A quote I’ve seen shared more than once on Facebook reads, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”
I’m sure I’ve clicked “like” to that sentiment at some point. Heck, I’m positive I’ve even shared it at least once.
In recent years, though, that saying has bothered me more and more, though I couldn’t quite explain why. It sounded reasonable enough, but still, it ate at me every time I saw someone else share it or ‘like’ it.
It recently dawned on me that the saying uses a very poor analogy. A person, no matter how many times they may walk into a garage, will *never* become a car. A person who goes to church, on the other hand, may well become a Christian.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not nitpicking. I understand that the general idea is that there may be those out there who assume (out of misinformed ignorance) that any involvement with a church, even just annual attendance on Christmas or Easter, will somehow get them into heaven. The truth is, though, that I’ve never met even one such person. Not one.
Instead, I think that this quote belies an underlying judgmentalism about those who actually DO attend church. It has become all too easy for us as a society to loosely toss around the term ‘hypocrite,’ especially in regard to regular church-goers. This quote seems to imply that some of these very people who show up to church are really just self-deceived at best, if not out and out false Christians. Perhaps that’s not at all the context in which the original quote comes from, but that’s how it seems to be used these days.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered in the last 25 years of ministry who stay away from church “because of the hypocrites.”
What a shame.
Let me draw you back to the analogy of the car for a moment. While standing in a garage will decidedly not make you a car, I want you to think about what you DO with a car to keep it running smoothly. Yes, you may be able to drive a car for many miles without ever taking it to a garage, and you may be able to get some extra miles out of it by doing some of the work yourself, but you’ll never have the same mileage you’ll have if you take it to the garage.
Just like we take our cars into the garage for maintenance and repair, so we need to take our selves to church. No, the pastors and elders are not the mechanics. But neither are you. God is the master mechanic, and He uses His body, the church, to minister to His people. The church, as a collective body of people with unique giftings and skills, is able to fulfill the “one another” commands of the Bible in a way that we simply cannot as individuals.
Finally, a word about that poor, ignorant, misguided, self-deluded person standing in the church….
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14)
Where better for them to be, but to be where they can clearly hear the Good News that “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. … ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’’ (Romans 10:9-10,13)?
No, standing in a garage will NOT make you a car, but getting yourself to where Jesus Christ is preached very well may be part of the process of how God transforms you into a Christian.
And, as for you, Christian, you are part of that heavenly pit crew.
“Freely you have received, freely give.”
Love in Christ,