends you so that it can condemn him as heathen and publican.

    our concept of church is not in the gospels. how then can we impute it to Jesus? and how can we place much stock in the idea that JEsus intended to build a church such a what we think of a churh as being when the building of iit is only mentioned in matthew and not any other gospel and when matthew does not truly define what a church is?

  24. in other words, how do we know whether maybe Jesus wouldn’t want people churched but would want them unchurched. it was the churched pharisees who always condemned JEsus for breaking the sabbath. he told them that its ok to pull a donkey out a pit on the sabbath and therefore to heal a man too. could you imagaine trying to explain to the churched that something might take precedence over sunday morning worship? like pulling your donkey out of a pit, perhaps. they would say that nothing could possibly take precedence and you must be there. who then is more like Jesus churched or unchurched? again, if you sktpped what i said above, only matthew out of the four gospels mentions church and it is clearly not defined as what we make it today.

    did Jesus who was calling the lost sheep of Israel call them to synagogue? did he synagogue the unsynagogued? or did he go and call to repentance in affaris of every day life? i don’t read one word of Jesus trying to synagogue the unsynagogued or church the unchurched.

  25. I am not a Restoration scholar, I know a little about Stone, Campbell and others, but the little info that I do know they wanted to go back to what they saw in the New Testament and not what the church had evolved into. I do not understand the difference between the New Testament worship and the worship that Jesus called for. To me they are one and the same. Am I missing the boat or just not up on the scholarly lingo?

  26. im sure that was directed at Jay but I just want to ask for my benefit where Jesus ever spoke of worship exactly. HE quoted to satan that man is to worship God only in the wilderness temptation. He said those that teach docrines of men for commandments worship in vain. He said worship would no longer be in the Jerusalem temple of gerizim mountain because God seeks worship in spirit and truth. But this is all I find from Jesus about worship. In fact the very last statement that worship must be in spirit and truth seems only to indicate that it must be that it is not restricted to a certain location like a temple or mountain or church and that it must be spiritual and sincere. in truth you will find is used to mean sincerely if you read for example in Philippians where paul says whether Christ is preached in pretence or in truth by which he clearly means sincerely. Or in first John my little children love not in word or tongue but in deed and in truth. in truth means sincerely not according to regulations. did Jesus then really teach anything abotu worship other than that it was to be directed to God alone was to be devoid of human commandments and was to be non locational and to be spiritual (not animal sacrifices) and sincere? If Jesus taught anything else, please point me to where.

  27. Jerry:
    As I wade in a bit, would like to get some clarity initially. When you ask if Jesus ever spoke of worship exactly, are you thinking solely of the Gospels?

    Apostolic teaching includes numerous texts regarding worship. Is the question in your mind whether apostolic teaching is the work of the risen Lord?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  28. Anne:
    I appreciate your post. Our time probably tries too hard to draw a distinction between a restoration ‘plea’ and a focus on/faith in Jesus.” Open up a compendium such as the 1891 volume The Old Faith Restated and we quickly discover that ‘restorationists’ (Disciples of Christ) had the same focus on Jesus as is our goal — no difference.

    History is a good teacher.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  29. Bruce you beat me to that question for Jerry.
    When I was a youngster I had a KJV Bible that had all the words of Jesus in red. Are we to only follow those words in red and discount the rest of the Bible? And how are we to rectify the God of the Old Testament, who demanded that we show him respect by doing what he commanded and exactly like he commanded we do it, with Jesus of the New Testament, who to hear some, Jesus only preached love and peace. Does Jesus not also demand the same respect? And is that not what was at the heart of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple, the lack of that awe and reverence for God?

  30. @Mark, and going by the Bible is a bad thing?


    Of course not… it just not all there is to Christianity. I see the scriptures as a guide line not a rule.

  31. so what other guidelines do you use?

  32. Bruce, I am talking about direct quotations of Jesus not teachings from epistles that are interpreted as somehow coming from Jesus in a roundabout way.

