Churches of Christ: Christian Chronicle reports slow growth by the independent Christian Churches

The Christian Chronicle has just posted an article criticizing the notion that the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ* have been enjoying “phenomenal” growth.

But figures released by the U.S. Religion Census last week show the total number of congregations of instrumental Christian Churches and Churches of Christ has declined over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the total number of adherents has risen less than 1 percent. The specific figures:

2010: 1,453,160 adherents and 5,293 congregations

2000: 1,439,253 adherents and 5,471 congregations

The comparable numbers for a cappella Churches of Christ:

2010: 1,584,162 adherents and 12,584 congregations

2000: 1,645,645 adherents and 13,032 congregations

I posted the following comment:

For more historical context, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ had 1,213,188 adherents in 1990 (http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_152.html), meaning they grew 19% from 1990 to 2000 — which is indeed a phenomenal growth rate. During the same time, the a cappella Churches of Christ were plateaued.

Oddly enough, the number of congregation in 1990 was 5228, meaning they added 3% more congregations while growing 19% in adherents. Then from 2000 to 2010 they declined about 4% in congregations while growing 1% in adherents. Their congregations are, on average, getting larger (average of 229 in 1990 to an average of 278 in 2010).

I don’t know why the rate of growth declined from 2000 to 2010, but if we’re going to compare the two denominations, we need to include both the 1990 to 2000 figures and the 2000 to 2010 figures — as the 1990 to 2000 figures demonstrate that growth was possible during those years even though we in the Churches of Christ failed to achieve it.

We shouldn’t use the slow growth of the independent Christian Churches from 2000 to 2010 as some sort of excuse for the poor harvest we are producing for our Lord.

My guess is that the independent Christian Churches grew in average congregational size because their smallest churches either closed or merged. It’s a phenomenon the Churches of Christ are seeing as well. The difference is that we’re not replacing the failing churches with new, larger churches because we’re not having much success in church planting — partly due to not trying very hard and partly due to attempting to plant churches on failed models.

Of course, all denominations are struggling with the failure of older, larger churches to grow — except for an exceptional few. Most large churches fail to grow because they’re too inwardly focused — and it’s only when a church is planted with a vision of outward focus — a vision that is preserved and perpetuated by the leadership year after year – that the tendency to become inward focused is overcome.

There is, of course, no good reason that a congregation has to become inwardly focused — but we allow an entitlement mentality among our members, due to a theology that focuses on externals (acts of worship, form of organization) rather than following Jesus and transformation by the Spirit. Changing that would be quite a challenge, but it’s the only path that leads away from eventual death.

After all, if our members are allowed to be selfish and entitled, they aren’t exactly being like Jesus — and if they’re not like Jesus, why are we bothering?

________

* The independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (often shortened to “independent Christian Churches”) are congregations with roots in the Restoration Movement that are doctrinally nearly identical to the a cappella Churches of Christ except, of course, for the instrumental music. Since they’ve not endured a century of preaching on the Regulative Principle and CENI, they’ve also not suffered nearly as many divisions as the a cappella Churches — the primary division being the Disciples of Christ (Christian Churches), which became a centralized denomination, adopted mainline attitudes, and is dying.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
This entry was posted in Churches of Christ in Decline, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Churches of Christ: Christian Chronicle reports slow growth by the independent Christian Churches

  1. laymond says:

    “I don’t know why the rate of growth declined from 2000 to 2010, but if we’re going to compare the two denominations, we need to include both the 1990 to 2000 figures and the 2000 to 2010 figures — as the 1990 to 2000 figures demonstrate that growth was possible during those years even though we in the Churches of Christ failed to achieve it.”

    Jay, I would suspect that “new car smell” is wareing off.

  2. Todd Collier says:

    Actually Jay I would say that we (having been on the ICOC side of things for almost 3 years) do have a very solid CENI base and also have almost identical issues between “conservative” and “progressive” on a number of doctrinal issues. As with most folks who use CENI however it never seems to apply to the things we actually want to do and since most of the acappella fighting has centered around music styles or the accoutrements of music we “seem” to be less fractious. (If anything the Bible colleges with which I am familiar tend to be closer doctrinally to Freed than to Lipscomb.)

