Do Christians Have to Go to Church?

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After years of teaching, I’ve found a comment thread going like this:

“I went to church as a kid, but then XYZ-terrible-thing happened by the elders/preacher/church members/Sunday school teacher/youth pastor/parking attendant, so we stopped going.”

Often, this is followed by a statement that he is still a Christian. Many times, it’ll become apparent that the student has rarely, if ever, cracked open a Bible. That he relies more on phrases like “I feel like God wants…” or “I feel like humans should…” rather than, by knowledge of Scripture, actually knowing what God thinks on a certain topic. Sometimes, he finishes by declaring his church is in nature.

And while I have no doubt there’s something majestic in forests and rivers, and “The heavens declare the glory of God,” there is a question that remains. Do Christians have to go to church?

Here, after reading 12,653,345 critiques from students on the topic, is my response.

NO, HEAVENS NO, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian.

But before everyone starts exchanging Bibles for fishing poles, please let me clarify.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this:

IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, `

IN NONESSENTIALS LIBERTY,

IN ALL THINGS CHARITY.

Reread this. Slowly.

What, according to Scripture, is essential in being a Christian?

Well, we have plenty in the Bible to go off of. Take Romans 10:9-10:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Or consider the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, to whom Jesus said in Luke 23, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” That criminal never had time to jump off the cross, get baptized, give money to the orphans and widows, apologize to those he’d harmed, and go to the [then nonexistent] church building to sing through his hymnal for an hour of good, solid worship. And yet, Christ said that this criminal would be entering paradise today.

Yes, we are saved by faith alone, and there are plenty of verses backing up this fact.

However.

Numerous, as well, are the verses emphasizing that genuine faith is demonstrated by a desire to do God’s will. How do you know God’s will? Not by going, “Well…hmm…just off the top of my head, I think that God wants…”

God states His will plenty of times in the Bible. We need to know Scripture thoroughly so that we are better equipped to please God. And one of the things emphasized is Hebrews 10:25:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The earliest churches began with Christians meeting together in homes.

To worship God together—as Scripture states God desires.

To pray together—as Scripture states God desires.

To learn together—as Scripture states God desires.

To grow together—as Scripture states God desires.

To support one another—as Scripture states God desires.

To persevere—as Scripture states God desires.

God desires Christians to habitually meet together for these reasons. Will Christians screw up? Sure. Constantly. But that’s exactly why we need to keep meeting with each other.

Abigail Van Buren stated, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Try to be understanding. People inside the walls of a church are broken, too. They mess up. Say things they really, really, really shouldn’t. Do things they really, really, really shouldn’t. Forgive them.

But, if you find the broken people in a church to be too much, or those in leadership teaching something absolutely contradictory to Christ’s message, then pray about it. Perhaps go for it. Try another church.

But by all means, whatever you do, please God. Don’t quit church altogether.

 

Wishing everyone the support of a church home and family,

Melissa Ferguson

A Snowy Day Devos


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Moments ago I stood beneath the shelter of my front porch, holding a cup of steaming coffee and watching the flurries drift onto the white canopy around me. There’s something beautiful in the silence and crisp air filling my lungs. Of course, everyone knows this. People across the country aren’t eagerly stepping out of the comfort of their own living rooms to get their feet cold and wet if it wasn’t a fairly universal feeling. There’s just something ethereal in seeing everything—from patches of dead grass to cars in driveways—covered up in delicate white.

But, and here perhaps I’m some depressing anomaly, whenever I stand around in 18-degree weather I also feel a sudden pang and worry, for what is so beautiful about winter is also deadly. What about that homeless man who always sits outside the bagel store? Did he find shelter last night? What about the children in the World Vision catalog from Mongolia, all huddled beside a fabric tent with snow piled high around them? Suddenly that crisp air able to sweep so quickly into my lungs makes me feel desperate.

Both perfect beauty—the content of a hundred jingles around the holidays—and perilous content in one single flurry. I don’t know what to do with the dichotomy of feeling equally so happy and sad.