    It just hit me by the way why many unchurched are unchurched. Actually dechurched since the article is really about mostly those who left church. The answer is the doctrine of inerrancy which is associated with churches. Jay you basically said recently that you believe in inerrancy but dont want to define how because it would be divisive. Well I think this is clearly the dechurching issue. If you accept the New testament as inerrant then you have to accept the Old testament as inerrant because the new quotes it and such. Then you have to accept that God used to be a genocidal tyrant who hated everyone but Jews and commanded the Jews to kill their own family member per Deuteronomy 13 if they tried to leave the faith. You would even have to believe that the Pharisees and chief pirests when they killed Jesus or gave him to Pilate to kill were obeying God since Deuteronomy 13 commands that you kill any prophet who presents a different God (and certainly Jesus presents a very different picture of God).

    So the issue comes down to moral consistency in God. Those who dont give a flying rat about moral consistency in God will be the churched and super churched and fanatically fundamentalistly super uber duper over the top churched.

    Those who look for moral consistency in God will dechurch.

  33. Does respect, Anne, mean believing that Jesus used to command genocide or does it mean rejecting this blasphemy?

    Does respect mean believing JEsus when he said Elijah called fire down from heaven to murder people by a spirit other than God? or does it mean believing that God roasts those who make a minor ceremonial mistep like the famous Nadab and Abihu?

    Which is more respectful? I never see Jesus in the gospels say “follow me or die.” I never see him promise to raize a city to the ground. Quite the oppisite he rebukes James and john for desiring to do so.

    In the old testament we read that God says “why do the people not turn to him that smites them?” in Isaiah 9 verse 13. What a pitiful question. What child doesn’t know that you turn away from one who smites you not to them. This imbecilic irrationalism that is depicted as being in God is blasphemy. To respect Jesus is not to impute this sort of behavior to him but to reject the ssuggestion that Jesus is like this.

    Did Jesus come to try and turn us to him by smiting us? ISaiah 9 13 and 14 says the people do not turn to the one who smites them, they do not seek the LORD, therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail.

    So if smiting doesn’t work, just smite some more!

    Is that JEsus? No. Is that God? No. It is errancy. It is flawed human opinion about God being passed off as revelation.

  34. Jerry: I’m getting too old to beat around the bush– are you Christian?

  35. Mark 4.12 ???

  36. So Rex are you saying that God commanded genocide back in the old testament so that people today would not be able to see that the old testament and new testament views of God jive and so that people with a conscience would burn in hell for all eternity?

    Anne, how is it unchristian to say that JEsus did not command genocide neither his Father? The real question is if those who teach inerrancy are Christian. How can anyone claim to have even an ounce of respect for Jesus while blaspheming him the way the churches do today with their inerrancy doctrine. I’m a Christian, but whether any of the fundamentalists are is an open question.

  37. Jerry: I think it’s getting late because I’m not sure I even understand what you are getting at. Let me take a stab at it and then correct me if I’m wrong. Your view of God and Jesus is of love and therefore anything in the Bible that does not show what you believe to be love is not correct. When God commanded the Israelites to wipe out some nations (I’m assuming that is the genocide that you speak of) because they were evil then it was wrongly attributed to God because God is love. Is that about the sum of it?
    Could you clarify what you mean by the inerrant doctrine that churches teach today.?

  38. so what other guidelines do you use?


    personal experience
    History and nature

    These are the things that when the unchurch find out they become churched. God speaks through all these things and many more.

    Otherwise what hope would remain for the divorced, bankrupt, abused, addicted, ect,,,,,

  39. I thought I had heard everything. Now I may not be a Christian because I believe the Bible is true? Oh well, I can’t please everybody.

  40. Terry: so I’m not crazy you understood it that way also?

    Mark: That is a self-made religion. Either you go by God’s standards or there is none. When you boil down the other guidelines that you list it really amounts to idolatry. I don’t like what God says so I will create my own religion. And what hope remains for the “divorced, bankrupt, abused, addicted, etc” is Jesus and the forgiveness and mercy that come from obedience to him. And just because some churches may be wrong in some things, or maybe they have behaved badly towards people does not change what God wants.

  41. Jerry:
    Some further grist for the mill. The “direct quotations of Jesus” that folks often talk about in two cases (Matthew and John) came from the same group of men as those who penned the letters: apostles.

    Not so easy to separate one from the other. That is why “red-letter Christianity” eventually ends up with the same two questions as everyone faces:

    1. Is it true that He is risen? (i.e. do we believe the witnesses?), and
    2. Do we believe Jesus actually said the words recorded in John 14 — that apostolic teaching is His teaching?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  42. I don’t ask either of those two questions. I ask where the proto-orthodox have added something. And when I see something like that church is only mentioned in one gospel and it sounds notthing like what we think of as church then it appears there is something of theirs there.