    The congregations that are growing among us have the same attributes of growing acappella congregations – focus on Jesus + Paul instead of mostly just Paul, accountable discipleship, community involvement and small groups – or represent church plants that are well tailored to the community in which they are planted by organizations such as the VEF (Virginia Evangelizing Fellowship).

  3. Doug says:

    Having been active in the Independent Christian Church most of my life, I can attest to the fact that there are both liberals and conservatives in the that part of the restoration movement. But, the bitter sectarian in-fighting is mostly absent in the Independent Christian Church and the churches enjoy better intra-congregational cooperation and fellowship with each other than do the Churches of Christ. In others words, if another congragation wants to do something a little different than our congregation, the ICC can accept that without resorting to disfellowship.

    A fairly recent report in the “Christian Standard”, which is the flagship publication for the ICC stated that the growth of the ICC was mostly due to the emergence of ICC mega-churches. There are many more mega-churches in the ICC than in the CofC. Incidently, the “Christian Standard” has an excellent online website and publishes multiple articles each week. Goggle “Christian Standard” if you’re interested.

  4. Todd Collier says:

    Agree with Doug on the Christian Standard. As for intercongregational unity, maybe I’m in an odd area and as I said my experience from the inside is only 3 years worth. We have some folks here who are very much self appointed “popes” who decry and defame each other regularly over issues such as “perfectionism.” As such some congregations do fellowship while others pretend the others just don’t exist.

  5. laymond says:

    Todd said, “The congregations that are growing among us have the same attributes of growing a cappella congregations – focus on Jesus + Paul instead of mostly just Paul,”
    Todd, believe it or not we agree once again, I have been saying for years (in writing) that the CoC was becoming the “church of Paul, instead of the church of Christ” but naturally I was smacked down, sometimes it just takes some time to soak in. If we take the majority of our teachings from Jesus , and some clarifying statements from Paul, we would be better Christians. IMO. And no I don’t believe every word Paul said was inspired, I don’t feel I have the authority to override what Paul said about this. He said it was not .

  6. Todd Collier says:

    Laymond you describe my “hermeneutic” very well. The Gospels first, Acts for how they were first applied, letters to provide “quality control,” OT for illustrations of Godliness in keeping with the above.

  7. JMF says:

    I’d say rather than calling us the “Church Of Paul” it would be more accurate to call the “Church Of Paul Except for Romans.” :)

  8. Here, and I thought we were the Church of Acts… except for the supernatural parts. Oh, and without the community parts. And we don’t usually get the Jewish parts, either, so that leaves us–

    “Church of the Acts of the Autonomous Gentiles”

    We’re gonna need a bigger sign.

  9. Bruce Morton says:

    When I read “Church of Paul,” I wonder if the contributor sees the letters from the apostles as “just letters” or as the voice of the risen Lord? Often the letters of the apostles represent the application of Jesus’ teachings into the Gentile world. Correct? So, is there a reason I hear people drawing a distinction? Are not Jesus’ words to the seven churches of Asia, for example, as important as His teachings in the Gospels?

    Finally, perhaps it is too easy for us to forget who penned two of the Gospels? Ah yes, the same group of folks who penned apostolic letters.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  10. Price says:

    Wow..Bruce and I agree… outstanding… Paul didn’t write those letters of his own volition… He was inspired. You can’t have a Jesus book and a Paul book and say they aren’t totally and completely consistent… Or, you have to say that the writings of Paul were not inspired…

    I think the Christian Chronicle ought to count all the various sects within the CoC and see how EACH is doing. Why just “a cappella as a point of differentiation?

    I was in Memphis this past weekend. Went to CoC with relatives. BORING !! It may have been church but it wasn’t worship.. Nobody was signing 4 part harmony. It was dead as a door nail. Then the preacher encouraged the graduating class to avoid fame, fortune, success, and money…and that after 60 years of distress they would still appreciate Jesus… I wanted to get up behind the lectern and tell them NOOOOO. Don’t listen to this junk.. Be the best you can be. Strive to do the most with the talents God gave you. If you get to the top, be a LIGHT for the gospel in a dark world but don’t settle for mediocrity… Make all the money you can; use it wisely; control it instead of letting it control you; be an influence for good when you get into a position of influence… Good Grief !! My daughter graduated from Lipscomb with a nursing degree…Round of applause…thank you.. The Speaker of the Tennessee House was recognized. Graduate of Lipscomb… The message to the students should have been BE SOMEBODY… and then be an influence. Don’t hind your talents under a bushel…

    Jay…this CC article is going to cause a fuss..Things will get worse before they get better…

  11. joe says:

    The growth issue for many is perception. I have asked many on both sides “What would it take to get you to reconsider your position?”. most of them were stumped. You see most of what we believe has to do with what we want to believe not actual evidence.

