October 25, 2020

Big Words, Barbeque and the Bus to the Church That’s Got It Right: Protestant Ruminations on Church Salesmanship

Occasionally, I get complaints for using big words on this web site. I’m not very impressed with that complaint, because I’m aware of the existence of dictionaries and I believe that most education consists of learning the meaning of words, putting them into thoughts and thinking differently.

So if terms like complementarian, discernablogger or antinomian make you whine, hit that dictionary in the search window. Learn something new.

In fact, I have two words for you today: soteriology and ecclesiology. I’ll do the hard work for you guys still playing World of Warcraft.

Ecclesiology is the study of the church. It’s what you believe about the church. What it is, what it does, what role in plays in your life as a Christian, and so on.

Soteriology is what you believe about how a person is saved. (Soter=save) This is how you are saved. How salvation works; How God does it and through what means.

Ecclesiology is about the church in its various forms; soteriology is about the specific work of salvation accomplished by Jesus and how it completes all God intends it to do for us.

Protestants tend to separate soteriology and ecclesiology into distinct (sometimes more, sometimes less) roles. Being saved and being part of the church are overlapping experiences, but they are not entirely the same thing. One cannot be saved and not be a member of the church as Jesus sees it, but one may be saved and not be part of the church as we encounter it on earth and in time/place. For Protestants, that means you are saved as God saves “the” church, but you can be saved and not be a member of “that” church.

Protestants believe that a person who is saved belongs to the church as the body of Jesus Christ in its universal sense. We believe this is the action of the Holy Spirit described in I Corinthians 12:13. Evangelical Protestants believe it is normative to be baptized into the local church, participate in the Lord’s Supper with the local church and be under the discipline/leadership of a local church, but Protestants don’t believe these things are entirely identical with saving faith in Jesus or belonging to him. (Federal visionists are rare amongst us.) Soteriology is proclaimed, practiced and witnessed to by the church, but it isn’t controlled by the church. The church ultimately submits to scripture and to the Holy Spirit.

So Protestants put ecclesiology as secondary to soteriology. The Christian life is normally lived in the church, but belonging to a local, visible church and belonging to Jesus Christ are not identical in every way. But Protestants aren’t out to lunch on this distinction. We know that it’s the church that preserves and proclaims the Gospel, that preachers are called and ordained by the church, that the church is commissioned to teach it and given the sacraments (no matter how you view them) to incorporate us into the new creation and sustain us in our faith. But no matter how much we place the process of salvation in the context of the church, we don’t go to the point of saying the church saves. Jesus saves, and no matter how we identify the church with Jesus, the church isn’t Jesus.

A good text for this is Revelation 2 and 3, where Jesus clearly addresses some within those churches as belonging to him, while others do not belong to him. Jesus tells some churches they are his, and tells others he’s on the verge of “removing their lampstand,” which I assume means they would no longer belong to him.

For this reason, the Protestant view of the local, denominational church tends to never view a particular church as being necessary to salvation. In fact, a view that attempts to identify a local church as identical with Christ or his Kingdom generally comes off as heretical.

This does tend to encourage individualism, but individualism is a mixed bag. Christianity is a faith that calls us into community, but it addresses us as individuals in almost all of its demands, commands and admonitions.

For that reason, you only occasionally find Protestants who would seek to persuade another Protestant to join a particular church on soteriological grounds, i.e. you must join that church to be saved. It happens, but you have to hang around hardcore Church of Christ teachers to hear it.

Protestants may seek to persuade one another to join a church for various functional or pragmatic reasons, or on the basis of an appeal to one church’s distinctive doctrines over another. But few Protestants would say that the validity of a person’s relationship to Christ, experience of Jesus Christ or vital fellowship with Christ was dependent on being in a particular church. They might say that the quality of a person’s Christian experience was affected by a particular church, but not on the level of whether that person is experiencing Jesus Christ himself.

Listening to Protestants talk about their churches is somewhat like listening to your father debate automobiles with your uncle. The question of which is better, Ford or Chevy, is certainly on the menu, but not the question of whether this is a car or can you use it for transportation to and from work.

