Shelley had a great post in response to a friend’s question. I started to respond there as a comment, but it became so long, that I thought I’d bring it over to Notes.

It all started as a simple entry that linked to another blog. I had no idea that it was such a sensitive and vital subject for so many. KT then wrote her observations about why people don’t go to church. I deeply appreciate how everyone has honestly allowed each other to wrestle with feelings, opinions and observations related to the topic. It’s an amazing testimony to this new form of communication that we can engage in such significant conversation through this media. I sincerely hope that all that I contribute to the discussion serves to point people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ. He is Awe-Inspiring, Constant and Good. He has provided us all with hope, freedom and salvation by His grace.

The question:

 I want scriptures!! Where does it say that you must attend church?

I think the ideal response to Rosjuane’s questions is perhaps again pointing to the fact that Christianity is not a religion that commands church “attendance” but a LOVE RELATIONSHIP with a real God.

God is no more interested in you warming a pew than you are. However, God is vitally interested and in fact, commands, all people everywhere to glorify Him. By that I mean that if God is truly a holy, righteous, loving, pure and perfect Being, then He is worthy of our attention, devotion, service and worship. And if we are truly as scripture describes us – as being created in His image yet having fallen to sin and therefore being unholy, rebellious, liars, murderers, haters, obscene, selfish, disobedient and wicked – then we have no hope. None whatsoever. Because if God truly hates sin and is just, He must punish sin.

The Gospel of the Bible is that God sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment. He lived a perfect, sinless life and was killed for our sins.  (Isaiah 53.5) Therefore, by the mercy of God, He “gives” us righteousness and holiness because of Christ. When we submit to Him, calling upon the only name given under heaven by which men can be saved – Jesus, we are given eternal life. We are saved by His grace through our faith.

Wow! So a worthless people are given life by a worthy God! Therefore, that is why I say we were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

The bigger principle of “going to church” is not about going to a BUILDING. Rather, it’s about the gathering of His people to worship Him, be instructed in His Word and be directed to seek and save the lost throughout all nations. This means that we earnestly seek to tell all people about our amazing God who offers all peoples everywhere pardon for their sin.

The most damning thing about western society is its isolationism. Americans, in spite of being in bumper-to-bumper traffic and wall-to-wall malls are the most lonely and suicidal people on the planet.

When we reduce it to a “do I have to go to church?” question, we’re essentially missing the point. It’s not about us. That’s such an American, westernized, selfish and consumeristic way of thinking. Rather, if we’re truly in a passionate love affair with Jesus Christ, we will want to be where He is.

Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18.20)

Acts 2.46-47 says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

For the early church, it was not a matter of IF they gathered together but WHEN and WHERE. They at first gathered in the thousands in the temple courts. There was no persecution immediately because of their numbers. However, Saul (later to become Paul) helped organize a systematic persecution against the early church and many were killed. James, the brother of John was the first apostle to be martyred for his faith.

They also gathered in homes to express their faith. Notice what they were doing… praying, being taught, praising God, eating together – much the same things the church is still doing today.

As early as Acts 4 we see them start taking up offerings to help one another. In 1 Corinthians 9.14, we see Paul command, upon his authority as an apostle of Christ that minister of the Gospel should receive full support from the Christians they minister to.

I say all this to say that in the New Testament, it is ASSUMED that Christians will gather together if at all possible. It would have been absurd and unheard of for those who had just given Jesus Christ their total allegiance to say, “Thanks for my salvation, Jesus. I’ll see you in heaven. Now, I’ve got to go live my life…”

Rather, people realized that by giving their life to Christ, they were laying it all down. They were dying to themselves (Mark 8.34) and ready to follow Christ. Christ created us to be together. In fact, we see that pattern in Genesis when God said that it wasn’t good for man to be “alone.” We need one another.

A brief review of the majority of the New Testament will force any reader to see that these are letters written to gatherings of Christians in cities big and small across the Roman Empire. Where there was no persecution, the Christians met in large numbers; where there was intense persecution, they met secretively – at times even in cemeteries, caves and catacombs. The same takes place today. If you have the political freedom and safety of gathering with other Christians to build the kingdom of Christ, then there is NO question about where you should be and what you should be doing. However, if your life is in danger, you will still seek to fellowship with other Christians and accomplish the purpose and plan of God for the nations, but you will do so with discretion, wisdom, and caution.

The Greek word for most often translated as “church” in the New Testament is rendered ekklesia. It literally means “gathering.” The very word is a description of what God intended for His people to do.

Paul thought so highly of the church that he wrote to Timothy, “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3.14-15)

Much of the NT is simply telling Christians how to relate with one another as they gather and seek to serve Christ. After all, we’re all imperfect people in imperfect pursuit of a perfect God. We’re going to mess up. But we need each other. We need to stay together. When one falls, another can pick him up. And together, we make up the body of Christ.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  (1 Corinthians 12.21)

I hope this helps. So many have written on this very issue over the centuries that this one post is sure to be a pitiful attempt at pointing people in the right direction. I’d urge anyone struggling with this to continue reading and searching your heart.

The bigger issue, however, is what I alluded to earlier. It’s not about you. It’s about Him. Jesus Christ. The lover of your soul. He offers us life eternal and life together.

On this day...

Table of contents for Church membership

  1. Why go to church?
  2. Audio: How Important is Church Membership?
  3. In response to a command to attend church…