  12. laymond says:

    Price says, ” Wow..Bruce and I agree… outstanding… Paul didn’t write those letters of his own volition… He was inspired.”
    Price, How did you gain this information? The word inspired is not used in the KJV it is used twice in the NIV, but not in the way you suggest. Just curious as to how you came to know this.

    Job 32:8 But [there is] a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.
    2Ti 3:16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

    Hbr 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
    Hbr 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, ——————-.

    2Pe 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
    2Pe 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.

    Can someone, anyone show me where the scriptures say God spoke to any person, apostles or anyone else except through the prophets, and Jesus.Yes I believe God inspired the prophets, and Jesus to speak the truth to his people.
    I believe he spoke once from the mountain , so as the people could hear, but they begged him not to speak again, from fear. I don’t remember where “the holy Ghost” spoke at all, If I am wrong please remind me.

  13. Todd Collier says:

    And I don’t think anyone suggested ignoring Paul, but rather not ignoring Jesus. Read Paul through the lense of the Gospels.

  14. Bruce Morton says:

    I suspect all who read this blog are aware of John Shelby Spong’s prediction that ALL churches are going to die… unless they get ahold of his mysticism (out with theism and in with “Ground of Being”) and stop attempting to apply Jesus’ ethical teachings in our day! Evidence grows that his brand of theology well reflects a young generation — that wants freedom. But not just a young generation.

    It is likely that some of the boredom we are seeing (I do not question Price) is more despondency — the consequence of believers who have really tried to reach their friends and their friends want little to do with anything that constricts social/sexual freedom. I am hearing that quite a bit in the congregation I am part of.

    And I have noticed that what helps is to ask questions, not about a specific teaching, but about whether the tomb is empty. Consistently, people look like they have not even thought of the question. With Spong as our guide (!), it may go a great ways to renewing our hearts, our worship and our sharing a cup of cold water and the Word if we give increased attention to His resurrection.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  15. Emmett says:

    @Laymond, the closest I can come to supporting the assertion of Paul, et al, writing through inspiration is Peter’s assertion in 2 Peter 3:2 that recipients of his letter remember, “the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles”. Also, Jesus promised The Helper to them, and that He (The Helper) would teach them and bring to their remembrance all that He (Jesus) had said. Paul also apparently thought he was speaking authoritatively for the Lord in 1 Cor. 7, since he parenthetically inserted some statements that were from him, “not the Lord”…

    I realize that you cited the example of Paul earlier. But it seems not to support the idea that the Apostles were uninspired…except occasionally.

  16. Price says:

    Laymond, are you suggesting that the letters Paul wrote were in fact just his opinion and not inspired? Were the congregational members of Corinth MORE inspired through their prophetic words than Paul? Seriously? It’s also interesting that you try and support your argument against inspiration by quoting the unknown author of Hebrews, and Paul (odd that you would use his words to support that his words aren’t inspired).

    Todd, not saying to ignore the Gospels but if Laymond is right, then Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were just giving their opinions and weren’t inspired either which makes the Gospels as potentially inaccurate as Paul… which is heretical thinking IMHO. My position would be that they were all very much inspired and that they are totally consistent with each other. Yes, indeed they should be read and measured together as a whole. But, how can one say that the Holy Spirit in one instance (Mark) is less accurate that He was in another (Paul) ?

