Friday, October 30, 2015

Does going to church make you Christian?

No less than the great theologian Justin Bieber has weighed in on this question of the ages:  Does going to church make you Christian.  In an interview, Bieber talked about his newly found Evangelical Christian faith. Bieber said that he loves Jesus and wants to be like him (Jesus, that is) but complains that Christians have left “a bad taste in people’s mouths” by being “overly pushy with the subject, overly churchy and religious.” Nothing new here.  It is a common complaint.  Religion, after all, and especially Christianity should be private and not public.  Then Bieber said, “It doesn’t make you a Christian just by going to church.”  The analogy Bieber uses for this wisdom?  “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell that doesn’t make you a taco.”

If it is important for you to read up on what the Biebs said, well, here is the link:

So what about the question of Bieber (and others)?  “Does going to church make you Christian?”   Since we are not given the privilege of looking into the heart and discerning the faith as only God can do, what are we left with?  Words?  Well, yes.  Words count; your confession of faith counts.  But even more than words count, worship does count.  Jesus own example shows the importance of Temple and synagogue.  As was His habit, He went to church.  There is not much disagreement in this.  And so did His disciples.  In fact, it was universally regarded that failure to go to Temple and synagogue was in itself a sinful act, a repudiation of the third commandment.  Luther certainly picked up on this by tying the failure and refusal to worship to the act of despising the Word of God.  Not all that long ago it was expected that if you belonged, you went to church.  Period.

Our Lord promised that where two or there were gathered in His name, there He was in their midst.  He taught us to pray Our Father.  These are both liturgical statements that bespeak liturgical acts of one within the community of those whose common confession and life flow through the means of grace.  It was not controversial until more modern times.  Now it is offensive to suggest that if you believe, you will be in church on Sunday morning (unless illness, work, or other major impediment prevent it).

Hebrews gives us a hint that although the expectation was always there in the beginning, Christians did need prompting less they neglect the meeting together (Christian assembly) as some are wont to do.  The problem now is that most Christians who say they believe are wont to stay at home and worship privately (at least that is what they claim).  Faith without works is dead said St. James and the commandments, the practice of Jews and Christians, and the theology of the New Testament presumes that the minimal work of faith is to get yourself to church on Sunday morning.  Period.

Some do not like such blunt talk.  I am sure our Lord can abide the fuzzy and casual way we practice faith and how we make the worship of the Lord's day in the Lord's House around the Word and Table of the Lord optional and non-essential to the faith we claim lives deep down in our hearts.  You are not given the option to go to church when you want to or when you feel like it.  Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.  It is a command.  Let me be even more blunt.  It is a sin which must be confessed and repented of to miss worship.  The repeated missing of worship is, as Luther suggests, a hint that the one who misses does not really believe what he claims and may actually despise the Lord and His Word.

Does going to church make you a Christian?  Well, it may not make you a saint but it puts you where the Word and Spirit of the Lord are at work to make you Christian and keep you one.  Going to church may not make you a saint but I would say that it is a pretty darn good indicator that you seek to be one (by God's grace and favor and not of works).  The opposite could be said.  Does not going to church make you Christian?  Well, it is a pretty darn good indicator you are not one!  And it is a good way to distance yourself both from the faith and the faithful.  Moral of the story:  Go to church!  There is hardly a reason worth considering why you should miss the Lord's House on the Lord's Day and the gracious fellowship of the Lord's Word and Table. 


ErnestO said...

The church is the house of God because He lives within every believer.

Scott Brison said...

"the great theologian Justin Bieber

Hahahahaha, Thanks for the morning laugh pastor.

Good article also.

Anonymous said...

Jesus said, "Do this..." Receiving Holy Communion is not an option. So, get up and go to Divine Service. That's what Christians do, in response to their Lord Jesus. Good article and great admonition to us all of God's will for believers. We need more blunt and candid truth like this. Keep it up.

Paul said...

It seems a good complementary consideration would be about the lack of love among those in worship who do not earnestly seek to encourage and support the Pastor in the exercise of church discipline, so that those who have drifted can be called to repentance and the Body of Christ might be edified. I am curious about the exercise of discipline among LCMS congregations. I rarely see any discussion of it. What is the point of making promises before God and the congregation about membership, in the sense of being a living part not carrying a club card, if no one in the body cares about struggling to love one another?

Anonymous said...

I have read that in the Old Testament, the purpose of sacrificial system was to cleanse the Israelites of their sin that they might have a meal before the Lord. Certain physical defects prevented people going to the Temple. I have often thought that Jesus miracles are mischaracterized as being about healing. The people Jesus healed were restored to the community of faith and could thereafter again go to the Temple.
The Holy Spirit causes the holy catholic Church (Word and Sacrament)composed of the communion of saints through the forgiveness of sins (baptism and the Lord's Supper) which will eventually result in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Rejecting the Church is rejecting God's will for the believer. It is worse than childish and silly. It is spiritually dangerous. Seems to me that Justin needs to read the catechism.


Joseph Bragg said...

The question as to the value or necessity of church is possible only outside of the Church. The question naturally arises once the sacred and sacramental nature of the Church as the Body of Christ is lost. How can you be connected to the Head of the Church without being connected to the life of the Body? Of course, this question too is lost, when the Church is reduced to an invisible and undefinable fellowship of feelings. The theology of the Church is long gone and forgotten in protestant/evangelicalism.

Kirk Skeptic said...

"Then Bieber said, 'It doesn’t make you a Christian just by going to church.'" That is quite a true statement, more than Biebs would care to deal with; there's actively worshiping, hearing the Word preached, partaking communion, participating in the life of the congregation, etc. Then again, not going to church is a great way to not be a Christian.

Unknown said...

I hate to say it, but Bieber is 100% right with his full statement. "It doesn't make you a Christian just by going to church." We can do absolutely nothing to earn our way into heaven it is "BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVEDTHROUGH FAITH, AND IT IS NOT OF YOUR OWN DOING; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD- NOT THE RESULT OF WORKS, SO THAT NO ONE MAY BOAST!"
It is our God given faith that makes us a Christian. Now as Christians we should strive to daily be in the word, participate in the sacraments, and publicly show our faith in church and in public.
But the "showing" of our faith is not and should never be confused with what truly makes us a member of God's family. Worship strengthens our faith which the Holy Spirit has given us.

Anonymous said...

Except that Bieber is 100% WRONG. A person who disconnects from the Community of the Saints can no more claim to be a Christian than a hand severed from the arm can claim to be a complete body.

The problem this theory is that modern Christianity is highly Gnostic, and tries to separate God's grace in Christ from the very means He has given to us to receive that grace. Modern Christianity fails to recognize God's Word as the means by which he grants us faith; it ignores the forgiveness of sins that comes through the Absolution, and the forgiveness that comes to us through the eating and drinking of Jesus' blood. If someone is not receiving God's grace through the ministry of Word and Sacrament, that person cannot claim to be a Christian; they are Gnostic.

And that's Bieber in a nutshell. He is doing nothing but reflecting the inherent Gnosticism in modern American Christianity, not the historic Christian faith.

Worship isn't merely "showing" our faith; worship is God's gifts being given to his people. I don't go to church to tell God I love him; I go to church to receive the love that he gives me. But, once again, modern American Christianity separates God's love from the gifts he gives us in love.

The bottom line is this: a churchless Christianity is a crossless Christianity, and a crossless Christianity is no Christianity at all. What Bieber is proclaiming is a crossless Christianity, and therefore is not Christian at all.