The world has an incredible hold on many who consider themselves Christians. Americans have been conditioned by the “ask Jesus into your heart” mantra. But is it biblical? Is it biblical to say a short prayer and check it off your bucket list? Did Jesus hang on the cross so we can whisper a prayer only to continue with our lives as if nothing ever happened?
A common argument for Christians and non-Christians alike is that attendance at a church is unnecessary for worship. I don’t disagree there. A church is merely a building, but the intent behind the argument is typically, “I worship in my own way and corporate worship is unprofitable because all churchgoers are hypocrites.”
We are hypocrites. So what? Paul, the chief of all sinners could have easily named himself the chief of all hypocrites as well. He states, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV) If Paul was a hypocrite, should we be surprised that Christians today are hypocrites?
This is a good time to drag in the oft misquoted verse, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 ESV) Did Jesus really mean that we are not to judge? Or was this verse meant for nonbelievers to lampoon believers? What is the context of this verse?
Context. That is what determines the meaning of everything. A statement without context is useless. Before I mention logs in people’s eyes, take note that calling me a hypocrite or telling me not to judge is a judgment statement in itself. If we are never to judge and I am in error for judging, shouldn’t you lead by example by not judging? Would the mere fact of not judging in fact be judging? We could debate the matter, but that would definitely be judging.
Jesus goes on to explain, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5 ESV) Jesus isn’t attacking people who judge, he is attacking those who judge with a hypocritical Pharisaical heart. If I am an alcoholic, who am I to tell others about temperance? We aren’t supposed to point out others’ sins when we are mired in those same sins. We are called to turn to Christ to overcome our sins.
The Church is the bride of Christ. If we despise the Church (the body of believers), how can we claim to love Christ? Similarly, John 15:23 is clear that if we hate the Son, we hate the Father as well. If a friend tells me that I am a swell guy but my wife is a shrew, is he really my friend? If someone hates my greatest treasure, my wife, then he hates me as well.
To hate the Church is to hate Christ.
I’ve also heard the tired retort, “Well, what about the Inquisition and the Crusades? The Church is evil!” I have had that same strawman tossed about by friends of mine. For good measure, they threw in some unintelligible redirect regarding the persecution of the Cathars and the Waldenses.
As far as I’m concerned, there are two points to address. One, if someone kills people in the name of Christ, they don’t know Christ. Secondly, the Inquisition is irrelevant to your salvation.
Jesus created the Church so that we can assemble with fellow believers and commune with Him. The Church with all of its human flaws is in place to glorify Christ. The Church is for the broken. The Church is for you and me.
Jesus died for our sins, yet some of us believe we can recite the Sinner’s Prayer and continue with our sinful lifestyles. I believe that is why so many reject the Church. Not because the Church is brimming with hypocrites, but because they are hypocrites themselves and refuse to turn from sin.
I’ve been there. I grew up in a “good Christian home.” I was raised Lutheran and was confirmed when I was thirteen. I had checked all the boxes. I was in the club. I had experimented with alcohol when I was a teenager, but that was only the beginning. When I was twenty-two, I could get in bars and I was a disc jockey at an active rock station. That was a terrible combination because I spent the next ten years or so in a boozy haze. I was saved. I could do what I wanted, right?
I never went to church because I didn’t want to be in the midst of hypocrites. I said I loved Jesus, but wanted nothing to do with Him. I wanted even less to do with his bride. While I was wallowing in my sin, Christ beckoned to me. Thanks to my wife and her incessant prayers, I was saved for real about five years ago.
I’m not the man I was five years ago. I eventually quit drinking and smoking and going to all bars. I’m even one of those hypocrites who goes to church every Sunday. I’m living proof that you cannot embrace Christ and remain unchanged.
Can you be a Christian without attending church? I believe the answer, at least on paper, is both. Jesus freed us from the chains of legalism so technically, I believe attendance is optional. I also believe Hebrews 10:25 commands the assembling of the saints. You can repudiate the church with all of your justifications, but Jesus’ response might be, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:23 ESV)