October 25, 2020

Is a Passion for the Church the Same as a Passion for the Kingdom?

785c8833-800wiFrom Ray Ortlund at Christ Is Deeper Still:

“My passion isn’t to build up my church. My passion is for God’s Kingdom.”

Ever heard someone say that? I have. It sounds large-hearted, but it’s wrong. It can even be destructive.

Suppose I said, “My passion isn’t to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I’ll work for that. I’ll pray for that. I’ll sacrifice for that. But don’t expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I’m aiming at something grander.”

If I said that, would you think, “Wow, Ray is so committed”? Or would you wonder if I had lost my mind?

If you care about the Kingdom, be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.

We build great churches the same way we build great marriages — real commitment that makes a positive difference every day.

Someone is saying “You’re going to disagree with probably the most respected, spiritually passionate guy in the Christian blogosphere? You really are out in left field knocking down the fence.”

I am a big Ray Ortlund fan. I’m not on his level as a Christian or a minister, much less as a blogger. I’m not really here to disagree, but I want to respond to what is an important issue for me and many others in our pursuit of Jesus Shaped Spirituality.

1) A passion for a marriage is not at war with a passion for marriage. The two are related. A passion for the welfare of my family or the success of my vocation are derived from some larger, defining passion.

2) If my marriage should fail, would my faith in marriage vanish? If my children go astray, does my belief in the importance of parenting end? No. In both cases, I will find hope to move on, to encourage others, to garner wisdom and even to try again from love that is greater than even my love for my marriage or children.

3) If you care about the Kingdom, faithfully care for your church.I agree completely. But if your church ceases to preach the Gospel or compromises its purpose and mission for relevance and worldly success, what will be the larger framework that will allow you to know something is wrong? It will be a passion for Christ and his Kingdom, applied to a specific situation.

4) What concerns me is a tendency to sound like we are saying “the Kingdom (as far as you are concerned) = your local church and what it’s doing.” I do not believe this is the teaching of scripture, and I don’t believe sound local churches even leave this as an option. It is, to use Ortlund’s phrase, a destructive error.

5) I would go further. I don’t believe a Biblically sound church restricts service to the Kingdom to service/involvement in that particular local church. In my book, I’ll be calling this “church shaped spirituality,” and I’ll have quite a lot to say about it. Isn’t a church that is making disciples sending those disciples into the world? Isn’t the church the disciple-making, initiatory fellowship, but not the primary place where discipleship takes place?

6) Tithing to a local church, for example, is a practice that I can’t see being scripturally required in any new covenant sense. I was taught my entire life that God commanded me to tithe to my local church. Awareness of the larger needs of the Kingdom, of other ministries, of individuals and even of other causes supported by my church was always laundered through the “tithe to the local church” first rhetoric.

Shocker: I don’t trust many local churches to spend that much money in a kingdom-savvy way. Insurance. Utilities. Salaries. Facilities. With a percentage to “missions.” I can no longer believe that is how I, as a Christian, am to be a steward of my financial resources. My church should help me manage and spend that money by showing me many different ways I can make it count for the Kingdom and teaching me to be a Kingdom investor in all of life. They should teach me to see the world with Kingdom eyes and my resources through the priorities of Jesus, which include the local church but certainly isn’t restricted to it.

If an American church has 10,000 members, and they would all tithe, what would most of those churches do? Build bigger buildings and hire more staff to do more programs. Let’s support the church, but let’s not buy whiskey for proven alcoholics.

7) The Kingdom economy is one where the local church is a demonstration of the Kingdom, and the church prepares and equips Christians to live Kingdom-useful lives. That life can’t be restricted to a local church. The marriage analogy depends on an exclusive vow as the moral center of marriage. Only one relationship. That exclusive vow is with Christ, not with a local church.

8) Don’t accuse me of “either/or,” because I am not saying that in any way. Christians have responsibilities and commitments to their local churches, but that relationship is relative to 1) Christ, 2) the Kingdom of Christ and his purposes. The local church has a place and a role in the Kingdom, but that is relative to the ultimate claims of Jesus Christ and the call of all disciples to seek first the Kingdom.

9) The claim that “the church is the way disciples seek first the Kingdom” is a claim made by churches and church leaders. I think it has to be questioned, not because there aren’t great churches and pastors like Immanuel and Ortlund, but because there are worldly and compromised “churches” and “shepherds” as described in Revelation 2-3, Ezekiel, etc.

10) I greatly appreciate and affirm Ortlund’s words. There is a lot of wisdom there. I think he is expressing some things which many of us need to talk about in the context of our own rather different experience of church.


  1. Monk,

    I agree with 99 percent of it (i’ll touch the last 1percent in a minute).

    I think we do wrong when we fail to see the difference b/w the church (universal which Christ will and is bulding), the church local (out post in the kingdom if you will), and the Kingdom. I mentioned a book here before, but I’ll mention it again, it is THe church, the churches, and the Kingdom by Philip Mauro, a very good book.

    the 1 percent i would disagree with is the tithing, and not b/c i want to argue the whole New Covenant or requirement thing, but I think where your comments seem to think of the bigger churches that are awash in money anywho, my mind turns to the small, very small churches, that with a little better stewardship could make a big difference with a little more funds. For instance, with a used church van i am we could do much good, but we don’t have the money for the purchase, or maintaince b/c folks don’t give. I know that you can address that without using the word tithing, but it does make for a nice easy to understand and grasp goal. But i digress.

    Like I said, I’m with you on the other 99 percent.


    • Austin,

      If I am wrong on tithing in the New covenant I want to be corrected. Where is tithing- which in Lev was up to 30% paid to the priests and the temple- taught in the New Testament by Jesus or Paul?



      • Monk,

        I don’t want to try to correct you for three reasons

        1. you are smarter than me

        2. i’m exhausted from being up with my two year old having his tonsils out today

        3. you are most likely right 🙂


        a. would you have any objection to the following way of putting it by a pastor to a member
        “In the old testament they tithed, even though it’s not a requirement today, the tithe could be used as an easily understandable and appropriate goal”

        b. what is your take on the argument that the tithe predates the Levitical Law? I’v heard that one used as well, not sure how i feel about it


      • I always say that when you adopt an Old covenant practice, you have to do it with a new covenant understanding. As far as tithing goes, that would mean helpful OT guideline, but not a NT requirement. New covenant is God owns it all. Use all for his glory. We are not supporting priests and temples, but Kingdom missions.

        • agreed,

          well said

        • But doesn’t God own it all in the Old covenant as well?

        • Sure. But the legal requirement of the state of Israel was multiple tithes to support of priest and temple. (See Malachi). We aren’t in that old covenant economy.

          Tithing is part of the law that is fulfilled by Christ. If you do it, it’s not as a legal requirement.

          • I would add that a portion of the OT tithe, a tenth part collected every third year, went to local Levites, orphans, strangers, and widows. This was basically ancient Isreal’s form of a wellfare system. And, though I haven’t found where OT scripture comes out and says it, it is implied that the tithe only applied to property owners, since poor, unpropertied persons owned no fields or flocks from which to offer a tithe — which casts an interesting light on some modern preachers’ claim that not putting the full 10 percent in the offering plate equals robbing God, even if it means being unable to pay your rent or light bill.

        • It’s a oddly constricting, trying to teach people how to be free.

      • Matthew 23:23

        Clearly Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees, but his criticism is not against tithing, rather he supports it and tells them they ought/should have done that (tithe) but were not to neglect doing justice, showing mercy and being faithful.

        • But the Pharisees considered themselves under the law of Torah, and claimed to fulfill it — Christ points out to them that you can’t just pick part of the law to fulfill while ignoring others.

          I don’t think this passage addresses the question of tithing in the new covenant at all.

          My own take on the question of titihing (or any giving) to the local church vs. other ministries is like this:

          If you are part of a congregation you share in the responsibility to meet its expenses, not out of an OT obligation but out of common sense. How exactly you do that is between you and God, and perhaps to some extent between you and the congregation and its leadership.

          If you are so distrustful of the leadership that you cannot in good conscience entrust them with any of your money, you have some really hard questions to answer that go way beyond tithing.

          If you just **like** other ministries more, you still need to deal with your basic common sense obligation for your share of the congregation’s legitimate and unavoidable expenses.

          • Glenn Thomas says

            I once belonged to a network of churches that required it’s members to give 10%. We never said it was a requirement of God to tithe or that we were obligated to give a tithe under the law. We simply said based on our church model we have found this is the best way for us as a church family to cover costs. When some people objected we told them there are many models of doing church. If you don’t want to give ten percent you can join any number of churches down the street that have a different model. It was amazing to see how many people wanted to stick around and continue to complain about giving a tithe rather than plugging in somewhere where they were free not to tithe.

          • @Glenn Thomas:

            Wow! Did I ever do an internal cringe when I read that.

            You can be a member of our church as long as you give 10%!!!

            Can’t help but think that Jesus might have had a few things to say about that.

          • Glenn, you might want to read what you wrote, slowly:

            GOD does not require it, we admit, but we require it. Sure you want to own that ??

            Greg R

            (PS: why stop with tithing, there’s a lot more you can add to that list, if that’s how you roll )

          • @Eclectic Christian

            Not only 10%, but I believe there are churches around here in Arkansas that ask for your income so they know what the 10% works out to be.

            And they call it discipleship.

          • A friend’s roommate once attended a church where they not only demanded 25%, you were required to bring each paycheck to show the pastor.

    • It’s interesting how we launch right at tithing even though this was not the major issue with iMonk’s post.

      But I’ll launch too. I agree w/ iMonk but for my own reasons; some admittedly cynical or skeptical because of abuses I have witnessed and Scriptural.

      1. You use my tithe for dishonest personal gain or rip me off, that’s the last you’ll see of any of my hard earned dollars.

      2. The New Covenant doesn’t teach tithing. If anything it teaches lavish giving. A tithe is percentage based and not lavish.

      3. The tithe is used by some as a “talisman” if I can use the word. It’s like a good luck charm…”God will love me more if…”, “God will protect me if…”, “God will bless me if…” (bless in this context usually means give me more money). Complete nonsense.

      4. Churches and pastors don’t teach lavish, cheerful giving because they fear they won’t get much from their congregations. People can relate to a percentage. They can calculate how much they should give. Another reason lavish giving isn’t taught is because we believe God works on percentages. Another reason we rely on the tithe is because we don’t understand giving. Another reason is we like things to be controlled and we like to control them and we like making laws.

      5. The last item, is the tithe really about giving? Giving from compulsion is spiritually dangerous. We really make the tithe about keeping. I only need to give 10%, the rest in mine (I hear the voice of Daffy Duck). We never hear teaching about lavishness or true non-percentage driven giving because we don’t believe God. We are afraid to ask God, “How much should I give, Lord?” You know why? Because we are afraid He will say, “Be lavish and generous like Me. Give 100%, keep nothing.”

      Peace +

      PS. Yea..what about the 30% tithe in Leviticus? Jesus nor Paul ever mentioned it.

    • David Ulrich says

      I would like to share my 10% on the subject of tithing.

      1. The tithe was to be enjoyed as a feast in celebration with the family in the presence of the Lord once a year. The family ate the tithe. (Deut 14:26)
      2. The Israelites were commanded to “remember” the Levites and give them a portion of the yearly tithe. (Deut 14:27)
      3. Every third year, the family tithe went all to the Levites. (Deut 14:28)
      4. The Levites were to tithe a portion they received from the people to the High Priest. (Num 18:26-28)
      5. The handwriting of ordinances that was against us has been taken away and was nailed to the cross. (Col 2:14)

    • From the CCC, paragraph 2043: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c3a3.htm

      “The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.

