There’s a popular saying which goes, “Sitting in a church pew doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”
There’s a lot of truth to that statement, and Jesus Himself would have agreed with it. In a way, Jesus did agree with it when He taught His disciples the Parable of the Tares.
Jesus said that the Kingdom, that is, His church, would be like a sower going out to sow seeds in his field. After the sower sowed good wheat seeds, an enemy came by and sowed tare seeds. The weeds were of a sort, that at first looked like the wheat, and so the owner of the field forbade his workers from tearing them up, lest they harm the wheat also. But at the harvest, telling the two apart would be easy and the tares could then be tossed in the fire. (cf. Matthew 13:24-30)
In explaining the Parable, Jesus identified Himself as the sower, and the good seed, the wheat, as the sons of the Kingdom, that is, Christians. (cf. Matthew 13:37-38) These good seeds would be gathered up at the harvest and would thereafter shine as the sun in the Kingdom of their father. (Matthew 13:43) That is to say, the righteous in God’s Kingdom on earth will be blessed and will enter into a heavenly reward.
The tares were not so blessed. These were sons of the wicked one (cf. Matthew 13:38) and would be gathered out of the kingdom and thrown in a furnace of fire were there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (cf. Matthew 13:42) Jesus further identifies these lost souls as those that offend and practice lawlessness. (cf. Matthew 13:41)
The point of the parable of the tares was that not all who appear to be, or claim to be, followers of Christ and members of His church were ever and truly sons of God. Some are mere pretenders.
So Jesus would have very much agreed that sitting in a church pew doesn’t make you a good Christian.
Of course, skipping the activities of the church doesn’t make one a good Christian either. God very much wants you to be an active part of the Body of Christ. Thus the Bible speaks about how the church is to function, effectively working, with every part doing its share, thereby causing growth in the church for the edifying of itself in love. (cf. Ephesians 4:16) Thus God commands us, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some. (cf. Hebrews 10:25)
As the apostles preached Christ, the early church was marked by their adherence to the doctrine of the apostles, but also by the regular way in which they interacted with one another in love, prayer and fellowship. (cf. Acts 2:42)
We miss the point of the parable of the tares if we think Jesus was trying to say that you don’t need the church. In fact, Jesus was making just the opposite point. The tares were gathered out of the Kingdom to be burned. They were pretending to be part of the church, not disdaining the church altogether. The wheat, which represents the saved, was likewise, already in the Kingdom before the judgment, and continued in the Kingdom after the judgment.
Just as Noah was saved in the ark, so too, men are saved in the Kingdom of God. Thus, when you are saved, you are added to the Kingdom (cf. Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13) At the last day, it is the Kingdom which Jesus will hand over to God. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24) There’s no safety outside the Kingdom. (cf. Revelation 22:15; 21:8)
What we want to be is wheat in the Kingdom. We don’t want to be tares. The tares, as Jesus said, were those who gave lip-service to Him, but didn’t actually do anything He taught them to do. Instead they practiced sin and immorality, hoping that their words claiming to believe in Jesus would be enough. But it was Jesus who warned that not everyone who claimed Him as Lord would be saved. We need to also do the things he teaches. (cf. Matthew 7:21, Luke 6:46)
Lip service and self-identification as a Christian is not enough. It has never been enough. What is needed is that we bear the fruits of obedience. (cf. Matthew 13:23; John 15:8).
The church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us, as we seek to be true followers of His word, putting it into practice in our lives. Won’t you please join us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Call for times of services.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.