ATTENDING CHURCH TO BE SAVED
Is going to church necessary for salvation?
I remember the man on the street corner in the city of Miami Beach where I lived as a young man. The man was always on that corner giving away New Testaments “to anyone who wants to be saved.” I knew I hadn’t been “saved,” but I was not convinced I was “lost.”
I later learned how easily we can be lost, and how universal that condition is. But along with that doctrine of Sin, I also learned that God, who created us, loves us unconditionally. Yes, unconditionally. Christ died that all might live. Yes, we are called to live in the image of Christ, but God created us as human (fallible) beings and does not reject us for what we do. Our repentance immediately brings His forgiveness. Even without repentance, God loves us, though He may not love our actions or thoughts or words.
I do not believe we must “go to church” to be “saved”; I do believe that as fallible human beings we need some source of recharging, or encouragement, of community and of guidance. Holy Scripture, homilies that give us perspective and God’s comfort, the fellowship and strengthening that come from the mystical power of community — all these are food for our soul and can be found in a place of worship.
In my opinion, absolutely not! The right church can be a wonderful blessing that brings us closer to God. The wrong church can be just the opposite. Whether or not a particular church is “right” or “wrong” depends on whether or not it helps YOU. It might be the right church for you and the wrong one for me. However, none of us have to go to church to be saved. All we have to do is seek a relationship with God through Christ. If going to church strengthens that relationship, by all means, go. If it does not, put that same time and energy into something that does strengthen it, like simply talking to God through prayer.
Because of school and work, I have lived in several different cities over the past fifteen years. During that time, I was fortunate enough to have found several churches that helped me in my spiritual journey. There were times, however, when I could not find a church that met my needs. When that was the case, I did not quit growing spiritually, I just grew without the benefit of a church. I believe that God helps us IF we ask for His help. When I was without a church, God did not lose interest in me. He helped me through prayer, meditation, His word (the Bible), and in countless other ways as well.
Right now, the church I attend helps me tremendously. It is a great blessing, but my relationship with God is multifaceted. There was a time when I attended a church that actually turned me off to religion. With His help I realized I loved God but I hated that church. One of the saddest things in the world is for someone to lose faith in God because they have lost faith in a church. The two are not the same. The church is an imperfect institution run by fallible humans. God is holy and He is far too great to be limited by human institutions. If we seek Him, we will find Him, with or without the benefit of a church.
There have been times in my life when I’ve felt angry or far away from God, and going to church was the last thing I wanted to do. There are also times when the ritual of worship — kneeling, singing, going to the altar rail — is the best thing I do all week. And even when I don’t particularly want to go, the community of faith and the Word of God which is preached from the pulpit nearly always make me glad I did.
We are by nature and our relationship with the Creator, communal. God is within each of us. Talking with the God within may have some value, but in the end we’re probably talking to ourselves. Listening to God can be a solitary event, but acting for God requires partners.
In the past month, our 6-year-old son, who is passionate on every subject, has told me, “I don’t believe in God,” “Jesus is stupid,” and “God is a big invisible freak.”
Enlightened parent that I am, I tell him, “Lots of people feel mad at God from time to time; perhaps your point of view will change; God knows what’s in your heart, yada, yada, yada,” thinking if I don’t make an issue of it, it will go away.
Instead, it seems like every time he sees a clerical collar, it triggers another angry outburst at God. At his infant brother’s christening, he landed a swift kick on