Being inside of a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being inside of a garage makes you a car.
I love pithy statements like that.
Mind if I attempt another one to help balance the one above? While its true that being inside of a garage doesn’t make you a car, it’s also true that if a car is going to function like its supposed to, it definitely has to spend time in a garage. While being in a church building doesn’t make you a Christian, a Christian must spend time with other Christians (the church) in order to function like he’s supposed to.
We should be clear that salvation is by God’s grace in Christ through faith in Him. No one is declared righteous before God because they gather with Christians every Sunday. There very well may be people who are trusting in their religious fervor instead of trusting in Christ for salvation. We should warn against that. I warn against that at my church.
At the same time, Scripture is clear in calling believers in Christ to meet together:
. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV).
If those who have been born again by the Spirit of God upon their faith in Him are “the body of Christ and individually members with it” (1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12; Ephesians 4), then those members will sense their need for one another. After all, there is only one Spirit of God, and that Spirit is one that promotes unity. It would be silly to claim to be unified with a group of people if the group of people never united in a regular gathering.
It is true that salvation is by grace through faith, and it is also true that those who have been saved will show evidence of their conversion, and that one of those evidences is a love for other believers expressing itself in a local church (1 John 4:20). Church attendance doesn’t save you, but for the Christian who has opportunity to gather, it does give evidence of it.
There was a man who stumbled over treasure in a field and was willing to sell everything he had so he could get the treasure. That’s how valuable the kingdom of God is–it’s more valuable than everything you’ve got (Matthew 13).
May I suggest that a way to tell how much the kingdom of God is worth to us is to ask: “When the priorities of God’s kingdom and another kingdom come into conflict, which one consistently wins?”
Not attending church one Sunday doesn’t cause you to go to hell or lose your salvation, but a lack of desire to attend that expresses itself in missing for almost any reason could be evidence that you don’t truly understand the value of the kingdom of God. That’s a nice way of saying, you might not actually be saved.
Look, I’m not trying to be a “if you aren’t at that building every time the doors open you’re not saved” kinda guy. I get that a local church is more than just a building–it’s a body. I get that a lot of real church stuff happens throughout the week as we encourage, check on, write, text, hang out, etc, with one another. But that doesn’t mean local churches aren’t called to meet together corporately.
I also get that sometimes you get sick. Sometimes you’re out of town visiting family. Sometimes your job has extenuating circumstances that forces you to work on Sunday for a short period of time. I’m not worried about out of the ordinary situations. I’m worried about those who show a pattern of missing and the implications for that person and the church he is supposed to be part of.
When something conflicts with the kingdom’s priorities, which one consistently wins? How you respond to that in your lifestyle reflects how much you truly value the kingdom of God.
Suppose you’ve got a “friend” who you keep inviting over to hang out, but at the last minute, almost every time, he comes up with an excuse not to come: “I got tickets to the football game.” “I stayed up really late last night.” “I’ve got homework I haven’t done yet.” “I was nervous about getting out in this weather.” Every once in a while he shows up, but based on the excuses he gives you and how many times he has said no, you’re beginning to wonder whether or not he’s really your friend. You’d be crazy not to wonder that! Why would we think it would be any different when it comes to the priorities some have over regularly coming together with other Christians?
After all, going into a garage doesn’t make you a car, but a car won’t be functioning for long if it never spends time in the garage.