Do I have to go to church to be a good Christian? This is a fairly common question. We all live pretty busy lives. We work 40 or more hours a week to provide for our families in addition to all the other stuff we have to do as responsible adults. If we’re lucky enough to have Sunday off it may be the only day we have off. Is it really necessary for us to get up early on Sundays too, our only day off, and go to church?
Going to Church Cannot Save You
In some aspects it is not necessary and in others it is very necessary. Going to church is not necessary to be saved. Nor does going to church make you a better Christian than the one who doesn’t go to church. Church attendance is often seen in light of a works reward system. Or, to put it another way, legalism.
Going to Church Does Not Make You Right With God
One way it goes is that I can be out Saturday night getting drunk and sleeping with whoever I want and me and God are all good as long as I’m in church Sunday morning. I remember one night, over 10 years ago, my best friend and I had stayed out all night drinking and smoking like we did every night. The next morning he wakes me up as if the cops were fixing to raid our house. I was selling weed at the time so I jumped up scared senseless but when I asked him what was going on he tells me, “It’s Easter! We gotta go to church! Hurry up or we’re going to miss it!”
Feeling very relieved that we weren’t getting raided I hurriedly got dressed amd we rushed off to the closest church. With our heads still pounding from the night before. He didn’t have to convince me to go to church that day. It was Easter. I never missed church on Easter. We knew we weren’t living right. But we weren’t going to miss church on Easter and we’d be good with the big man upstairs until next Easter rolled around. Never mind that we were firing up another blunt as soon as we pulled out of the church parking lot.
Also in this category of thought are those who are living more moderately or “civilized” in their sin. They’re not doing the kind of extreme things my friend and I were doing then. But they know they’re not living right. Regardless of how moderate our sin is, when we think like this we don’t really go to church to “get right” with God or “be right” with Him. (In good standing with Him.) We go because we know we’re not in good sanding with Him but “good” people go to church so going makes us feel better about not being right with God. Amd that’s really why we go when we think like this.
Going to Church Does Not Make You Better Than Anyone Else
The other kind of thinking this works reward system produces is the self righteous hypocrit kind. We are at church every Sunday and, in some cases, every time the doors to the church open. We may even serve at the church. There’s not really any open practice of sin in our lives. But in our hearts we don’t really enjoy church amd our hearts are full of all kind of anger, hate, envy, jelousy, greed or what have you. We go because we feel like we have to or to make ourselves look good. And we parade our church attendance and service around like a merit badge of how good we are. While we look down on those who aren’t as good as us or those who aren’t at church as often as we are. When we think like this we pray like the Pharisee, “I thank you God that I am not like this tax collector.”
In regard to these two ways of thinking your church attendance has nothing to do with your relationship with God or others. If you fall into either one of these schools of thought please know that you have bought a lie. If you are not living right going to church does not make you right. Niether does it make you any better than anyone else.
Being a Part of a Church is Necessary for Spiritual Growth
However, in other aspects going to church is a necessity. It’s not so much about going to church but about being a part of a church. I’ll go over the biblical reasons first and then I’ll give you my own personal reasons for why church is important to me. To start with, humans were created to live in community. We’re made in the image of God and God Himself is a communal being. The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has forever existed in an eternal communal state. When God created man in His image He never intended for men to live in dependably of each other. Rather, we were created to live interdependently with each other.
This is evident in that we are naturally drawn to community. Everyone builds for themselves some sort of community, a network of friends and family, that is an important part of their lives. As Christians, we must be careful who we build this community with. The Bible warns us, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
That’s not to say that we are supposed to only have Christian friends. But we should have a strong Christian community composed of Christian friends and family that will help us grow in Christian character. Where do we get that? Church. So what happens when we’re not a part of a church? We build a community for ourselves that has little or no Christian influence in our lives. This is not good for our spiritual growth and development.
We also see in Ephesians 4 (the whole chapter) that Christians are specifically hardwired to love and serve God within the context of the Christian community provided by the church. When we become Christians we are given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit who now lives inside of us. We’re supposed to use those gifts to help build up the body of Christ and serve those outside of the body of Christ. We can’t really do that if we’re not a part of a local church.
Also, one of the things that the Bible tells us in regard to spiritual gifts is that while one person may have multiple gifts, no one person has all of the gifts. Why is this important? Because there are other Christians who have gifts you don’t have but need in order to grow in Christ-likeness. So how do you get them? By fellowshiping with other Christians who have them. This doesn’t mean you’ll be given other gifts by hanging out with people who have them. It simply means you will benefit from what they have to offer to your spiritual growth.
One very important gift which is a perfect example is the gift of pastor-teacher. Being a pastor and a teacher is a gift that God gives to certain men. He places in them a shepherd’s heart and endows them with the ability to understand and teach the Scriptures in a way that benefits others. Not everyone is given this gift. But everyone needs the benefits this gift offers. So it’s important for us to find a good church where there is a pastor who is good at opening up the Bible to provide us with understanding and show us how it applies to our lives.
Romans 12:6 also says that, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” Where and how do we do this? In the community provided by us being a part of a local church. Also, in 1 John, the apostle John says one wway we can no for sure that “the light is in us” is if we love our fellow Christians. Look at what he says:
“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11 NASB)
Those are pretty strong words. What do they have to do with going to church? When you love somebody you want to spend time with them, get to know them, help them when they’re in need, etc. How can we say we love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when we have no desire to fellowship with them in the community context of the local church?
Let Us Not Forsake the Assembling of Ourselves Together
But probably the strongest passage for why we should be a part of a local church is Hebrews 10:23-25,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, and encouraging one another is placed on the same level of importance as us holding fast to our confession in Christ. So if you were going to ask God, “Is it necessary for me to go to church?” He’d probably say, “I already answered that in the book. Check out Hebrews 10:23-25.”
Get Your Tank Filled Up
My personal reasons for why I go to church are of course all of the above. These biblical reasons keep me motivated to get up and go even when I don’t feel like it. But in addition to these: a) I love corporate worship; and, b) I need to be fed.
For me, there’s nothing like corporate worship. It rejuvenates me, reminds me every week why I love God, and gives me an opportunity to let out all my crap from the week in my worship to Him. When I’ve had a really bad or rough week I’m usually singing twice as loud in church on Sunday. Because it’s a release. And the helthiest one I’ve found yet. It reminds me Who is in control and where my trust and hope is. And when I’m not feeling so close to God it draws me in.
Secondly, even though I’m a preacher and I study my Bible regularly I need to be fed too. If you’ve got a good pastor, and I do, then he spends considerable time every week working hard to bring something worthwhile to the table Sunday morning. And he does so because he cares about us. And while I may not always agree with what he preaches on or like it (because it touches on some touchy area of my life) I go because I need it.
We Make Time For The Things That Are Important to Us
In summary, I would say that going to church really isn’t the issue. You can go and still get nothing from it. What we need is not simple church attendance but to be involved with a good local church. And you have to go to do that. We make time for the things that are important to us.
The first time I went to my fiancé’s family farm with her as Saturday was coming to a close I asked her if we were going to church Sunday. She said no. I asked her if she knew of any churches in the area and if she would be okay if I went. She said yes and told me of a church. Then she tells me, “You know God’s not going to be mad at you if you don’t go to church right?” I told her yes but that’s not why I want to go. I want to go because I need to go. I have to get my tank filled. It doesn’t matter where I’m at or what’s going on in my life. We make time for the things that are important to us.
– Joseph Sterling