Can one be saved outside of the Church?
First we have to clarify what we mean by Church. If we mean by this how church is commonly understood, then I think yes there is salvation beyond the Church. If we think of the Church simply as a holy place or a separate denomination we’re kidding ourselves and we haven’t heard Christ’s message. Christ said that there are those whom He calls to be his disciples, that is, to be the Church. But He loves others just as much. Beyond the Church there are over 5 billion unbaptized people, who belong to other religions. That’s why I think we can use the concept of “baptism by conscience,” when individuals live according to their deep moral-ethical principles given by God into all hearts.
Can we believe in God and not attend Church or be Churchgoers and not believers?
— I would presume that people don’t find themselves in church accidentally in the 21st c. People no longer keep tabs on who is in church or not, even in the villages. No one is scolded for non-attendance—and this is as it should be. You cannot be forced to be a Christian.
Unfortunately, there are those who go to church but live lives that are not worthy of a Christian. But they are a minority. Most people who go to church are searching for God.
Those who say that they believe in God, but do not attend, often justify their animosity to the Church in various ways. But as soon as a person feels touched by someone, invited, sees the joy of encountering God, the need for excuses evaporates. I am certain and can attest from my own life experience that God is knocking on everyone’s door in all kinds of ways, ceaselessly inviting them. Some respond and some keep the door permanently shut.
It seems that the first Christians had an authentic experience of the Lord, that the Church was more alive then. What is missing in today’s Church?
The early Church was a gathering place, a place of community, friendship, mutual support. Today our Church is undergoing a crisis of relationship. There is a concept of “anonymous Christians”—that is, people come to church, pray, perhaps have communion, formally greet one another—and that’s it. The early Christian communities exchanged the kiss of peace at Liturgy: they embraced each other. We can only reach such closeness if every parish becomes a gathering of intimate community.
Perhaps contemporary church communities became individualistic because of an undue emphasis on sacramentalism: that is, people come to Church only to “receive” a given “sanctity”. This is a post-Soviet legacy, when religion became a private affair, given the prohibition of public religious practice. This “religion complex” remains current: standing at the back of the church, not receiving Eucharist, passively keeping quiet, since a step towards openness requires spiritual effort. We, Christians of today, have many barriers to overcome in order to revive the original concept of Church.