Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?

 

He'd never actually been inside a church before. Poorly dressed, unwashed and smelling of cigarette smoke, he took a seat in a corner at the back of the smart, clean church. He was so engrossed in his own problems that he hardly noticed the family that walked in, and occupied their usual place near the front.

She was a high school student, smartly-dressed, hard-working and a bright personality. Her Dad was an important member of the local church, which she had attended all her life. She was an outspokenly moral person, one of the few virgins left in her class. She noticed the young man at the back, but dismissed him from her mind with the question, 'Where did he come from,' as she smiled and nodded at some of the other church folk. Now it was time to bow our heads in preparation for the service. 'Dear God,' she prayed, 'I thank you for giving me so much: my family, my upbringing, my Christian convictions. Thank you for keeping me from falling into sin, and becoming a loser.' 'Like that guy at the back,' she added.

You couldn't see him now: his head was bowed right down as he prayed, 'God, have mercy on me; I'm just a wicked man.'

And, as Jesus said about the tax collector, 'I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God' (Luke18:14).

Does going to church make you a Christian? No more than going to a garage makes you a motor car. Christ's teaching reminds us that both inside and outside the church there are the kinds of people he described in Luke 18:9--those 'who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.'

What about you: Suppose you were to die tonight, and stand before God, and he were to say to you, 'Why should I let you into my heaven?' What would you say? Non-christians usually talk about their good works--or lack of evil ones! But how would you answer it? Deep down, even among Christians, there lurks a mentality which defines Christianity in terms of morality. 'O yes, of course I know he's a believer, but Lord I thank you that I don't compromise like he does...'

A Christian is someone whose armour-plate of self-righteousness has been shattered by God's grace; he has cried out, 'God be merciful to me, a sinner.' But he is also someone who is always tempted to rely on his own morality. We need to remember that when Jeremiah cried out, 'All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags!' he spoke for God's people. As we approach God, the tax collector's words never cease to be appropriate for us.

So, do you have to go to church to be a Christian? Aren't all good people Christians?

The person who asks this often assumes that a Christian = a good person, and since not all good people go to church, then it is not necessary to do so. This is often coupled with the statement that, anyway, the church is full of hypocrites. (To which we may fairly respond: 'No, not full; there's always room for one more!')

As John Cromarty has shown (FAQ#6), good deeds don't make a Christian. Now consider another tax-collector: his name was Zacchaeus, and he lived in Jericho. After Jesus met him, he promised to give 50% of his goods to the poor, and repay four-fold anyone he had cheated. Jesus commented, 'Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.' Was Jesus saying that Zacchaeus was saved because of his intended good deeds of charity and restitution? No: a son of Abraham is one who exercises the faith of Abraham. But note this: when a person is saved by Jesus, it makes a difference in his life! The difference in Zacchaeus's life was plain to see.

What is a Christian? Someone who has come to see himself as the sinner. And who has also been enabled to believe that Jesus is Lord of the universe, and Saviour of all who trust him. He rejoices in the forgiveness of his sins. He loves his Lord, and wants to do what pleases him.

No longer a mere individual, condemned to everlasting loneliness in hell, he is a member of God's family. He has been saved by Jesus, and forgiven for his sake. Does he have to go to church? What a question! Does a wealth-worshipper have to get more money?!! The person that Jesus saves wants to be with God's family, worshipping, fellowshipping, encouraging. He loves to be praising the Lord in the company of his people.

But what if church is a 'drag'? What if you don't enjoy fellowship with believers? What if you prefer the company of unbelievers--they're 'More stimulating, more interesting'? What then?

Then you had better ask yourself how it is with your soul. It is surely possible to be in the church, though not of the church; full of self-righteousness, but unsaved.

No, you don't have to go to church to be a Christian. But true Christians will be found in the fellowship of the local church, expressing their gratitude to the Lord and their love of his family.

Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a sheep station makes you a sheep. Maybe there are a few goats in the church, but why let them keep you from God, and the fellowship of his flock?

The call of the gospel is not to come to church; it is to come to Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and to hand over your life to him to make you clean. No church or minister can do that for you, only Jesus.

But once you are clean, really clean, baptized in the Holy Spirit, then you'll be wanting to be with the Lord's people.

One of the ways Satan tries to destroy God's work is to plant seeds of doubt, of cynicism, and of carelessness about the people of God. Just remember, no one is perfect, and neither is any church. Don't make the imperfections of the church an excuse for your own failure to serve Jesus, but come to him in sorrow for your sin, your half-heartedness, your lack of love for his family. Say with the tax-collector, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

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Isn't Faith Just a Psychological Crutch?

 

We've all had it done to us--and probably done it to others: 'Ah, but you only think/say that because you...' Instead of addressing the issue, we attack the man and his supposed motives, this saving ourselves the trouble and effort of thought.

'Isn't religion only a psychological crutch?' is such a question: the assumption behind it is that Christianity is believed only by those who need psychiatric help. It is reported that one Christian man was denied a Ph.D in Social Science: he was told, "Believing as you do about God, you are by definition crazy!" And this was the way Christians were treated in the former Soviet Union: anyone who believed in God was mentally sick, and needed to be cured. Such people were therefore committed to asylums until their 'cure' could be effected using all the means available to the mind-doctors.