      “The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.”

      Good, common sensical approach to the whole matter of tithing.

      • David Ulrich says

        “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” – Karl Marx

        • Good quote.

          “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”

          Acts 2:44-45

          My dad used that text once as an argument against Papal Infallibility, because Peter didn’t see the inherent flaws in Socialism and know the greatness of Capitalism, American-style.

  2. Clarifying specific examples of “cultural drift” in the church, holding them to light of Scripture and calling us to examine our version of church in light of same. Thank you.

  3. Participate in the church local with wholehearted passion because it is a representation of the church universal? I just keep asking, why? It’s why I haven’t been involved anywhere for the past 10 years. For me, being joined up a church local sucked the life out of me. It was just more of the same that I saw out in the world – people allowing themselves to be impeded from interacting with each other in a natural sort of a way because of all the millions of tiny hidden little rules and conformities that lie under our everyday living. People impeded from sharing the most important things and stuck on the bland. People who don’t know how to be intimate and who seem to get distinctly uncomfortable when you act out of your own volition. Why would I commit myself to something like that? The people who go to the building and are the church universal I might be willing to commit myself to but how, when so often any liveliness or joy about God is viewed with suspicion? (This is just my experience, you understand.)

    The church universal is something I can love. But pay my tithe to a church building? No thanks. I’d rather use my hard earned to help out the homeless woman I see every Thursday night at my train station. I feel so free in God. I do not *need* to be a part of a church local to be fed. The very fact that that is what the church local seems so often to preach (fearmongering again, just in a different form) is part of the reason why I can’t be bothered.

    I hope I don’t sound like a self-righteous above-it-all. That’s not what I’m trying to convey at all. I feel lonely for church local involvement. I just can’t get myself involved in it because it saps the life out of me and frustrates me that we are all so [mod edit] anal and repressed as a people that we don’t even know how to be free. I can’t stand the hypocrisy so I don’t do.

    Cutting off my nose to spite my face or mature protection of what has been given to me? Sometimes I cannot rightly say 😉

    • I get what you’re saying. I feel the same way sometimes.

      I think you see where dealing with the awkwardness and difficulties and failures to connect are pretty much what “loving the church” actually means in context, too. All that crap you instinctively dislike is more or less what you, as a Christian, are being groomed to overstand, forgive, transcend and love and grow through; saying “why would I commit myself to something like that?” is just unrepentant hypocrisy and we should know better.

      • PS: Patrick. I agree, I think you’re right. There is a part of me that does not want to get involved in Christian circles because it’s so messy and I am a product of my narcissistic culture. However, on the other side of that, so often Christian circles refused to believe that they also are products of the culture. All this short-sightedness glossed over, people insisting that they see when they’re actually pretty damn blind, etc etc. That’s where I come from when I say “why would I commit myself to something like that?” Why are churches so unable to admit what they are, where they are, how much they fail? It’s like an inablity to confess your own sins one to another.

        But thank you for your comment. Youv’e given me food for thought. Perhaps it is finally time for me to return to Christian community 🙂

    • Not sure what you mean in paragraph one without specific examples. I do know that Christianity is meant to be lived out in a community of faith. Your form of quasi-monasticism is not invalid, but I would argue that it is incomplete, despite your perception that you don’t need it. I also feel that, given the incredible diversity in “church” form and function, including house churches that are totally spontaneous by design, there HAS to be some place you could find your soulmates.

      • Oh, it’s not that I think I don’t need it. It’s that the way things are set up, the very things that we want seem so much harder to get. Reading back over what I wrote, I sound like a narcissist wanting community handed to me on a plate. It’s not the case, though. The churches I have been involved in, the “community” that goes on on a Sunday morning has this strange patina of falsity about it. It has the feel of a dysfunctional family, and I grew up in one of those so I know how it feels to carpet brush. I just wonder, why? If we have the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, why so many rigid, closed-off people? I think because people know that the church community is not a safe place to open up and be real and vulnerable because Christians are so quick to condemn each other.

        I am comfortable with the place I am in, of living in the Father’s love and affection. I am not going to join a local community because that is “what is the done thing.” I don’t want to do what is the done thing in Christian circles until I understand why those things are. Tradition is not enough of an answer for me. I want to hear what the Father has for me. But yes, I did not mean that I was dismissive of the concept of local church. I just haven’t found it yet. And no, before anyone trots out the usual “you’re looking for something that doesn’t exist,” I’m not saying I’m looking for a perfect community. That is the opposite of what I’m saying. But I’m looking for REAL communty and to be honest I haven’t come across a lot of that in Christian circles.

        (I’m in Australia by the way so things are a lot different for me here than in the States)

        • Sue,
          I am in somewhat of a similar predicament, maybe I am a bit jaded but the “Christian” community has in many ways taken away from me the things that I once valued. The amount of effort required to be involved in “church” seems to only distract from the real goal of connecting with people, staying connected and investing in each others lives, I have spent a year at our local church trying to get connected with people only to find that they were too busy doing the “church thing” to bother with the people that were working alongside them. I decided recently I would rather avoid most “Christians” as the majority of self proclaiming “christians” are annoying and difficult to deal with. Along the way I have met several “followers of Jesus” that I can truly fellowship with and this comprises my “church” I think our whole problem here is Objectification of a concept that was never meant to be objectified. Once you name a spiritual principal, formulate a formula, establish a methodology, develop a doctrine, you are essentially putting that spiritual principal in a box for easy re-use. Handy for some things maybe, but it completely eradicates the “God Factor” an example I often use is this.

          We are relatively certain we know how the sun works, we understand fission and fusion and the chemicals and reactions necessary to create a sun. But we still cannot create it, you need the “God Factor” in exactly the same way spiritual principals, of Tithing, Servanthood, ServantLeadership, Church building, has all been wrapped up in tidy little boxes of cliche’ so that we can take them out any time we need them. So when we wonder why this whole thing doesn’t work… its because we took the “God Factor” out of it.

          I have no idea if any of this makes sense to anyone but me.. but there.. I said it 🙂

  4. I agree with your first sentences, that you’re not so much disagreeing with what Ortlund wrote, but raising an important safety release valve on what could be taken too far. By that I mean over-identifying the Kingdom with the local church. I get that and don’t really have a beef with any of your cautions. I appreciate them.

    But I also fully appreciate Ortlund’s article. I am seeing too many Christians of all sorts giving up on all forms of Christian community, including the church, and suffering spiritually from it. Increasingly, I preach if you claim to be converted to Christ and you’re not converted to community, then I doubt the first conversion, since one always leads to the other in scripture.

    • Bob,

      I’d like to be an advocate for a broader, simpler, more diverse concept of Christian community, with more options and less centralization/experts dominating the discussion of all things Christian.



      • Yes, I totally get that, and respect you for it. You also serve as part of a Christian community all week long and fill the pulpit currently in a church. There’s no way anyone can accuse you of giving up on Christian community.

  5. Mr. Ortlund is only partially correct. His answer could even be dangerous. My reaction here.

  6. Church membership is not like a marriage, in that the relationship is fundamentally asymmetric. Spouses are expected to listen, compromise, and carefully consider one another’s welfare. A church might not (and often cannot) do these things for its members. You are, after all, just one person.

    This makes the notion of “committing” to a church problematic. Typically, religious commitment means that the member submits to a certain way of doing things, which is largely non-negotiable. (Some theologies hold that “the people” act collectively in various ways, but given the manufactured nature of their “corporate” acts, it is difficult to see this doctrine as anything but airy and antiquated.)

    In this light, it makes sense to treat churches as vendors, choosing the one whose “services” (sorry) best match the customer’s expectations.

    • Actually I have often heard church membership compared to marriage and described in covenantal terms. I agree the two are not the same because of an asymmetry but I have also been connected to complementarians … .

      As I have observed the asymmetry in Protestant churches (not speaking to Catholicism or Orthodoxy) the membership “covenant” is something that pastors can put up for renewal every couple of years to make sure you’re on the team, which is why the membership=marriage covenant analogies I have heard over the years ring so hollow.

      I used to be skeptical about consumerism of church members but having seen how things can pan out in a megachurch setting I have also grown skeptical about the risk of consumerism in the leadership of megachurches. Consumerism at the low end is “being fed” or being entertained and passing this off as “being challenged”, consumerism at the high end is aggressive expansion to make sure the mission is being served.

      I was at a Bible study where the theological term “adoption” was described as “becoming a member of a local church”. Last I checked that’s not exactly what that term means, but there are churches that propound this definition of adoption, which seems to conflate the local church with the kingdom in a way that creeps me out.

      • It is true that marriages can be asymmetric, but this is hardly a recommendation…

        The “adoption” metaphor raises similar problems. A literal adoption brings obligations to the adoptive parents (to say the least), just as a marriage brings obligations to the partners. What obligations might church membership impose on the church? Certainly nothing too onerous, such as financial support in time of need. At most the member might be accorded voting rights, the right to stand for certain offices, and–in the case of the more gung-ho confessions–the right to receive guidance, admonishment, and discipline.

        I’m not sure I understand the concept of “covenant renewal,” but you’re quite right–the notion of regular renegotiations of marriage vows sounds monstrous. I suppose the minister must be answerable to a vestry, if not a denominational superior, but you can never tell with these mega-churches. The extent to which the ordinary people are realistically capable of influencing their church varies considerably from denomination to denomination. Here culture is as important as technical details of church governance.

  7. Seems like Ray is saying that he doesn’t just want all of the church’s resources, time and effort to be spent on the community he pastors…but on God’s global cause for years to come, well after he and all of the members are dead.

  8. Good stuff, iMonk.

    The kingdom was first, not church (and this is even for me who believes the ekklesia/church and Israel are the same thing). Jesus said pray that the kingdom comes, not church. Jesus taught us to seek the kingdom, not church. For me, it is quite obvious which one takes precedence, though I must still say I am very passionate for a biblical and healthy understanding of church.

    You stated – ‘As far as tithing goes, that would mean helpful OT guideline, but not a NT requirement. New covenant is God owns it all.’

    Does the OT somehow not teach that all belongs to God? I am thinking passages like Gen 1:26-28 (the original great commission) and Deut 6:6-9 teach that all belongs to God, right?

    I am not a big fan of teaching that tithing as a requirement, but I am not sure I would say the OT teaches only a ‘tithe’ belongs to God. I could read the OT and walk away believing all belongs to God, though all doesn’t end up at the temple. But I would also say the NT helps fully clarify that all belongs to God.

    Do you have any books/resources you have found helpful with teaching about tithing?

  9. Michael, thanks as always for your thoughts here. There is much to be appreciated.

    Interesting that the tithe issue has raised so much discussion. To that fray, I’ll add this:

    A couple of years ago, we (the Session, = the Elders of our church) announced in a congregational meeting that we had set a goal of devoting 10% of our revenues toward missions in the coming year, and one of our congregants made the statement that he felt we ought to put more money toward local ministry instead of putting it toward foreign and other missions.

    To that I responded, “think of it this way: we’re putting 90% of our money toward local ministries! Now we’re trying to increase our commitment toward other ministries as well.”

    As a pastor, I would simply say this: IF you believe that the money spent on salaries, buildings, and programs is NOT money spent on ministry, then you’re TOTALLY missing the point. You may not fully agree with how those funds are apportioned, etc.– but if that’s the case, then get involved enough to make a difference. Don’t just write it off as “buying whiskey for alcoholics.”

    I get the post-evangelical thing, really. But the Gospel (including the Post-Evangelical’s Gospel) and cynicism are contradictions. That includes cynicism about the local church.

