On Churchless Evangelicals (Part 1)

I was once a churchless evangelical. As a young Christian I attended a medium-sized (three-hundred member) Southern Baptist congregation for a few years without joining. It was not really a problem. Of course they would like to have seen me baptized (as Baptists they did not recognize my baptism as an infant), but it was not a deal-breaker. In fairness to the congregation, I attended fairly regularly through high school, but then my attendance started to lag.

There was a period, as I started to investigate aspects of Reformed theology, when I was “in between” congregations and I drifted. I attended worship services sporadically but was a member of no congregation. For most of my early evangelical existence and even as I began to become Reformed, I was a churchless evangelical. I considered that I was a member of the “invisible” church so I did not have to be a member of a visible congregation. There was even a notion that perhaps the visible church was for those who were less “spiritual.”

In the years since joining St John’s Reformed Church (Lincoln, Nebraska), especially since becoming a pastor in 1987, I discovered that I was not alone. There are many evangelicals (i.e., they have had a personal encounter with the risen Christ) who are members of no congregation and who are quite content to leave things that way. To be sure, I am not thinking of those who would like to be in a congregation but who are providentially hindered (e.g., by age, infirmity, or vocation as a physician or a police officer and the like). My concern here is with those who are able to attend but who willfully absent themselves.

Why should these churchless evangelicals join a congregation? After all, they say that they love Jesus and they may have private devotions. Some of them even outwardly profess “the doctrines of grace”—but to whom? What does James 2:14 and 17 say about such professions?

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? . . . So also such faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”1

James was not teaching acceptance with God by works. He was challenging here dead faith, that is, mere outward profession. He was calling for evidence of true faith. Works do not save, but they do give evidence of true faith.

A private, churchless, profession of faith is not enough. The doctrine of the church (and sacraments) is where most evangelicals, even predestinarian evangelicals, “hit the wall.”2 They come so far toward the Reformation but no farther. Why? The biblical and confessional doctrine of the church challenges two cultural assumptions of North American evangelicals and two of the most sacred idols of the culture: autonomy (i.e. the notion that one is a law unto oneself) and the evangelical (and liberal) love for a disembodied Jesus.

The doctrine of predestination is inherently anti-modernist, but one can become a predestinarian evangelical without really confronting the issue, because autonomy gets shifted from soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) to ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). Hunting down human autonomy is like trying to grab hold of mercury. It keeps squirting away. So, the autonomy of the churchless evangelical, even after having surrendered to the sovereignty of God in salvation, squirts away to reassert itself when it comes to the church.

Were these churchless evangelicals to unite themselves to a local church, they should have to relinquish their autonomy. They should have to submit themselves, not only to a particular expression of the historic church (which is distasteful enough), but they should also have to submit themselves to a “church order” (a way of doing things) and to elders and to discipline. Even more fundamentally, they should have to agree and submit to means or media of grace, to a human ministry (administration) of the gospel and the sacraments. No longer can Christianity be a purely private affair. It would now be public and it would entail being accountable to humans and being served by Christ through human ministry.

In the church, Christ ordinarily operates through ministers who preach the gospel and from whom we receive the sacraments. In the church, the Spirit has not promised to operate extemporaneously, but through divinely ordained, physical means. We meet Christ in the announcement of the good news and we are reassured that it is all really true in the sacraments, real bread and wine, and in real baptismal water.

The very physicality of these means raises another problem for churchless American evangelicals and liberals. As Michael Horton noted in 1991 and as Harold Bloom observed in 1992, there is another theory about American religion, insofar as it is truly American, that it is gnostic (i.e., it is born of distrust of the material and physical world).3 Gnosticism, along with related errors, was the great heresy faced by the ancient church. Our great theologians of the second and third century battled gnosticism relentlessly. They consistently defended the goodness of creation (over against the gnostic suspicion of creation as evil), the simplicity of God (that there are not two gods, an earthy Old Testament “demiurge” and a “spiritual” New Testament loving God), the true humanity of Jesus (against the claim that Jesus merely appeared to be human), and the unity of the covenant of grace. Indeed, Irenaeus and Justin appealed to the biblical teaching on “the covenant” (of grace) in much the same way Reformed theology has done since the early sixteenth century against the Anabaptists and other such groups who radically reject the unity of the covenant of grace.

