By Mike Willis
We continue to notice the classifications of unchurched Americans cited in J. Russell Hales book Who Are The Unchurched? Our methodology is to consider what legitimate objections might be made by those in a certain classification and then to reply with what the Scriptures might have to say to such a person. We continue this examination in this article.
7. The Nomads. These are those Americans who cease to attend church when they move from one community to another. Inasmuch as our society is highly mobile, the number of unchurched Americans who have quit attending worship when they moved is sharply increasing.
I can think of no legitimate reason why a person should quit worshiping God because he moved from one location to another. However, it is a fact that many do. Whereas I have commented on legitimate criticisms leveled against denominations in previous categories, I would like to confine myself to discussing the Lord’s churches in this category for many Christians quit attending when they move from one location to another.
One of the criticisms which I have to make pertains to poor follow-up on those who are moving from one location to another. In my judgement, elders should help those who are moving to new locations to find a place to worship. I do not think that one is asking too much of elders to expect them to talk to moving members to tell them not to attend liberal congregations when they move, give the name of a sound congregation and preacher (if possible) to contact when moving to another city, and contact that congregation to make sure they make contact with each other. A few weeks after the move has been made, elders should contact the members to see if they have located the church in the new city and whether or not they are attending regularly. These considerations for those who are moving do not seem oppressive.
Furthermore, elders should advertise their locations in order to help those Christians who are moving. I have been on the road enough to sympathize with those who must be on the road often and locate a congregation in a strange city. I visited one congregation recently to attend a gospel meeting; the congregation did not have any advertisement of its locations in the phone book; its preacher’s phone number was unlisted. Needless to say, I nearly never found where I needed to be. For the sake of traveling saints, churches would do well to advertise their locations in well known periodicals, the daily newspaper, and the phone book. Churches should obtain and keep on hand several church directories to help those members who are constantly traveling.
The other side of this coin is that moving to a new location is a test of the strength of one’s commitment to the Lord. Some people attend church because mother and daddy attend this church, their friends go there, and other social reasons; when these people move to another location and these social reasons are not present, they sometimes cease to worship God. Such people were never truly converted to the Lord in the first place. Christians who are devoted to the service of God will assemble with the saints. They might have to drive a long distance or establish a new congregation to do so, but they will worship God. Those who do not have this intense commitment to the Lord are not pleasing to Him.
I realize that some of the matters which I have discussed under this category fall under the realm of judgment and expediency. However, we simply must come to grips with the fact that saints are constantly moving and many quit attending worship services after a move. Brethren need to work to prevent this from happening any more than absolutely necessary.
8. The Pilgrims. These are described as being in a transitional state so far as their beliefs are concerned. This is particularly true of college students who are trying to decide what they will believe.
I do not consider this group as forming a legitimate complaint against any particular religion; they are simply trying to decide whether or not they will accept as their personal guidelines what was handed down to them by their parents. Some are further down the road than the college years when they examine life’s values. There is nothing wrong with any given individual doing this.
The gospel, however, has the only legitimate answer for such a person. To a person who is questioning his religious beliefs and commitments to life, the preacher must present the Bible as the all-sufficient guide for life. Holding forth the word of God, the preacher directs these unchurched Americans to follow its teaching wherever it leads them. If an individual will accept the Bible as the only legitimate authority over his life, he will soon become a faithful child of God. If he does not, he will wonder hopelessly, groping for something to give meaning to life (whether it be an Eastern religion or some cult). There are many faithful Christians who began their search for meaning to life in exactly the manner presently described in this category. We encourage them to search the Scriptures daily to see if what is taught is so (Acts 17:11).
9. The Publicans. “The Publicans constitute by far the largest, group of the unchurched. They perceive the Churches to be primarily populated by Pharisees. They call those within the Churches hypocrites, phonies, fakirs and persons living double lives . . . . Either humbly or self-righteously, they say in effect, `If I cannot live up to expectations, I prefer to stay on the outside. There are too many half-hearted on the inside.'”
One does not have to be a genius to see the legitimacy of this complaint. Every church in America has people in it who are not living according to the moral and spiritual standards of God’s word. The world has heard preachers, song leaders and others use the name of the Lord in vain, seen them participate with the world in telling filthy stories, seen them conduct dishonest business deals, and other forms of immorality. They recognize that this is not Christianity and are repulsed by the hypocrisy which they see.