  17. laymond says:

    Price asked, “Laymond, are you suggesting that the letters Paul wrote were in fact just his opinion and not inspired?”
    Well first I don’t know what you mean , when you say “inspired” do you mean he was influenced by the word of God as passed on by prophets of old, and Jesus Christ,? or do you mean that God whispered in his ear what to write.?
    I believe both Paul, and Luke were influenced/inspired to write what they wrote by devotion to the word brought by Jesus Christ, no whispering involved. No I don’t believe Paul wrote only out of opinion (as some do today) I believe he wrote for the same reason as Luke did. I believe as much time as Luke spent with Paul he would have mentioned it, if Paul had said he spoke from “inspiration”. And yes there is a difference in speaking out of “inspiration” and being “inspired” to speak.

  18. laymond says:

    Emmett, that is not very close, I don’t know that, that would even count in horseshoes, or hand grenades. No one here said that Jesus didn’t pass on the word of God to his apostles, and command them to pass it on to the people.

    “but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.”
    as they were moved, not as they were told.

  19. Price says:

    Acts 18:9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.

    1 Corinthians 2:9-13: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: …Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (KJV)

    1 Thessalonians 2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
    (KJV)

    I find little support for Laymond’s theory that Paul was inspired to write from something he read in the O.T. and was not spoken to by God.

  20. Laymond wrote: “No one here said that Jesus didn’t pass on the word of God to his apostles, and command them to pass it on to the people.”
    >>>
    As long as I don’t get too finicky about the terminology, and as long as I am not asked to consider this a comprehensive description of divine revelation, I won’t disagree with it. But it is a VERY narrow and material view.

    Jesus IS the word of God, he did not “have” the word of God. Jesus did share himself with his disciples (and not just Twelve of them) by both his words and his deeds– hence, the Gospels. Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would take what is his (I simply adore the scope of that term) and make it known to us. While there is no doubt that the Twelve were the first-century point men in introducing the Messiah to Israel, to attribute the amazing subsequent outflow of the gospel all over the Mediterranean to just Thirteen Guys is simply not accurate, nor helpful. (It is somewhat like saying “We sent Norman Schwartzkopf to defeat Saddam Hussein.” True as far as it goes, but not an accurate picture of what was actually intended, nor of what actually happened.)

    I would reject the idea that we have received a secondhand Gospel, a gospel entrusted by God ONLY to Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen men, who were our sole connection to Jesus. These disciples may have been the first disciples, but they were not the ONLY disciples.

    We are not the grandsons of God.

  21. Price says:

    Charles. I have to agree. When one considers the prophetic utterances that were coming out of the church membership to encourage, exhort and edify, it seems that God was giving of Himself through the Holy Spirit through men and women to all that would listen. I Cor 14:25 says that the “secrets of their hearts would be revealed” and that they would be convicted. That didn’t come out of the book of Isaiah. It was information given to a person by the Holy Spirit to share with an individual or group. Paul urged Timothy to stir up the gift within him. No doubt his speaking was inspired by the Holy Spirit for the local community. Barnabas, etc., etc. I believe that men and women today are likewise “informed” by the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised.

  22. Jerry says:

    Price,
    Do not forget this testimony of Paul:

    For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

    If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:37-38)

    And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16, emphasis added)

    Paul claims he got the gospel by revelation. That revelation did not come from Jesus during his earthly ministry. He claimed that what he wrote were the commandments of the Lord. Peter spoke of Paul’s epistles as comparable to “the other Scriptures.”

    While it is true that in 1 Cor 7:40 Paul gives his judgment regarding whether a widow should or should not marry, even there he adds “and I think that I have the Spirit of the Lord.”

    Does Paul ever give his opinion? Possibly. Even then, his judgment is colored by his walk with God in the Spirit.

    This is not to worship Paul, but to recognize the way in which the God whom we worship chose to use him.

  23. Price says:

    Jerry…you make it even more abundantly clear that Paul was speaking what Jesus had told him to speak. I guess I just assumed that everybody understood and accepted that the majority of the N.T. text was indeed “God-breathed”…but then there’s that old adage about assuming.

  24. laymond says:

    Jerry, I believe I used to have arguments with Patrick Mead over this very subject, I suggest you read Patric’s latest post.

  25. William says:

    I have my B.A. in Bible and preached for the C of C for six years.

    The problem is not beliefs and doctrine.

    The C of C problem is competition from other churches that are growing by leaps and bounds.

    Some churches are moving “up” by literally “many millions” of members each year.