The theory that American religion since the late eighteenth century is gnostic explains a great deal of American religious history. The Jesus of American Christianity has become increasingly disembodied as American Christianity has become increasingly disembodied. Stephen Nichols has illustrated this phenomenon in his recent book on images of Jesus in American Christianity.4 If there is a “Hawaiian Jesus” (I saw a poster many years ago), an “Afro Jesus,” and a “Swedish pietist Jesus” (once pictured in living rooms across middle America), then we are not really talking about the historical Jesus, God the Son incarnate, in time and history.

These two reasons—the American tendencies toward autonomy relative to all external authorities and institutions, and the American tendency toward gnosticism—explain why American evangelicals (and, in their own way, liberals) have so little interest in concrete, material institutions such as the church and sacraments. Becoming churchly entails becoming entangled with the historical church, and Americans are suspicious of the past. Becoming churchly entails coming to grips with real sinners and a real, truly human Savior in Jesus the Christ. American religion (whether liberal or evangelical) is not terribly interested in the Christ of history. The liberals prefer a disembodied moralist, the Jesus of faith, and the evangelicals prefer a disembodied spirit with whom they can commune privately, subjectively, and ecstatically.

Here is a related article by Jay Adams on “church tramps.”5

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Heidelblog in 2008.


  1. My translation.
  2. See R. Scott Clark, “The Church: The Christ-Confessing Covenant Community.”
  3. See Harold Bloom, The American Religion (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006).
  4. Stephen Nichols, Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to “The Passion of the Christ” (Lisle, IL: InterVarsity press Academic, 2008).
  5. See Jay Adams, “Tramping,” Institute for Nouthetic Studies, April 13, 2011.

You can find this whole series here.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Good stuff, Scott.

    I recall reading Lutheran Don Matzat describing the two kinds of modernism: the mainline liberal elevates reason over scripture, while the evangelical elevates experience over scripture. Both have little to no use for the church, of course. At best, it’s a glorified stop-over that, amonsgt other things, sees worship as homeroom and a place to simply rally the troops to go back into moralistic (culture war) and therapeutic (the inner life) battle.

  2. This is my story too in many respects. Thankfully I broke through the wall several years ago, even though that has meant joining and submitting to a church that many of my evangelical brothers and sisters consider “dead” and “formal”. They’re nice enough not to say that to my face, but I can sense the bewilderment.

  3. This was vary much my story as well. I grew up in a nondenominational charismatic church (emphasizing divine healing, speaking in tongues) which became more word-faith as I became an adult. It had the worst of all worlds – the emphasis on autonomy (name it-claim it) and gnosticism to the core (emphasis on getting saved in one’s spirit!). When I went to college (Oral Roberts U.), I had a tough time joining a church, so I spent many Sundays in the prayer gardens, ditching church. I’m so thankful for God’s grace as I was rescued from all that when I discovered the doctrines of grace almost ten years ago through Modern Reformation and a few Reformed radio preachers. I now have to deal with much of family and many friends who are still in a terrible predicament and don’t understand my love of the creeds, a liturgy and esp. the RPW.

    • Chris,
      When did you go to ORU? I graduated in the ’70s.

      While there, there were times I didn’t go to church. Once you were there for a while, you got an instant recognition of when certain rules would be enforced and when they would not be. Most of the time, I would go to Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church because I grew up in the PC USA.

      BTW, I was one of the few reformed theology students at ORU. And since my rooms tended to be at the end of the hall, I was often delay getting to my room because of the many attempts to convert me.

  4. Great post, now what is the solution to those who hold to the position of membership into the invisible church? Many churches who can’t get their own members to serve, go out and hire those who are not members to serve.

