Pastor's Wife, Mom, Writer & Imperfect Seeker of Jesus
Do I Really Have To Go To Church?
March 20, 2017
The other day I came across an article stating that we really have no need to go to church, because God is wherever you happen to be on Sunday morning. The more I thought about it, it started to break my heart for whoever buys into that thought process because it’s only partially right, and it causes the believer in it to miss out on so very much.
Yes, God IS wherever you are. As King David expressed in song, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8 NIV) I can’t even begin to count the many amazing and powerful moments of intimacy that I have had with the Lord when no one else has been around. On the lake, gazing at a sunset. Kneeling in the dirt while pulling weeds. Soaking in a hot bath.
However, I’ve also experienced God’s presence in indescribable ways while surrounded by a handful, hundreds and even thousands of other people, whether in someone’s home, a “church” setting or a huge coliseum. God does not limit Himself to location or size of the group.
My problem with this article is that it is totally unbiblical. Written by someone claiming over 18 years of ministry leadership experience, there was not ONE message from Scripture. Not one quoted Bible verse or passage. As a Christian, my authority can only come from the Word of God, not human thinking or desire. So what DOES the Bible say on this subject?
Well, the author was correct in stating that Jesus never commanded us to go to a building called a church. First of all, the church is NOT a building. The church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:24) made up of individual believers (1 Corinthians 12:27), Christ-followers who claim that He is the risen Son of God. Secondly, of course Jesus did not give specific instructions as to how the new church of the new covenant should function after his death and resurrection. It hadn’t all happened yet. The disciples didn’t even totally understand the plan.
Thankfully though, Jesus DID demonstrate what a personal relationship with the Father looks like. “He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 HCSB) Yes, He was alone with God. And if Jesus needed time like that, then how much more do you and I need it?
This getaway time was INTENTIONAL however. Jesus withdrew from others for the express purpose of spending alone time with the Father. While playing with my dog, reading a favorite book and sleeping in MAY be faith-affirming experiences in some way, they are not INTENTIONALLY done to be with my Creator and are NOT an equal substitute as suggested in the article.
In addition to spending time alone with the Father, we can read of the times Jesus spent with just Peter, James and John as well as the times He spent with only the twelve disciples. Then there are the many instances of Jesus being with multitudes of people—in homes, in the temple and on the mountainsides to PURPOSELY teach and share about God. Whether we’re the teacher or the listener, shouldn’t we be doing this too?
After the resurrection, once the new “church” began, there is plenty of support for being together as a group of believers. And remember this “group” started with 3000 new believers. (Acts 2:41)
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 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.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47 NIV)
The early church sounds like an incredible body to be a part of. It was vibrant. It was alive. But I get it. Not all churches operate like the early church did. In fact, and this might sound bad coming from a minister’s wife, but I can totally see why many people would want to give up going to church.
Unfortunately, many churches in our world today do not function like they should. Read below how Paul described to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus what they should look like:
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. But God has put the body together… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:13-4, 19-20, 24b-27 NIV (Read vs. 12-27 for full context.))
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16 NLT)
I try to take care of the body God gave me. I eat well and attempt to exercise as regularly as possible so that everything works together and functions as it should. I don’t take my finger and purposely poke myself in the eye. I don’t reach around behind my back and pinch the daylights out of my side. My right foot doesn’t intentionally trip my left foot as I’m walking down the sidewalk. And I don’t whisper into my left ear just how much I can’t stand my right ear because it doesn’t look the same.
Sadly though, this IS how many churches today treat each other. In the past 22 years, Ryan and I have been connected in some way with a good number of churches, and I can attest that there are some very unhealthy, very sick churches that exist in our country. The word “church” may be on the sign out front, but the grace and truth of Jesus (John 1:17) does not exist within its walls. They will know we are Christians by our love? (John 13:35) Well…not so much.
If this has been your experience, then I truly am so very sorry. That is not how the church was designed to be. But please take heart, there ARE churches that exist that look much more closely like the early church in Acts. In fact, there are MANY churches like that. So please don’t give up. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad that you are “church hopping” as you look for a body of Christ that speaks the truth, works together and is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4)
BUT remember also, the church is made up of imperfect people. So if you’re looking for perfection, you WILL be disappointed. Just as a healthy body may get sick from time to time, it can heal with the proper treatment. So too a church body may occasionally struggle with something unhealthy, but with the proper spiritual treatment, it can once again thrive.
So I encourage each of us, “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25 NLT)