There are many people today that profess to have a relationship with Christ but rarely, if ever, go to church. I know of one person who claims that her husband has a deep and meaningful relationship with God; that he has such Godly wisdom, and yet he never goes to church. Some people see the church as invisible. This view of the church comes from Gnosticism. Let me explain what I mean. In the early days of Christianity, a group emerged and claimed to know the secret truths of the universe. Our English word for know derives from the Greek root gno. Fundamental to the Gnostic system was the idea of dualism. This philosophy stressed that there was a physical world- a realm of evil, and an invisible world- a realm of the spirit. Gnostics believed that there was no significant contact between the two. Without going too deeply into this, one can see why some people believe that the true church is beyond time and space. Without really understanding it, they have bought into the notion that the true church is in the invisible world and the church in the physical world must be inherently evil. They make statements such as, “I don’t belong to any church. I’m a member of the body of Christ.” These people have made membership in Christ a private and mystical matter. So the question is, do I really need the church? To answer this I would like to deal with three things namely, what is the church, why should I unite with a church, and finally, I want to answer the question, can I be a deeply religious and spiritual person and not go to church.
First, to truly understand what the church is we have to understand a fundamental characteristic of this age. 2 Timothy 3:1-2a stated, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of trouble. People will love themselves and money…” (An American Translation, emphasis mine). In this day and age people are self consumed; everything they do concerns gratifying their life and desires. The word church ekklesia in English means gathering. However, when “Church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32; 11:16; 15:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:4, etc.) is used, it indicates that the assembly’s character is not in its membership but in its head. In other words it is God’s gathering. The New Testament does teach that those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior enter into a new relationship with Christ as well as a host of others. But in a narrower sense, the believer is encouraged and admonished to meet together with other people of similar faith. But the important point is it is not the pastor’s gathering, or the church’s gathering, but it is God’s gathering. We should attend church because it is God’s desire, God’s will, and consequently, God’s gathering.
Second, why should I unite with a church? Billy Graham stated, “Why should a newborn baby have a home…A child can be born outside the home, and a person can become a Christian outside the church, but nurture and care is essential to the development of both” (1988, p. 114). It is through the care and nurturing of the church that we become responsible, reproducing, fully functioning followers of Christ. In addition to this we need to remember that the Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Christ is also seen as the head of this Body. Notice Ephesians 1:22-23 which stated that God has “put all things under His [Jesus] feet and has made Him the Head over all things for the church which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (RSV, emphasis mine). In other words, this organization or body of believers is Christ’s. When we reject the church, in a sense we are rejecting God, because it is His Church; He’s the head of it. Why would we be against something that Christ is for. It would seem to me that we are on the wrong side of this issue.
Third and finally, can I be a deeply religious and spiritual person and not go to church? Let me first emphatically state that going to church will not make a person a Christian. However, refusing to fellowship with believers will not make you a Christian either. When a person joins a church and is faithful to that church, that person is letting the world know where their loyalties are. However, when a person does not go to church, friends, family, and people of the world assume they are not Christian. My friend, when we identify ourselves with other believers by joining a local church, our faith is strengthened and our witness is buttressed. I also think it is very difficult for a person to maintain a position of spiritual maturity and have a deep relationship with God when that same person is in direct opposition to the revealed will of God. The writer of Hebrews, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit stated, “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” (ESV). If a person is really spiritual, they will have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) which means they will be others oriented. Remember, Jesus died so that we could have eternal life. Real spiritual people are inclined to “stir up one another to love and good works” and as a mature follower of Christ, they would not have fallen into “the habit of some” by not going to Church.
It is true that there are some people that physically cannot attend Church. This is an exception. However, more people than not simply choose to stay home. They deceive themselves and try to deceive others by proclaiming that they are deeply spiritual. Although God will be the ultimate judge, in my opinion their witness and behavior is highly questionable.
Question: What are your thoughts concerning going to church?
Graham, B. (1988). Answers to life’s problems. Minneapolis, MN: Grason.