    • Hi Charles,

      I’ve known a Reformed congregations to hire an Adventist musician. It never seemed to occur to them that perhaps we could do without the musician or the organ. (Duck! incoming brickbats!). It’s probably the case that many congregations are doing many things they don’t need to be doing. The church is ordained by Christ to do three things: administer the Word, administer the sacraments, and administer discipline. The minster(s) and elders do those things. We could add to it, the administration of mercy and that belongs to the deacons. We don’t really need much more than that. Congregants are called to fulfill their vocations in the world during the week and to love one another. If someone is ill, do we need a program or an administrator to have people bring by meals? We might need a deacon to get things going. We might need a church secretary. Is there no one in the congregation who can do a little secretarial work?

      Much of the stuff that congregations do could be done by private organizations and, in many cases, it wouldn’t matter a great deal what they believed as they are civil, not spiritual, functions. I do care if my childcare provider believes in cannibalism or in Molech worship. In that case I would probably pick another childcare provider! Otherwise it doesn’t matter much who leads the aerobics class so long as they know what they are doing.

  5. If we bunged our organist that would be a few more bucks saved so we can buy every family in the congregation a copy of “Recovering the Reformed Confession”! And we wouldn’t have to hear anymore 1800’s hymns on the organ either… Woohoo!

  6. Great read.

    The mercury analogy is very well said in relation to autonomy.

    You said “submit”, i.e. obey.

    We are skeptical to trust other sinners and skeptical that Christ would create such intended obedience. Scripture is way too clear on this score.

    Still, we ask, “Did God really say . . .” The ancient echo of the serpent in this question is denied . . . because we are asking it.

    Still, trust and obey for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

    Yes, but the undertow of the present zeitgeist makes this feel impossible.

    When Christ returns will He find faith on the earth?

  7. There is a flip to to all of this. People have gone to church, left the reformed churches, or remain quite discontent because of the overemphasis on doctrine and the lack of involvement and dialog with the world. They see the Church as a club of those who think the right theology but who don’t do near enough to help others or be opposed to the injustices in the world.

    The Reformed Church, as have much of Christianity and the Western religions, failed to speak with a prophetic voice against the social evils of the status quo, according to Cornell West. Yes, the conservative churches are great at address private sins, but nothing beyond the abortion issue draws their ire.

    So we have the emerging church filled with people who have seen doctrine so tightly associated with complacency and complicity in their old churches leave all of it in order to find meaning.

    The above is what I have both read and heard from people.

    • Curt,

      You seem to assume quite a lot.

      Please show me a single instance of the NT church speaking prophetically as an institution against the evils of the world.

      Christians exist in multiple spheres simultaneously. Augustine said we live in two cities. Luther and Calvin said that we live two kingdoms simultaneously. The writer to Diognetus said the same thing c. 150 AD. He offered no social program for the visible church. He only asked that Christians be left alone to live quietly.

      Arguably, what you call complacency the NT calls living in all godliness and quietness.

      You seem to have a highly developed eschatology (whether you realize it) and you seem to want to impose that on the church and with it a new law—that the visible, institutional church must take up your social vision for face your wrath for her failure. You’re not alone. Lots of folk have done the same but the call always rings hollow for lack of biblical support. Like the Christian right, whom you ironically and apparently unconsciously mirror, you write as if the USA were national Israel and you and OT prophet. The national kingdom ended at the cross. The national covenant ended at the cross.

      The visible, institutional church is an embassy of God’s trans-national eschatological kingdom. Her ministers, in their office, are ambassadors of that kingdom and king. The church as such is called explicitly by Scripture to attend to the kingdom that Jesus brought.

      As private citizens, Christians are called to be good citizens of the earthly kingdom where ever they find themselves. In this country, Christians as private persons, as citizens, have formed all manner of organizations (and properly so) to speak prophetically to a wide range of evils and from every perspective on the political spectrum. Surely you must know this. You cite an example from the political left and examples could be cited from the right. So, where’s the beef?

      • Dr. Clark,
        I don’t have time to give an extended answer right now but I will try to answer some points. First, I think you misread my eschatology. The main reason I find for the Church to speak prophetically is found in the second great commandment, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

        Second, I have found the conservative contingent of the Church to, out of tribalism, be supporting the status quo. Only the Left is pointing out certain sins that we anonymously participate in as members of society. The illegal and immoral wars, the economic oppression stemming from a systematic consolidation of wealth, the systematic growing wealth disparity, and the attacks on our environment in the name of increasing short-term profits are being preach against by the Left only. The Right preaches against abortion and overreach of the gov’t but the latter is a concern only when the Democrats are in power. Otherwise, the Right supports the status quo and discourages people from challenging it in the name of being good citizens.

