People probably say, “You don’t have to attend church to be a Christian.” The statement is, of course, partially true. Going to church no more makes you a Christian than going to a garage makes you a car. But behind this statement is a question of obligation. Should those who claim to be Christians go to church?
There are good churches that are true to the consistent principles of Scripture, and there are bad churches that are not. Please go to a good one. Go to one that teaches the truth and encourages you to do things you couldn’t do alone as a team. Go to a church where you can use your gifts to do what Jesus calls you to.
The question: “Do I have to go to church?” is essentially a theologically flawed one. The church is not a building or a place. The church comprises people trying to make Jesus the leader of their lives. The church is who you are when you are part of Jesus’ community. The American-Canadian theologian Gordon Fee writes, “God not only saves individuals and prepares them for heaven; rather, he creates a people among whom he can live and who in their life together will reproduce God’s life and character.’
If you are a Christian, your priority is no longer yourself but Jesus and his agenda. So if you think you’re a Christian because you believe in God and have good morals, then you feel free to play golf on Sundays instead of attending church. The problem is that “faith” and “morality” do not make a Christian – although they are part of the deal. Being a Christian is about putting your trust in the death of Jesus on your behalf and making him the leader of your life.
So the right question is: does Jesus want you to be in fellowship with other Christians, to meet them regularly to be encouraged, to encourage others, to use your ministry abilities, and to do things together that you could not do alone?
And the answer is “yes”.
You may feel it is better to worship God while walking in nature than to attend a church service. But that’s not a church. That’s worship…and it’s different. It’s about ‘being different’. To do church is to do community. Doing church means embracing the quirks and peculiarities of each other. Being a church challenges our tendency to exalt ourselves, our opinions, and our preferences. As a church, we acknowledge God, worship God, submit to God, and serve together for His glory.
And we’d better get used to “community” because God created the universe to expand the orbit of his love to include as many people as possible. God’s future kingdom will be his community—and we, the church, may foreshadow it.
It follows that, rightly speaking, there is no such thing as a Catholic Church, an Anglican Church, or a Methodist Church. There is only one church, the church of Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16). For there to be divisions in the Christian church, people must have strayed from Jesus at some point, for unity is only found “in” Christ (John 15:5-8). Church denominations are institutional responses to theological preferences. They are symptomatic of a lack of loyalty and unity of people at some point in history… and that is very sad. So don’t dwell too long on denominations. Seek a vibrant church that is true to the consistent principles of God – as recorded in the Bible. Everything else is just human accretion — junk from history that can help and sometimes hinder.
The author of the book of Hebrews tells us not to neglect one another but to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). That’s pretty straightforward. It’s also good advice. Just as burning coal loses its heat when removed from the fire, we must be put back into the fire regularly with other pieces of coal to share our heat and help each other burn brightly.
The reality is that the church is incomplete without fellowship with other Christians (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
Dr. Nick Hawkes is a scientist, preacher, apologist, writer, and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man, pathetically weak from cancer and chemo, who has experienced and must experience the grace of God every day.
Nick has written a book, Soar Above the Storm, in which he draws on his experience with cancer to encourage anyone going through a storm to find peace and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and to find deep peace in God. Order it from Koorong.
He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net.
Nick told his life story to Eternity in Deadly Storms, Heroin Addicts, Cancer, and My Faith.