By George A. Bowers Sr.
While this is a common question from children, I'm sure most of us have heard, or even said, that a person doesn't have to go to church to be a Christian. And while I can appreciate the sentiment of this statement, I must take issue with it from a Biblical perspective. Let me share why.
First of all, the word Christian literally means, "follower of Christ." This implies that we will follow or do what Christ did. Luke 4:16 tells us it was Jesus' custom to go to worship each week, so it seems obvious that if I am going to follow Jesus, one of the first places I would follow him to would be to weekly worship. One may not have to go to church in order to believe, but a Christian has to be a part of a church in order to be Christlike. Certainly we shouldn't go to church just for tradition's sake, but this is one habit, custom, or tradition that has plenty of good reasons to keep doing it.
Secondly, we find in the New Testament that Jesus loves the church so much that he died for her. A Christian should love what Jesus loves. The church is Jesus' bride and if we are not participating in a church, we are not a part of his bride for which he died.
Thirdly, we have many New Testament commands to love one another, bear with one another, pray for one another, encourage one another etc. All of these are given in the context of the local church body. In order to obey these Scriptures, we have to be a part of some group of believers. We cannot love, bear with, nor encourage one another if we are never with others. It may be easier not to deal with the conflicts that arise from interaction, but such events are the means the Holy Spirit uses to mature us.
The church is also a place we can obey Jesus' command to celebrate the Lord's Supper. It is clear from the upper room that this was not done privately, but with others. I want to share in his death so that I may also share in his resurrection, so I go to church to celebrate the Lord's Supper.
The church also provides us with a place to use our spiritual gifts. The Bible teaches that we are each uniquely gifted for service in his church. None of us have been gifted to be a hermit Christian. We use each other's gifts so that the body can be complete. If I withhold my gift by not participating, the church is crippled and it's my fault. I don't want to cripple Christ's bride. Church gives me a place to serve others and to be served by others and both are important aspects of being a Christian that cannot be fulfilled by a solitary believer.
Accountability, fellowship, and the ability to accomplish more for Jesus together than we ever could on our own are other reasons to be a part of Christ's body. Some may be unable to attend due to illness or handicap, but if God has given us satisfactory health, we should honor him with it by following Jesus' example and being present somewhere in church to worship him each week.
Hoping to see you there, George
George Bowers is the pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of four books, including his latest book of poetry, "Wit and Wisdom of the Woods." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.