I come from Owensboro, Kentucky, where we take great pride in our Barbeque. We have BBQ restaurants, the International BBQ festival, we are featured in programs on the Food Channel, standard reference works on Barbeque and so on. We refer to our community as the BBQ capital of the world. And rightly so.

Now, I understand a similar product is produced in Texas, Memphis, North Carolina and various other places. The preparation is different. The philosophy of taste is different. The arguments can be epic. And as deeply loyal as I am to the true home of real Barbeque and its many amazing related products, I reluctantly admit that, yes, there is Barbecue in those other places.

This is the Protestant view of ecclesiology and soteriology. Barbecue and western Kentucky are not identical. My hometown is one place where BBQ manifests its amazing presence. I might argue with you over this, but I wouldn’t try to persuade you to give up your food and only eat mine. That would be extreme. Moving from your town to mine to do so would be insane.

Protestants sell church to one another on superior preaching, better music, better children’s programs (or just having children’s programs), better fellowship, better ministries and missions, more serious and intentional discipleship and so on. Yes, it’s crassly consumeristic and leads to some ridiculous uses of advertising. It creates competition and too much awareness of church growth as a measure of success….but we can’t kick entrepreneurialism too hard without pausing to say a couple of good things:

1) All of this is based upon the belief that the church doesn’t simply exist as a place for dispensing salvation, but that the church has an organized, interactive, intentional, strategized, cross-cultural mission in the world that needs to be taken seriously.

2) It’s also based on the belief that churches are frequently wrong, or evolve into places where they’ve become largely uninterested in the mission of God and mostly all about the personal spiritual interests of the resident members.

Protestants, in other words, wouldn’t be surprised if the members of one of the good churches in Revelation 2-3 were trying to persuade the members of one of the bad churches to come over to the early service and hear their pastor. But we’ll let Jesus say “You’re not in a church. Get out.” That’s not our place.

A person in a Protestant context who insists that you must belong to his church to be part of the true church (ecclesiology and soteriology combined) is considered extreme, even cultic (if their insistence causes them to invalidate all other Christians based on the church they belong to.) A Protestant who tells you that his church is preaching the Gospel and doing the mission of God- even in an ad- is acting on what we believe about the church.

When the Church of Christ or hardheaded Baptists start telling Christian Bob that he’s not saved because he’s a Methodist, it just doesn’t work very well. If we are going to buy into an ecclesiology that calmly claims we’re missing out on some level of soteriology, the Catholic Church is really the best game in town. It’s not hard to see that Catholics- most of them- handle this whole matter in a far more generous way (read the Vatican II documents on Ecumenism and the Church) than the Preacher at the local fundamentalist semi-cult.

Protestants do understand the argument that the “fullness” of Christ might not be experienced in a particular church the way it is at another, but that argument starts to have problems the longer it goes on. The person who found himself at the church in Corinth would have been well served to go to the church down the road where there wasn’t a constant Mardi Gras in progress. But interestingly, Paul never says leave the church, and that would be the first thing many would say to the Corinthians today. No, Paul talks about growing up, loving one another, acting with some wisdom, getting their doctrine and moral compasses working and having some bad people sit down and shut up. But he never says leave to where you can find the fullness of Christ. He assumes the fullness of Christ is available in Corinth and that the Corinthians, with all their charismatic fireworks, should know this.

There is one interesting irony here. One that Protestants need to notice and pay attention to:

Our Catholic friends will always tell us that it was Luther’s quest to purify the church- a good desire- that caused him to make a huge ecclesiological error, i.e. breaking off from the one church. Catholics are adamant that even with apostate popes and apostate priests, the sacraments are still valid. Christ, not men, insures the efficacy of his sacraments of saving, sanctifying grace.

It is Protestants, ironically, who sometimes give the impression that the power of salvation depends on the preacher, the music, the personality of the youth minister, the programs of the church, etc. Southern Baptists throw out any preacher that doesn’t suit them as if anyone less than perfect can’t be used by the Holy Spirit.

We believe the church is fallible. We believe its leaders are fallible. We believe scripture is infallibly true. We believe Christ infallibly accomplishes his mission with a fallible church. We believe in one church, and many differing manifestations of the church, some more beneficial to the Kingdom than others. We don’t believe soteriology depends on ecclesiology.