    In His Service,

    William

  26. David Purcell says:

    William, our preachers don’t seem to have answers to the burning question of what
    has and what has not been fulfilled in prophecy and of the numerous statements of
    Jesus concerning “end times”. The church needs answers, not platitudes of some
    eventual things to come.
    There are over a hundred references to a “swift return.” A finality of prophecy, Christ’s
    promises realized, not put off for thousands of years. It is no wonder we are stagnate,
    uninspired.
    In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul commended “Therefore you do not lack
    any spiritual gift as YOU eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will
    keep you strong to the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus
    Christ.” 1 Cor 1:7-8 NIV. Notice his readers were to survive to “the end” on “the day of
    our Lord”. This is similar to his benediction to the Thessalonians that each “whole
    spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    1 Thes 5:23 NIV.
    One hardly waits eagerly for a promise thousands of years in the future. Paul made no
    correction of their expectancy for he was the one who had taught them to look for the
    soon return. He made no attempt to cool their eagerness.
    In this setting Paul continues “Therefore do no pronounce judgment before the time,
    before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden and will disclose
    the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.”
    (4:5). The purpose for their discipline of the immoral man among them was “that his
    spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:1-5), From these statements of
    Paul we could conclude the IF the judgment did not occur on the “day of the Lord”
    at the end of their age, then neither has salvation come for them.
    The realization of the shortness of time before the imminent catastrophe tempered
    Paul’s advice to the unmarried “I mean brethren the appointed time has grown very
    short; from now on let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those
    who mourn as though they were not mourning and those who rejoice as though they
    were not rejoicing and those who buy as though they had no goods and those who
    deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the FORM of this
    world is passing away: (7:29-31). This is not a platitude as is commonly repeated by
    preachers about the uncertainty of life; he knew, as did the other apostles, the events
    were soon to transpire that would bring great distress throughout the Roman empire.
    The FORM of the then present world of Judaism would soon pass away.

    It is a sad fact of life that CoC preachers and teachers eyes are darkened to the obvious
    and ignore troubling scriptures that when taken whole point to realized eschatology.
    The bible has to make sense. Otherwise false teachers pollute the word and capture
    our young with “bling”.

  27. Larry Cheek says:

    William,
    As you state, “The problem is not beliefs and doctrine. The C of C problem is competition from other churches that are growing by leaps and bounds. Some churches are moving “up” by literally “many millions” of members each year.”
    Have you attempted to analyze the message that is being taught in those churches that are growing so rapidly? Are they just a social group that is meeting the needs of the members to the extent they are evangelizing to others the value of the organization, or are they teaching out of the same book that you are teaching from? In comparing this as competition, is their message producing the result that God promised that the preaching of his word would produce a harvest and the message that you are delivering not producing? I have been a member of the CoC for over 50 years, and I have not seen the explosive growth in other organizations that you describe. You did not offer a name to the growing organizations, that is probably not important but could it be possible that they are not attempting to make these people part of their denomination, yes I know all about the CoC not claiming to be a denomination but being the true church and how deceived we can be, and they are committed to teaching the salvation of the Lord, rather than teaching that salvation comes through the church?
    Of course I could be wrong but I’ll never know unless you check it out and tell us. I would really love to know what makes the growth that you have seen happen.

  28. Larry Cheek says:

    David Purcell,
    I must have missed something that would help me to understand how his rapid return is so important. I really thought that if he comes before I finish this writing I should be ready for his coming. If he doesn’t come within the next 1,000,000 years I would expect the same salvation that he promised me when I believed and committed my life to him. Once you have been born again the spirit within you lives forever. I now live in two vastly different places. I have a physical life that will die on this earth, and I have a spiritual life that will live forever that is not limited to this earth. It is only while on this earth that time has any control over me, when I die here or leave here to be with Jesus when he comes again to take us Christians to the place he went to prepare for us, we will not be bound by time in the spirit realm, just as God and Jesus and the angels are not bound by time or space. Time and space is a part of this earth and will cease to exist, but I am looking for a heavenly home with God. So what could be so important about how long it is till he comes back? Unless, you need more time to get your act together and become a Christian? I believe Paul said that he was ready to go, but it would be better if he stayed, I thought that he saw more work that he needed to be doing. Possibly we need to serving and teaching and let the master worry about the time, in other words time should already be meaningless to us also. Actually, this is much of the problem with teaching of the soon to expect aspect people that have been taught that he is coming very soon are anxious and soon loose patience in their walk with the Lords ways, remember how that problem affected the Jews. They anxiously expected until they were worn out, and then missed him when he came.