  10. Michael, thanks as always for your thoughts here. There is much to be appreciated.

    Interesting that the tithe issue has raised so much discussion. To that fray, I’ll add this:

    A couple of years ago, we (the Session, = the Elders of our church) announced in a congregational meeting that we had set a goal of devoting 10% of our revenues toward missions in the coming year, and one of our congregants made the statement that he felt we ought to put more money toward local ministry instead of putting it toward foreign and other missions.

    To that I responded, “think of it this way: we’re putting 90% of our money toward local ministries! Now we’re trying to increase our commitment toward other ministries as well.”

    As a pastor, I would simply say this: IF you believe that the money spent on salaries, buildings, and programs, etc. is NOT money spent on ministry, then you’re TOTALLY missing the point. You may not fully agree with how those funds are apportioned — but if that’s the case, then get involved enough to make a difference. Don’t just write it off as “buying whiskey for alcoholics.”

    I get the post-evangelical thing, really. But the Gospel (including the Post-Evangelical’s Gospel) and cynicism are contradictions. That includes cynicism about the local church.

    • See, why is this always the way? Disagree with the something, get told to shut up because you’re cynical, or that you’re missing the point.

      There’s no room within conventional Christianity to disagree about anything or else you’re rebellious or you’ve got a Jezebel spirit or who are you to have an opinion, sitting on the sidelines, etc etc?

      We all get to have different viewpoints. Dismissing everybody else’s viewpoint because it doesn’t correlate with yours gets no one anywhere.

      • Amen sister…

        I have several friends who don’t currently regularly attend Church… and while I won’t get to that point, having attended some of the churches around here that I know they’ve tried – I really can’t blame them… Its not that they don’t want to go to church… they’re just tired of trying to find one…

        But most people around if they hear they don’t regularly attend – go so completely off on that issue (and treat them like they’re just lazy rebels) – and don’t recognize the legit nature of their issues…. Do I think they should manage to deal with it and find a church they can live with for now? Yes – but I can’t say that their experience isn’t valid because it is, and I have to respect that its their experience…

      • Sue, it’s not my intent to dismiss everyone who doesn’t agree with me. And I’m not telling anyone to “shut up”– though it sounds kind of like that’s what you’re telling ME to do.

        The content of the post above clearly suggests– barely stopping short of outright declaring– that paying my salary, as a pastor of the local church, is somehow NOT supporting ministry.

        So my pastoral work this week– the several visitations to the hospital, the hour-long Bible study I taught, the sermon I’m preparing, and the premarital counseling I did last night– are not ministry. Why is that? Because it comes in the form of a paycheck given to me, instead of cash that you personally get to hand to the beggar on the corner?

        Excuse me, but just because someone WANTS to have a different opinion doesn’t mean that everyone GETS to declare their viewpoint as right. “Internet Monk” is either Michael’s bully pulpit to preach to the already converted, or it’s a place for discussion where HE can be wrong, too. As I’ve seen it, it’s the second.

        • I get where you’re coming from now, Ed. Thanks for clarifying.

          I’m not having a go at you personally or calling what you do into question – I don’t know if you are directing your entire comment at me or someone else. I am saying that you as the paid pastor guy hold all the power, whereas the people who sit in the pews when they have their opinions are often fobbed off as being rebellious when the church consists of everybody, not just the paid people.

          Of course I wouldn’t tell you to shut up, even if that’s how it sounds (and as tempting as it is for all of us to do to each other, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much of it going on 😉

          I think the variety of different ways of walking this thing out is much MUCH broader than what is commonly held. I do not know anything about you or what you have done this week. To say that I have problems with the church building church doesn’t mean that I am automatically discrediting the good things you do. I never did say that (and why would I? How could I criticise someone doing good??). I don’t claim that what you have done is any less or more because you get paid. But my choice to not attend a church building is my choice, and there are many thriving people outside of it. And inside of it too. And it’s easy for those inside to claim that those outside must not be saved, as someone did above, when really, how do we know those things? So easy to dismiss and criticise what goes on that is not the same as our experience, and it happens constantly within the church (local & universal).

    • >IF you believe that the money spent on salaries, buildings, and programs, etc. is NOT money spent on ministry, then you’re TOTALLY missing the point. You may not fully agree with how those funds are apportioned — but if that’s the case, then get involved enough to make a difference. Don’t just write it off as “buying whiskey for alcoholics.” I get the post-evangelical thing, really. But the Gospel (including the Post-Evangelical’s Gospel) and cynicism are contradictions. That includes cynicism about the local church


      I expect to hear this response several thousand times in the next year. While it confirms my sense that church-shaped spirituality is its own reward, I respect it.

      I will say that if I am left telling 53 year old men who have given their life to the church that they should “get involved and make a difference” I’m clearly out of answers.



      • I will say that if I am left telling 53 year old men who have given their life to the church that they should “get involved and make a difference” I’m clearly out of answers.


        And I’ll say that if a 53 year old man has given his life to the church yet still declares that increasing giving to the local church is “buying whiskey for alcoholics” then he’s obviously not interested in answers anyway. He’s already decided his mind about it without willingness for further input.

        • Let’s be clear: Increasing giving to some churches- in fact MANY in my experience- would be a waste of God’s money. I wasn’t thinking of you and your hospital visits. Good grief.

      • Ed,

        You’re obviously angry.

        There are great churches and great pastors that deserve support. I’m sure you are one.

        And there are duds that don’t. You know this unless you’re just clueless. You also know that I AM NOT making the “either/or” you are accusing me of. Evangelicals have a large contingent of alcholics who don’t need any more whiskey. You know their names and so does every aware pastor.

        Is this such a playground argument that you have to personalize all of this?


        • I don’t think it’s anger, Michael. More frustration, and mostly about stuff like Sue’s retort above. If “my kind” of comments aren’t welcome, well then change the opener for comments to something other than “Speak Your Mind”!

          That’s why I quit reading comments for the Jesus Creed blog, by the way, and eventually stopped reading it altogether: there’s just as much unhelpful dogmatism and closed-mindedness in many of the reader/commenters, it’s just on a different “side” of the argument. Let’s stop pretending we’re all so open-minded and accepting, shall we?

          I know there are a lot of lousy pastors. THEY make me angry, if for nothing else than that they make my job harder. But also, of course, because they are simply failing to own and accept the work before them. I pastor a church that is 175 years old, and MOST of the pastors have been there for 2 years or less; the last two left under very bad conditions. I know too well the fruit of a “dud” pastor’s so-called ministry.

          But on the other hand, it IS personal. Yes, there are duds out there. In my experience, they are not the norm– at least in my presbytery in the PCA. The rest are great pastors, and I am doing my best to be one of those.

          I’m tired of being told that pastors make easy money, and don’t deserve more– when we struggle to make our mortgage payments every month. I’m tired of hearing that churches don’t spend money well, or that we sink too much in programs, or that we don’t give enough to missions– from many of the same people who turn around and complain that there aren’t enough hymnals, or fuss about how the flower-beds need to be re-landscaped, or are fully convinced that writing a bigger check to the missionaries we support fulfills our obligation there.

          I’m a pastor, and like you I have given my life to the church– so, yes, when someone attacks the church in a way that I consider unfair, then it is VERY personal. How can it not be personal for someone who has been engrafted into such a Body?

          • Then you have totally misread my “retort” Ed, and totally taken it personally. I can think what I like about local churches – and I do so, with firmly held and deeply thought about convictions. To take what I said and presume I’m referring to your hospital visits is contorting what I said.

            I’m sorry if you took personally what i said. I understand why you would, considering the church is your employer. It doesn’t change what I think, but I’m not criticising you personally or your personal faith or your personal works.

          • Ed: I hope this thread has been helpful, even though frustrating. Let me challenge one item, at least , from your post above, and that is that the church is being “attacked” in some way. And I’m not sure if you are meaning from Michael’s post , or from some of the comments, or both.

            This whole topic is NOT about attacking the church, it’s about allegiances and the accompanying responsibilities that go with them. One reason why the tithing thing generates such heat is that it touches on a very practical level of how and what we commit to as believers. One of Michael’s key points is that our allegiance to Kingdom goes ABOVE the church, though the two are complimentary MOST of the time (and the more Kingdom minded the church, the more these two will be in agreement).. When, or if, they diverge, then the believer is constrained by the HIGHER allegiance.

            Obviously, I’m siding with Michael’s take on Kingdom/church here, but this is not to categorically put the two at some enmity, necessarily. Can also add that if there are some in your flock that are hoarding their cash (which isn’t really THEIR’s, I might add) , then their priorities are totally whack also. That’s not Kingdom living either. Ironically, helping rid the church of misers and cheapskates will NOT happen, IMO, by banging on the tihting drum louder. My gosh, we’ve been trying that now for decades, and how’s that worked for us ??

            hope you don’t mind me butting in
            my your peeps learn that being generous (freely) is where it’s at

            Greg R

        • Ed,

          I mean the following as a friend and fellow traveler.

          It is no one’s responsibility that you and I cast our full time vocation with the institutional church. Our congregations have a responsibility, but the rest of evangelicalism is entitled to look at my vocation and yours and question whether the church should be supporting X number of full time employees, or whether we should have a mortgage, or whether our church should be funding retirement, etc.

          You and I made that decision. I did as a 15 year old and I wish I had been bi-voc. I can’t go back and change that, but I am not going to hold the next generation or anyone with a more Jesus shaoed view of church economics to the fire for not supporting me.

          OUR church culture made these decisions. WE decided to live in them. We have to accept that there are churches that starve the preacher and preachers that live like kings.

          Jesus said make disciples and treat your leaders/servants rightly.

          I may be fired tomorrow and I accept that. I’m not going to defend an American church culture that has 90% of the world’s evangelical ministers making money that third world pastors don’t dream of. We have to be sane about this.

          I wish you the best and I’m sorry the post hit you as personal. It’s not meant that way.


          • MS: Re: your 90% number…if that real money? What I mean is this, if the money were scaled to the cost of living would it still be 90%? I am just back from the Philippines and what you say is true, we have many poor pastors in the third world. But because an american pastor would be rich by Philippine standards it dos not follow that the same person even making 40 times what a Philippine pastor makes is not still poor by American standards. We pastors are paid in US money…but we must also spend it in the US. So I am just wondering how you equate the numbers.

            It is also true by the way that many pastors here are just as poor when you consider the standard. (I am thinking of Inner City Church planters). It is not true though that full time pastors are simply an American phenomenon as in many of those same 3rd world countries (including the Philippines) the pastors are often full time.

            Anyhoo all of that to say that if people did not give the kingdom in many places in America and the world (because American church partnerships are the hope of 3rd world churches) would not have a witness.

            I agree that the tithe is not required. But I also think that if people do not share in support of the local church with their time and gifts that the witness of Christ in many places would grow dim.

    • Ed, you wrote: But the Gospel (including the Post-Evangelical’s Gospel) and cynicism are contradictions. That includes cynicism about the local church.

      Excellent point..

      Most churches have tight budgets and do incredible work with it. It’s often the person who has bailed out of church that thinks giving a dollar to a homeless person or twenty dollars to a cancer walk and buying girl scout cookies is great stewardship on their part. I think your points are worthwhile.

      • It is important to remember that most churches (including mega-churches) do keep their budgets very tight and absolutely agonize over any building projects. Most churches also deserve some level of commitment from their members, including some financial commitment. There are certainly bad apples on both counts, but if we focus so much on them it can give the impression that they are the norm.

