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.
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,