  29. David Purcell says:

    Thanks Larry, I appreciate your comments. The promises of God through Christ is the
    subject matter I am concerned about. I am seeing attrition of members at an alarming
    rate. It makes one wonder if there will be a time when no Churches of Christ can be
    found. If you say, well even then we will safely tucked away, waiting, waiting for the
    “coming”, do we miss a more rational outlook? Are all the evil and good from the Fall
    still waiting, waiting for what?
    I know instinctively and from scripture this is not a Jesus friendly scenario. It makes
    us feel let down that he never redeemed his own. That over two thousands years have
    passed and the saints are still sleeping, waiting.
    With regard to Paul’s corrective teachings about the factions, immorality, lawsuits and
    various other divisions in the church at Corinth it may be easy to overlook the eager
    anticipation of Jesus’ soon return which they expected. If we gloss over or ignore that
    expectancy which Paul affirms, we miss the full appreciation of his mission. Was Paul
    really addressing believers of the reformation era or was he talking to the Corinthians
    as Jesus would have?
    “As he sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to him privately asking when will
    it be, what signs will there be at his coming. They were stirred up because as they were
    leaving the temple Jesus asked “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.” The Temple? They
    must have been horrified, unable to grasp such a thing. Then he added “So also, when
    you (the disciples, not us) see all these things, you will know that he is near, at the very
    gates. Truly I say to you, THIS generation will NOT pass away till all these things take
    place (happen) Mark 13 Matt 24.
    I believe what Jesus said would take place did happen. It all fits together but you won’t
    get it studying dispensations, millenniums and such. The synoptic gospels testify to it,
    John, who couched his language as directed due to extreme persecution, says “The
    revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what MUST SOON
    take place. I do not take “must soon” to mean two thousand years into the future. Or
    beyond that. Call me a literalist if you like, this is not as I understand it a “salvation
    issue”. I do think futurism, dispensational doctrines undermine the credibility of what
    we preach and teach. Since I am not a preacher I do not have to agree with “extended
    or delayed” prophesy. Just saying . . . because it makes sense to me. Peace.

  30. Charles McLean says:

    If all that was prophesied in the grand and sweeping prophetic terms used by Jesus, John, et al, actually did occur in Palestine in 70 AD, it did so without making any significant historic ripples among the human population of the planet. Titus’ sack of Jerusalem is a comparatively minor footnote in Roman history. To find a single person today who could articulate the specific impact of this event on his personal life would likely entail a lengthy search. In its impact, this event was not a “bang”, and in the historic sense, was hardly even a whimper.

    By comparison, an event which occurred on a single day, initially reported by a mere handful of non-influential Jews less than forty years prior, turned the world on its ear in a way which reverberates in the hearts of a third of the planet’s population to this day.

    I would observe that no man sets his hope on Jesus’ imminent return “for a thousand years”. We each have about the same span of time in which to look forward to that “soon coming” of the Lord. For such temporal beings as ourselves to think that our view of a couple of millennia of history gives us ground to judge the meaning of “soon” for a God who stands entirely outside time and space seems to me to be intellectually presumptious.

  31. David Purcell says:

    Thank you Charles for your remarks.
    I guess you are saying how could the parousia or redeeming presence have happened
    without some scribe jotting it down? “We reach this conclusion, not because we can
    identify and explain everything prophesied in highly symbolic language but it is because we believe Jesus told the truth. Our trust is in his words rather than in our
    interpretations that contradict his promises. Yes, all were fulfilled! That includes
    Revelation which internal evidence indicates was written while the temple and city
    were still standing. It makes the fantastic theories and predictions of the soon return
    of Christ, the arising of the man of sin, the great tribulation, the rapture, the battle of
    Armageddon and a thousand year reign on earth totally incredible.