        • Ken, you must be kidding! Perhaps the mega church you know did that but my experience is they throw money around like drunken sailors. I was astonished to learn how much they spend on staff retreats and lunches, marketing materials, travel, conferences for staff and such. Not to mention the salaries of most mid to sr level were double nd triple the average wage of the attendee. And most mid to sr level staffers worked about a 35 hour week because there is a minister for just about every thing you an think of under the sun.

          Everyone wanted to work there. I can remember a friend of mine who left who was in sr management telling me it was normal practice to throw out a 5000 banner for the simple reason the blue was not the right blue.So, they would simply redo it and order a new one.

          Of course, the pew sitter who gives has no idea. One needs an inside contact to know how their money is spent because to inquire means you are questioning leadership.

          And then of course there is always another building project with pleas to give above and beyond. With bookstores, coffee shops, gyms and ballparks one hardly needs to go out and be salt and light anymore.

    • Of course it is not possible to please everybody, and those who sit on the committee and understand its proceedings in detail may rightfully consider themselves more informed than most outside stakeholders. Secular charities often have similar disagreements as to goals (though typically, these play out within self-selected boards of trustees, and do not infringe upon wider issues of personal identity).

    • With respect, Ed, money spent on salaries, building and programs often is spent on real ministry, and this may indeed be the case in your church, but very often in it’s really not. I say this from my personal experience, which is pretty exentsive as I was born and raised an MK and have been in churches my whole life. The last church I left continues to maintain enormouos facilities, most of which they never use, at great expense; and they recently engaged in a half million dollar renovation project but neglected to pay off a long-time half million dollar debt. Two other local churches have or had very adequate facilities but pursued decade-long plans to relocate to the burbs. Massive energies and resources are being devoted to things that do nothing to measurably increase ministry impact or grow the Kingdom, and that possibly remove ministry influence from the places where it’s most needed.

  11. A couple of questions:

    Why is the default position always the church = community and/or church activity = ministry?

    How does giving money/resources to your neighbors without going through the church “clearinghouse” not fulfill the intent and spirit of the tithe?

    • How does giving money/resources to your neighbors without going through the church “clearinghouse” not fulfill the intent and spirit of the tithe?

      Easy. Giving to your neighbors directly is bad stewardship because you don’t get a tax deduction. 😉

  12. I think there are two extremes we have to avoid here… 1) the idea that the local church (or denomination) is everything (something I’ve experienced too much of, and I think thats the pov you’re coming from too) and 2) the idea that we don’t need the local church…

    I don’t personally think anyone could read your response and seriously think you were advocating #2…

    (PS I’ve followed your blog for a while, but I’ve only just started following the Boar’s Head Tavern… and I’ve got a question for those of you on there… Is there not ANY women who post on there, or have I just come to reading it at a time when there is not? Not that I don’t enjoy reading it, and not that I think its on account of y’all or anything like that – I just find it kind of odd…)

  13. #3: The individual churches evaluated in Revelation are clearly fallible and held against a metaphysical ideal, but the cases are presented against them in such a way that you suspect that any fool could see their faults. Do you really think you have to insist on an external “framework,” or do you think most folks who’ve given the matter any thought are aware of the framework and can sense intuitively how their church holds up? I think the analogy holds as long as the point is made that there are abusive marriages. And it’s easier to switch churches than spouses.

    #4: Doesn’t that they are in fact held against the light of a metaphysical ideal seem to you to point to something? More than the (obvious) primacy of the kingdom over the church, but that the vocation of the church is to embody the kingdom, and that this is a vocation God apparently endorses and takes very seriously? If you can maintain that kind of kingdom-focus then that’s wonderful, but most of us are too shortsighted and feeble minded. God gave us the marital union, modeled after the Trinity, as a way of having a concrete way of exploring love, through our spouses and children, which hopefully leads to an increase of our love for God. Paul endorses celibacy over marriage if you’re strong enough and clear-sighted enough, but does this in any way put down marriage?

    • Daniel,

      I am going to assume that you are defending the Roman Catholic view of the church. If so, then your “Church embodies Kingdom” assertion is one I can’t possibly critique.

      If you are Protestant, then I would suggest you are defending the Catholic view of the church, and I’d suggest the church is an embodiment, but not the only manifestation of the Kingdom. I would say Jesus went to a great deal of trouble to separate church and Kingdom in ways that make it clear we see more of one now and more of the other later (or that one subsumes the other eschatologically.) Further, I would suggest the church as evangelicals define it is too institutional and less of a movement. The church in the NT is institutional at points and much more diverse and organic at others.


      • Okay. I’m fuzzy here because I’ve read a whole lot more scripture than I have theology. Especially Protestant theology. But I’ve read my Catechism too and I’m sure I have a completely “Catholic unconscious” and there are some finer points I’m missing. I’d never try to slip Catholic theology past anyone without declaring it outright. I’ll just trust you on this one and mull over what you’ve said. Peace and love.

  14. iMonk,

    i believe this post is indeed not an either/or situation. my question is, can my passion for the Kingdom involve primarily that i try to effect changes to make it more faithful to the Gospel and centered in Christ? and if i have exhausted all my efforts and see that the said local church is not in line with my beliefs, then can i, in good conscience, leave that particular congregation? i know that being passionate for the local church does not mean not having to be critical of its flaws, but i have seen many people leave because the local church has become more of a detriment to their spiritual growth than an edifying fellowship. appreciate thoughts.

    great post by the way. very valid points.


  15. I think that the ‘Kingdom’ means the Communion of Saints of all time, some might this the Church Universal.

    I like Jean Vanier’s description of the Kingdom:

    ” this is the vision of Jesus for our world announced by St Paul:

    one body –

    with the poorest and weakest among us at the heart,

    those that we judge the most despicable, honoured;

    where each person is important

    because all are necessary.

    His body, to which we all belong

    joined in love,

    filled with the Spirit.

    This is the kingdom.”

    • Nice 🙂

    • I believe the kingdom existed before the saints did (i.e. Psalm 145:13). But I think this action described is an expression of God’s rule in our lives and the world, but it is not THE kingdom.

      • Hi Scott,

        Perhaps Vanier HAS described attributes of the Kingdom.
        Our Lord said that His Kingdom was ‘not of THIS world.’

        But so many of our churches have become places where the self-righteous take a ‘stand’ in reaction to the broken in our world,
        rather than surround them and embrace them with love and with the healing to be found in Our Lord Christ.

        Vanier describes a situation that is rarely found in a ‘church’.
        Imagine embracing those who are ‘despised’.
        Imagine not rejecting anyone, because ‘all are important’, ‘all are needed’
        No, that is not the way of the world.
        I think it does describe somthing ‘not of this world’.

        The Body of Christ; the Ekklesia, or the Ecclesia, or ‘the Church’, or ‘the Kingdom.
        Just terms we use. What is their connection to each other?
        Must be this: how closely do they come to witness of Our Lord?
        He is the connection. And His Ways are ‘not of this world’.

        • Christiane –

          I still cannot equate the kingdom of God and the church. As I had mentioned in a comment above, the kingdom was first, not church. Jesus said pray that the kingdom comes, not church. Jesus taught us to seek the kingdom, not church. For me, it is quite obvious which one takes precedence, though I must still say I am very passionate for a biblical and healthy understanding of church.

          I do believe the church is the greatest tool of God’s kingdom on earth, but it is not the kingdom. It finds its meaning and purpose in the king and His rule (kingdom).

  16. I believe, (starting with me), that if we Christ-followers in this country were to seek first the kingdom (rather than building earthly ones), including practicing generosity toward others, the real “needs” of the church as guided by the Spirit and the community, and the needs of our “neighbor”, hear or abroad could be vastly improved. If we as the people of God had his vision for the world and the church, there would be a reordering of a lot of things from where the church invests its resources down to my private little world called what’s “MINE”. It may be that not only everything belongs to God but the heart of those in the book of Acts also seemed to be what is mine is yours – as the wisdom of love would guide. Freely we have received, freely give. The focus of our sermons and studies would not be how much “should we give” but do we want to become loving, serving, generous, Jesus people and if so, how do we/I become one?

  17. Don in Phoenix says

    I wonder how much of the differences of opinion or understanding reflected in individual beliefs on the nature of the Church and the Kingdom spring from the more rebellious ecclesiological notions of the radical reformers? I think if a local church is adequately connected to the universal church, as a branch to the vine, then commitment to one is commitment to the other. The problem, as I see it, arises from autonomous pastors leading autonomous congregations (whether or not they voluntarily associate with like-minded ministers and congregations). We have a local “church” here in Phoenix that has as a cardinal point in their doctrinal statement “The church is only local, not universal.” I can’t find self-ordination anywhere in the New Testament, nor can I find an example of a local church that existed independent from Apostolic oversight, especially the seven mentioned in the Revelation of Jesus Christ according to John.

    In rejecting the imperial overreach of the Bishop of Rome, the reformers threw out the baby with the bath water, discarding the organizational model established by the Apostles and their immediate successors in favor of the system that has led, after a few centuries, to McChurch, ChurchMart, and the “Senior Pastor and Chief Executive Officer” box on corporate org-charts, and there are no bishops with jurisdiction to rein them in or excommunicate the wolves in shepherds clothing, and to provide the congregations they oversee with a physical manifestation of their connection to the universal church.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see the local vs. universal/kingdom issue as being problematic for some denominational groups as it is for “mainstream” evangelicals and their somewhat wacky fundamentalist cousins.

    • where in th NT is their a model of episcopal type church government founded?

      one might make the case for presybyterian, but congregations working together seems to be the norm

      • Don in Phoenix says

        The original church government was apostolic. The apostles functioned in an oversight capacity, as evidenced by (a) the Jerusalem Council and (b) the epistles. Paul’s writings mention separately both bishops (or overseers/superintendents) and elders (presbyters). The fact that Paul commissioned both Timothy and Titus to ordain elders strongly suggests they were consecrated to an episcopal (oversight) role.

        The best evidence for apostolic intent behind episcopal government is that the generation of leaders taught and ordained by the apostles actually implemented it. Any other interpretation leads to the uncomfortable conclusions that (a) the apostles were ineffective in their discipleship efforts, (b) the Holy Spirit was ineffective in guiding the believers into all truth, or (c) once John died, it was all over until Martin Luther came to save the day.

        • Strange,

          I see the words bishop, and elder being used interchangabley, and as far as referenced from the councils mentioned in the bible I find no evidence that just the apostles were involved

          • Don in Phoenix says

            I’d be comfortable with “episcopos” and “presbyteros” being interchangeable, given they are never used at the same time and the qualifications are the same…except for two facts:

            (1) The meanings are different (overseer – observe from above our outside, vs. elder – a leader within the community).

            (2) The historical practice of the church indicates that its second generation believed there was a difference.

            With no hard evidence in the scriptures that the terms are interchangable, and good historical evidence that there were different roles for bishops and elders, I can’t help but conclude that the apostolic plan for government of the church going forward consisted of bishops or district superintendents appointed by the apostles, ordaining and overseeing a plurality of elders in their jurisdictions.

            The point of my original post, though, is not that episcopal polity is scripturally mandated (though I believe it is), but that congregational polity tends to lead to a greater degree of disconnectedness between the local church and the Body of Christ existing across time and space, also known as the communion of saints, and a lack of adult supervision (whether by episcopal or presbyterian) allows for rogue shepherds, unbalanced pseudo-discipleship, unworthy worship, and downright unscriptural teaching, which (and I believe this last bit is Michael’s point) is antithetical to the notion of the Kingdom of God, and must eventually yield to it or be crushed by it.

    • Suffice it to say that Catholicism has its own problems.