        There is part of the beef. Will address the other points later.

      • Dr Clark,
        You write that we are to be good citizens of the earthly kingdom regardless of location. So the question I have is this, was the resistance practiced by the White Rose against the Nazi German regime an example of good citizenship?

  8. My pastor says that “Church is God’s idea of a good time…not necessarily ours.”

    You really want to see the Holy Spirit at work? Then look around at the sinners in the pews.

  9. So, Curt, in other words leftward evangelicals have the correct social gospel and the rightist evangelicals have the wrong one. This is the sort of thing 2kers eat with a spoon, the topping being rightists who decry social gospel by which they mean the other guy’s social gospel and not their own (sort of like how political correctness really means the leftists’ politics, because rightists could never possibly be guilty of group-think).

    • Zrim,
      The answer is no. I look at both as having incomplete social gospels. In addition, both support practices that are wrong. Therefore, what I am proposing is that both can learn from each other.

  10. Curt, how can there be any learning when each side thinks heaven is on his and is opposed to the other? All there can be is fighting and self-righteous indignation. But the only thing more fun than watching social gospelers fight is watching others try to bring harmony and learning between.

    • Zrim,
      When thinking is done in all or nothing terms, you are right. Then again, when our all or nothing thinking leads us into self-righteousness feelings of superiority, we contradict the Gospel we say we believe in.

      And have fun watching others try to bring harmony and learning. But first think is God laughing besides you on this or does God want those who are trying to bring harmony to succeed. Realize who you could be laughing at.

  11. Even more fundamentally, they should have to agree and submit to “means” or media of grace, to a human ministry (administration) of the Gospel and the sacraments.

    But the means of grace are administered to visitors as well as members — are you targeting those who attend but neglect membership, or those who also neglect attendance?

  12. And rather than compete with 103 (old!) comments on the next part 2 post, I’ll just say here:

    Yes, it’s possible for one, in extraordinary circumstances, to be a Christian apart from a congregation and the means of grace, but it’s the exception that tests the rule. Lying in bed on the Sabbath or shopping or whatever one does in place of attending to the means of grace is not the same thing as being on a desert island or being crucified alongside our Savior.

    Yes, instead of “invisible” which sounds innocuous, it would be better for such a one to realize that they are actually claiming “I’m a special case of one who is in the invisible church by emergency rules, because of extraordinary circumstances”

  13. Curt, the point is that it’s impossible to make a case for any type of social gospel from the Bible without simply morphing into some form of Kantian religion or glorified ethics program. More honest promoters of it will readily admit that historical Christianity is allergic to social gospel, that historical Christianity must actually be overcome. Maybe you’re also ready to admit that, but most left and right evangies aren’t, so they linger somewhere between.

    • Zrim,
      It isn’t that I am making Christianity into any type of social gospel. It is whether social responsibility or a social gospel is a legitimate component of the Gospel.

      BTW, what do we mean by historical Christianity? Is it the Constantinian Christianity that was promoted by the Reformed Tradition or is the historical Christianity the Christianity that preceded Constantine?

      Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in being Reformed that we can’t read the Bible without wearing our Reformed glasses when really it should not read the Reformers without wear our Bible glasses.

  14. Curt,

    You don’t distinguish between law and gospel. That’s not a Reformed distinctive! That’s basic Protestant theology. I don’t blame you entirely. You were a victim of your education.

    Social progress is not “gospel” or part of the gospel or even a consequence of the gospel!

    To say that is of the ESSENCE of the social gospel. I think you are a social gospeller and you don’t seem to be aware of it.

    So, you know how to read the Bible without any context? How exactly do you manage that? You’re reading the bible in a 70s-inspired biblicist context. That’s an Anabaptist hermeneutic. Reformed folk want to read the Bible with the church catholic and with the Reformed churches, which are not just some gathering but an institution established by Christ himself.