  43. Anne I do not say that God does not have the right to or that he will not judge sin. But genocide is not judgement of sin. Genocide is sin. You can spin it all you want. I’m sure Hitler thought he was doing God’s will by wiping out all those sinning Jews, didn’t he? Then his excuse for his actions is as good as your ridiculous excuse for the genocide against the Canaanites. “It was ok to wipe out all the Canaanites because they were sinners.” Save it. God never commanded it. Its a lie. Will God judge the Canaanites for their sins on the day of judgement? Sure. But he didn’t order the Israelites to wipe them out. That was a human idea.

  44. Jerry

    Throuout history there has been those that wanted to eliminate civilizations of people to obtain their land.
    That’s a given. Even here in America it was done. Remember the small pox contaminated blankets given the Indians that killed off whole Tribes so their land and possessions could be taken. When the REMOVAL was done, as soon as Indians moved off their land, carrying just what they could carry, men ran right in and took the livestovk and moved in the houses and gathered the crops bounty for themselves.

    The difference in these atrosities and the Canaanites destruction by the Isrealites in one very different happening.

    Knowing mans greed, why do you think all the livestock and all possessions of the Canaanites was ordered to be destroyed??

  45. Jerry:
    It is not a case of “proto-orthodoxy” when we are looking at teaching penned by the same folks. If you believe the Gospels and you believe the writing of the Gospels were inspired/guided by the Spirit, how have you concluded that the same group of men suddenly were not inspired/guided by the Spirit?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  46. Jerry: if you do not accept the Bible as the inspired word of God there is no basis on which to discuss anything. You either believe the Bible or else it is a storybook. Anything that you don’t want to believe you throw out as a lie, there is no way to even carry on a civil discussion based on that premise.

  47. I have friends who like different parts of a cake. One only loves the icing and decorations, and another loves the cake without all that gooey sweet stuff. That’s fine for cake, but you cannot do this to a person. Jesus accepted the OT and the God thereof. He attended synagogue and temple services, and took part in the readings. Best sermon on church attendance is Jesus, who didn’t need human oppinon, still very regularly showed up. If God came to earth, would He attend church?
    A minor answer to genocide. The wage of sin is death. God has the right to eliminate all sinners. His mercy spares some. Jesus often referred to coming divine judgement ala OT.

  48. thanks Larry! that is a good summation.

  49. Jerry,

    Regarding your comments about God committing “genocide,” I refer you to where I dealt with exactly that question.

    Jesus spoke before the founding of the church. When he spoke of the “church,” the Greek was ekklesia, but the word had its own special meaning before Pentecost. It was the equivalent of the Hebrew qahal

    We now come back to the first appearance of the qahal, the two places where our version renders it ‘multitude’. It does not occur in any of the promises given to Abraham, for his seed included Ishmaelites, Edomites, and others who were not of the race ‘called out’. But in the promise given by Isaac to Jacob (Gen. 28:3), and afterwards quoted by Jacob to Joseph as given to him by God Almighty (Gen. 48:4), both of which promises referred to the seed of Israel and to none else, we find the qahal introduced for the first time. The seed of Jacob were to become, not merely a promiscuous ‘multitude’ (A.V.), but a qahal, an ‘ecclesia’, a ‘church’ of peoples (‘peoples’ is in the plural, not the singular as in our A.V.).

    We have here our first promise of the national church. Here, and not in our Lord’s promise to Peter, we get our first vision of the Church emerging as a body ‘called out’ and separated from the nations of the world. Christ’s promise to build His qahal upon the Rock had reference to a body with which Peter and all the Jews were already familiar, a body which had existed since the days of the Patriarchs.

    The qahal or ‘ecclesia’ properly speaking, embraced all the twelve tribes of the children of Israel; but, after the division of the nation into two kingdoms, a new note is introduced. The northern kingdom, having lapsed into idolatry, is cut off, for the time being at least, from the qahal. At the coronation of the young king Joash we read (2 Chron. 23:3): ‘All the congregation (qahal) made a covenant with the king . . .’ But the Septuagint renders the qahal, ‘ecclesia Iouda’, ‘the church of Judah’, adding this explanatory word – which is not given in our English versions – to show that the ‘ecclesia’ now referred to embraced the Jews only; Jehu was at that time reigning over the tribes.

