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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Is Church Necessary?


I wrote this (loosely) with someone in mind. It occurred to me that it might benefit others, so I'm putting it out here for all. Then it occurred to me that by saying that I wrote this with someone in mind, there might be a group of readers who start asking themselves, "Is he talking about me?" I suppose that's just fine. You go ahead and ask yourself.

We live in a day informed by radical Americanism. You know, that "Lone Ranger", rugged individualism, "I can make it on my own" kind of thinking. It seems to seep in all over the place although we've all heard that "no man is an island" and we are all innundated with "social networking" (which, by all appearances, seems to diminish social interaction rather than encourage it). So it is no wonder that more people are saying (not really asking), "Why bother with going to church?" The question today is "Is church really necessary?"

First, what is meant by "necessary"? If the question is, "Must I go to church to be saved?" the answer is a resounding, "No!!" Let's set that aside. But, for a parallel, is it "necessary" to exercise in order to live? Well, perhaps not, but the alternative isn't pretty. More importantly, is it commanded? Is going to church a biblical requirement? Well, let's look.

First, you will not find "church membership" in your Bible. It's just not there. There is "the Church", that visible and invisible Body of Christ comprised of all true believers. You must be a member of that in order to be saved -- or, rather, you are a member of that if you are saved -- but that's not the question. No, while membership does have its privileges, there is no biblical command to join a local church. However, the local church is a given throughout the New Testament. It is assumed. You can't go very far without running into the concept. I would guess, from the writings of the New Testament authors, that asking this question of them would have boggled their minds. "You have to ask? You want to ask??" But don't stop there.

The most famous verse trotted out on the topic is from the book of Hebrews:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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 (Heb 10:23-25).
There it is, plain as day. We must not neglect to meet together. Next question? Of course, that's not clear enough. "I meet with other believers. I'm not neglecting it." Notice that "at church" isn't mentioned. Admittedly it is possible to read this without concluding that I must attend Sunday services or join a local church. I just have to "meet together". So?

Having admitted that this is not a definite command to become a churchgoer, let's examine the question more carefully. The commands in this passage are "hold fast the confession", "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works", not to neglect meeting together, and to encourage one another. Okay, so "meeting together" doesn't mention the local church. But notice the rest.

The life of the Christian is full of "one anothers". The vast majority of them refer to "believers". We are to love one another (John 13:34-35), confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16), encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11), serve one another (1 Peter 4:10), exhort one another (Heb 3:13), and, of course, stir up one another to love and good deeds. And that, dear reader, is an extremely abbreviated list. Now, if we are supposed to be doing all this and so very much more for fellow believers, exactly how would you do it without being involved with fellow believers? And where do we find fellow believers? Of course, everywhere, but the best place would be where fellow believers gather.

Now, mind you, this would make a radical shift in the thinking of a lot of believers if they viewed church in this manner. If many Christians went to church today for the purpose of doing for one another the commands from Scripture that we are to do for one another, attending a Sunday service would be pitiful in view of this vast effort. You wouldn't attend church. You'd be immersed in it. The notion of showing up Sunday morning, singing a few nice tunes, hearing a good sermon, and going home wouldn't even fit in this picture. It's so much bigger than that.

But, what about Sunday services? Are they covered in Scripture? Actually, yes, they are. The Bible speaks in multiple places of what is called "the communion of the saints". It is the joining of all believers in worshiping our Lord. Worship can occur, of course, in private, but there is also a huge benefit in community, in joining with other saints together to worship Christ. In fact, Jesus went every Sabbath to synagogue for this purpose. Even the Son of God wasn't above it. Private worship is all well and good, but joining with the saints in glory, gathering with other believers to praise God and listen to the preached Word (something highly prized in Scripture) is not to be missed.

Is going to church necessary? Not for salvation. But I can't see how a believer can practice the long list of "one anothers", exercise the gifts of the Spirit, and engage in the worship of God with the communion of the saints without it. It would be like trying to live without exercising. Oh, you may pull it off, but it won't be good and it won't be healthy and it won't be fulfilling. So I say to you, fellow believers, go to church. No, don't just attend. Involve yourself. Finding that "perfect church" is nonsense. You're going there to give, not get. Do not miss the gathering together of believers. For a healthy Christian life, it is necessary. Don't try to convince yourself otherwise. "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10).

I need to mention something here. I am not writing this as a perfect example. My father would likely be such an example. It hasn't been a Sunday if he hasn't gone to church ... preferably twice. And it's not church if he's not involved. Me? I'm writing this from the position of the failure. "Don't make the same mistakes I've made! Don't fall into the same trap I have." From a biblical perspective, church is necessary for the health of believers. From a practical, experiential perspective, church is necessary for the health of believers. And, in case you are of another mind, you may want to peruse some other Scriptures: 1 Tim 3:14-15; Heb 13:17; ACts 2:46-47; 1 Cor 14:12, 40. And there are more. One other consideration. The Bible refers to believers as family. You can't really have a healthy relationship with your family if you don't gather with them regularly, can you? Well, take it from me, it won't work.


Bryan said...

I am just getting to reply to this post - great post by the way - but shouldn't we be discening as to which church we attend? I mean, as a Bible believing Christian, if the only church in a 40 mile radius is a Catholic church, should you attend just so you can "go" to church? I would say no. What do you think?

Stan said...

Yes, Bryan, what church is a valuable question. It has to be a Christian church (as opposed to one that simply says it is). Many mainline churches today are no longer Christian. Attending a Catholic church would simply be unacceptable to me (although I believe that there are some Christians in the Catholic church).

And I'd hope for a church most closely aligned with my theology. That, however, isn't always the case. What I highly recommend against is holding out for that "perfect" church, that one that meets all my criteria for what a church should be. Ain't gonna happen.

Bryan said...

I would agree - I don't believe that the "perfect" church is out there - one that matches up with all criteria for someone. I think today that a truly Christian church is hard to find, as many of the churches out there claim to be Christian but fail in one way or another. So many people are being lead straight to hell by pastors/ministers that they believe are preaching the truth of God's word when it is in fact incomplete or incorrect. My wife and I are very thankful that God brought us to the church we attend, and I would pray that everyone out there that does not have a church home would prayerfully search for one.