“Come As You Are”

by Dan Gatlin

A popular notion of our generation is “attend the church of your choice.”  Sectarian bodies, promoting this concept, have tried to make themselves as attractive as possible to the general population in order to increase their membership.  There are some churches that focus on a particular group of people, i.e. there are cowboy churches, biker churches, trucker churches, etc.  Others advertise a “come as you are” policy.  Not surprisingly, some churches of Christ have followed suit.  What are the implications of this “come as you are” idea?  What does it really mean?

Come as you are — your sins are welcome here! 

This is really what most people think, that they can be part of a church without having to make any changes in their lives.  They can remain in their sin and they will be accepted as they are.  Unscriptural marriages, doctrinal error, human traditions are all welcome.  Perhaps this is the result of false teaching on the grace of God that has become so prevalent (that God ignores the “small sins”).  Maybe it’s the influence of Calvinism which teaches that you can’t really do anything about your sins because salvation is “wholly of God.”  Either way, such a notion is contrary to the teachings of the New Testament.

The Bible teaches that if we are to be saved we must change.  “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10).  Does putting off the old man and putting on the new imply that we can come as we are or does it imply that we have to change?  “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).  If we’re to lay aside our sin, we can’t come as we are.  “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:6).  One cannot be a part of the Lord’s church without being a Christian, and  baptism is essential in becoming a Christian.  Part of that process is to “do away with” the “body of sin.”  The verb “done away with” (katargeo) means “to cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish” (Thayer).  We must change, and our sins done away with.  Thayer defines the word repent (metanoeo) as “to change one’s mind.”  By its very definition the concept of repentance is contrary to “come as you are.” 

Come as you are — and bring your casual and irreverent attitudes

After the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Moses told Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified’” (Leviticus 10:3).  Reverence is also taught in the New Testament, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).  There are many ways that we can show irreverence toward God.  Here are a couple:

Appearance

Most of us attempt to dress appropriately for whatever situation we may find ourselves.  We dress differently for doing yard work than for going to a nice restaurant.  We dress better still if we attend a funeral or some formal function.  Our dress reflects our attitude toward  each situation.  Yet, some feel free to come to services dressed like they are about to mow the lawn!

True, the Bible does not give us a “dress code.”  If you would wear blue jeans and a tee shirt to your mother’s funeral, if it’s the best you’ve got, then by all means wear it.  There may be times when we’re traveling or getting off work when we just don’t have time to dress appropriately, but that’s not the point.  The point is when we choose to dress in a casual manner for a serious occasion.  Studying about our Lord and commemorating His death is a serious and solemn matter.  That needs to be reflected in our appearance.  “A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? . . .” (Malachi 1:6).

Whispering, note-passing, and lack of attention

In worshipping God our external actions must be correct, but our minds must also be involved.  “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?” (I Corinthians 14:15-16).  While the context of this passage is the controlled use of miraculous gifts in a first century worship service, the idea that we must worship “with the understanding” is universal.  Our minds must be involved in every act of worship (I Corinthians 11:27-28; II Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 5:19; etc.).  Inappropriate behavior while we should be worshipping demonstrates a profane and irreverent attitude.

Come as you are — and we’ll require nothing of you

Some are more concerned having a body in the pew and a few more dollars in the collection plate than with the church functioning in its proper capacity.  “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).  To imply that people can be a part of the church, do nothing, and then be saved is deception of the worst kind.  Those who don’t want to do the Lord’s work need to repent (change their minds).  When one becomes a child of God they take on certain responsibilities, whether they want them or not.  This is why Jesus cautioned us to “count the cost” (Luke 14:26-33).  “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Should we tell people to “come as they are?”  Not if we love them.  Not if we want their souls to be saved.  Such an approach is deception.  The message we should convey is that sinners need to leave their sins behind (Hebrews 12:1; I Peter 4:1-2), transform their thinking (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20), and start serving God (I Corinthians 4:1; Hebrews 12:28).