      • Don in Phoenix says

        I’m sympathetic with the reformers…rogue bishops are a problem all their own. Allowing one bishop to have primacy over the rest, and backing that up with the power of the state or empire, was a really bad idea. The state of the church before the ascendance of the See of Rome to imperial status, governed by bishops accountable to their peers in councils, was preferable.

  18. I’m not sure how much of a real difference there is between a passion for the kingdom and a passion for the church, being that they’re both made up of people. With that said, I think the pivotal difference exists between passions centered on the religious trappings of church or on the kingdom as an abstract concept/theological construct and passions centered on God’s people, whether that be locally or globally. For example, there are a lot of church-going folk out there who are in love with their religion – the liturgy, the beautiful buildings, the music, the preaching, the theology, or whatever — but who keep an emotional and relational distance between themselves and their brothers and sisters in Christ. And, throughout history, there have been many who have passionately pursued a particular vision of God’s kingdom, though all too many of them haven’t hesitated to mow down plenty of God’s people in the process. On the other hand, there are many Christians who have hearts for people — loving people, encouraging people, helping people, and being a real friend to people. It’s the people lovers who I would say have their passions in the right place, whether they’re acting on those passions in their local church, community, or in the course of traveling around the world. Christ spoke of seeking His kingdom, but He demonstrated the nature of this kingdom through individual acts of love toward individual human beings. Besides, the foremost commandment He gave to His disciples was to treat each other with the same kind of love which he had shown to them. To center one’s passion on something else — be it a set of doctrines, a religious institution, or a sure-fire plan to conquer the world for Christ — is to aim for something other than the bullseye of the Gospel and the center of God’s heart.

  19. I see an analogy that Ortland sets up: church to kingdom = a marriage to marriage.

    I’m not sure whether he intended this as an analogy of objects (all churches combined = the kingdom) or an analogy of proportion (you can’t claim allegiance to a larger thing if you don’t practice allegiance to a smaller one), or something else. Clearly to me, the former is incorrect.

    Recently I was digging in my yard. No church had any part of my digging, yet it was a kingdom act. The kingdom and the church are two different things. Church is a small part of the kingdom. We are to seek the kingdom first because kingdom principles will apply in the church. All church principles combined can’t help us with everything in the kingdom.

  20. Isn’t there a distinction between structure (or form) and direction?
    Isn’t something being ‘the kingdom’ not a question of structure, but of direction?
    i.e. isn’t the kingdom there where ‘the will of God is done, on earth as it is in heaven’, and is that not a question of direction (and not structure)?
    So that where a structure/form (or an individual) does seek the will of God, and his will is done, it (he/she) is a part of Gods kingdom, he rules there, and where a structure/form (or an individual) doesn’t seek the will of God, and his will isn’t done, it (he/she) isn’t part of the kingdom but of the world?
    So the kingdom will be in every structure/form/person where Gods will is done: families, schools, organisations, governments and even churches?
    And at the same time every structure/form/person could be part of the world: families, schools, organisations, governments and even churches?
    There’s no automatism of one form/structure automatically being ‘God’s kingdom’, but everywhere, in what structure there is, where God is king, there is his kingdom.
    It would be great if God was king in every local expression of the church, but I suspect that is not the case.
    On the other hand: the followers of the King, will want to form communities in which he reigns. And those will be expressions of his body, his church.
    And it’s good if those coincide with the already existing local expressions of the church, but I don’t see that as automatically being the case.


  21. This is what I posted on Ray Ortlund’s blog:
    “I will be interested to see if this comment gets approved, because I think that you are completely wrong.
    Wrong firstly to claim the the Kingdom is an abstraction like marriage, and that the local institutional organisational unit, is real.
    Its the other way around, the Kingdom is like an actual marriage between two real people, its the reality of God in the lives of every believer. Quite literally it is wherever God reigns, wherever someone gives a cup of water for the sake of Jesus, whether that person has prayed the sinner’s prayer, or filled in a form, pays a tithe.
    Secondly conflating the local church with the Bride of Christ is not just mistaken, from a Protestant point of view it is wrong. Everyone who is saved is a member of The Church, and needs no other mediator than Jesus. No local church is that mediator. No local church can claim that it

    At best the local church is an organisation which can help the members of The Church to advance the Kingdom. All too often it instead hinders the Church, and hinders the Kingdom by absorbing resources, time, energy and devotion, distracting people from their true callings as artists, philosophers and doctors by telling them that the only valid calling is to be full time minister.

    There is a reason that hundreds of thousands of Evangelicals are leaving local churches. It precisely this kind of message which claim primacy for institutions. Been there, done that, worn the T shirt but not any more.
    I still say my passion isn’t to build up the local church my passion is for God’s Kingdom.”

    • I did not understand Ortlund’s post to be claiming that the church was a mediator. I have to differ with that criticism. I also believe the church is a valuable and critical part of the Kingdom, but is not identical or co-terminus with it.

      • I guess that in my attempt to speak in the kinds of terms used by the Evangelical Project its sounds as if I am a fundamentalist with a hair trigger reflex against any “Popishness”.
        I try to pretend that I thats true because my other posts give the life to that. I guess that what I was trying to say, in terms which Evangelicals might recognise is that the casual assumption in Ortlund’s metaphor is that the local church is necessarily the primary way in which Christians relate to God,and moreover having a primary call on the loyalty of a Christian.
        Neither of these assumptions can be justified in any Protestant ecclesiology that I know of, so my comment on Ortland’s blog is intended to challenge Ortland to set out what ecclesiology he proposes which could justify his inarticulate assumptions.

        Michael I am relying on your evaluation of Ortland to assume that he is sincere if mistaken. At the same time I’d like to remind you that there are many of us in the post-evangelical wilderness who have good reason to be suspicious of all claims by those in local churches on our loyalties. We have been burned and badly burned in local churches , and claim that miraculous survival of our hearts for the Kingdom is dangerous, our of our minds, and like the betrayal of a marriage seems emotionally manipulative.
        Now I am going to assume that Ortberg didn’t intend it to be emotionally manipulative, and that he simply lacks any insight into the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Evangelicals who are leaving the local church building.
        But at the same time please allow me to remind you that we left because of the Ortberg’s as much as the conmen because they wouldn’t see beyond the four walls of their church building.

        • You switched from Ortlund to Ortberg. It’s Ortlund.

          He’s a good man. His blog is exceptional. What he is saying about the church is what I grew up with, esp the time and tithing thing. On that, I agree with you.

  22. I’d like to say I’m seeking the kingdom first, always, but it would be a lie. But then, I’m not a pastor. Maybe pastors . . . the good ones . . . seek the kingdom first, always . . . but I doubt that too. We all fall short. So, the church is a “network of relationships” (see Total Church) between people who fall short in the very area which would define them as “practicing Christians.”

    Which leaves us where? A network of relationships between people who cling to Jesus as their only hope. At least sometimes. “The local church” might be in there somewhere, a few steps down the line perhaps. Read Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Which was more definitive for him: the network of relationships, or the institutional church (building, paid staff, etc.).

  23. MOD NOTE: I do not endorse links such as this one. I don’t have time to review each one and I am reluctant to send them all to moderation. Just do not assume that the views on the other side of the link reflect my own. For example, I am a supporter of public, private and home schools. MS

    Excellent post. Refreshing to read thoughts that mirror our own. If you haven’t gotten your free ebook copy of “Keys to Kingdom Expansion” yet, do it now: http://www.valuesdrivenfamily.com/Keys_to_Kingdom_Expansion.htm .

  24. The Church is ontologically the body of Christ (The fullness of him who fills all and is in all). So, while the Church and the Kingdom are distinct, they are inseparable. The Church, by grace, shares in the reign of Christ. The Church still needs to be brought into the fullness of the Trinity’s glory, so the sharing has a proleptic nature to it. But the sharing is nevertheless real.

    This is not an argument for triumphalism. Far from it. The King of the Kingdom, who is the head of the Body, is envisioned as Lamb on a Throne. This humble posture is the proper stance of the Church in the world if it is to embody the life of the head, Christ.

    Okay, back to work.

    • I would contend that if we can’t have a critical engagement with theologies that over-identify church and Kingdom, then the process of growth that lies at the center of both concepts is compromised, the historical nature of the church becomes meaningless and the experiences of Christians in abusive churches is discounted. The church is a demonstration of the reality of the Kingdom, a sign, a seed plot, a colony. But it is not the Kingdom in its fullness and the claims of churches to connect to Jesus and the Kingdom must be judged against the reality of both now and eschatologically. To sit in many churches is to experience an over-realized ecclesiology that dims the future glory of the church.



      • wow, my head is spinning from that one: could it be also added:

        and dims the present glory of the church, because (among other reasons) there are other expressions of the Kingdom that are brighter, hotter, or just different ….all equally part of the kingdom.

      • My high Anglican ecclesiology poking through there.

        Off to buy a mini-van!

      • I agree that the distinction between the historical and eschatological Church must be maintained and also the distinction between Christ and the Church. However, it seems to me, either the church ontologically is or is not the body of Christ. How one answer’s that question shapes how one conceives the interplay of Church and Kingdom.


  25. Fwiw, when I first handed a copy of my book to Dr. Ortlund, he thumbed through it and the first thing he caught on was a subheading that read “The Church is not the Kingdom.” He smiled approvingly and mentioned that many people don’t realize that.

    So I know for a fact he does not conflate the two or believe the local church is “greater than” the kingdom.

    Michael, I appreciate your expansion and call for clarifying questions. I think they’re good. Some of the rest of these comments, however, make my eyes glaze over.

    • Jared,

      I hope you won’t glaze over, but will consider this:

      Millions of our brothers and sisters are leaving the church because the overlay of Jesus and the church they’ve been sold was deeply flawed, if not an outright con job meant to serve the cause of church growth alone.

      These brothers and sisters are sometimes shrill and sometimes frustrated, but they have a genuine grievance. My book is going to try to speak both for them and to them, but pastors such as yourself should consider that the rhetoric of “love the church” is great, but it occurs in a context of some kind of church experience. I want to respect that experience, I don’t want too caricature the church, but I am afraid that isn’t the problem. The problem is allowing a situation where everyone who has a less than storybook experience in evangelicalism is portrayed as a whininbg emergent complainer who doesn’t want proper authority. (A complaint always lodged, interestingly, in books and blogs by pastors. Ahem.)

      I agree that Pastor Ortlund represents the missional church at its best. Unfortunately, the church at its less than best- even worst- will take that post and use it to further drive thousands away from any form of Christian community.

      Our loyalty has to be to the whole movement Jesus empowers, not just to the form we have most benefited from.



      • The problem is allowing a situation where everyone who has a less than storybook experience in evangelicalism is portrayed as a whininbg emergent complainer who doesn’t want proper authority.

        I spent 14 years in bankrupt Jesus-less consumeristic evangelicalism, both as a layperson and as a minister. I almost gave up on church and ministry over a decade ago thanks to abusive pastors and I would have written off hope for the Bible Belt two years ago if it weren’t for Ray Ortlund, actually, and the influx of young missional church planters he’s been mentoring in the area I just left.

        I’ve been accused of bitterness and whining and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” myself. I’m not ignorant of what’s going on nor do I mean to suggest everyone should just fall in line. I am sorry if my comment implied as much.

        • Well you know who I am talking about. Your experience- and subsequent experience- is a good illustration of why we need to speak about these things differently than many of the current voices.


        • Jared you tell us that “I spent 14 years in bankrupt Jesus-less consumeristic evangelicalism, both as a layperson and as a minister. I almost gave up on church and ministry over a decade ago thanks to abusive pastors and I would have written off hope for the Bible Belt two years ago”

          then you should know better than to try and make people choose between God and the church. Because that is the choice you give us if we cannot pursue the Kingdom in the churc.

