Many people have become disillusioned with organized religion over the years. Some accusations against church are that it seems all form, busyness and programs with little substance or real spirituality, or the people seem cliquish. With the availability of sermons and Bible study aids online, is there any real need to go to a building to hear a man preach? Since Jesus has promised He will be in the midst of two or three gathered together in His name, is it church if those three meet at a coffee shop? Why go to church, anyway? Is it outdated?
I don’t believe so, and here are a few reasons why.
1. Biblical instruction. Hebrews 10:25 admonishes “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” In some way or another, Christians are supposed to gather together regularly. While Christian fellowship can occur at Starbucks, that can’t really supplant “church” as I hope we’ll see when we consider the other points.
2. Bible “one anothers.” The Bible instructs believers to love one another, forbear one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc. Sure, much of that can take place outside the church walls, but if you are not part of a church you likely won’t know many people with whom to exercise these. And since many of these instructions were written to churches, it seems obvious that’s the main context in which they are to be exercised.
3. Jesus’ example. The Son of God attended the worship services of His day while on earth even though they were far from perfect.
4. God’s gifts to the church. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). These people, the pastor-teacher especially, exercise their gifts mostly at church: to neglect their ministry is to neglect God’s gift to you. Every believer has gifts God wants to use in ministry, and though ministry can take place outside the walls of church, it’s clear that is one major setting in which they are meant to be used.
5. Consideration. The pastor, if he is a man worth his salt, has spent time studying for the message he will bring to the people. In Acts 6:1-6, the apostles placed importance on their being able to spend most of their time in prayer and the ministry of the Word. For me to lightly esteem his study, preparation, and preaching would be similar to grabbing a granola bar on the way out of the house while ignoring the meal someone has taken time and effort to prepare for me at home. And though I can listen to his messages online, I’m sure he prefers preaching to real live people.
6. The importance the Bible places on church. Search for the word “church” in a Bible search engine and see what you come up with. Sure, some of those verses refer to the church “universal,” or the entire body of Christ, but that entire body won’t meet until Christ returns again. In the meantime, segments of it meet together locally. It is obvious many of these passages refer to local assemblies. Here are just a few verses:
I Timothy 3:15: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Ephesians 5:25-27: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
7. To be fed. I Peter 3:1-4intructs church leaders to “feed the flock.” Yes, we should feed ourselves in the Word during the week, but we shouldn’t neglect the “family dinner” available to us every week at church.
8. The church is a testimony. Paul says in Ephesians 3:9-10 that part of his purpose is “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” Somehow God’s interactions with the church display God’s wisdom and power even unto “the principalities and powers in heavenly places.” The church, for better or worse, is also a testimony to the world.
9. Not to miss anything. Every nutritional meal benefits us whether it is particularly tasty or not, but there are some meals that really stand out in our memories. So, too, though I might not remember every single message at church, they all benefit me if they are Scripturally sound. Even so, there are some where God did a very special work in my heart that I would have missed if I just hadn’t felt like going that day and gave in to my flesh. And yes, even though these days I can hear many messages online and God has worked in my heart through those, particularly at times when I could not attend church, there are still those times when God had especially prepared my heart for that particular time and message.
There are some churches that should not be attended: Churches that do not preach the gospel or the whole counsel of God. Unfortunately there are some churches whose foundations are based on truth but whose emphasis has been sidetracked or whose people handle the truth harshly. But there are many good, gospel-preaching churches throughout the country, though none will be perfect because they are all made up of imperfect people. If there are none in your area, perhaps God will use your longings and prayers to begin one.
And what about those cliquish people? Most of the time there aren’t really groups of people who decide they are going to be fast friends and not let anyone else “in.” But many of them have had relationships for years and it will take some time to build up your own relationships with them. Some churches are better at welcoming new people than others (and on a side note, I have to say our current church excels at this), but even if they are not very welcoming, take the initiative. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24). You’re obviously not going to make friends if you’re not there. And when you are there, don’t sit on the sidelines and wait for people to come to you: mingle, introduce yourself, get involved in some of the ministries, come to some of the fellowships and other events, and talk to people.
When I was in college and attended Mission Prayer Band, I usually prayed for Slavic countries then behind the Iron Curtain. There were so many stories of Christians there and in other countries without true freedom of religion who assembled together despite great risk, because they not only wanted to, they needed to. When I first became a Christian living in an unsaved household, I had that same sense of deep need to be with God’s people. It’s not that we need it any less now: it’s just that we don’t realize because of all of life’s distractions.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Revelation 3:22.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And written on Thy hand.
If e’er to bless Thy sons
My voice or hands deny,
These hands let useful skills forsake,
This voice in silence die.
Should I with scoffers join
Her altars to abuse?
No! Better far my tongue were dumb,
My hand its skill should lose.
For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.
Jesus, Thou Friend divine,
Our Savior and our King,
Thy hand from every snare and foe
Shall great deliverance bring.
Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield
And brighter bliss of Heaven.
~ Timothy Dwight, 1800
(Photo courtesy of the morgueFiles.)