The answer to our question will ultimately come from the answer to another question:
“What is my purpose for visiting the church?”
In answering this question, we do well to start with what we mean by a church “of another denomination.”
First of all, we are speaking of another Christian church—a church in which Christ and His Word are proclaimed. Visiting a non-Christian church involves
a different set of considerations that will not be addressed here.
Secondly, it is valuable to recognize what the implications are when a church is identified as being of “another denomination.” Essentially, we are understanding this to mean a church with which we are not in religious fellowship. Lutheran churches outside of the Church of the Lutheran Confession (ELCA, LC-MS, WELS, ELS, and so on) are still within our denomination—that is, Lutheran; but because we are not in established religious fellowship with them, the same principles apply to them as apply to churches outside of our denomination such as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and others.
Some Christian churches stray so much from Scriptural truth that we would find very little in common with them. With other churches, we may have very much in common. However, if we do not share a clear and expressed unity of faith and confession, then to engage together in an outward expression of fellowship is not consistent with God’s will. God desires confessional unity among those who express religious fellowship through worship, joint church work, prayer, and Christian education (compare 1 Corinthians 1:10,
Amos 3:3, and Psalm 133:1).
Certainly, simply being at a church of a different denomination does not need to create concern for the confessional Christian. A variety of community events—blood drives, elections, and informational meetings—take place at church facilities. The answer to our question will ultimately come from the answer to another question: “What is my purpose for visiting the church?”
One such purpose may be to attend a wedding, funeral, or other significant event to which we have been invited by family or friends. Another reason to visit may be to observe what the church teaches. The purpose of this type of visit is not to worship or to be taught God’s Word. A confessional Christian is able to attend these events without actively participating in the worship, and can do so without compromising God’s will.
It is a testimony to the power of God’s Word that even in such circumstances, if the true Gospel is proclaimed, there can still be comfort and benefit to those who hear. This is true regardless of who is proclaiming it. The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
If the purpose of visiting another church is instead to actively worship, to learn from Scriptures in a Bible Study, to pray, to engage in the work of the Gospel, to support that ministry, or any other practice of religious fellowship, then it is time to rethink the visit. In these circumstances, God’s desire for unity among those who make such expression of religious fellowship and His direction to remain separate from false teaching would apply.
If you have further questions on this topic, or to discuss these matters more fully, please talk to your pastor. He’s called as your spiritual shepherd and will be happy to study and apply Scripture with you in these matters.
Wayne Eichstadt is associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mankato, Minnesota.