          And when we are told that the church is the kingdom, that if we reject authority of men that we are rejecting God many people believe that lie, but others don’t, and guess what we will choose every time, we will choose God over the church, and when we do, we discover that actually we have chosen the one true Universal church, the Bride of Christ, over some or other local organisational structure.

          Jared you tell us that: “I’ve been accused of bitterness and whining and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” myself. ”
          Well then think how Ortmond’s words sound to those in pain, he characterises those who are loyal to the kingdom but who disagree with him about the importance of the local church as dangerous, out of their minds and unloyal spouses.

          Its great that you have had good experiences with Ortmund, doesn’t make him infallible, doesn’t even make him wise, and it does nothing for the everyone who hasn’t had those experiences.

          • Not Ortmund…Ortlund.

          • then you should know better than to try and make people choose between God and the church.

            Where have I done this?

            Because that is the choice you give us if we cannot pursue the Kingdom in the churc.

            How have I done this?
            Or how have I failed to pursue the kingdom with and in my church?

            Do you know me?

            And when we are told that the church is the kingdom

            I said the exact opposite of that. The church is NOT the kingdom. And I said Dr. Ortlund agrees.

            Well then think how Ortmond’s words sound to those in pain, he characterises those who are loyal to the kingdom but who disagree with him about the importance of the local church as dangerous, out of their minds and unloyal spouses.

            I didn’t see that. I saw him saying that if you love the Groom, you will love the Bride, and the New Testament doesn’t really give us the option of “doing church” without the church.
            If the available options around you suck, I do feel your pain. I’ve been there.

            Spouses wound us deeply too. And even when God allows divorce, he still hates it.

            I don’t believe Dr. Ortlund is infallible. But he is wise. And probably the sweetest man, most humble, most gracious man I’ve ever met. That people are taking his confident stance on the importance of the local church and accusing him of “meanness” wounds me as much as it angers me.

          • OK…a step back.

            This post is not now and hasn’t ever been about Dr. Ortlund. The first thing I said was that he is above my pay grade in every way. If anyone is attacking Dr. Ortlund gratuitously point it out and I’ll happily remove and moderate that poster.

            But let’s be fair here:

            Dr. Ortlund used the word “destructive” in the original post regarding a position that he is thoroughly aware is not at all uncommon among many who make the blogosphere a significant part of their Christian fellowship.

            I know a bit about writing on the internet. Such a word in such a context is on purpose, and as far as I can see, he got exactly what he asked for with that word choice.

            1) Pushback on the analogy of marriage and
            2) Pushback on the idea that disagreement may lead to a destructive wrong answer.

            Secondly, Dr. Ortlund raised the issue of tithing, which again, is an issue I’m quite certain he is aware raised deeper theological, economic and authority issues.

            When you’ve turned over those two rocks- money and “destructive” disagreement with a pastor’s view of the church- some folks are going to come back. And it won’t just be the word parsers. It will be people who have been called “destructive” by pastors. it will be people who have seen the tithing issues used badly.

            I realize that every blog post can’t be foot noted to settle down every objector, but this was a provocative post. I wouldn’t be responding to it if it wasn’t. It’s provocative and it raises large issues that are being carried on by guys like DeYoung, etc.

            When bloggers first started talking back to pastors in the SBC blogosphere, they were regularly portrayed in negative terms by the established powers that be. Some of them deserved it. Most didn’t.

            I see a similar thing happening in the “what role does the local church play” discussion. Pastors are laying down parameters, boundaries and definitions. They should speak up. But non-pastors are speaking up as well, telling stories and expressing points of view that have been largely unheard. Some are “that one guy” and are jerks. But most are simply asserting that the discussion is more nuanced and complex than you would guess by reading “Why I Love The Church,” and I have to agree.



          • This comment will likely seem out of order b/c I don’t see a “reply” link on your last comment, Michael.

            First, I am seeing projection. “Ortlund is forcing me to…” etc. It’s a blog post. He is not the pope.

            I’m also going to throw this out there, but if we’re going to talk about the “genre” of blog, I’m with you that he probably doesn’t understand all the implications of the communal nature of the blogosphere and the relational way people read things (as opposed to an article, a book, a sermon or what have you). It WOULD surprise him that people would react so strongly. I know how he thinks about the blogosphere, which is to say, he doesn’t really.

            Not an excuse for uncautious wording or provocation. But just a new lens to put on there. He doesn’t need me to defend him anyway.

            To be fair, he did not say thinking otherwise “is destructive.” He said “it can be.” (If we’re going to parse “destructive.”)

            Maybe it’s because I know the man, but I read the post and my takeaway is not much different than anything I think you’d agree with: If you love the kingdom, it doesn’t make sense to pursue it outside of Christian community. Isn’t individualized, personal pursuit one of the major problems with the message of the evangelical institution.

            And I guess since I know him and his church, I know that he’s not part of the Evil Empire causing many to flee the institution. But not all have that knowledge, I know.

            But that doesn’t mean we fill in the gaps with assumptions. Is anything he said theologically incorrect? Or just insensitive to people who’ve been burned?

            If it’s the former, let’s have at it.
            If it’s the latter, let’s have some grace and not assume he means submitting to an abusive husband.

            Because he’s right, if you’re for something God is doing but against the chief way God has designed for it to be done, that “can be” destructive.

            Let’s ask the clarifying sort of questions you did in your post, which I said before and will say again are good.

          • To prevent any other assumptions:

            a) I do not believe tithing is a new covenant command. (fwiw)
            b) I have not read any DeYoung or “Why I Love the Church,” so I have no idea if I fall in line with them or not. (Although I probably do.)

          • Jared:

            I always struggle a bit when two things happen:

            1) A major player (Piper, Ortlund, etc) puts out a blog post, thereby entering the world of blog linking and discussion. Dr. Ortlund rarely- maybe never- links and comments on other’s postings and would probably find it inappropriate. I realize he’s not adding “take this and make a 200 comment post by criticizing it” and I feel that responsibility.

            OTOH I think it is part of the beauty of the medium that ideas that were formerly preached without discussion are now discussed. So I don’t really want to bust into Dr. Ortlund’s office and say anything other than “I appreciate you,” but out here in the evangelical wilderness posts get discussed and not always with all the polite veneer of coffee time.

            2) You have a personal relationship with the guy. I used to see this happen a lot when I would take up something Thinkling Bill would say. You would come to the defense of your friend with “I know him.” That’s a great thing to do and a man should defend his friends. But again, the publish button is pushed and the big machine starts to spin. Things then happen.

            Believe me…I know.

            James White has been ripping Dr. Timothy George to the core his last three programs. If there were comments, I’d speak up. I’ve thought of making a response post. But Dr.George knows what happens when these things go out there. (Or maybe he doesn’t. I don’t really know.)



          • You have a personal relationship with the guy. I used to see this happen a lot when I would take up something Thinkling Bill would say. You would come to the defense of your friend with “I know him.” That’s a great thing to do and a man should defend his friends. But again, the publish button is pushed and the big machine starts to spin. Things then happen.

            I know. And I’ve done that multiple times for you too. 🙂
            The Flamers would have never heard of us way back whenever if we hadn’t taken your side (and Bill was the first to do that, if you remember).

            I do know it is a “flaw” of mine. It is a precious few number of guys, and you’re one of them, but if I feel as though they are being stepped to in an untowards way, I am quick about the slicing off of ears.

            Peace, out.

          • If you want to defend me, block out some time in a year.

            I appreciate that and it is not a flaw. I’ve never considered it one.

            I would defend you but all the bums love ya.

          • Jared, you say this: “I saw him saying that if you love the Groom, you will love the Bride, and the New Testament doesn’t really give us the option of “doing church” without the church.”

            even though you say that you aren’t trying to tell people that they can’t reject the local church without rejecting God.

            First off: you are making the same assumption as the assumption that I challenged in Ortlund’s post: that the local institutional organisation which takes for itself the name “church” is the same as the Bride of Christ.
            It is not and argument by assumption does not make it so. If you have ecclesiology in which makes every local unit of the many thousands of denominations The Church, in a way superior to, or overriding ‘two or three gathered in the name of Jesus’ then by all means tell us about it, but until then this is just as an assumption and an assumption which has devastated the lives of many believers.

            You ask where have you tried to make people choose between God and the church. Later in the same post you say: ‘if you love the Groom, you will love the Bride, and the New Testament doesn’t really give us the option of “doing church” without the church.’
            In other words if someone buys your claim that local church = The Bride of Christ but cannot stomach the local churches then he must either believe you and reject God and church, or believe you and believe that he rejects God although in truth he does not, or follow God but believe that he is rejecting The Church, although he is not.

            The alternative is to disbelieve the assumption that local organisational unit is not the same as The Church and continue to believe in God adn His Church, not churches.

            You say: “Spouses wound us deeply too.” but we are not married to the local church, not even as believers to The Church, we are to be married to the Groom.

            Our loyalty first and foremost is always to God. Anyone who claims that loyalty to God must mean loyalty to their local institution isn’t just mistaken but risks pushing people away from God.

            BTW nothing in my posts is about your ministry etc. What I am responding to is what you have written. You seem to asking how I can challenge what you have written when I don’t know your ministry etc. and my answer is because you wrote them here. You claimed that you have reason to be disillusioned with the local church and I responded that you should then know how these claims sound to people with similar experiences.

          • Windblown, I am disillusioned with many local churches, not “the local church.”

            I do affirm the distinction between the Bride (universal, catholic, invisible church) and congregations (local, visible churches), knowing full well that many in the latter are not members of the former.

            I still maintain that the NT prescribes Christian community and life as part of the Bride to be found in a local church. This is not the same thing as saying you can’t “be with God” apart from one.

            It’s sad that when I say the local church is integral to Christian life, people hear me saying all the things wrong with the local church are right. Not saying that. I havent’ even mentioned a particular form of church as “right.”

            But I don’t know if I’m going to be heard here except as “one of those guys,” so to keep clarifying is tiring.

  26. “My passion isn’t to build up my church. My passion is for God’s Kingdom.”

    My Passion isn’t for my Fire company, my Passion is for fighting Fires.
    So how do you fight the fire without the personnel, equipment, training, rehab, and fellowship that your local fire company provides?
    I did not come to know Christ in a church, but at the bumper of a 67 chevy, i have been bounced out, asked to leave ad banned from a few churches, and yet I know that without the local church, the Bride is homeless. I apologize for the mega church maniacs, and ego fanning cult clubs that meet under a cross, but the local church is the training ground, meeting place, soul hospital, fellowship center, and mustering place for the Kingdom’s workers. These workers are few, and without a church that is Kingdom Passionate, they will be fewer , and poorly equipped
    Perhaps the statement should be,” Because I am Passionate for the Kingdom, I am passionate for my church.” If you cannot be passionate for your church, get out. Find one or start one you can be passionate about. If you are in a church that doesn’t need your money, get out and go to one that does, you may save a church that way.

    • Ever watch Gangs of New York? There’s a scene that reminded me of something.

      Rival fire companies sponsored by various unions and communities would literally fight one another more than they would fight fires. Quite the circus.

      Less enthusiasm for the company and more for fighting the fire- and saving lives- would have been appropriate.

      The flaw is to believe the story that the only way fires get put out is if my group does it. In the Kingdom, there are are lots of little colonies, little cohorts. And they should HELP ONE ANOTHER fight fires.



      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Ever watch Gangs of New York? There’s a scene that reminded me of something.

        Rival fire companies sponsored by various unions and communities would literally fight one another more than they would fight fires. Quite the circus.

