Saturday, November 21, 2009

Going to Church Does Not Make You A Christian

Having heard it again, from a well meaning individual, it is time to look at this statement again. Going to Church does not make you a Christian. Okay, I get what is being said but not going to Church does not make you a Christian either. If neither going to Church nor not going to Church makes you a Christian, I would hold that at least going to Church has the potential to make you a Christian. For where two or three are gathered (a liturgical statement from our Lord referring to the two or three who are gathered around His Word and Sacraments), there is Christ among them and where Christ is, the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit, the means to breaking through the hardened shell of our human heart and prompting within us the faith that trusts in Jesus Christ. Simply going to Church does not make you a Christian but going to Church places you in the context of the means of grace (the life giving Word and life bestowing Sacraments) which are the means through which God works to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify His Church and those individually who are members of it.

I know that there are those wooden blocks who sit in the pews and whose hearts and minds are closed to the Holy Spirit and the means of grace through which the Spirit works. I do not know who they are but I know they are there. Not going to Church is not going to assist the Spirit in breaking through to them. In fact, I have known people who have told me they came to Church to satisfy a mom or dad or husband or wife or because it was the thing to do on Sunday morning and the Lord slowly and surely built within them faith until all of a sudden they realized that they believed. And it happened because they were in Church where the Word and Sacraments of the Lord were.

There are people who are legitimately prevented from being in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day or any other day and not being in the Lord's House does not keep them from reading His Word, from praying, and from the joyful acknowledgment of all that Lord has done for them through His Son Jesus Christ. I know soldiers in my parish whose deployments kept them from the gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord with their fellow believers. Of course God did not leave them alone nor abandon them, but they would affirm that this condition is not only NOT optimum for their life and strength of their faith, it was a struggle to maintain their faith and hope under conditions of loneliness, stress, and threat. They were thankful to return to a place where they could be together with the Lord and His people once again. In many cases it was a joy reflected in tears and peace that was overwhelming.

Lets be careful to say what we mean. Not being able to be in the meeting together of the Lord's people as He intends does not mean we are alone or apart from His gracious love and mercy, but being together in the Lord's House and not neglecting this opportunity and gift IS the intention of God for all Christians and every Christian.

Being in Church and not being in Church are not equal options. When by good reason we are prevented from being in Church, we can feed on Christ by faith in our heart... But every other occasion it is the intention of the Lord that we feed on Christ in His body and blood given to us in His Holy Supper and together hear the Word that has the power to keep its promises and do what it proclaims...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, Pastor. I have heard even Lutheran pastors say this very thing, that "going to church" does not make one a Christian. Well, yes, there are the weeds and tares that only the Lord will be able to separate on that final day, but I think the idea that assembling with one's fellow believers to celebrate Word and Sacrament is not a necessary part of the Christian life would have seemed ludicrous to the early Christians, who risked their very lives by gathering to worship.


Hemmer said...

Thanks, Pr. Peters. I think the comment "X doesn't make me a Christian" usually belies a false belief underneath because X is usually something I can do. Going to Church certainly does not make me a Christian because _nothing_ I can do makes me a Christian. However, what God does when He gathers His people together is to make them Christians. Hie Word and Sacraments do what we cannot: forgive our sins and deliver faith, in other words, make us Christians.

Going to Church no more makes you a Christian than going to a deli makes you a sandwich. But if you walk into the deli and are quickly ushered to the back, where you are roasted and thinly sliced, you might be made into a sandwich. Well, God has a time and a place where He changes rebels into Christians, sinners into saints. That's the Divine Service.

If you don;t want to be a sandwich, don't go to a cannibal's deli. If you don't want to be a Christian, don't do where God makes Christians. If, however, you want to be a Christian, don't neglect to go where God makes Christians.

Faith receives; it never says "enough." Not going to Church certainly does not make you a Christian, either. But rejecting God's gifts is the work of unbelief, not faith. And unbelief wars against faith, eventually making you not-a-Christian.

Barb said...

This says it all! I totally agree with this pastor and both comments posted by Christine and Pastor Hemmer. It's a convenient excuse many people use to not go to church by saying it's full of hypocrites. They are being equally hypocritical by judging those who are obeying the command to "remember the Sabbath to keep it holy." Many people just want to do something more fun or productive on Sunday mornings. It's sad how our society is falling further away from biblical standards of righteousness. We all need to keep praying for America, because we ALL need it! ~Barb

Debs Towers-Best said...

To my mind, it is far more important to spend Sunday mornings with one's family rather than feel that one has to rush out of the door on this day of relaxation to Church. Family time is far more important and ultimately connects us to God on a far more profound basis. :)