  1. Jesus tells some churches they are his, and tells others he’s on the verge of “removing their lampstand,” which I assume means they were on the verge of disagreeing with some point of LCMS doctrine.

  2. Man, you can’t forget the barbacoa de macho cabrito, eaten with cilantro, onions, and hot salsa in a warm corn tortilla.

  3. Curtis — Did you see that McDonald’s is running two fillet of fish for three dollars this month?

    Gotta love those Irish Catholics … 🙂

  4. Imonk,
    Some thoughts:
    1. If we could just get rid of the Calvinists everyone would be happy!
    2. BBQ–Brisket! I can taste it now.
    3. Owensboro—I have seen Nick Varner play 9Ball on several occasions, and he is a fantastic player and a true gentleman


  5. austin, it was only through reading Protestant blogs that I discovered Catholics were amillenial (it really was a “Who knew?” moment for me).

    That’s because the whole Rapture thing is so completely not even on the radar that we don’t even realise (well, outside of a handful of theologians) that this question even exists. And yet, there are American churches which are anathemising one another on this very point. One man’s meat, indeed (to keep up the BBQ analogy) 🙂

  6. To answer your question about “are there “camps” in Roman Catholicism as well?”

    Oh, Holy Mother, are there!

    But in the main, though I have never been to lovely North Dakota (it is lovely, no?) nor am I ever likely to be, on the whole yes, I would expect to be able to go into a church there and attend Mass and know what was going on, or pray before the Blessed Sacrament*, or burn incense before idols – er, I mean, light a candle before a statue of a saint 😉

    (*Unless it was one of those ultra-liberal churches that relegated the tabernacle to a corner about as far as you can get from the main body of the church – truly a case of “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him” – or else an ultra-traditional one where I would be run out of it by for daring to cross the threshold without a mantilla – and even in both places, I’d expect to be able to make *some* shape of the liturgy).

  7. *d’oh*

    The above holds true even for South Dakota, which is what you actually asked, austin 🙂

  8. “There are variations from parish to parish, and even from one Mass to another at the same place. You just learn to watch what other people are doing at the Lord’s Prayer (holding hands or not); kneeling after communion or not, etc.”

    Anna A, you have touched on a sore point here 🙂

    Exchanging the Sign of Peace is tough enough for us Irish to get enthused about, but if I ever found myself in a place that practiced hand-holding during the “Our Father”, I’d react in a manner that would make Martin Luther seem like a member of the Blue Army of Fatima in comparison.

    Americans have a lot to answer for 😉

  9. Mich:

    Nick V ran the pool hall two blocks from my house growing up.

  10. Martha,
    I think I confused you with my reference to living in North Dakota. And it is interesting to note the variety in the Catholic church that I have seen here. When I first moved to town, the Catholic church got a new priest to help the one who has been here for a few years. The new guy came from Nigeria I believe and was reportedly “evangelical” in his style. I heard him preach a funeral and I was quite surprised at parts of his message to say the least. The other priest managed to get him reassigned somewhere else and they haven’t brought in another one yet. When I asked the current priest about why he asked them to reassign the other guy somewhere else, his comment was, “when he got excited, you might as well pack up and go home.” I was never certain if he meant the content of the sermon or the difficulty of the accent that was the problem.

  11. Ky boy but not now says

    “I say to myself – you were raised in a family belonging to denomination A and now you’re considering joining denomination B just for the music?!?!”

    We’re supposed to worship God at our church service. If the music makes your fillings fall out, maybe worship is hard to do at THAT service for you. But not for others. Doesn’t mean that the music is wrong for God but maybe wrong for you.

    Now living in a very small town can make thise entire issue an interesting exercise in how to get along with others. 🙂

  12. Ky boy but not now says

    Now Owensboro may have some good BBQ but I need to point out some heresy in your statements.

    The best BBQ on the planet is not in Owensboro but in Paducah. Specifically Starnes BBQ on Joe Clifton Drive across from the main entrance to Noble Park. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just wrong and needs to be corrected. With love and kindness but corrected none the less. At some point you’ll need to repent for the errors of your ways, cross the Tiber, err, Land between the Lakes, and come “home”.


