I always laugh and give one of my stock replies: “If we were all supposed to be perfect, none of us would need church,” or “Well, I go every week, and it hasn’t burned down yet.” In my inept way, I want these people to know that none of us can do anything to deserve walking through that door into church. I want them to understand that it’s not anything we have done; it’s not how good or religious we are that warrants us a sacred invitation to attend church.
I want them to know that they are always welcome in church, even if they don’t believe.
In my life, I have experienced that same feeling: I don’t even think I believe in God; how can I go to church? I would feel like such a hypocrite. I’ve also felt about church on the other end of the spectrum: I don’t want to go to church; the only people who go to church are hypocrites. And I’ve been in the middle, where I neither thought about going to church nor thought about not going to church; it simply wasn’t on my radar.
In my life, I’ve been a church-goer and a non church-goer. I have attended church when I believed and when I wasn’t sure that I believed. I have attended church, fully believing that God is with me, and not felt anything holy. I have attended church, too distracted by my own small life to feel the whoosh of the Holy Spirit. Yet God has never shouted at me from the heavens to exit his house because I wasn’t good enough. God has never struck me with lightning if I dared to enter his house after sinning. No church that I attended ever burned down when I entered it.
Although when the fire alarm goes off during service, I wonder if anyone has thought that there is a real fire, and that they are the reason for the alarm. If God worked like that, the building would be up in flames about half the time I showed up.
I am a sinner, and I go to church. Almost every week. I believe that the body of believers, God’s church, is meant to grow in ranks of sinners. Most of us will never become saints, but we can all praise God together for the wonderful gift of salvation he gave us in Jesus Christ. None of us are good enough to receive this gift. Yet God gave Jesus to us for the sole purpose of saving us from our own sins, so we can live with him forever in heaven. I don’t know why he did this. But I believe that he did it because he loves us.
For years I have prayed for my loved ones to know Jesus as I do. I don’t know specifically who I’m praying for; I don’t quiz them about their beliefs. I cannot know the hearts of those who don’t say much about what they believe. So I pray.
And I attend church, and hope that my loved ones will be there right next to me someday, feeling fully welcomed.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)