There are some things that a person wishing to go to church for the first time must know. There are requirements and regulations and accepted standards that everyone needs to adhere to. God also has a list of things that He checks when someone goes into a church building. I thought it might be helpful for you to read the list to see if you qualify;
- Become a better person to ensure you will be accepted by God and others
- Learn how to pray and know The Lord’s Prayer by heart
- Make sure you are physically clean so that you don’t cause offense
- Know about the Bible and memorise some verses
- Buy smart clothing so that you fit in
- Get a baby-sitter so you can leave the kids at home
- Save some money so you can put it in the offering bag or contribute to the building fund
- Make a list of your sins so that when it’s time for confession you know what to say
- Learn how to smile cheerfully and to engage in small talk with strangers
- Listen to some worship music and remember some of the lyrics
Some of you are wondering where I’m going with this. Others are reading anxiously through the list to see which of my suggestions apply and what you personally should do. A few might be thinking that this advice is sensible. One or two might have missed the point completely and are annoyed that people could be misled. The vast majority, however, are smiling to yourselves—you get it or at least you think you do….
A church, according to Wikipedia, is a building used for public Christian worship. However, the Bible teaches us that all Christians are part of the universal body of Christ which is the church in a broader sense (Colossians 1 vs 18 and other verses.) Christians gather together in buildings in their local area to worship God—these are what most of us think of when we talk about churches.
The big question is, who do these churches (or church buildings) belong to? Some may be partly or wholly government owned, others may be owned by a group of people with a board of trustees, still others may be privately owned and choose to operate independently.
Regardless, all of these buildings are ultimately owned by God. He is the one who places authorities over us and He also provides the finance for buildings to be bought and sold. He owns all of our assets whether we acknowledge it or not. Church buildings and other places that Christians gather for worship are a blessing from Him.
I have heard most of the list of wrong views about church above from non-believers. A street teenager in the Philippines thought that he couldn’t go to church because he didn’t know how to pray. He also said that he was too dirty to go into a church building. Another person said that they wanted to become a better person before they could go to church. Someone else was worried about tithing and whether they would be forced into confession. The others on my list have been mentioned in one form or another in different cultures and in different church situations around the world.
We may think the list is ridiculous and the people that are thinking these things are ignorant. But these are some of the things that people are actually worrying about. To be clear, none of the above are things that anyone should be concerned about or even thinking about when making decisions about going to church. There are no requirements for attending church, at least, there shouldn’t be.
As Christians, we bear the responsibility for projecting the wrong image of our churches to the outside world. We may misrepresent them by our behaviour outside the church, by the way that we respond to a question about what church is like or by failing to correct someone’s erroneous view. We may not want that person to know the truth in case they actually come to our church and reveal who we really are to our congregation. Maybe we think that they won’t fit in due to their ungodly lifestyle. We have gradually formed rules about dress codes, cleanliness and noisy children, amongst other things….
We like formality and we don’t like disruptions or change. We are comfortable mingling with the same people and following set routines week by week. Anything or anyone that disturbs this is a nuisance. We may announce that we welcome all visitors, but is that evidenced by our actions?
It is biblical for there to be order in a worship service, after all we need to remember Who we are worshipping. But what happens when our traditions, rules, regulations and requirements that are cultural rather than biblical stop people coming to our churches?
They are afraid that they may be checked at the door, or worse gossiped about or alienated having made it over the threshold. They fear that they won’t fit in due to the close knit Christian clique of popular people or that they may be relegated to a seat somewhere far away from the regular members. That they might be asked to move if they accidentally sit in a deacon’s usual spot. They are anxious about the potential superficiality of some of the conversations where numerous people ask them how they are doing before walking off mid-sentence because someone more interesting arrives.
They fear rejection, humiliation and most of all they fear not being good enough. They are in like company in one respect—none of us are good enough for God. That’s why Jesus had to die and why there are no divine scales measuring good and bad deeds or places called Purgatory. Our churches are full of sinful people if only we would acknowledge it. That’s why we need a Saviour. But, instead of recognising that we have all fallen short of God’s perfect standard, we add extra unnecessary burdens to people. We make them feel that they have to be good enough for us before they can enter our churches.
Let’s try to remember that God doesn’t show partiality and that we shouldn’t either (James 2 vs 9.) Let’s not be like the religious leaders who outwardly followed all of the rules but inwardly were corrupt. They were harshly rebuked not only for their own folly but for taking others down with them. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Matthew 23 vs 13
Let’s debunk the myths and wrong beliefs about church and ensure that we are not adding extra-biblical procedures to our services. We can also take responsibility for our behaviour as members of the body and ensure we always encourage unbelievers to come to church and then genuinely welcome them when they turn up. This is not just the responsibility of church leaders or the super-spiritual, but all of us as representatives of Jesus.
It may have taken years of prayer or numerous contacts from different people over the years to get a person to actually take the first step and attend a meeting. This is especially true in Western atheistic cultures where society has shunned Christianity and church as a by-product. Let’s make the most of the opportunity to encourage, support and share the Gospel with them rather than placing hurdles in their way. Let’s be tolerant of things that might irritate or mess up our neatly arranged schedules—I never thought I’d use the word “tolerant” in a positive capacity due to rampant political correctness, but there it is!
God owns our churches and He welcomes those who are sincerely seeking the truth. He promises that those who seek Him with all their hearts will find Him. (Jeremiah 29 vs 13) Let Him be found in our churches as we seek to love people and share the Good News about Jesus with them.