Should Unbelievers Feel Comfortable in the Church?
To guard from any misunderstanding, let me improve on the question: Should unbelievers feel spiritually comfortable in our churches?
I really appreciate churches filled with people who are loving and accepting towards unbelievers. Who doesn’t? However, if we are only loving and accepting toward them, we may give them an impression that they could continue in their sinful lifestyles. After all, they will still be forgiven, and graced, and accepted, and loved.
While I believe that church people should be loving and accepting towards unbelievers, I also believe that they must communicate a sense of holiness—an intolerance for sin.
God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45, Joshua 24:19, Isaiah 6:3, 1 Peter 1:16, Revelation 4:8). He can’t tolerate even a single sin (see the stories of Uzzah [2 Samuel 6:5-8] and of Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5:1-11], for God’s intolerance of sin). And if you’re not convinced, just look at the cross, where God’s wrath was poured on His Son.
Since God is holy, we are to be holy (ex. 1 Peter 1:15-16). And it follows that the church should be holy. That’s why Jesus established church discipline (see Matthew 18:15-17). That’s why the apostle Paul wanted to expel the immoral brother in the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 5). And that’s why Jesus gave himself up for the church, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
Given that, unbelievers must sense that the church is a holy place and it has no tolerance for sin. True, the people in the church aren’t perfect and are still prone to sin. But they are also people committed to holiness, helped by the Holy Spirit.
So the answer to the question is a resounding No! They must sense that they cannot continue with their sinful living. And they must sense that they are unworthy and are sinners deserving of hell, and are in need of a Savior. After all, an acknowledgement of spiritual poverty leads to salvation, just like the tax collector who prayed at the temple, acknowledging his sinfulness, and went down justified (see Luke 18:9-14).
If there is one place where unbelievers will feel loved and accepted for who they are, it should be the church. But if there is one place where unbelievers will realize their unworthiness and sinfulness, and their need of a Savior, it should also be the church, because it is the place where people who are sanctified by God and are committed to holiness can be found.