Actually, going to church does make you a Christian.

Okay.  I hope not to offend.  But rather to challenge. I can’t take another friend liking this phrase on Facebook.  I can’t have them standing in the midst of the 250,000 who have already joined in this confession.  The congregation of the churchless.  The assembly that chants together, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

Oh, there is a trickle of truth running down this canyon of deception.  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.

Garages, you see, don’t make cars from sinners.   That is where the analogy fails.  But God’s Church, endowed with his Gospel and His gifts, does make Christians from sinners.  And that is why  going to church does in fact make you a Christian.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 13th, 2010 at 8:05 am and is filed under Theology and Practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Actually, going to church does make you a Christian.”

  1. Erich Heidenreich DDS Says:

    It is also true that if you ARE a Christian, you DO go to church. Scripture does not know of a Christian who is not part of an assembly of believers.

  2. George Harper Says:

    I agree that one CAN become a Christian by going to church. But from there on, I have to take issue. One becomes a Christian by faith-generated actions. Simply going to church, being baptized and confirmed, and then sitting back waiting for the reward of being a Christian is exactly what St James’ statement “Faith without works is dead” is telling us. We have to put our faith into action to be like Christ (Christian is NOT “a follower” of Christ if the love and servitude are missing).
    Paul points this out in Ephesians, Chapter 2:8-11, and again in Phillipians 4:8-9.

    If we would be a Christian, we MUST live the life, and walk the walk. Just talking the talk merely makes us a parrot!

  3. Harvie Schreiber Says:

    AMEN and AMEN!!!

  4. Kris Bair Says:

    The quote of the day has a great deal to do with it–“The scriptures are only properly opened and active within the believing community.” What IS the “believing community”? Is it ONLY in the Church (with a capital C)? For many, the word Church means the structure, not the believing community. Why? Because they have seen Unbelief sitting in the pews, pretending. On the hand, some use this as an excuse to not be part of “the believing community.” What does it mean to be part of this community? Assuredly, participation in the sacraments is a major aspect. And the sacraments ARE efficacious. At least sometimes. The Spirit blows where it will!

  5. Lisa Says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I have a blog but it has not been updated in a long time. I do like reading and hearing the defense of the faith. My husband is also an LCMS pastor.

  6. Aretta Gordish Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this response to that facebook “like” comment. It’s a tough issue to address but I thought
    you did an excellent job…so I posted it on my facebook profile page as well!

  7. Chris Says:

    Phil,

    A few thoughts.

    1) A great number of saints, particularly ascetics, lived out their entire lives in untrodden lands bereft of anything civilization has to offer. They did not even have a church, but made the world their church and devoted their lives to constant and unending prayer. Many of them, like St. Mary of Egypt, who spent out her years of repentance in the desert, perhaps only partook of the Eucharist once a year or maybe once in their entire lives. Are they then not Christians?

    2) I know several people, even a few in my own parish that are really not big on Christianity, but they come to church fairly regularly, maybe even every Sunday. Why? Because it’s a part of their heritage and culture. And this doesn’t just apply to Orthodox. I’ve known some Lutherans who still go to Lutheran churches, get married in Lutheran churches and have their kids baptized in Lutheran churches because they are of Swedish, German, Norwegian, et al. descent. I recall even reading an article once of an atheist who regularly went to the church in his town, sang in the choir, participated in several ministries but was adamant about being atheist.

    3) What of the sick and infirm who have no way to get there? Or those who have no priest to minister to them because one is unavailable? Are they less than Christian?

    There are many problems with your premise. It is too rigid and really downplays what the church first and foremost is–it is a hospital for the sick and suffering.

  8. Jaime Says:

    I don’t say this very often, but I think I agree with Chris. 🙂

    I have really been waffling and struggling with this post. I think you make some brilliant points. I think God does use church to present the sacraments that change us. But I think Jesus warned several times that there would be people who would hear but not understand, see but not perceive. Like Chris, I know that many people see church as something to do periodically because it’s cultural, but even when presented with the word of God and the sacraments, they’re like the seeds that aren’t planted in good soil. And I think the Pharisees are a great example; just as there were people in Jesus’ time who mistook legalism for piety, so there are today.

