I don’t know if you grew up hearing that church is for Christians, but I did. Not that it was necessarily wrong, and in some sense, it’s very right!
It’s right that we should say that corporate worship is mainly about God’s people worshipping him together. And it’s right that the majority of what happens in corporate worship is for the edification and encouragement of the saints. Someone who doesn’t know God can’t rightly sing songs to him, or understand scripture, or be baptized, or take the Lord’s Supper. So, in those ways, it’s good and proper to say that church is for Christians.
But, I think sometimes, it can almost be discouraged to invite lost people to church.
I have to believe that part of the reason for this is a reaction to many of the seeker-sensitive movements of the past 20+ years. We’ve been told that church is primarily where God’s people come together WITH lost people, and that we are to structure our corporate worship in such a way as to make unbelievers feel right at home. We are to cater the music to their tastes, make sure that we speak in such a way as to not alienate them, and just generally acquiesce to their felt needs.
I’ve actually heard people speak about how they let unbelievers be on the worship team of their churches. How a lost person could possibly have a place on a team that’s based on worshipping the God they’re rebelling against is beyond me, but I tend to be the odd-one-out when I balk at the idea in some of the circles I run in.
And so, reactions against seeker-friendly churches that cater to unbelievers are definitely something I can support – but not if it causes us to go too far the other direction.
Human beings live for the extremes, and we seldom are blessed with the ability to navigate the river without constantly crashing back and forth between the banks!
I’ve had people on the flip side actually tell me that because church is for Christians, it’s wrong to invite lost people to church!
And into the other bank they crash!
Well, I’m here to say that it is good and right to invite lost people to church, and I think that the New Testament both explicitly and implicitly endorses it, and I wanted to simply share a few thoughts I have on the subject.
Paul seems to think that lost people will be attending corporate worship, at least occasionally
In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Paul is speaking about speaking in tongues and prophecy, and just as an aside, in the middle of his discourse, he says this
24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an enquirer enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
Paul believes that it’s enough of a possibility in Christian churches that unbelievers and enquirers will enter into corporate worship, that he wants to make sure that not all people speak in tongues, else it would breed confusion for the lost! This little passage seems to say alot about how, although church is for Christians, we need to be sensitive to the lost within our midst. Of course I don’t believe that we should change God’s prescribed way of worship for them, but to consider them is something that Paul takes seriously here.
So, here at least we have one explicit reference to the idea that it’s natural to think of having unbelievers in our midst at church. But, I have two more.
Proper preaching always includes a proclamation of the gospel, which is for both lost and saved people
Sound, biblically faithful preaching will always be gospel-centered, meaning, that they will always show how Christ and him crucified is the main point of any passage that is being preached. This of course will require that we show how each passage that we preach connects to and/or flows from the gospel. So, what better place to bring our unbelieving friends or family than to a church where we show that the bible is not primarily about do’s and don’t’s, but about done’s! The whole bible’s theme is the revelation of the work of God in Christ, and unbelievers need to see and hear that. Solid, gospel-centered preaching is a wonderful thing to expose lost and dying souls to. But, I have one more reason.
Even the God-ordained ordinances of corporate worship witness of the gospel
Think about baptism for a moment, regardless of exactly what flavor of baptism you hold to (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist etc…), one thing is for certain – baptism paints a picture of the gospel! Baptism is a wonderful testimony to all the great truths of the gospel. In baptism, the picture of Christ’s death and resurrection is painted, along with how we share with him in that, because we are united to him. So, in baptism, we have a visible picture of the invisible reality of our union with Christ in the gospel. A baptism is a wonderful thing to bring an unbeliever to – because it presents an amazing evangelistic opportunity.
But, it’s not just baptism, the Lord’s Supper is the same way. What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 11 about the Lord’s Supper? That as often as we partake of it, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes! Well, isn’t that what evangelism is all about? Proclaiming the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord. Again in the Lord’s Supper, just as in baptism, we have a visible picture of profoundly deep meaning. From the picture of Christ’s bruised body and shed blood, to the fact that the ordinance is a meal – picturing the fellowship we have with God through Christ, the Lord’s Supper is an amazing evangelistic tool.
So, far from needing to cater our worship services to the whims and wishes of lost people, we are much better off to follow God’s prescribed way of worshipping him, knowing that in corporate worship, there are plenty of opportunities for showing forth the gospel to unbelievers.
So, invite lost people to church!