    • Dr. Clark,
      What makes you think that I don’t distinguish between law and Gospel? I just don’t think that the Gospel ever intended to save us so we could be righteously selfish afterwards.

      In addition, I think we Reformed Theologians can personally invest so much into models that we misread movements. For example, before you commented on my eschatology based on my comments about social justice. Eschatology is hardly the issue here. The issue is how much do we care for others. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? And since technology has increased the size of most people’s neighborhoods, both our reach and responsibilities have grown.

      Take Chomsky’s statements on the common good. There is no hint of eschatology in what he says nor grand vision toward which he is marching. Rather, the question is quite simple. Are to care for others who are in need and with whom we have no contact? The question, “should we care?” is not eschatological, it is moral and is answered in the affirmative by God’s Word. And one of the reasons why we need the Gospel to save us is because we have utterly failed here.

      How we express that care is very debatable. But that we should is another matter. That is the obligation placed on everybody and we are not relieved of that obligation just because we believe. In fact, we have a greater responsibility to care after we believe because in so doing, we come closer to modeling the love God has shown us in Christ and the more we model that, the more we are preaching the Gospel.

      So where is the eschatology when the challenge is to live lives that model the love and care that God showed when He sent His Son? Where? This isn’t a pre-post-a millennium issue. It is what we owe God both before and after we believed. Please realize that when others show more care for strangers than Christians do, God is not honored and the Gospel is discredited and discredited by its believers, not its content.

  15. “Some of them even come to embrace…justification by grace alone, through faith alone). Isn’t that enough? / No, it’s not enough.”

    So, in other words, something more needs to be added to faith alone and grace alone? Faith alone and grace alone are not enough apparently. You heard it here first!

    • Jose,
      Faith alone for our justification before God is what I embrace. But let me ask this, if I believe, do I need to be sexually pure or should not because I am justified by faith alone?

    • Of course I agree with you. But on the Internet it seems that everyone who asserts that one must be sexually pure is attacked by rabid internet hyper-calvinists with claims that they are adding works to faith alone and are therefore Pelagians.

      • Jose,
        Certainly, we have to protect justification by faith alone. At the same time, we can’t make faith a spiritual product that is exercised when we click it to put it in our electronic shopping carts.

        According to Paul, faith, believing the Gospel that brings us the Spirit in full and as a result of being in the Spirit, we bear the fruit of the Spirit.

        Is not loving by helping our neighbors whom we have opportunity to help not the fruit of the Spirit?

    • Jose,

      Nonsense. My intent is clear. Yes, people may extraordinarily be saved outside the visible church but people ought not to content themselves by saying, “I trust in Jesus. That’s enough. I don’t need the church.” No, it’s not enough. A trust that does not issue in fruit, is not real trust.

      Okay, I’ll be more precise. Those who refuse to identify with the visible church may profess faith but we have reason to doubt that profession.

      • there are some who cannot attend church but still have a growing relationship with the Lord due to the following
        3-prison–those in prison for their faith in totalitarian regimes
        4- other life circumstances
        5-legalism/patriarchy teachings—

        #5 is a biggie because it involves the wolves who have come in sheep’s clothing and caused so much mental and emotional damage to their victims that the victims can no longer attend church –they still believe but have to learn and grow on an individual basis. Unfortunately some have dropped the idea of christianity all together because if they hear the word Jesus it can cause panic attacks etc due to the mental and emotional abuse they have suffered.

        Mostly i am talking about the Bill Gothard teachings–but includes any legalistic patriarchal and complementarian teachings that put women under such bondage of the “submit/obey/only be a mother and housewife” teachings and the men they married were narcissists attracted to those teachings because it permitted them to freely practice their evil of domination and abuse.

        • Susan (if I may),

          There are good reasons to leave a local congregation but there’s no good reason to absent oneself from the visible body of Christ. I’m well aware of the problem of spiritual abuse in the church:

          It’s a real problem but so is refusing to be a part of any visible congregation. Part of the problem is the definition of the church (to which I’m coming in the following parts of this essay). There are a lot of congregations that aren’t actually churches and people get hurt in those congregations. It’s true that even in actual churches that people get hurt but in the church there are remedies for injuries. There are assemblies/courts of complaint and appeal.