This should not prevent them from attending worship and serving God, however. The fact that there are counterfeit bills does not stop a man from accepting cash. The fact that some people who attend sporting events are hypocrites does not stop them from attending these events. Why should it stop them from attending worship? Frankly, I think that this is a cop-out used by a goodly portion of the world to excuse themselves from doing what they know God commands them to do! As a cop-out, this places the one who uses this right in the midst of the hypocrites whom he criticizes. The truth of the matter is that he does not want to go to worship but rather than plainly state that, he hypocritically justifies and rationalizes his sinful conduct. The person who is honest and sincere will see the good Christians sincerely trying to live according to God’s word; their number being so much greater than the hypocrites, he will recognize that one does not judge the entire group by a few “bad apples.” For this reason, I generally dismiss this objection as a cop-out.
10. The Scandalized. These people are “those unchurched whose rejection of the Church is based on the Church’s disunity. They see a proliferation of groups of `true believers,’ each of which claims exclusive possession of the keys of the kingdom . . . . Until such factionalism is healed, they argue, the Churches cannot expect to claim the allegiance of those who feel they are entitled to unequivocal answers spoken by the Churches in a common voice.”
Practically everyone of us has been exposed to this complaint from the unchurched. Even Jesus recognized it as a legitimate complaint; He said, “. . . either pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21). Jesus recognized that disunity would cause people to be unbelievers. With over 1200 religious denominations in the United States, we should expect to hear this criticism regularly. Furthermore, we have seen the effect of division in the local church. When churches divide, inevitably some members will quit attending anywhere. Hence, division is producing infidelity.
All that I know to offer people such as this is the prophesy of God that these kinds of things would occur (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; Matt. 7:15f) and that they test and prove the faithful (1 Cor. 11:19). The fact that others are not living according to God’s word excuses no one! Furthermore, the method of obtaining religious unity will be on exactly the same basis as salvation is attained. The world will not be saved all at one time; they will be saved one at a time. Unity will be attained in the same manner one at a time as each person decides to walk according to the same mind, make the same judgments, and speak the same thing (1 Cor. 1:10). So long as one person refuses to abide in the revelation of God’s word, total religious unity cannot exist. Hence, every individual can contribute to religious unity by deciding to walk in the light of God’s word and in that alone.
11. The True Unbelievers. These unchurched Americans are those who say that they are atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, deists and rationalists. Obviously, these people would find no reason to go to church. However, I am unable to excuse their disbelief without admitting a deficiency in the evidence. I am thoroughly convinced that the evidence to prove the existance of God and the deity of Christ is adequate (Rom. 1:18-22; Jn. 20:30-31). The only defense which I can offer for these unbelievers comes from a criticism of the infidels who are associated with religion. Many pulpits across this land are filled by modernists who have little more faith than these infidels. When the preachers do not believe, how can one expect them to lead others to faith? Proportionately, the number of unbelievers among the unchurched is small.
12. The Uncertain. The last group of unchurched Americans are those who give no reason for their lack of church affiliation. Obviously, I can offer little to these except to admonish them to believe and obey the word of God.
A Cause For Optimism
The picture of the unchurched American is not altogether bleak. Some of the surveys are reporting signs of optimism. For example, consider these facts:
Many of the unchurched – while not drawn to organized religion – nevertheless have positive inclinations toward organized religion and feel that “religion is a good thing”. For example, the overwhelming majority of the unchurched would like to have their children receive religious training.
At least half of the unchurched (52 percent or approximately 20 million adults) say they could see a situation where they could become a fairly active member of a church now” and would be open to an invitation from the church community (The Unchurched American, pp. 15-16).
The general attitudes of the unchurched look better than what I would have guessed. Notice these statistics:
* Nine in 10 (89 percent) say they would welcome more respect for authority in the coming year.
* A similar proportion (91 percent) would welcome more emphasis on traditional family ties;
* Seven in 10 (69 percent) say they would welcome more emphasis on working hard;
* Three out of every four (74 percent) would not like to see more acceptance of marijuana usage; and
* Six in 10 (62 oercent) would be opposed to more acceptance of sexual freedom (Ibid., pp. 5-6).
In addition to these trends, the following surprising statistic was given:
* Seven out of every LO (70 percent) would welcome less emphasis on money (Ibid.).
Though all of the attitudes of the unchurched American are not positive, these demonstrate that the message of the gospel is a message which many Americans are wanting and definitely needing to hear. With 20 million American adults saying that they would be receptive to an invitation to go to church, there is little excuse for us not giving them such an invitation.
We must, therefore, exhaust every legitimate tool in evangelizing the world, starting in our own back yards. Radio, TV, literature, personal evangelism, and any other tool which is effective must be tried to reach these lost souls with the gospel. Believing them to be dead in sin and doomed to everlasting hell, let us take the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to them.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 29, pp. 467-469
July 24, 1980