How shall we answer this question, or the implication behind it, that religion is nothing but a prop for crippled personalities. Of course it may be that you only ask this question because you are trying to evade God, just as it may be true that one reason a person is a Christian is because he needed healing of his psychological problems. However, neither is at all relevant to the truth of the Gospel: it is either true or not true irrespective of the mental state of its defenders or detractors.

Having said this, we should recognize that there is something else to be said about this question: In New Testament times, believers were plotted against, threatened, pursued, persecuted, incarcerated, maimed and murdered. But never were they dismissed as psychological cripples by non-Christians! So why is this charge so frequently levelled against modern Christians?

In his book, A Hole in My Ceiling (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985), well-known Australian TV scriptwriter Tony Morphett wrote (p.58):

Too often we Christians seem too eager to please. We go around smiling like ventriloquists' dolls so people don't realize we're serious in what we're saying! Australians like a bit of abrasiveness. I give you John Laws who has topped the radio ratings here in Sydney for years! 'Gentle John Laws meek and mild?' If Christians argued their faith with the same knowledge and fervour and boots-and-all approach that blokes in my suburb argue football... then this would be a Christian country!

Could it be that the charge of being psychologically disabled is actually deserved by a generation of Christians who are compromised, materialistic, and ashamed of the gospel of Christ? So it's a good question: it challenges the believer to think about his own image. Just what do others see when they look at us Christians? Let's not forget that the Answer to the Question will be only as believable as the person offering it...

Isn't faith just a psychological crutch? Isn't Christianity just for psychological cripples? It is instructive to observe how Paul spoke to the Athenians in about AD49. It has been estimated that there were 3000 temples and idols in that city of culture. What was Paul's message? The power of positive thinking? Unlocking your human potential? How to be healed of your psychological paralysis?

When Paul came to Athens, "A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, 'What is this babbler trying to say?' Others remarked, 'He seems to be advocating foreign gods.' They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection" (Act 17:18). Paul's message climaxed with these words, "For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (v.31).

Paul's message to non-Christians began with the objective facts about Jesus: he is Lord. All authority is his. He is the Judge of all men. What a contrast with much of modern 'evangelism' with its appeals to 'allow Jesus into your heart.' Poor Jesus. Gentle Jesus meek and mild, knocking meekly at your heart's door. Too readily we forget that in Revelation 3:20, the One knocking at the door of the Laodicean church is 'the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation'!

The real issue is this: Are the claims about Jesus true or are they not? The Christian testimony clamours for a response--for or against. As Paul said to the Athenians,

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

The message of the Gospel leaves us with only two options:

  • Believe the information about Jesus to be true, and turn from being a rebel to trust and serve him; or
  • Reject the message as untrue, and, according to the Christian testimony, risk facing Christ as Judge.

Whether or not you are--or think you are--a psychological cripple is irrelevant at this point. It is a question of truth. The facts of the gospel are open to examination in the Bible, and to practical testing in the laboratory of life (John 7:17--'If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.')

 

A Word to Christians.

According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. All owe him their allegiance, and whoever comes to him he will in no way reject.

Despite this, Christians can feel threatened by the questions and objections posed by unbelievers. Perhaps they do not feel quite secure in the Faith; sometimes they do feel very much like cripples.

They need to come back to the same place as non-Christians: is it true or not? If it is not true, then stop wasting your time coming to church, praying, reading the Bible, trying to persuade others. If Christianity is not true, then filling the church with converts will not make it any more true. Truth is not determined by a majority vote.

If I believe the Faith to be true, the next question is: Am I gripped by the love of Jesus? Does the love of the One who prayed, 'Father, forgive them...' constrain me in my relations with others?

It may be that speaking about Jesus to another person will ruin a good business relationship. It may break up that romance, or spoil that friendship. Is it worth it? What does love say? Love says that Jesus died for rebels, and that I have no business hiding that fact from my neighbour. Is it love to withhold from him the knowledge of the only remedy which can deliver him from eternal damnation? Is it love to treat that non-Christian with contempt, and dismiss his questions?

Sadly the Christian Church is not lacking in spiritual cripples: those who have no vision; those obsessed with structures and traditions; those whose arm is never stretched out to help; those who are deaf to the cries of the needy, and whose mouths utter the Word of Life only in the safety of Christian meetings.

What controls us? Is it the love of Christ, or of Money? Maybe some Christians have never been asked any of these Frequently Asked Questions because nothing they have ever said or done has ever challenged the complacency of worldly men. What a tragic situation! They need to ask themselves the question, "If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

Come back again to the facts of the Gospel: are they true, or not. Is Christian faith only for psychological cripples? Oh no-- everyone is welcome! Isn't faith just a crutch? No--it's the response of trust in the Lord of the Universe who died to save us from the crippling and damning effects of our sin.

'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son' (John 3:16).

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