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Do I Have to Go to Church?

February 27, 2009

Let’s assume for a minute that you no longer attend weekly church services, whether  those services take place in a cathedral, a mega-church campus, a rural church building, a rented facility (storefront, school, community center, etc) or even a home-based congregation. But you still believe, as I do, that people need to hear the powerful message of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and embrace Jesus Christ by grace through faith in order to be saved (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

So you’ve been sharing the good news of God’s grace with a co-worker named Maggie over the past year and you begin seeing evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in her life. Not so much the externals (she often brings her Bible to read during breaks), but things the Bible describes as the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) in a life that was clearly devoid of these things a year ago. She has become a trophy of God’s grace and you’re absolutely thrilled over this wonderful transformation in her life.

Maggie has never attended any sort of church service except the typical Christmas and Easter productions at a local mega-church, but she knows that many of her neighbors “go to church” because she sees them leaving their homes, almost simultaneously, during her Sunday morning jog. She’s often wondered why these people they invest so much time in church activities—purely on a practical level—knowing that Sunday is the only real day off for many of the parents. Their kids are involved in the same intramural sports teams, piano lessons, martial arts classes, and the whole raft of birthday parties that seem to occupy every Saturday. So she cringes when she thinks about waking her nine-year-old and his two teenaged siblings every Sunday morning to get them ready for Sunday School.

So Maggie decides to ask you a few questions, since you’re the one who introduced her to Jesus:

  • “Do I have to go to church to be a real Christian?”
  • “Where does the Bible say that I have to go to church? One of my neighbors keeps inviting me, saying that God shows up nearly every week at their church, but I can’t find anything in the Bible about church attendance.”
  • “Where do you go to church?”

How would you respond to this new Christian?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    February 27, 2009 1:29 pm

    Hmmm…okay, I’ll step up because this is how I see it. Having witnessed transformation in Maggie’s life I would remind her we are already members of the Body of Christ and we are already sisters and brothers in His name as we live in the New Covenant era. I would also remind her Paul said, “…you were called to freedom!”

    That would mean Maggie is free to follow Jesus as she is led by the Spirit whether in a building with other believers, or as a “free range” believer enjoying and serving those who cross her path on a daily basis. As she steps out on either path, I would ask her to assess whether those she meets who proclaim God’s unconditional love for her are insisting on a certain set of conditions before including her among God’s favored few, or not.

    And when around other Christians, does she feel accepted and relaxed, or judged by a set of standards accepted by others as “holy.” Finally, will her interaction with others slowly give way to the fear that she has not been living in religious traditions and as such she will incur God’s disgust and/or disapproval…? Finally, I would tell her I have chosen not to attend a particular service anywhere, but instead avail myself to His leading each and every morning.

    • February 28, 2009 2:52 pm

      Your contributions here are greatly appreciated, Dave, and I love your comments on this scenario. I hope you don’t mind expanding the conversation you started in your second paragraph, even if it’s just for my own benefit.

      I have no problems making room for those who continue within the institutional framework, but do you really think the Holy Spirit would lead someone into such a system? I can see the cultural pressures moving a believer into the IC or ignorance holding someone hostage inside the system, not realizing that there’s a better alternative. I admit it sounds elitist to suggest that the “free range” model is the only biblical approach, but it’s a little bit like arguing the benefits of zoos when you know deep down that a giraffe or a lion belongs in the wild. Does that make sense?

      • Dave permalink
        March 1, 2009 1:32 pm

        That’s a great analogy churchless and it does make absolute sense. I’ve given it some thought in the past and concluded it would not be wise for anyone following Jesus to presume to know what the Holy Spirit is thinking as He leads someone else.

        Consequently, if I judge the HS would never lead another person into the IC would be for me to assume they could not possibly find Jesus “in church,” so to speak. I also know some Christians in congregations who love and follow Him. But we both know institutional settings do not work for all of us. As a “free range” believer, that leaves me with what Jesus taught His followers…to treat others as we would have them treat us.

        Many non-believers complain often about Christians always judging each other in their own religion and others. Many find it not only irritating, but a joke for a people who are supposed to love one another. Paul wrote “love thinks no evil”…meaning that love always thinks the best of others and their intentions. I believe God will grant us a discerning heart and eyes to see if we ask for them.

  2. February 27, 2009 4:52 pm

    No, thanks 🙂

  3. February 27, 2009 5:54 pm

    1) No.
    2) It doesn’t.
    3) If asked this question, I would honestly explain that I used to, but now have a more holistic understanding based on the picture that the Bible paints of church as a group of people living in the way of Jesus together, sharing their lives together and investing in others (rather than investing their energies in religious services and programs).

    • February 28, 2009 3:09 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! Your response sounds a lot like Wayne Jacobsen’s memorable quote: “The church is not something we build, it is simply a way of living alongside each other that makes Jesus known.”

  4. February 28, 2009 12:05 am

    The real question is how do you define “church”? Could it be where ever two or three are gathered in Jesus name? We know that His word does say that we should not forsake the assembeling of ourselves together. But does it have to be within four walls? Does it have to be of a cookie cutter variety?
    I would encourge her to get together with other believers in Jesus. It can be in a house, as it was with the early church also. So the main thing is tell her to hook up with other believers.
    Blessings to you,
    Richard

    • February 28, 2009 3:06 pm

      Richard, that’s a great point, defining our terms! I’ve been thinking we should drop the usage of the word “church” from our current vocabulary, since everyone misuses it: it’s a building, a non-profit corporation, a denomination, or even a meeting. To me, it simply means those who make up the body of Christ, wherever they happen to be, in multiples of one or thousands living out the gospel in a large metro area. Having “four walls” does not necessarily make it a church, so I like your advice “tell her to hook up with other believers.” Cool!

  5. March 1, 2009 12:05 pm

    Just passing by. Btw, your website have great content!

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