Thursday, May 30, 2013

Does Going to Church Make You a Christian?

There’s a common adage among evangelicals that states, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” A thoughtful article written by a Lutheran addresses the subtle mistake in this:

It it true that your action of going to church does not turn you into a Christian.  No work of ours gives us our identity as Christians.

But it is precisely in going to church that one is made a Christian.  First at the font.  Then in the assembly.  Later at the table.  God does his work of making and keeping us Christians in his Church.  It is why the phrase “I believe in the Holy Spirit” is followed quickly by talk of the Holy Christian Church in the Creed.  As Luther says, “the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts,sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.  We are only made Christians by the Gospel and Gifts of God.  And those are given out in the church.  So in this sense, it is precisely by going to church that you are made a Christian and remain one.

As a Baptist who was once a Lutheran and still ministers among Lutherans on a regular basis, I’m going to temper the ecclesiology that Baptists disagree with in my analysis. Namely, Baptists do not believe that Baptism does anything particular for the believer aside from serve as an expression of the faith he or she already possesses. Baptists also do not agree that the presence of Christ is somehow mystically in the elements of the Lord ’s Table.

However, we Baptists do hold to the priesthood of all believers. We do believe that the gospel must be preached and that the normal way for people to come to faith is because Christians as members of all believers reach out to them with gospel ministry in one form or fashion.

There are a few Lutherans who believe that being baptized actually saves someone. However, most Lutheran’s who I have discussed this with acknowledge that just because someone is baptized as an infant doesn’t mean that they are automatically going to heaven. Likewise, partaking of the Eucharist doesn’t save anyone. Someone can grow up in church being baptized and attending every Sunday, being confirmed, etc. and still possess the wrong motives thereby losing all at the final judgement. So I appreciate the opening statements in my quote from the article.

But rarely is anyone saved outside of the actions of the church. There are exceptions we hear of from countries that are closed to the gospel where Christ has appeared to individuals or groups of people and called them to faith in similar manner as he did with Paul on the road to Damascus.

However, people make a good point when they ask about the native in deepest Africa who has never heard the gospel. It’s why we do missions. Our goal is to proclaim the gospel so all people hear it and have the opportunity to respond in faith. It doesn’t happen unless the church goes. Perhaps, therefore, it is better stated that “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but it sure helps when the Church goes to you.”

Christians, go and proclaim.

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