Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?

8 12 2010

“Don’t be deceived: If u r able to go to church and don’t, u r either in sin or you’re not a Christian”

On November 30th 2010 I “retweeted” the above quote.  Since then I’ve had some questions and comments about this quote so I thought that I would write a little…

Where in the Bible does it say a Christian has to attend “church”? Aren’t we all the “Church?”
Yes the term church in the New Testament can mean the universal church.  It can also mean the church of a specific region. But also very specifically, it can (and does in many instances) mean the “local” church. Check out for example Philippians 1:1. Notice Paul addresses the Saints, Overseers, and Deacons of Philippi. He was writing to a local congregation that gathered regularly.

Secondly, think about church structure. There are Pastors, and deacons in churches. This is clearly taught in the New Testament. Hebrews 13:7 says “obey your leaders.”  Teachings and verses like this wouldn’t make sense if there was not a regularly gathered congregation.

In Acts 2 we see the church regularly gathering.  In Hebrews 10:25 we have a specific command to not forsake the times we meet together. Also,  in the New Testament world the idea of “being a Christian” and “not gathering together with the church” would not have made sense.  Now days we do have many “Christians” who claim to be adopted by God but don’t gather with His family. Now, I do agree that the church is NOT a building.  We should not say “I’m going to church today”.  We should say “I’m going to gather with the church today.”  But in our culture, “going to church” and “gathering with the church” have become synonymous, so I don’t think we’ll win that battle!

1 John 3:14 tells us that we know we have passed from death to life because we love the “brothers.”  This is not talking about cheap “I love you” with my words love either.  This means that we can’t truly love one another if we don’t ever see one another.

Now, is the church supposed to gather on a weekly basis? Several passages of Scripture not only indicate yes, but they also indicate what day!  Take for instance one of the first gathering of the disciples post-resurrection (cf. John 19-20).   Then we look in Acts and see the church gathering on the same day (Acts 20:7).  What day were they gathering? Sunday! The first day of the week- Sunday- the day Jesus rose from the grave.  See also 1 Cor. 16:2 where Paul instructs the church at Corinth to collect money on the 1st day of the week, and also notice in Revelation where John was shown many great wonders on the Lord’s Day (Sunday).

Paul instructs Timothy to “preach the word” and even tells him that one day people will still “gather” but with false teachers because they can’t take sound doctrine (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-4). Another interesting verse is 1 Thess. 5:27 where Paul instructs the recipients of his letter to read that leader to all the brothers and sisters.  These things would be impossible without a time that the church regularly gathered.

Also, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 talk about our spiritual gifts that we use when we are gathered.  What’s interesting about 1 Cor. 14 is that Paul goes on to detail for us some of the things that need to go on during worship together (1 Cor. 14:26-40).  The New Testament shows that God’s people gathered together in local congregations (that were led by Elders (Pastors)).  The Bible clearly commands God’s people to gather on a regular basis.

Finally, I’ll comment some more on Hebrews 10:24-25.  Just because you attend church does not mean you are actually fulfilling this commandment.  One may go to church and still be “forsaking” the assembly.  They may go to church begrudgingly or just for ulterior gains (power, political, etc.).  Also, one may be at home and not really be breaking the commandment given in these verses.  They may actually be unable to gather (sickness, unavoidable job situation, etc.).  The point is however, that the people of God desire to be with the people of God.  Those who are able, but don’t go to church are either living in sin, or not a Christian.

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2 responses

9 12 2010
Shelby Hazzard

Hey Pastor Nelson, great topic and sound answers. I have also had many complaints and grumblings about this issue. Most justify their reasons for not participating by saying something like, “I don’t want to go to the church, it is full of hypocrites…or so and so goes there and I know what kind of person he really is” Well, true, the church is full of all types of people there for the wrong reason which is why we have restorative discipline outlined specifically in scripture.

It is the humble opinion of this sinner saved by grace that if we practiced restorative church discipline we would see a drastic change in the way people viewed the necessity of church involvement. Do we have to attend church to be Christian…of course not, salvation is by faith alone, not works (including church membership)…but if we are truly a born again believers in Christ, then the Spirit of God indwelling our souls will propel us to desire to belong and serve in a local body of Christ.

It is possible for churches to be apostate (completely abandoning the apostolic teaching) and in those cases, we would need to do our best to contend for the truth in those circumstances, until it becomes abundantly clear that those involved are not going to accept the truth…then it is time to ‘shake the dust’ and move on to those that God has prepared to hear and accept the truth.

Christians must be involved in a local church, there is absolutely no scriptural evidence to the contrary.

Great Word, Bro. Cuatro, God bless you and your new calling!!

Shelby Hazzard
AMD Washington County Baptist Association
Greenville, MS

10 12 2010
allennelson4

Thanks! Good to hear from you Shelby. And I guess I did not clarify that, NO, going/not going to church does not mean that you are or are not a Christian. Look at the theif on the cross! I guess my main point is that in the NT we don’t see a separation between being a Christian and going to church… God’s people love God’s people.

You are right on about Church discipline my brother. We have been going through “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” on Sunday Nights. We just got to the part about church discipline and are spending several weeks camped out right there…

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