I hear this almost on a bi-weekly basis either in my close contact with relations or in comment sections of news articles. Many years ago, my brother-in-law brought up this topic on our way home from the airport.
He’s not very sympathetic to religion, but he would ask questions. I get this a lot where people ask questions, and I have to try and fish out whether or not they’ve already made their mind up and want to bash religion for fun, or if the origins of their question is genuine.
He brought up the fact that there are good people out there who act compassionately and do great charitable acts. They’re not necessarily religious or Church-goers but they’re more hard-working and generous than even most Christians.
I didn’t really want to entertain the question too much because I sensed too much tension and I was suffering significant jet lag. Even though I knew my response was going to fall short of what someone with no faith would look for, I simply brushed it off saying “it’s done in vain because it wasn’t done in the name of Christ.”
I always felt deep remorse for not dwelling on his question further. Even though I’m just a layperson with no theological expertise, I’ve always wanted to at least have had the opportunity to take another shot at his question. Have you ever felt like that? “Sheesh…you know, I really would have loved to revisit that conversation and have said this.” We do that from time to time, don’t we?
The simple answer is that we don’t go to church that we might learn to be good people. We go to Church to worship God and save our souls. It’s more about salvation in which the good works we’ve done, in the name of Christ, help further that goal. Now…if you don’t believe that then really there’s no other way I can answer this question that’s going to make you feel the need for Church right? OK.
Furthermore, the idea that someone engaged in charitable acts somehow makes them a generous person is an incredibly major fallacy. I’m going to be blunt, there’s no such thing as a virtuous person…period. Every single one of us on this planet have the propensity to evil and sin. Even those now considered saints by the Church did great deeds but likewise struggled with sin.
Some do good things but do it for a reward. When I say that you immediately think of a physical reward. That may be true, but the prize I’m talking about is a different kind. Self-esteem, stroke of the ego and the praise of others are often at the root of charitable acts.
Unless the charitable act is free from all stain of self-love and desire for a reward, can it really said to be still charitable? No, not even by secular standards. Therefore the act may appear to be useful in our eyes, but the Lord looks deeper into the mans heart. He doesn’t look at what action is being performed by why it’s being done.
Someone who is occasionally kind to others doesn’t somehow make them pleasant. So when people approach me telling me they’re good people who don’t need the Church, I don’t buy into that. Of course you’re not a virtuous person, and secondly, you’re only ever going to realize you need the Church when you’re ready to develop a relationship with Christ.
There really is no magic answer here that is going to make a person start going back to Church. If someone’s mind is already made up that they’re already righteous and don’t need the Church, all you can do is lead them there. Are you not ready for the Church? OK, well, Christ will wait until you’re ready. Yeah…It’s actually that simple.