A theme or apologetic used by the seeker-sensitive and emergent (post-modern progressive christians) for taking it upon themselves to redefine the Church, Praise and Worship, and the role of the Pastor is their claim to be “churching the unchruched”. Is that valid? What does that even mean? Let’s discuss.
There’s a book?
So, there is a book entitled, “Church for the Unchurched” that I do not recommend anyone read. But I want to share an endorsement from the Amazon.com page:
“This is a groundbreaking book. What sets it apart from all the others is that it is based on hard data and real life examples…If you want to know what is really happening in the so-called Seeker churches, this book is a must read.” –Rick Warren, Senior Pastor, Saddleback Community Church, Mission Viejo, California
What sets this book apart is… being based on hard data and real life examples? Okay… should a book about Church and Evangelism be based on Scripture? Yes, actually, it should be.
Ephesians 2:19-21 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Purpose of the Church for the Unchurched?
What is the purpose of the Church? The gathering of the assembly? The seeker-mergent belief (and teaching) is that the assembly of the saints is supposed to be where unbelievers are supposed to hear the Gospel and become believers. But what prevents an unbeliever from attending church in the first place? These seeker-mergent teachers would have you believe that how traditional churches present the Gospel (you know, preaching Law (sin) and Gospel (repentance) and the forgiveness of sins) that has been “failing”. So, they inevitably get caught up in dialing down the preaching of the Law (sins become “mistakes”) and over-emphasizing God’s Love (by avoiding His Holiness, Justice, Righteousness) trying to compel unbelievers to first agree to attend this non-church style of Church and then later “make a decision for Christ” based on how “loving, warm, engaging, inviting, and welcoming” the congregation is. They are led in a prayer, told they are saved, and then they are fed a diet of self-help legalism that Christians must abide by to establish their Christian-ness. But that legalism isn’t based on Law-preaching, because now that they are “saved” the purpose of their church is no longer them, but the other “unchurched”. So they are expected to read the Bible on their own, while from the pulpit they hear life tips from the latest Christian self-help book, or simply from the pastor’s life experiences.
What does the Bible say about the purpose of Pastors and the Church?
I want to look at a couple of passages that help put together a picture of what it means first to be a pastor and also the role of the Church. Let’s begin in Matthew:
Matthew 16:5-20 (ESV) | The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
John 21:1-19 (ESV) | Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him,“Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him,“Follow me.”
So we have here a picture of teaching and preaching being presented in terms of food. I believe that when Jesus appeared on the shoreline, the disciples remembered what Jesus taught at Peter’s confession. We also see that the disciples understood the teaching of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was in their teaching, not in actual food. The religious leaders of that day taught themselves, their doctrines, and their righteousness. Jesus rebuked them repeatedly, pointing out to them that if they had indeed believed Moses and his teaching, they would believe in Jesus (John 5:45-47). They added to the Law and the Prophets with their oral tradition and interpretations of the Law and Prophets, they introduced their own leaven to the Bread of Life (Jesus, the Word made flesh).
At breakfast, Jesus addresses Peter specifically, and asks three times “do you love Me”. What goes on the Greek is fascinating, but for now, let us focus on Jesus’ response, “feed my lambs; tend my sheep, feed my sheep”. Is Jesus just talking about food here? No. Is he saying that Peter is supposed to find his own way to feed the sheep? Absolutely not. Looking back at Peter’s confession of Christ, notice that Jesus specifies that the revelation was from God; therefore, Peter’s confession is the rock upon which Jesus will build His Church, not Peter’s flesh (the Greek makes it very clear) though Peter’s name is changed. When we look back at Jesus’s rebuke of His disciples for worrying about not bringing bread, Jesus points out that He had already demonstrated that He will provide for our earthly needs, that clearly He is focused on more important things for the church. God provides the physical bread and fish, and He also provides the Spiritual bread, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by which Peter is to feed and tend the flock of Christ (the Church).
The Early Church Evangelized the Synagogue
Yes, the early Church first evangelized the Temple (in Jerusalem) and the synagogues. Does that mean that the purpose of Church is to get unbelievers to attend so that they can become believers? No. Please don’t freak out on me just yet, let’s first discuss what was going on in the early church. After Christ’s ascension into Heaven, we see the first assembly of the Church.
Acts 1:12-19 (ESV) 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
When the Day of Pentecost arrives, God pours out His Spirit upon His Church, all who were assembled in the upper room, and the sound of their worship of God in many languages (by a miracle of the Holy Spirit) drew a crowd and Peter preached Law and Gospel to them, and many were added to the Church on that day. After Peter’s sermon in chapter 2, let’s look at how the Church assembled:
Acts 2:42-47 (ESV) | The Fellowship of the Believers
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Does this look like a church whose focus is on attracting the “unchurched”? No. Who added to their number? The Lord did. Who was being added? Those who were being saved. The Church, God’s Church is for the Christians, those who have believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any attempt to tailor a Church for those who are unbelievers is an exercise in futility. Let’s see how Paul addressed this idea in his letter to the Romans. At the close of chapter 9, Paul is trying to fix some misconceptions some Gentiles had regarding the Jews. Let’s begin there and move into chapter 10.
Romans 9:30-33 (ESV) | Israel’s Unbelief
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 10 (ESV) | The Message of Salvation to All
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says,“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
We are not born with faith. We are in-fact born in unbelief, dead in sins and trespasses. Faith is a gift from God, one that comes only by hearing the word of Christ, the Bread of Life. The leaven of the Pharisees is to be avoided and has no part in Christ. It doesn’t matter how awesome/entertaining/welcoming your church service is to the unbeliever, unless they hear unleavened preaching, they will not obtain faith necessary for salvation. Your “testimony” of Christ’s forgiveness isn’t enough, neither is your band’s rendition of “Awesome God”. For it is by hearing the Word of Christ that faith comes.
The Church is the body of Christ, and there is no way to have a church that “churches” unbelievers. Unbelievers who come to the church should undeniably be presented Law and Gospel so that they might become believers (faith comes by hearing the Word of God), but the responsibility for bringing them in rests with the Christians, not the Church. Jesus told Peter to feed and tend His flock. Again, the Church is the body of Christ, Christ is the head of His body. We are to share the gospel with the unbelievers, and invite them to the Church of Jesus Christ, we don’t decide to change the focus of Christ’s Church so that it is more palatable for unbelievers.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV) | Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
There is only one way to the Father, and that is through Christ. Getting someone to join in an attendance ritual on Sunday morning isn’t going to grant faith, unless they are hearing the unleavened Word of God. Changing what is heard on Sunday morning so that unbelievers will “sign up” doesn’t bring them closer to repentance. Unless we preach Christ and Him crucified for our sin, we’ve simply invited lost sinners to a social club built around “positive messaging”.
Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. We thank you, Father, that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For You have done what the law, weakened by our flesh, could not do. By sending Your Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, You condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. May we walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, by Your Grace in Christ Jesus, Amen. (Matt 6, Romans 8)
In Christ Jesus,