    All those things have long since transpired though because they did not meet
    misdirected expectations, their fulfillment has been commonly denied and thrust
    into the future. In reality it places more credibility in historians and scholars than
    in the veracity of Jesus. Read the text! Over and over Jesus and the inspired writers
    declared that all those things were imminent and would occur in the lifetime of many
    who heard Jesus’ own declarations. Theorists prefer to say Jesus’ original plans were
    thwarted by opposition than to admit that they have erred in understanding!

    It is of interest that the Catholic version of the New Testament published in 1941
    offers these possible dates: “Matthew-42-50AD, Mark-60AD, Luke-prior to 60AD,
    John, late first century, Revelation-96. Concerning Matthew’s Gospel it is explained,
    “Definitely, however, the Gospel itself depicting the Holy City with its altar and temple
    as still existing and without any reference to the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy,
    shows that it was written before the destruction of the city by the Romans (70 AD),
    and this internal evidence confirms the early traditions.”

    In regards to Luke they comment “This Gospel was written before the destruction of
    Jerusalem, AD 70, for it does not refer to the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy. Since
    the Acts of the Apostles closes its narrative with the year AD63 or 64, the Gospel of
    St Luke, his first book, must have been written prior to AD 63.”

    After making these properly convincing points about Matthew and Luke they abandon
    the “internal evidence” and date John and Apocalypse (Rev) toward the end of the
    century! What kind of scholarship is that? If failure of Matthew and Luke to mention
    the destruction of their city was proof that they wrote before it happened why would
    that same evidence not be proof that John wrote both his Gospel and Revelation before AD 70? In both the Gospel of John and Revelation it is indicated that both
    city and temple were still intact.

    The late date assigned to Revelation has come out of interpreted errors of historians
    who could not perceive that Christ had come in fulfillment of his own words in ending
    the earthly kingdom of Israel. They fail to recognize that the unbelieving Jews rather
    than the Romans were the original enemies of Christianity. The rebellion was by Jews
    not a falling away of Christians, and Christ’s avenging Presence was against the Jews
    rather than against Rome. Jerusalem, rather than Rome, was the Babylon that had
    killed the prophets — including Christ.”

    Brother Hook is not still around but his Essays are. His common sense explanations
    of scripture are easy to read and strikingly perceptive. He preached from the time of
    graduation from ACC until his eighties. Casting stones at his tombstone might bounce
    off unsuspecting noggins. dp

  32. Charles McLean says:

    David wrote, “We reach this conclusion, not because we can identify and explain everything prophesied in highly symbolic language but it is because we believe Jesus told the truth.”

    This is a common phenomenon in our handling of scripture. That is, we read a portion and then we interpret it in a certain way. Then, in our own reasoning, we synthesize the scripture with our interpretation thereof, producing “understanding” which is really only an mixture of text/interpretation/conclusion. We then treat the resulting amalgam as though it were Holy Writ.

    We read our conclusions about what Jesus said, and we come to believe that this is indeed WHAT Jesus said. The distinctions between what was said and what we conclude from what was said begin to blur, and eventually become invisible to us. An outsider may be able to distinguish between the disparate parts, but we are unlikely to listen to him, having a high degree of investment in our conclusions. In fact, having already decided that this new synthesis really is “what Jesus said”, we readily reject any conflicting thought as a rejection of the very words of God. We lock the door from the inside and swallow the key.

    This interpretive problem is especially common when we interpret symbolic language in scripture, and when we interpret certain writings which have cultural context. The number of unknowns involved can lead people to take the exact same process and come to numerous mutually-exclusive conclusions, every one of which is claimed to be “what the Bible says”.

  33. David Purcell says:

    A certain writer described the chaotic period around AD 68-70: “The lack of historical
    evidence begins to make more sense when we remember that the Roman Empire was
    in a state of utter chaos leading up to (temple destruction). Jesus was bringing justice not only upon the Jews but the empire as well. After Nero’s death in June AD 68 the
    empire degenerated in civil war. The year 69 saw four emperors. Galba was butchered,
    Otho committed suicide and Vitellius beheaded. “Barbarians” pressed in against the
    frontier and Rome’s legions battled one another in the city streets and throughout the
    empire. Jews were being slaughtered by the thousands all over the empire. During
    such chaotic times disappearances would have been commonplace, especially if it
    occurred at night.”
    1Thes 4:13 “Brothers, WE do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep,
    or grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. WE believe that Jesus died and rose
    again and so WE believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep
    IN HIM. According to the Lord’s own word, WE tell you that WE who are still ALIVE
    who are left TILL the coming of the Lord will certainly not precede those who have
    fallen asleep.”