  9. Andrew Says:

    “One becomes a Christian by faith-generated actions.” George, this is the false doctrine of works-righteousness. Faith-generated actions are fruits that prove to the world that faith is living; they aren’t what make you a Christian. Only the gift of faith, which receives the Righteousness of Christ delivered in Baptism and the Gospel (At Church!)makes you a Christian (Rom 3:21ff; 10:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). You are confusing the cause with the effect, and your statement is a denial of the gospel.

    Good grapes prove the branches to be good and healthy and attached to the vine. But they aren’t what make them healthy branches. Only the vine makes the branches healthy. What you think are “faith-generated actions” are actually works of the flesh and sour grapes because you think they make you a Christian. So repent, and show fruits of repentance by clinging to the true Vine and not your own sour grapes.

  10. Tim Says:

    The gospel is the power of God that makes us Christian, whether you receive it in church or not. (Romans 1:16) However, the idea that God wants me to receive it alone is rarely true. Rather than asking “What can I get away with and still feed my faith,” a Christian will ask “What does God want me to do?” The answer in Scripture is he wants us “not to give up meeting together, but to encourage one another, all the more as we see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) God promises to bless us when we gather for worship. That’s all I need to make me want to go to church.
    Thanks for addressing a truism with the truth.

  11. Junker Georg Says:

    Great discussion. As for the catechism, in Luther’s 3rd Article of the Creed I try to get the catechumens and their parents to emphasize/inflect the word “same”, i.e., “…in the SAME way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” In other words, the way and means by which God the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ (i.e., “..but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts…”) is the SAME way/means by which He keeps us “…with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Such takes place in Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, which are those “means of the Spirit.” And the Divine Service usually takes place at church (aside from shut-in visitations and an outdoor summer service, etc.)

    Secondly, there needs to be a distinction between “worship” and “Divine Service”, at least in that while the Divine Service does include worship (i.e., thanksgiving and praise, not to mention above all the “latriea” mentioned by Melanchthon in the Apology, of simply receiving Word and Sacrament in faith, which is the highest praise we can render God!), worship does not necessarily entail Divine Service. Hence, our primary reason for “going to church” regularly is to receive God’s Divine Service to us, not to “worship God”, since we don’t have to be in church to be worshipping God per se, as we worship God in our daily vocations, recreation, and whatever else in life as we “live by faith in the Son of God Who died for us.” So when inactives make the typical argument, “you don’t have to be in church to worship God”, I tell them they’re right, in a sense. You can worship God in that duck blind on a Sunday morning, but you cannot receive His faith-sustaining Divine Service there.

  12. Donna Tatreau Says:

    I totally understand what you are saying, but here is where I am coming from. I have many health concerns that often prevent me from attending church on a regular basis. I must rely on watching services online, various pastors TV programs, and reading the Bible on my own. I MUST believe that will be “enough” to keep me in good standing as a Christian!! I greatly miss taking part in the sermons and sacraments. I know God is with me always and loves me just the way I am…..

  13. Bill Says:

    The meeting of believers IS the church. You don’t “go” to it. When we gather, WE ARE the church. Coffee shop. My garage. Sitting in the pew next to your friends. At work. In school. Where ever a group of us are gathered together and going about the work of Jesus–that’s church.

    We pray together. We worship together. We feed the poor together. We share the Gospel together. We are the church. It doesn’t take that nice brick building on the corner of the street to identify it for us either. “How will anyone ever know,” you ask? “By the love we share with one another.”

    If we stop just going and all of us just start being, I trust more people will see and begin believing! “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then teach all of these disciples all of the commands that I have taught you.”

  14. Ang Says:

    Wrong… But it is NOT going to church that one is made a Christian.
    Some of the most evil people I have ever known are ‘pastors’ and ‘elders’ and ‘apostles’ and others in the church who USE the church to prey on and manipulate the unsuspecting in the building known as a church.

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