This morning I’m reading a passage in Numbers that says those who were defiled by sin or in any way were ceremonially unclean were not allowed in the camp with God’s people. Sin isolated a person from God’s people, and until that sin was confessed and the proper sacrifices made, that person could not join with the others in worship.
This made me think of Acts 5:12-14, “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. . . .”
Other places in the New Testament indicate that unsaved people did not attend Christian worship assemblies. It was only after the Lord “added” them to Himself that they joined with believers in worship, prayer, and other Christian activities.
I’ve often wondered why so many Christians today are eager to get their unsaved loved ones to “come to church” when the Bible seems to indicate that worship is for God’s people, not the general population. In the Old Testament, anyone with unconfessed sin in their life was forbidden to join in, and in the New Testament, they didn’t want to, nor does it seem their attendance was encouraged.
Sin separates people from God. Attending a gathering of forgiven people might convict an unsaved person of their sin. What he or she hears at church might encourage confession, but I wonder if we have put too much stock in church attendance. I’ve met people who hang their salvation on it. They claim that because they go to church, they are right with God.
My devotional reading talks about salvation by faith, not by good deeds or anything else that we can do. The author says, “God’s salvation is not a purchase to be made, nor wages to be earned, nor a summit to be climbed, nor a task to be accomplished; it is simply and only a gift to be accepted and can only be accepted by faith. . . . My friends may put their gifts on my table or even place them in my lap, but unless I believe in their friendliness and honesty of purpose enough to accept their gifts, the gifts can never become really mine.”
Even as a Christian who knows this to be true, I’ve found myself anxious that if I don’t do this or perform in a certain way, God will be angry with me. I may not fear the loss of my salvation, but fearing the loss of God’s favor is almost the same thing. When that happens, it reveals that my faith is more in me and in what I do, than it is in Him. This includes church attendance.
However, giving money, teaching Sunday School, studying the Bible, praying, and going to church do not mean I am a Christian, no more than standing in a garage means I am a car. I am a Christian because Jesus died for my sins, offered me eternal life, and I took Him up on His offer. While it could have, this didn’t happen in a church building. The issue is not whether I attend worship services or not; it was about whether I listen to and obey God.
Of course, if I am listening, He is telling me to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25) and a host of other things that could be classified as “good deeds,” yet none of those saved me or keep me. They are just evidence that God has already done that and I believe Him and am doing as He asks. This is not to earn His favor, but because I already have it. He has changed my life so that my “I wants” are now His wants.
If I ask someone without faith and without Jesus Christ in their life to come to church, I need to think about what I am asking. In the past, God would not accept worship from someone whose life was out of His will. If my church taught that “God loves and accepts you” would they get the idea that means they are welcome, sin included? Or would they realize that their sin made them feel out of place, and like the people in Acts, they would not dare join themselves to us without dealing first with their sin?
Another option is that rather than invite them to set foot inside my church without having faith, I live and interact with them in such a way that they know I’m obeying God. Perhaps they might “esteemed me highly” for this, but more to the point, perhaps the Lord would use my life and my words as part of their faith journey. Perhaps He would bring them to saving faith and add them to our number, giving them a heart to attend worship along with us.
I’m still not sure about asking the unsaved to church. I know if someone wanted to come, I would not say no, but I’d certainly want to make it clear that being in church is not equal to being a child of God.