I cannot even begin to count the number of times that I have heard someone say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”
Is that really true? I would argue yes and no. The difficulty with response is that this is an especially heinous line of logic. You see the reality is that being a member of a church does not make you a Christian, nor does being unaffiliated with a church make you un-saved. However, if you are a Christian you will go church. Let me illustrate it by applying the same logic to several other areas of our lives.
- I don’t have to breath to be alive.
- This is true, but will only last a few minutes at best.
- I don’t have to stop working to go on vacation.
- Maybe. Depending on which way you go you will either have a terrible vacation or get fired for not completing your work.
- I don’t have to do school work to be a college student.
- And you won’t be one for much longer either!
- I don’t have to talk to or spend time with people to be a good friend.
- Try it and you will find yourself alone.
- I don’t have to go to work to be an employee.
- This won’t last long either.
When people use this line of logic I often wonder what happened to cause them to get to this point in their lives. Clearly this is not a conclusion that they have always had–something must have happened that caused them to to think they have outgrown the church.
What does the Bible say about going to church?
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
The writer of Hebrews challenges believers to continue meeting together in order to face the difficulties presented by “Day” approaching.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Here is a very easy to follow the flow of the Christian experience. People are saved. They are then ‘added,’ presumably to the church. Notice the very next line says that they devoted themselves to the teaching, fellowship, prayer, and (a very Baptist activity) eating. Can you have those elements outside of a brick and mortar building, yes–but those activities are activities of the church which is not a brick and mortar building.
The church is people, not buildings–but the people will meet in a building. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Paul is talking about the church here. How do I know? The very next thing he says is “God has appointed in the church,” referring back to the many member body of Christ–which is the Church.
While we may be able to be a Christian on our own, the New Testament has no place where this takes place! The reality is that we need each other. How can we practice the fruit of the spirit alone?
- Love cannot be expressed alone,
- Joy falls flat when there is no-one to share it,
- Peace only happens when there is a potential for multiple views (which cannot happen alone),
- Patience is what happens when you have to wait on someone or put up with their hard to deal with behavior,
- Kindness can only be shown to another,
- Goodness is best expressed when there is another to see that goodness,
- Gentleness is that thing you do instead of becoming physically or verbally angry with another person,
- and Self Control–well I suppose there is always an exception to the rule, as this technically could be practiced with or without another present.
Even in the beginning God didn’t want His people to experience life alone.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18
From the creation of the world God designed us to need other people. He knew that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do what He needed us to do on our own. So, in the created order, He designed us to need one another. How does this square with the idea that one could be a ‘lone ranger’ Christian? It doesn’t. We cannot, should not, and are not expected to live the Christian life alone.
Why do we go to church?
- Worship God with other people (read the Old Testament and New Testament, those who are God worshippers, worship God together).
- Use our spiritual gifts to serve the Body of Christ.
- Encourage and be encouraged.
- Learn from God’s word collectively so that as a body we can work together toward one goal.
What if you don’t like your church or you had a bad experience?
Let me illustrate it with a silly illustration that hits right at the point. I have had some bad experiences with food, but it has not caused me to stop eating altogether. Just because you may have had a bad church experience doest give you a pass to quit going altogether.
What should you do?
Try your church again. It could be that the person who wronged you was going through a difficult time in their life and accidentally treated you poorly because of it. This does not excuse their behavior, but it reminds us that we are all human and make mistakes (remember we are supposed to practice peace and patience!). If there are really deep issues that cannot be overcome then…
Look for a new place to worship. I AM NOT advocating church hopping. You should try all you can to reconcile with the church you are currently a member. However, if no resolution can be made (you talked to the person, you asked the pastor questions, you tried to elicit change using the appropriate channels) it might be time to find a new place to worship. You should know that eventually, you may find some of the same problems with the new place that you did with the old–sinners are everywhere! We all bring our own baggage to the mix, which makes no church a perfect church. What if I just can’t find a place that fits…
Keep looking. If you are struggling to find a place that ‘fits’ keep looking. Just remember, it is very unlikely that you will be able to get the total picture of what a church is like in one visit. Plan on attending each church you are considering for a minimum of a month. You will get a better picture of what the church is like given more time. You may have showed up on a particularly great or poor Sunday on your first visit–multiple visits will allow you to see what the ‘typical’ looks like.
Again, I encourage you to try all you can to stay at the church of which you are a member. You have history there, which can be good and bad. If you have had struggles it can make it difficult because we think that other will be judgmental–which actually makes us judgmental of them first–and they may not accept us. We need to give them the chance to work through the surprise and shock and allow the spirit to grow them and us to be more Christlike.
So, do you have to go to church to be a Christian? No. But if you are a Christian, it is likely (and expected) that you will go to church.