    Says he who packs up 10 to 20 pounds whenever he gets back to Paducah. And usually wins over several converts when I get back to wherever home is at the time.

    And if you don’t understand, well pizza delivery has a hard time getting started in an area where the previous option was to drive down and pick up a few pounds of pork cooked for 3 days over hickory logs.

  13. Memphis Aggie says

    In all honesty I’ve never even heard of KY BBQ before this posting let alone seen or tasted it. If it’s such a delicacy it must be a local secret. I’ve lived in Michigan, Texas, California and now Tennessee
    and have never before now heard a single claim made for any form of BBQ from Paducah or KY in general, seriously. I’m no culinary expert but if KY is so good why is it so poorly known? Where are those evangelizing for it? Are iMonk and Ky boy it’s only witnesses?

  14. Martha,

    Funny on the hand holding. I don’t care for it either, but for hygiene reasons. But a small baptist church I used to go to did it on the dismissal prayer and a Methodist friend of mine came one night. He was shocked, he thought we were about to bring out snakes, and that with the fact that it was one of those churches where everyone prays at the same time and tries to pray the loudest and the longest. It was classic. I wish you could have seen his face.

    Also on the giving the peace signs. I went to a Celtic Liturgy at the Episcopal church last night and they did that. The first I had seen it.


  15. I can’t take the heresy… Get a compass you used in high school geometry and a map of Texas. Put the point on Austin, and draw a circle with a radius of 80 miles. Inside the circle you just drew are 5 WORLD CLASS BBQ joints — Salt Lick in Driftwood, Kreutz’s and Black’s in Lockhart, Coopers in Llano, and Ruby’s in Austin. Plus, there are other fine places like Rudy’s and Bert’s (the Turbo T-Man at Bert’s is one of the greatest dishes of all time).

  16. That Other Jean says

    Barbecue in Kentucky and Texas? Pathetic red-sauced stuff? Heretics! Eastern Carolina, vinegar-based pulled pork barbecue is the One True Barbecue!

  17. Ky boy but not now says

    In western KY, and I’ll allow that most of the rest of the planet would call Owensboro a part of western KY, we smoke it over hickory logs for 3 days give or take. When done the meat falls off the bone. This is what we call BBQ. Each person adds sauce, cole slaw, whatever, as they like. Starnes that I mentioned before has mild, hot, and very hot sauce. Many folks not used to it cry over the mild.

    North Carolina has this kind of BBQ plus the vinegar pickle stuff in kind of a splotchy map. Western TN, southeastern MO, northeastern AK, have a lot of it like Western KY. Texas is in another universe.

    Sort of like chili. If you’ve never eaten chili in Cincinnati, ask for a description before you order. Or you’ll be really surprised. 🙂

  18. austin – oh, dear. The red flag goes up when I hear “Celtic” anything.

    I’ve mentioned before my opinion of the bare-faced cheek of the English-derived Episcopalians appropriating the traditions of the Irish, Scots and Welsh (not to mention the Manx and Cornish) 🙂

    I know, for the sake of my blood pressure, I shouldn’t ask this question, but like the heroine in a horror movie, I *will* walk down the creaky, half-rotted wooden stairs to the cobwebbed cellar in the abandoned house now that all the lights have mysteriously gone out – what was the exchange of the Sign of Peace like in that service? 😉

  19. Other Jean:

    We don’t do sauce in Western Ky.


  20. Patrick Lynch says

    Thanks to this thread (and this crazy SEVENTY DEGREES we’re going to have tomorrow, after SNOW two days ago! what.), I’m going to go hunting for the best NC BBQ I can find this weekend.

  21. Dan Smith says

    As a fifth gen Church of Christ-er, I was raised like this — “When the Church of Christ or hardheaded Baptists start telling Christian Bob that he’s not saved because he’s a Methodist, it just doesn’t work very well.”

    Thankfully, as Landan pointed out, there are large numbers of us who realize that God’s grace extends well beyond our little sect. Yes, we still have our “hard shell” types just as does the SBC, but the more progressive voice grows almost daily.