        I got news for you: That scene was taken from real life. So were the Election Day scenes later in the movie. New York was actually run that way back then.

        • A salesman who lives in Canada and works for one of our suppliers, lost a nice car for that very reason. The spot where he stopped on the freeway was at the border between two fire departments. One arrived after the car had been totaled. It was because both thought that the other should take care of it.

  27. Bob Sacamento says

    I suspect there are alot of language issues involved in the (mis)understanding of Ortlund and in your reply, because it seems to me that each of you could have written 90% of what the other wrote, and I agree with 90% of what you each wrote.

    But in the end, I have to come down on Ortlund’s side. I have seen too many “Kingdom” ministers who looked at their local church as just a tool for them to further their own “larger” agenda. This attitude eventually made them anything but ministers, so good thing their agenda was always God’s Kingdom!!! You can go too far either way, but that’s the problem I have run into too much, and I think Ortlund’s words are a good corrective to it.

    • >I have seen too many “Kingdom” ministers who looked at their local church as just a tool for them to further their own “larger” agenda. This attitude eventually made them anything but ministers, so good thing their agenda was always God’s Kingdom!!!

      This is precisely what I am trying to avoid and precisely what I fear Ortlund’s “church is the exclusive bride” approach creates.

      What is a “Kingdom minister church?” I have no idea what that means. Everyone I am thinking of with a Kingdom first view has a low view of the local church, not anything close to an exclusive view. Sounds like you are talking about some kind of end times prophecy charismatics. That isn’t what I am talking about at all.

      Count me confused.

      • Bob Sacamento says

        Confused is my modus operandi. You get used to it. 🙂

        The types of people I am talking about are not necessarily charismatic. I am thinking of a few evangelist types and a few culture warior types and even a “social gospel” left-winger in the mix who enetered into ministry at their respective local churches. And it became apparent that they weren’t there to minister at all. They saw their church as the place that was obligated to give them a platform for their message and foot soldiers for their crusade, and nothing but. I remember one minister who had all kinds of time and energy for “serving the Kingdom”, but couldn’t find the time to visit a family when their son was lying in the hospital in a coma.

        I like evangelists, I’m a confessed culture warrior myself, and I even see some good in the social gospel left-wingers. But I have gotten so tired of ministers who think their job is anything but ministering. And every single one of them will justify their failures by saying something like, “My vision is not for a mere church, but for the Kingdom!”

        Now, I have read your blog enough to know that you don’t like these guys either, and you are not trying to justify them. No problem there. I am just saying I have seen too many of these people, and if we all took Ortlund’s words to heart, alot of these guys would be sent packing.

  28. I agree with what you are saying Imonk. I love the quote about the alcoholics.

    However, one thing does bug me. I cringe when I hear it. I am sure it is not what you mean or what Ray means but here are the two excerpts I am talking about.

    Ray says “If you care about the Kingdom, be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.”

    And you say “3) If you care about the Kingdom, faithfully care for your church.I agree completely. But if your church ceases to preach the Gospel or compromises its purpose and mission for relevance and worldly success, what will be the larger framework that will allow you to know something is wrong? It will be a passion for Christ and his Kingdom, applied to a specific situation.”

    I am sure you do not mean it the way I am reading it, but a lot of people say “your church” “our church” “my church” in reality it is God’s church the people (the ekklesia) it is never ours to begin with, it is God’s.

    I understand that different people will gather in different areas, I just feel the use of “your” “my” or “our” when talking about the church segregates us all from the unity of Christ. If we would talk in a way that says “His Church” then we would not be so individdualistic and come together as one. Are we all not one the same mission, to build His Kingdom? – not to build “our church” within His Kingdom?


    • So Swanny, if I get a guitar player and 20 chairs, start preaching and baptizing converts, teaching them they MUST tithe to me, all other churches are false, Catholics are going to hell, only my books and Bible translation are true, you must be at my church 6 nights a week, only those I approve on my blog are orthodox, etc….do I get the assumption that this is all God’s Church?

      Or is there a case that I’m making a claim that is less than credible? It’s God’s gospel and God’s Kingdom and from hi POV, his church. But every Rev. Joe with a storefront, every Osteen and a roomfull of people wanting money is God’s church? And I owe them loyalty?

      Sorry. Can’t buy that.



      • I am definitely not saying what you suggested.

        I just feel a lot of pastors or leaders need to watch which church they are trying to build. And if thet use the term “my” church, I feel that is detrimental.

        I am absolutely not saying you do this. I have read you long enough to know what you mean. I do not know Ray, and when he said it in his quote, it startled me. I am sure it is just semantics.



  29. If anyone is claiming that I am saying “abandon community,” that is simply false. Period. I live in community and have for 18 years. I simply am not going to let pastors, authors and bloggers be the only ones who authorize what is legit community. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

    • I don’t think you are promoting folks to abandon community, but I do think that the type of community that Christ established was churches. Now those don’t have to be brick and morter buildings, but they do need to be churches. I think the idea, and I’m not sure you are saying this, that someone can find “community” in a para church fellowship or organization and neglect the local church and still be doing what is right is flawed.

      Para church organizations have not been entrusted with taking care of the widows, keeping the ordinances, nor do they have the authority or means for discipline.

      if a person was converted, then baptized, and then did not find a church to be a member of, and instead said, “I’ll find a fellowship group somewhere” they would not be doing what we see Christians doing in the new testament

      my favorite Confession is the New Hampshire one

      Of a Gospel Church
      we believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word; that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.

    • It’s a little hard to believe that the only form a Jesus shaped community takes is a fully loaded denominational church. Again, pastors will always define the church as what they are building doing. There have to be- I mean HAVE to be- a variety of kinds of diverse genuine Christian communities that aren’t fully staffed, etc churches. Think about it. Don’t be landmarkers!

      • again, I get the point, i really do, but i think the one thing the landmarkers were right about, and they were not right about much is that the local church is the “ideal” it is what we see in the NT

        poor landmarkers, they do make an easy whipping boy in this day and time don’t they, it’s odd to think about how much influence they weilded at a one time, but i think in some ways they were the product of their time and a neccesary evil to check inroads of Campbellism, your area was especially shaped by it

        but thanks for the forum , good info by everybody

  30. And they should HELP ONE ANOTHER fight fires.

    Ever strike anyone that a lot of the TR these days are trying to build congregations that are more and more like the RC Church ? You must submit to the majesterium (elders). You may never leave (unless it’s for mammon, I guess) . Your baptism isnt sufficient because we didn’t do it. etc, etc.

    • Yes, the high irony of this conversation is this:

      1) Many of those around the web who are tracing this conversation now have no reason to explain why they aren’t RC in ecclesiology. Find your Protestantism men.

      2) Of more concern: It is these same high ecclesiology bloggers who will regulary tell us what people are ok to listen to, what books are ok to read, what blogs are heretical, etc.

      As I’ve often said, some folks just need to go ahead and publish “the list” and get it over with.

    • In all fairness, the RC (no, I’m not one) recognizes most Protestant baptisms as valid.

    • Well, they do say that you become what you hate, and so it makes sense that certain TR would start to act like the Strawman Catholic Church they proclaim against.

  31. And don’t even get me started on the phrase “Calvinism is the gospel:” I want to wretch when I hear that trotted out.

    • Bob Sacamento says

      Mmmmm, my brief reply to dac has disappeared. If this is a technical glitch, you can delete this too. If not, well, I was actually trying to agree with him and also have a little fun. Hope nothing to the contrary came across.

  32. David Ulrich says

    “We build great churches the same way we build great marriages.”

    Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 20:19-22

    Realize that it is God who is building His church, for Himself, for His own glory, and that individual “churches” are not things that are “built” but are small gatherings of God’s people. We are used by Him to build His Church and also build up His Church.

    When I married my bride I didn’t say, “I want to build a great marriage.” My thoughts were, “I love this woman, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. As a matter of fact, I would lay down my own life for her.” Every day I am to love her as Christ loves His church, not so that I can build a great marriage, but because I love God and I love my wife. My thoughts are for my wife, not for “marriage.”

    The same should be for fellow believers. We should love one another and serve one another, not so that we can have a great church, but because we love God and love our brothers and sisters.

    When we gather together to worship the Lord, are we “going to church?” No! We are the church and the others with whom we gather are family. When you have family get-togethers, are you thinking “I want to build a great family” or are you thinking “I love these people. They are my family, and I want to serve them.”?

    We can build businesses and call them churches. We can have great personalities, with large followings, and call them pastors. We can have giant organizations with multi-million dollar budgets and call them ministries. To “build” the “church” is something we cannot do. It is Jesus Christ who is building His Church.

    He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
    Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
    Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:15-18

  33. Speaking for myself here, I think what Ortland misses in his post is that a lot of us have tried doing exactly what he recommends. We’ve engaged in the local church fully, given to it, participated, etc., with the expectation that we’d find it to be a true outpost of the kingdom. But we found something different. People who want to do things the way they’ve always done them, to stick with the comfortable, to avoid getting too involved with people who are different from them, perhaps even unsaved. Cliquishness. And on and on. To be sure, we found glimmers of the Kingdom, too, but mostly in the margins and among the marginalized, and outside the church as well. So for us, the kingdom didn’t intersect very neatly with the local church, precisely because of the intentional behaviors and practices in that church.

    I know that not all local churches are like this, and I thank God I and my family have finally found one that intentionally avoids these things, but I’ve been to more than a few that are like I described. It’s really something we need to work on.

  34. You definitely raise a good point with the marriage analogy and building up the people within the local body. Something for me to make sure I don’t forget. In my personal experience, the people I hear talking about “not the church, but the Kingdom”, are responding to churches who have a problem with #5. If a local church is ONLY local church focused, and doesn’t reach out into the community, or who defines services which the community pays for to use AS their community “ministry,” that seems like a problem. A church who takes care of itself doesn’t need to be reminded to take care of itself. It needs to hear about being Kingdom-focused. IMHO. Grace and peace.

  35. “If an American church has 10,000 members, and they would all tithe, what would most of those churches do? Build bigger buildings and hire more staff to do more programs. Let’s support the church, but let’s not buy whiskey for proven alcoholics.”

    Oh my! Amen, Amen Amen. It took me a while to figure this out. It makes much more sense for me to give directly to that struggling single mom in the Body than run it through the church first which uses it to pay salaries, lights and overhead before she gets a penny.

    She needs it worse than we need new carpet or sound system. If only we would get our priorities straight.

    This whole post was RIGHT ON.

    • Single Mom would need a charity tax number, I’m afraid.

      • I don’t think this is correct, at least not in the US. In the U.S., an individual can give another individual up to $11,000 per year with no tax consequences for either party.

    • Your donation would be kind and loving, but if the single mom’s home was damaged in a hurricane, a Disaster Recovery team is more appropriate. If 50,000 lunches are needed by disaster workers in the single mom’s community, a Feeding Team is required. If the single mom needs a car to get to work, a church would be of more help than one of us could be individually. Cooperation yields success.

      • During Hurricane Katrina, half the churches in Louisiana and many in Texas had refugees sleeping in them. Secular charities did fine work as well, though I cannot say this about any level of government.

        As a practical matter, smaller churches would be well advised to support outside programs run by others. In the case of foreign aid missions, some churches (Quakers, the RC) have a special expertise in this, while others seem to operate on an ad hoc basis.

    • Lets not put the two approaches in opposition to each other. We should exercise individual charity when the opportunity presents itself and also give to the church and other charities who can tackle larger problems. All giving is good, and we should be wary of comparing them.

      • The problem is community. In the typical church the single mom is going to think she needs to be a giver not a taker.