    Commentators suggest the Corinthians seem to have misunderstood Paul and thought ALL believers would live until Christ returned. When some died the question
    arose “Will those who died have no part in THAT great day?”
    Paul reassures them that THEIR dead, the children of the HOPE, would rise first.

    16 “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven . . . and the dead in Christ will
    rise first. After that WE who are still ALIVE and are left will be caught up together
    with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so WE will be with the Lord
    forever.”
    5:1-2 “Now brothers, about times and dates, we do not need to write to you.” (Why not
    Paul, maybe because his disciples in Corinth already knew what was to come and were
    afraid mother of dad, sister or brother, having recently died, would miss the coming?
    We all know, or should that God sets the dates and days, not the apostles.)
    2 “for YOU know very well that the DAY of the LORD will come like a thief in the
    NIGHT.”

    Here I want to say I am not a scholar, just a student but there is compelling evidence
    in scripture that the quick and the dead in Christ were redeemed in the first century.
    Otherwise we would have to conclude that Paul was speaking to future generations
    and not to his brethren in Corinth.

  34. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    David,

    NT Wright (and others) makes the point that there is no record of the early church being surprised or disappointed that Jesus didn’t quickly return. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t passages that refer to AD 70 as a “coming” or return of Jesus. It’s just that it’s a mistake, I believe, to force all passages into the AD 70 interpretation.

    Clearly, Rev 21 – 22 and Rom 8:19-23 refer to events that have not yet happened. On the other hand, Jesus’ prophecies near the end of his ministry speak, at least in part, about AD 70.

    To me, that makes the most sense. And I would take 1 Cor 15 and 1 Thes 4:13-15 as referring to the end of this age.

    (1Th 4:13-15 ESV) 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

    Leon Morris, in the New Int’l Commentary on 1 Thess takes “we” in v. 15 to mean “those of us Christians,” in light of Paul’s assertion that no one knows when Jesus will return (5:2-3) and Paul’s expectation to be among those dead and resurrected in 1 Cor 6:14.

  35. David Purcell says:

    Charles characterized God as standing ENTIRELY outside time and space.

    Jay has repeatedly taught WE should try to become LIKE God.

    How can WE be like a God ENTIRELY outside our dimension?

  36. Charles McLean says:

    David, you mis-characterized my characterization. My comment was to call into question your capacity for making a determination of what is or is not “soon” to God, upon which your entire theory hangs. I think you understood that. And while He is beyond time and space, He chooses to touch us within it. The transformation of which Jay speaks concerns our reflection of our Father in the milieu in which we live. Jesus did this as well.

    As usual, going back and looking at Jesus reveals more than anything else.

  37. David Purcell says:

    Thanks Charles,

    It was you who said ”entirely”. That’s like calling “soon” infinity. Word games like
    most of what we hear on the blogs. Your particular eschatology, of which you have not
    divulged, may be superior to mine. I’m just waiting for someone to prove without a
    doubt that Jesus was mistaken in saying “This generation WILL NOT pass away
    until all these things take place.” Matt 24:34

    6 You will hear of wars an rumors of war (speaking TO his disciples) but see to it that
    YOU are not alarmed”. How could the disciples be alarmed if Jesus was speaking of
    things in the far future?

    14 “And this ‘good news’ of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world . . .
    and then the ‘end’ * will come.”

    Col 1:23 “This is the gospel that you heard and has been proclaimed to EVERY creature under heaven.” Compare Matt 24:14; Rom 10:18; 16:26; II Tim 4:17;
    Rev 14:6-7; cf, I Clement 5,7

    * The end was the end of the old covenant, end times or last days were the transition
    period that lasted about 40 years from the time of Christ to AD 70. Just as the old
    covenant was established after a 40 year transition time (from Egypt to the Promised
    Land) so was the NEW established in a 40 year transition out of spiritual Egypt.

    Next – A Mystery – The Third Heaven

Leave a Reply