  22. Martha,

    Rest assured that the hand holding during “Our Father” has pretty much died out, (or I’m going to more orthodox parishes). The big thing that I’ve noticed is that the friendlier parishes tended to be less orthodox and the more orthodox not very open to new comers. My cat and I have lived in 9 different homes in 5 states in her 18 years.

    I normally don’t question anyone’s tastes, but I do have a great deal of difficulty considering shredded meat in a vinegar sauce as bar-b-que. ;)Sorry, Patrick. Hope you enjoy it though.

  23. Martha,

    You make me laugh. It was basically a time where folks turned around and shook hands and said peace to each other. I actually saw a couple of folks give the “peace” sign across the church.

    I also laugh at your response to the Celtic service. You’ve said that before. Like most folks in the South a large part of my family is Irish, County Cork early 1700’s actually, so I have to admit I was first drawn to this service by the Celtic label. I also have to admit I was so unaccustomed to episcopal worship, and still am, that I probably couldn’t tell you what is supposed to be Celtic about it other than some of the language used in the prayers seems sort of earthy if that makes sense.

    If I remember right from some of your post you live in Ireland. Lucky you. I’m coming over before I die. I’m getting ready to have my friends over for our annual St. Patricks Day meal. Last year I butchered a recipe for Lamb Stew. This year I’m doing corned beef. Any tips.

    I’ve heard that folks in Ireland sort of shake their heads and chuckle at our obsession with St. Patrick’s Day. Is that the case?


  24. p.s. Martha

    Be flattered. Everyone on the planet wants to appropriate the traditions of the Irish. They are a great people.

  25. Dan,

    No offense, but the Church of Christ where I grew up in North Alabama were an especially exclusionary bunch. One local church would take up a weekly ad in the paper criticizing the church practices of the other denominations.

    Combine with that with the fact that the area has a high number of exclusionary baptist and it was quiet a mix.

    My best friend was C.o.C. but a sorry one. They had a Christmas tree and his mom went with her head uncovered to church, and they used multiple cups at communion.

    My brothers best friend growing up however was old school. Very old school. One cup, head covered, etc. etc.

    I knew things had changed when the large “liberal” C.o.C. in town put up a new building and it had stained glass windows and a playground. The church actually split over it.

    It seems us baptist do not have a monopoly over church splitting after all, even though we have perfected the game.

  26. Chas – Yes the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church which has a barbecue restaurant next door run fully for the profit of the church by a beautiful older woman who will let you know quickly that they don’t allow drinking or bad language.

    kcillini77 – I’m sorry to report but I have tried to choke down what is called barbecue in KC and could not do it. I threw most of it away.

    Parsifal – hush puppies?!? with barbecue?!?! please come to Texas so we can show the Way.

    Memphis Aggie – thanks for he support. NC barbecue is gross.

    Curtis – Chicken is a side to barbecue.

    Brian Roden- Very good. Excellent, but only barbecue in name.

    Ky boy but not now – maybe but based on BBQ in Tennessee other mid-south states I doubt it.

    Patrick Lynch – the best NC BBQ you can find is not in NC. It all is bad.

  27. IM,
    Sorry about all the BBQ talk. We’re just having fun.
    The post itself as usual is outstanding and you really should consider wrting a book now that you are not watching as mucn TV.

  28. Austin,

    The rubrics of the Mass are the same in the Roman Rite. Someone else mentioned other rites – these follow other rubrics, but all rites/churches in the Roman Catholic Church have the same theology and are all united under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope). I’ve been to Mass all around the world, including in languages I don’t understand (e.g., Polish, Italian, Czech, etc.) but can follow the Mass in the Missal (i.e., Catholic prayer book). It didn’t bother me that I could not understand the language – we are there for the grace of the Sacrifice of the Mass – not the sermon.;^)


  29. Larry Geiger says

    Well just down the road from me here in Cocoa, FL is Sonny’s, Kay’s, Woody’s, Rax by the Trax, Charlie and Jake’s, Fat Boy’s, Slo and Lo, Mr. BBQ, Shane’s Rib Shack, Dustin’s, Ryans, Paul’s Smokehouse, Hog Wild, Smokey Bones, Memaw’s and a little further away is Bubba Lou’s Bodaciaous BBQ. At least one for each day of the week. Mmmmmmm!