    The added gloss appears to indicate that Israel of the Northern Kingdom at this time may also have claimed to be the ‘ecclesia’, so that there were two claimants to the title; but, in the view of Judah, Israel was an apostate ‘eccleisia’. That northern ‘ecclesia’ was the barren woman, who did not bear, and could not possibly travail with child; whereas the Jewish ‘ecclesia’ was the married wife (Isa. 54).

    To the Father’s command to work in the vineyard, Judah had dutifully said, ‘I go, Sir’, whereas Israel had said, ‘I will not’; so the Jew appeared to be the son who had done his Father’s will. All these years the Jewish nation had served the Father, neither had they consciously transgressed at any time His commandment, while Israel, the prodigal son, was in the far country. The Jew could almost already hear the Father saying, ‘Son, thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is thine.’ Sure he was that when the fatted calf would be killed, the music and dancing would be in honour of himself – certainly not in honour of his prodigal brother.

    The ‘ecclesia Iouda’, though only a remnant of the original ‘ecclesia’ of the twelve tribes, was for the time being a faithful remnant, and was divinely owned as the ‘ecclesia’. And so, after the return from Babylon, qahal (Septuagint: ‘ecclesia’) is used again and again of the body of Jews who returned (Ezra 2:64; Neh. 5:13; 7:66; 8:17). These Jews were all that was left – to all human knowledge – of the original ‘ecclesia’ down to our Lord’s time. The gates of hell had, over a long period, prevailed against the ‘ecclesia’, but our Lord’s promise to Peter was that He would bring that condition to an end.

    Thus Israel was not merely a type of the Church; Israel was the Church. And, in a very real sense, more real than most of us imagine, the Church is not merely the supplanter of Israel; the Church is Israel.

    ( See also and

    When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” the apostles heard something like “I will build my community of Israel.” Qahal is particularly used of Israel when gathered by Moses to hear the reading of the Law of Moses. The ekklesia to a First Century Jew was the assembled people of God. We see the same usage in —

    (Act 7:37-38 ESV) 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.

    In Matt 18, where Jesus tells us to go to a sinner with 2 or 3 witnesses, the “church” is either Matthew paraphrasing Jesus’ words (likely spoken in Aramaic but translated into Greek by Matthew) for the sake of his post-Pentecost readers. Or — just as likely — Jesus used ekklesia in the sense of “synagogue” — the assembly of God’s people in a given location.

    The key here is to recognize that “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” were phrases that resonated with a Jewish audience, but not so much with a Gentile audience. Jesus spoke about the “kingdom” repeatedly. Post-pentecost, we find references to “kingdom” but we also find “the way” and “the church” — even “Israel” — used in much the same sense. The concept is plainly in the Gospels — it’s just that we see a vocabulary change as the audience changes.

  50. Anne,

    I made a distinction between who we worship and how we worship. Contrary to the teachings of the founders of the Restoration Movement (and the Bible), the 20th Century Churches of Christ turned to details of how we worship into salvation issues. How we worship — the acts of worship and the order of worship — became as important as the object of worship. Therefore, we refused fellowship with churches who worship and serve Jesus but who don’t have the “right” acts of worship — literally dividing the body of Christ, which is a far, far greater sin than having the wrong acts of worship.

  51. Jerry,

    Jesus taught us to worship in spirit and in truth — and I’m convinced that “spirit” actually refers to “Spirit” and “truth” refers to the truth about Jesus — the gospel. This declaration isn’t about getting certain forms of worship right. It’s about being in right relationship with God and Jesus through the work of the Spirit and the gospel.

  52. Jerry and Bruce,

    I have to agree. Those who try to force a wedge between the Gospels and the Epistles forget that Luke traveled with Paul for years, as did Mark. If you see a wedge, then you’re misunderstanding one or the other or both.

    Now, 20th Century Church of Christ theology was overly focused on the Pauline Epistles, as that’s where they found the rules of the “acts of worship,” but that was a mistake — and a misreading of the Epistles. When you read both in terms of God’s redemptive mission revealed from Gen to Rev, it all fits very nicely — and recent scholarship has done much to help us see not only the consistency of the Gospels and the Epistles, but also why they speaks in the terms they do.

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