Recently one of my friends posted a question on Facebook lamenting the fact that the church was not more inclusive to outsiders and soon enough a very interesting conversation started up. I decided it would be good to lay my thoughts out on the topic in a series of three blog posts. One for, one against and then a final post asking some different types of questions to try and gain a third perspective that took everything into account and tries to arrive at some sort of a conclusion. The first two posts will be posted at the same time with the third following shortly thereafter.
So onto post number one we go. Here are some of the reasons I can think of on why church is not for everyone.
The name itself
Let us start with the word for ‘church’ itself. The Greek word that gets translated as church in most English translations is ekklesia and it literally means ‘called out ones’. In bible times, it was not used in reference to religious meetings but rather to refer to a special assembly of people who met together for a common purpose. Colin Brown, the author of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology further defined it this way.
“It was the assembly of full citizens, functionally rooted in the constitution of the democracy, an assembly in which fundamental political and judicial decisions were taken.”
Notice how the word ekklesia is used in Acts 19:21-41 where a man named Demetrius, who made idols for a living, called an ekklesia meeting to discuss the problem they were having of people abandoning their idols because of the preaching of Paul which was bad for business.
All this is to say that Christ’s ekklesia (Matthew 16:18) is for Christ’s body. It is an assembly of called out ones that gather together to make decisions related to the Kingdom of God. Of course a typical Sunday morning service is more of a one man preach than an ekklesia meeting as described above so this point may just boil down to us needing to properly define what we mean when we debate if the church should be welcoming of everyone or not. If we are defining church as Colin Brown does above, I would want men whom are of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
While there are no scriptures (that I am aware of) that directly forbid unbelievers from church gatherings. There are scriptures which speak of people who should be “put out” from the assembly. The most obvious portion would be found in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 where the church has in its assembly a man who is sleeping with his own fathers’ wife. Paul’s words are firm, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved…”, “purge out the old leaven” and “put away from yourselves the evil person”. It should be noted in these instances that the purpose of putting one should not be likened to throwing one out like the trash but rather it is done so with the hope of the person coming to repentance and a future reconciliation. love is still the motivation behind the action.
Jude 3-4 is another portion of scripture worth considering. It says:-
“…I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, unglodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Over here we see that certain men have crept in unawares, so the question we need to ask here is, was the church being chastised for welcoming these men into fellowship or was it because they lacked discernment about the leaven spreading within through those men they and failed to deal with it?
The last text I will share is Revelation 2:20:21
“Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality and she did not repent.”
In a similar fashion to Jude 3-4 some may argue here that this verse is more about allowing Jezebel to teach than it is about allowing her in the pew. I think that the ‘little leaven leavens the whole lump’ thing applies here though. Jesus’ servants were getting seduced into sexual immorality then and it still happens today.
Letters of commendation
Whether it was because of persecution or to protect the body from false teachers or from falling into immorality or for some other reason; the early church had a practice of writing letters of recommendation when someone visited another church or moved to a new area. There are several examples within the bible itself of this practice.
And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him. - Acts 18:27
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? – 2 Corinthians 3:1
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints...- Romans 16:1-2
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).” – Colossians 4:10
Further examples of this can be found in Acts 15:22-29 and Ephesians 6:21-22. The word ‘commend’ in these verses carries with it the idea of approval of the person in question. Once again the question must be raised as to how the church would have dealt with the Jezebels, Hymenaeus’s, Philetus’s and Diotrephes’s of the world? These were not brothers or even seekers in the gatherings but rather were sowers of evil, discord, false teachings and divisions. What if we were to apply Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:8-9 to the body of Christ rather than only to one’s own physical body? If the hand, foot or eye causes you to sin cut it off and cast it from you. Harsh I know but then again wasn't Jesus’ original message as well?
*Please be sure to check out this post as well to see the other side of the argument.