          As to the other cases you mention, I assumed that the reader would understand that I was talking in general terms. Obviously there are exceptions. I myself have been physically unable to attend services. As to work, in our tradition we distinguish between necessary work on the Christian Sabbath (e.g., physicians/nurses, police, utilities etc) and work that isn’t strictly necessary. In our post-Christian culture it is going to be struggle to observe this distinction but most Christians don’t even try.

          If you or someone you know has been so injured by a congregation (which sounds more like a cult than church) then I sincerely hope that this person will get the counseling and help they need. May the Lord grant them every grace so that they are able to gather with Christ’s flock, hear the gospel, receive the sacraments, and grow together with the others.

          • Dr. Clark,

            Are you familiar with the teachings/indoctrinations of Bill Gothard, whom Susan names?

            My husband and I are in a congregation identified as ‘reformed’ but the underlying attitudes and practices of domination (through coercive control) among the husbands/male members (a majority of the officers) are directly influenced by Bill Gothard’s unbiblical ideas/practices. The men, whether lay or officer, are basically blind to their attitudes of domination.

            We see the damage of domination. We believe male domination results from an unbiblical view of ‘head-ship’.

            The question I raise: could it be the lack of Grace?

  16. I may be using the terminology wrong, but to mean “hyper-calvinist” means one who is so hyper on justification by faith alone that to them anyone who says “wait a minute; justification by faith alone is not intended as a license to immorality” is labelled a Pelagian by them.

    • Jose,

      Hyper-Calvinism refers to an approach to predestination whereby the decree of predestination is used as a pretense to wipe out the free, well-meant offer of the gospel, the ministry of the gospel, and sometimes even sanctification as the Spirit-wrought response to grace.

  17. Dr. Clark,
    From the beginning, my reaction to this post has been mixed. That is because I think that just as there are some who remain churchless for the reasons you cite, others do so as an indictment against the Church. The dissatisfaction I hear among some young Reformed Christians is that the Reformed churches are too doctrinely minded to be any earthly good.

    You mentioned the need to read the Bible in context. But defining context can be tricky. Certainly the Reformed traditions like the writings of Luther & Calvin, the confessions and the catechisms, can help. In fact, when used inductively, I think they provide the best help. But they only help if we use them inductively rather than authoritatively. By this I mean that as we read the Bible, the Reformed traditions can help us gain insight after insight, but they do so fallibly. When we use the Reformed Traditions as the authoritative source for providing structure and context for what is said in the Bible, we end up using those traditions as cookie cutters that mold and shape what the Bible can and cannot say and we soon fall in a hole we can’t climb out of. We can tell whether we use the Reformed Traditions inductively or authoritatively by whether we use the Bible to understand these traditions more than we use the traditions to understand the Bible.

    From when I first started contributing on this blog, I wrote that the charge from the Left is that the Church is just another institution of indoctrination for maintaining the status quo. That, like many other institutions, it must, out of self-preservation, first align itself with wealth and power and thus dares not speak against it. Perhaps some evangelicals who do not join the church do so because they sense this. I say this because some of the young people I know who are in the church, are saying this. They say it because they see the Reformed Church be so eager to prosecute individuals for their sins but not institutions and the system. These people are told to ignore the sins of those with power and wealth because our only charge is to seek peaceful and quiet lives and to obey the authorities. Or as one Calvinist commentator use to put it, we are to seek “personal peace and prosperity.”

    Yes, many who remain churchless, and we can also include the emerging Church too, are at fault. But again, their wrong reactions can at least partially be in response to some wrong situations. And it is when the Church preaches repentance to all, to both individuals and to institutions and the system, without favoritism, that we might have fewer churchless evangelicals.

  18. I am not a member of any church.
    because If I am not a member of the one true bride of Christ then it does not matter how many church memberships my name appears on

    • Susan,

      Your assumption is what is in question: that one can be a member of the church invisible without being a member of the visible body of Christ.

      This is a false, unbiblical idea. It has no support in Scripture whatever nor has it any support in orthodox Christian theology. Cyprian spoke for the whole church when he said, “outside of the [visible] church, there is no salvation.” We confess this very thing in Belgic Confession art. 28.

