How many times have you heard someone say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian (or, a follower of Jesus).” Maybe you’ve said or thought this yourself occasionally. I have. A few times I’ve gotten frustrated about something and told myself, “Who needs church? I have my Bible, and I can pray and talk to God any time I choose to do so. You don’t have to go to a place of worship to do that!”
To a degree this is true, but in the words of the sage college football commentator Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”
Years ago I knew a strong believer who pointedly stated he didn’t attend church. He felt it gave him more credibility with non-believers – he could better relate to people with little or no church affiliation. Since he had no denominational axes to grind, he believed not-yet followers of Christ would feel more comfortable discussing spiritual matters with him.
My friend did regularly attract non-believers, able to vividly recall the days when he was among them. Declaring he didn’t attend church services regularly deflected accusations that he was “religious.” This man truly loved the Lord, studied the Scriptures diligently, and saw God bring many people to faith.
And yet, while this individual wasn’t connected to a specific congregation or denomination, he had many Christian friends with whom he interacted throughout each week. He didn’t “go to church” – a house of worship – most Sunday mornings, but was surrounded by strong believers to support him in his faith.
Someone like this, however, is rare. Most of us, left to our own devices, won’t take the initiative to seek out other followers of Jesus without some kind of structured, formalized way to do so. This is one reason, I suspect, once-fervent believers fall away from the faith, becoming ineffective as Christ’s disciples or even abandoning their faith. Trying to sustain their faith in isolation, they find it’s very difficult to do.
To illustrate the importance of remaining connected to other Christ followers, the apostle Paul used the metaphor of the human body: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). The passage then proceeds to cite some of the gifts and responsibilities assigned to people within Christ’s church, showing how they should work together.
Just as my heart needs my lungs, brain, liver and other organs to continue to function and remain healthy, we can’t be faithful, fruitful Christians apart from the body of Christ: fellow believers with whom we spend time in a consistent, meaningful way.
I came across a somewhat humorous, but accurate anonymous quote about this: “Sure you can be a Christian and not go to church. Kind of like a zebra separated from his herd getting eaten by cheetahs is still a zebra.” It’s not just unhealthy to fail to pursue time with fellow believers regularly; it’s dangerous.
Hebrews 10:23-25 sums this up so well: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This “Day” refers to the Second Coming of Christ. No one knows the day or the hour when He will return, but the Scriptures assure us that He will. We’re certainly one day closer to it than we were yesterday, and some authorities on the “end times” assert that biblical prophecies about Christ’s imminent return are being fulfilled during our times.