Then, however, I shut the door and sat back on the sofa, recognizing something as I read the most stirring poem from 16th century poet, Robert Southwell:

 

This little babe, so few days old,

Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;

All hell doth at his presence quake.

Though he himself for cold do shake,

For in this weak unarmèd wise

The gates of hell he will surprise.

 

With tears he fights, and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield.

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows made of weeping eyes.

His martial ensigns cold and need,

And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

 

(Read it in entirety here! Seriously…go read it.)

What similarity!

When we really think about it, we Christians seem pretty crazy. We gather on Sunday mornings, banging on piano and drums to sing merrily about things so gory and gruesome it would sound like insanity were it not so familiar. Imagine if we went Message version on the words to some of these traditional songs and everyone sang in unison:

Oh, the wonderful electric chair!

Oh, the wonderful electric chair!

Wants me to come and be fried,

To find that I, can truly live!

Tag on smiling old men and women wearing gold electric chairs necklaces as they shake your hand during greeting time and how quickly we would run away from that place, eh?

But the reality is that Christianity as a whole is this dichotomy of gruesome and incredible. Of absolutely terrifying and positively enticing. Of horrifying and exactly all that I need.

I would never wish for the snow to cease existing; I just would like to live in a world where people never suffered. Likewise, I hate everything about Jesus’ willing sacrifice of undue shame, abandonment, whips, glass, nails, and broken bones. I wish there had been some other way. But if His tears are what “won the field” and gained victory, then alleluia. May snow fall and praises ring.

Blessings and Merry Flurrying,

Melissa Ferguson

P.S. If you’d like to pitch in and protect children and families from frostbite, hypothermia, influenza, pneumonia, and death, consider providing clothing and shelter by clicking here: worldvision.org.

 

And some verses for our snow day…

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills…

Psalm 148

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.

Isaiah 1

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:6-13

 

Moving Waters

creekA couple of days ago I went on a walk— more specifically, I dashed out the door for a 15-minute escape from screaming babies during dinner time. As I abandoned my husband to the little rulers (I regret nothing) and strolled along the walking path behind my home I watched the fog hovering over the hill to my left, felt the mist on my face, and absentmindedly listened to the creek that trailed beside me.

As I moved along, doing nothing and (if you’re a mom you understand) utterly enjoying doing nothing, I suddenly stopped, realizing the creek that had been gurgling so pleasantly beside me suddenly went silent. Instinctively I turned toward it, almost as though I expected the creek to have disappeared. But, of course, there it was. The rocks that had caused little waterfalls and light splashes several feet before were just not there, leaving the waters free to pool itself into a flat glass of quiet. A few feet ahead were rocks and it would again make that lovely babbling brook noise, but for now it was silent.

And just as God so often gave the prophets messages through the menial, day-to-day images of life, I felt the symbolism forming:

Is this not like the way God is working now?

Sometimes He boldly shows me miracles, shouts in devotion times, speaks through people’s messages and encouragements. At points my life is thrilling and big things are happening and I start to think it will never end. But then come seasons of silence, where it’s tempting to wonder if God is doing anything with my life and my work at all.

Then I am reminded, even in silence God is moving waters.

Quietly the stream creeps toward the next set of rocks, the next exciting and thrilling moment. But all the time God is faithfully there and the work is still sufficient.

There is beauty in silence. There is life, and hope, and great and wonderful reminders from God that reach us when we turn off our phones, step away from our computers, get away from the haziness of distraction and let nothing– and then something– fill us.

Frederick Buechner states, “Out of the silence let the only real news come, which is sad news [our sin and brokenness] before it is glad news [God’s forgiveness] and that is fairy tale last of all. The preacher is not brave enough to be literally silent for long, and since it is his calling to speak the truth with love, even if he were brave enough, he would not be silent for long because we are none of us very good at silence. It says too much.” (Telling the Truth)

“Be silent and know that I am God, says the Lord.” (Psalm 46:10)