  19. Dr. Clark,
    “In the years since joining St John’s Reformed Church (Lincoln, Nebraska), especially since becoming a pastor in 1987, I discovered that I was not alone.

    It is interesting that when ones living is coming from a church, how one changes his mind.

  20. Dr. Clark-Could you explain what you mean by disembodied Jesus? Do you mean Christ without a physical human body or simply a believer who neglects to become part of the body of Christ by attending or membership in a local congregation. If the latter would it not be disembodied believer as they are outside the body of Christ. Thanks.

    • David,

      I mean two things: 1) My experience tells me that most American evangelicals have an Anabaptist Christology, the so-called “celestial flesh” Christology. I call it the Star Trek Christology. More

      In our Belgic Confession we single out this Christology as heretical in the full sense of that word.

      That Christology shows up in their view of the visible church. Pietism has rendered the church meaningless. All that matters is their personal, private relationship with the risen (disembodied, as far as they know) Christ. Paul doesn’t think that way at all. Consider Colossians 1:24:

      Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church….

      For Paul we are so united to Christ’s actual (not imaginary) physical body, by the Spirit, individually and corporately, that when the pagans struck him, they were striking Christ. Consider his language to in 1 Corinthians 6:14–20:

      And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (ESV).

      Christ is is true man and true God. He has instituted a true human church, to which we ought to be united. For most Americans, the church is secondary or even irrelevant because the true humanity of Christ is irrelevant to their faith.

  21. Hmm. Having looked up this Curt Day fellow on the Internet and contrasted it with his comments seems to indicate he, by his own admission, is a socialist who states that “I favor the original version of #ChristianFundamentalism, lean toward #Marxism…” Hmm. Might that explain some of the comments made? Also, what’s with the whole “Constantinian Christianity” versus “Early Christianity”.

    • Greg,

      It does. That is why you don’t see his comments here any more. I won’t have it.

      There was a significant change in the way the church related to the culture when Constantine legalized Christianity and then when Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire.

      Had Constantine merely legalized the church, that would have been fine. We were content to co-exist peacefully with the pagans but he also interfered in the life of the church, which is more problematic.

      Check out the resource pages on Christ and culture and the twofold kingdom:


  22. Great Post and comments! Ever learning..Biblically foremost. Thank you for these!
    Also, I am STILL a convinced/convicted, Biblically believing/obeying, Calvinistic Particular Baptist!📖
    Also, I love my Reformed brethren, as well, having been one for a number of years (late 80s thru 2016).
    For my understandings, this IS where I belong, and I greatly thank my/our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!✝️📖🛐😊👍Lord Bless my/our brethren!

  23. Great article. Can’t wait for Part 2. One of the principled reasons I became reformed is the concept of the church. To reject the church is to reject our Lord’s means whereby he teaches through preaching and feeds us through sacrament. In short it is rejecting Christ himself. This self-authentic type of religion is in no way Christian. A very simple question is, how do you know you are saved. Or how do we know our conception of salvation is true. The duty of the church is to ministerially confirm us in the faith. 1 tim. 3:15 say the church is the pillar and ground of truth. This gift of our Lord is given so that we can rest assured we have trully apprehended Christ. Vast numbers of evangelical Christians are being taught a false view of what it means to be a Christian. This is why the teachings in books like Recovering the Reformed Confessions should be required reading for elders in our churches. I say this Scott not brown nose but to underscore the importance of things you touch on. I am 70 years old. My pastor is in his early 3os and only one elder is in 50s. I must submit to this body of men, not slavishly, but as the appointed means of my Savior to minister to me his word. I have no trouble doing so.

  24. Scott,

    You probably recall Stuart Robinson lamenting in the mid-19th century (in his The Church As an Essential Element of the Gospel) “either of the increased activity and zeal of the advocates of an anti-evangelical Churchism on the one hand, or of the prevalence of an anti-ecclesiastical evangelicalism on the other” (p. 11). The problem, as he observed it, was concurrent with (and logically tied to) revivalism/evangelicalism, as you suggest.

    T. David


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