If we go to church, do we have a guaranteed spot in heaven? What if you constantly skip church but lead a very good life? This question gets at the heart of most people’s understanding of religion, which is basically that the point of religion is to ‘get into heaven.’ And if I’m basically a good person, shouldn’t God let me in, even if I’m not very religious? Books could be written on this subject. And have been.
These concerns presuppose a version of Christianity that is very different from what most theologians (i.e. people who study and teach Christianity) believe it’s all about. Namely, that Christianity is not about getting into heaven. Let that sink in for a second. The point of faith is not ‘fire insurance.’ It’s about bringing heaven to earth. This is the most common misconception about the Christian faith. Jesus taught about building the Kingdom of God right here, right now: to be a part of what God is doing on earth. That’s why he prayed “Your will be done, on EARTH as it is in Heaven.” He didn’t teach us to wait around and go to church (aka the Synagogue, back then) a lot before we die — he taught us to help the poor, to do justice, and to learn to love each other: to be a part of the new kingdom, the new system, that God is building. And remember that the Bible ends with a picture of heaven meeting earth in the New Jerusalem, where Jesus will begin to reign forever.
Now, that isn’t to say heaven doesn’t exist, or that we won’t go there when we die. Scripture paints a portrait of a day of judgment, when God will right all the wrongs in the world. Until then, it’s very possible that your ‘soul’ goes to be with Jesus “in paradise.” But that’s not the end of it. While most theologians would say we’re not really sure what that period looks like, or who gets to go, it’s pretty clear that having confessed and believed that Jesus is Lord is the key, not how many times you went to church when you were alive, or if you just led a good life. People must accept Jesus and his sacrifice in order to have him on ‘their side’. When our time in court comes a long list of the ‘good’ things we’ve done won’t cut it.
It’s also important in all this to understand what Church actually is — what it is not is simply one of a multitude of buildings you could go on any given Sunday. The New Testament teaches that those who believe and follow Jesus are an extension of his body. There are different parts, but we are all connected. Going to church is like saying “I want to be a part of Christ’s body, his people, to be a part of what this people is doing.” The point of going to church is not to rack up goodwill points with God, but should come from a place of wanting to grow deeper in your faith, in your relationships with other Christians, and a desire to partner with them and with God. It’s about desiring to be a part of his work of building the Kingdom here. You could lead a good life without going to church, but by getting close with a bunch of like-minded people who desire to follow Jesus, you’ll invariably grow in the depth and knowledge of faith.
To conclude, there are no ‘guaranteed’ spot in heaven by being good or having perfect church attendance. The closest thing you’ll get to a guarantee is a personal relationship with Jesus, which will always be easier to foster inside church than outside of it. And it’s not really about living a good life: it’s about being connected to our source and through Him making a difference for His kingdom.