        If she needs her brakes fixed or something like that it makes total sense just to do it for her. But it is MY responsiblity to know what her needs are because I have taken the time to know her and her challenges. I am so very weary of the church complicating and institutionalizing every single thing. We are a Body. We are to care for one another and carry each other’s burdens.

        One sometimes thinks that the leaders are afraid of not being in control. If I fix her brakes, I may not be able to give an offering that month…but in reality, it WAS an offering to my Lord to help one of His children.

        I can remember some very tight years after my father died when I was a teen. I remember my mom finding an envelope slipped under our front door with 500 bucks in it. To this day, we have no idea who did it. We had only made our needs known to God.

  36. I was motivated to post in support of Sue, and other, what you may call “freelance Christians.” While not being involved with a local body is less than ideal, I can certainly see how it can become the lesser of evils in some situations. I’ve been heavily involved with the local church for the past . . . well, my entire 54 years. With that said, I don’t blame Sue for her local-church detachment and even some days might be guilty of envy.

    Here is the real contradiction. Most who support the “local church = The Kingdom” concept (including my present pastor) argue that not only does the NT mandate involvement with a (well defined denominational) local church but the reasons that they give (tweaking a few verses here or there) is for; A. fellowship and B. accountability.

    I would make the claim that no Christian anywhere has a greater desire for both A and B than I. However, these are also the main reasons that I am discontent within most of the churches I’ve been involved with. Both fellowship and accountability are discouraged in many churches (it would take pages for me to explain my argument on that matter) but offer a lot of symbolism in place of it. Things like “coffee and fellowship” or the “fellowship hall” or the board of elders “holding the church members accountable.”

    You can’t hold people accountable, nor can you really fellowship with them if you don’t know them. It is my opinion that the present church culture strongly discourages knowing one another. The reason being, we do not want to get to know others because we don’t want to be known. We don’t want to be known because in our secret lives, we are not near as good as we pretend to be in church. The church has to shed this pretentiousness if it has any hope of change.

    I can truly say, in those 54 years, that I’ve only come close to the A and B above twice. Both were somewhat out of context of the “local church.” One experience was while involved with a parachurch organization in college, and the other was with a small couples Bible study, which drew couples from several different churches.

    In conclusion, I put my opinion behind the view that The Church = The Kingdom, but the church (local) is a human created program in which attempts to express some of the aspects of The Church. I also add my support to the other side, so that there is no misunderstanding, that pastors work very hard and are generally under paid. I will not even get into the tithing discussion.

  37. If church is a denomination, or a building, or a committee, I will concede the point. If church is a like minded group of individuals gathered to worship God and exhort each other to live a Christ filled life, I will not. Groups can do far more to help communities than can individuals. Groups of individuals with a common goal can do amazing things.
    I feel the pain caused by denominational excess in so many posts. The Bride of Christ holds no denominational membership, and the bible tells us factions are a sin. Do those facts stop believers from meeting and working together to better themselves and their community?
    We were saved to love one another, we were given gifts, not for our good but for the good of the believing community. This can not be achieved or accomplished in solo performance, but in a harmony brought on by having the mind of Christ in a corporate body.

  38. Would it be safe to say that most of us commenting on this are “church folk”? I know lots of church folk, but know more who are not, and am trying to look at these issues from their perspective.

    Several times recently I have been in the street on a Sunday morning picking up garbage. We do this twice a month when the Christians are in church so we can not only do something nice for the neighborhood, but so that we can also interact with those who are not “in church”, which means most of the neighborhood. As I picked up garbage close enough to the church to hear the music, the church’s neighbors came out of their houses and talked to me. What they said pretty much reflects what most of my friends think and say about church.

    They don’t understand why the church appears to have plenty of money to spend on nice buildings and furnishings and appears to have lots of staff, but seems to dislike its neighbors. If anything, the church looks down on the neighbors. The neighbors are not interested in that church, and by extension in any church. But they are interested in talking about spiritual issues and Jesus with me.

    The last institutional “church” I was part of is practically a carbon copy of this church. I would like to think they are the only two in town like that, but I know better. I have visited dozens of local churches and have found that this is the norm.

    Most people I know have tried several churches and report similar results. They tried it and didn’t like it and didn’t think anyone there showed any interest in them or in anyone other than themselves. If this is someone’s experience, why would they want to “be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.”?

    I care about Jesus, the Kingdom and people. I will support those groups or organizations that also care about them. But my service to Jesus and the Kingdom is a moment-by-moment thing. It includes many things that are not service/involvement in a local church – caring for needy neighbors, caring for those I come in contact with on a daily basis, etc. Unfortunately, all of this is largely foreign to most of the “churches” I have known and/or have been part of. This experience is not unique to me – it is an experience shared by most people I know, Christian and non Christian alike.

    A few years ago I sat in a meeting of church leadership. The discussion turned to eliminating those who were not part of the core and were not supporting the church ($) – most newer people, fringe people and so on. The mood turned very irate when I asked how many people had come to Jesus through that church in the previous twelve months, or two years or three years. No one, including the pastor, could name anyone.

    Very few people I know have an interest in making any kind of commitment to groups like this, which is all they have known. Nor do I. Many people, however, are interested in Jesus and in people who love them in Jesus’ name – love them in tangible ways, meeting them at their point of need. As one person said “Now that’s the kind of Jesus I could be interested in.” Perhaps if a group of this kind of Jesus-follower were to come together as a church, this would be the kind of church to which some would be willing to make a real commitment.

  39. Kinda funny: church structure, gender roles, the use of money, and evolution/scjience. You could cook up a year’s supply of Johnsonville (TM) brats with the heat gnerated here.

    I applaud I-Monk for walking into the furnace room…..I guess you could say he lit the match. Some of the ‘heat’ is because the church at large lacks venues to have good conversation over these, and more.

    Greg R

    • Amen on few places- if any- to have this conversation. It’s part of the value of this medium, even if all aren’t at their best.

  40. I’m Eastern Orthodox and I totally agree with Michael. How’s that for a paradox? 🙂 The church should use institutions, but should not be circumscribed by them. Most Christians have conflated Church with God or simply divorce the two entirely — in the same way that ancient heresies either collapsed Jesus’ humanity into his divinity or denied one or the other outright. I’ve started calling my philosophy “Strategic Retreat” which is (very simply stated): we must be in the Church, but not of it.

  41. I think some of the confusion about church comes from the expectation that giving to a church will be some kind of ‘charity’ or ‘doing god’s work’ or such. If you think of it that way, then the fact that your donation is used to recarpet the sanctuary or buy a new organ will seem like embezzling god’s funds to maintain the clubhouse. But the money I give my church isn’t god’s money; it’s the amount of money I think it is worth paying as dues to belong in this particular club. My charity donations go elsewhere.

    Money isn’t my issue with local churches. Time, energy, and focus are. When I’ve been a church member, I have gotten sucked into committees where we focused almost exclusively on the church’s fiscal well-being. That interfered so much with my ability to focus on god that I have made a decision not to join a church again. I will participate in all sorts of activities and programs, and give generously, but I will never put myself in the position where it is my job to act as if the church’s survival is the point of it all. I am awed by pastors who are able to remain true to god when their salaries depend on a church’s survival, and sorry that we have a system which puts so many of them in that position.

  42. The kingdom of heaven is the student who shows Jesus in her life and her friend’s commitment is never recorded by a ‘ministry’.
    The kingdom of heaven is the woman who prays for healing for her work colleague even when she never gives ‘testimony’ about it.
    The kingdom of heaven is the artist whose work overflows from his relationship with God, exhibiting at a secular exhibition and not in the church foyer.
    The kingdom of heaven is the one straight cop in the precinct.
    The kingdom of heaven is the theology student who leaves the M.Div to realise his calling to be comedian.
    The kingdom of heaven is the divorced father who misses the Men’s Retreat to take his children camping.

  43. I’m going to throw out a proposition here. Maybe this seeming disconnect between church and kingdom — and why it’s so hard to come up with a working definition of the relationship between church and kingdom that is also evidenced by reality — is due to the divided and often dysfunctional state of the church world as we know it.
    I think the simpliest defintion of the kingdom is this: God’s will being pursued and obeyed here on earth in the same way that it is in heaven. And the church, as I see it in scripture, was designed as a support structure and training ground for producing good citizens of the kingdom — or you might say (in regards to the local church body) to serve as microcosms or miniature reflections of how God ultimately wants people to live and relate both to Him and other people on a global level (i.e. the kingdom). And I think God designed the church to reproduce and spread in the same way that a single tree, given time, can become a vast forrest of trees and support all kinds of life with its various fruit and sheltering branches. I think that was the original idea, anyway.
    But what happens when the trees stop bearing fruit or produce rotten fruit or stop reproducing or start seperating themselves out into seperate groves or even attack and uproot other trees? What was intended to be a unified forrest of trees with interconnecting branches becomes a divided wilderness of dissention and strife. And, sadly, that seems to be the turn that things have taken.
    So can the church in its present condition be equated or even compared to the Kingdom of God? Can a kingdom united cast a reflection of a church divided? Is a church that does not manifest the central nature of both the King and His Kingdom (by which I mean love) really part of the kingdom?
    Is it really even a church in the eyes of Christ?

    • Good points, RonP.

      They say that fruit only grows from an excess of energy, that which is left over after growth and healing requirements. I would love to see more believers struggling under the weight of perceived expectations to allow themselves to “be still and know that I am God”. We so need it. There are so many worn out people. We get taught to forsake our first love in the name of serving that first love.

      I pray for more abandonment of the sinking ship and more embracing of each other as friends, over meals, in our everyday lives. That’s what I hope for.

      • Thanks, Sue. I hope for the same, and I see some evidence that it’s starting to happen. Those of us who seek a simpler, more relational Christianity are starting to climb out of our individual holes of woundedness and disillusionment and connect with each other. But it’s sometimes a difficult road. We live in such a culture of individual isolation — where we all trek through our busy lives in our personal space bubbles — that we often need someone to teach us just how to have loving, open, giving relationships with each other.
        As far as the sinking ship is concerned, I still hold out some hope for it, as well. If it would just start seeing itself as a collection of Christ-centered relationships — rather than a collection of doctrines, traditions, liturgies, programs, and buildings — then it might just stop sinking.

  44. And once again, Michael, you post something that anticipates Sunday’s Mass readings and gives me a kick in the pants 🙂

    I was all set to go for the “But we neeeeeed The Church TM”, and then what happens at the Saturday Vigil Mass?

    Numbers 11: 25-29 about Unauthorised Prophets Not In The Tent: “Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’

    Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 about Unauthorised Doing Stuff In The Name Of Christ By People Not In The Church: “John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

    So that’s me put in my place, huh? 🙂

  45. Mike,

    Given your great analysis of how churches send money on themselves instead of the Kingdom, what’s your opinion of Mars Hill Church? They have spent a ton of cash on numerous buildings and technological means. It seems to me that they are borderline doing the very thing you seem to disagree with. Are their campuses, televised sermons and webpage all necessary for the Kingdom?

    • Really not my place to say much about a ministry I haven’t visited or studied.

      • Thank you for your humility.

        Here at my local Presbyterian congregation, they are the opposite of most technology-driven ministries and I like the down-to-earth lack of gadgets and wizardry. It has done me and others great harm to realize that many churches have used technology for their own causes.

        I suppose there is the fine line between using technology for the kingdom and using technology for a social cause.

  46. Other reason why Ortlund’s teaching on the local church bothers me besides the ‘tithe’ issue that is not in the NC:


    Here are some articles about his teaching on women. And women make up a large part of the local Body.