Do We Have To Go To Church?

“Do we have to go to church?”* said most everyone of us at some point in our life. I’ve asked that question before and I’m sure other minister have done so as well.

I get the question. People are asking if attending a Sunday church assembly is necessary. Part of me wants to whip out Hebrews 10:25 as a prooftext, where the writer of Hebrews warns against forsaking the assembly. If were looking for a law, which a question like this often assumes, then the instruction in Hebrews appears sufficient. Having said all that, something else has already gone afoul when we have to ask the question of whether it is necessary to assemble with our church… on Sunday or any other time when the church assembles.

What Are We Asking, Saying, and Doing?

The question of whether we have to go to church also assumes a view of church that is widely accepted but still wrong. The assumption is that church is where we go and what we do rather than who we are as a community of disciples. Hence, we speak of church in the third-person singular rather than the first-person plural voice. Church is no longer thought of in terms of who we are − our identity as a community of disciples − but as an independent part of our life.

The problem is deeper though. As I pointed to earlier, the question assumes a legalistic approach to the Christian faith. This legalism holds that there are certain laws that must be kept in order to remain a faithful Christian and the question wants to know if going to church is necessary to remain a faithful Christian. However, most of the time it seems as though the person asking is looking for an out… a legal loophole, so to speak. Perhaps the person wants to justify sleeping in on Sunday morning, heading out to the golf course, the deer stand, etc… Because church is already regarded as just a part of life, something the person goes to do rather their way of live, church is now becoming even a lesser part of life.

In reality, the question of whether or not we have do go to church says much about our relationship with God. Since church is only a part of our life and is becoming a lesser part of life, God is no longer first. God is replace with something else, which is now more important and that is a deeper issue.

A Spiritual Disease?

As I think about the deeper issue, I am reminded of the story in the Gospel of Luke about the rich ruler (Lk 18:18-29). The man’s problem is not his wealth, it’s putting his wealth before God! Trying to justify himself he comes to Jesus inquiring about what is necessary for eternal life, so Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Of course, this wealthy man is already keeping the commandments. There’s still one problem and Jesus calls him on it… This man loves his riches more than he loves God and so his riches, rather than God, are his top priority. So he left, unable to follow Jesus into the kingdom because he loved his riches more than he loved God.

We can’t and don’t go to church because we are the church! Yet as the church, we gather together as an assembly in various formats and these gatherings are important. There are times when we cannot assemble and have legitimate reasons for not being able to do so. But when we begin to see the assembly as the church and separate that into just one part of our life, we inevitably do the same with God. For our relationship with God is bound within the community (church) of God’s people which God has made us a part of. When we relegate this relationship into one part among other parts of our life like family, work, hobbies, and so on, those other parts have the potential of becoming more important.

When this happens we end up asking questions like “Do we really have to go to church?” It’s a spiritual disease because what we really seem to be asking is “Do we really have to put God first?”

——————–

* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 1, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

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7 responses to “Do We Have To Go To Church?

  1. Rex,
    Good thoughts.

    I have normally answered the “Do I have to …” questions with no. I’ll go on and explain two things.
    1. If you choose not to because you can, then you will never know what you will miss by choosing to go the other way. (Which I know could be a circular argument.)
    2. If I have time I will explain that I think that misunderstand the nature of God (not that any of us have a great understanding). God desires relationship with us, not law following. The question we should be asking is not “What does God require of me?”, but instead “What can i do that will please God today?” or “What does God want of me?” These questions are questions that we ask in relationships.

    I have never awoken and thought to myself, “I wonder what I HAVE to do today for my wife to stay married to me.” Instead I wake up and think, “How can I please Lauri today?” or “What would Lauri want me to do today that would bring her joy?”

    -Daniel

    • When we truly love God, the question of “do we have to go to church?” will likely never arise. Instead, we’ll be asking “when can we gather in the presence of God among the rest of his people?”

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Rex, I’m so encouraged by the Spirit’s work in your heart. These foundational truths (who we are in light of who God is (our identity in him) and what he’s already done) are sadly not truths that make up the church in our culture. There is a real breakdown with our identities in Christ and thus our functionality as a body. truths I’ve been blinded to for most of my life. However, by God’s grace, my eyes see differently now and my husband and I are in pursuit to live differently out of our being which is rooted in Christ. In our culture this is a foreign concept. With a “church” on most street corners but very little Jesus, it feels lonely. I am thankful for his work in the hearts of his people. I’m thankful for family, blood and not, who’s eyes see through the spirit’s work.

    • Lanai,

      Thanks for comment! As the culture at large is in a major shift, moving from a modern to a postmodern view, so also is Christianity. Slowly but steadily, more Christians are coming to realize how much the church has been shaped by a christendom view where in many ways Christians could believe in Jesus but not necessarily follow his way of life. That is beginning to change as Christianity moves into a post-christendom era and is being forced to rethink what it means to live true to its calling which is to bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

    • A church without Jesus. I know what you’re talking about. I wished for a long time I would get to hear the gospel. That is tragic.

  3. How much of going to church was to prove to others how faithful you were? Or just see and be seen and get some info and a little gossip? It can still be a social event in many places with seat saving and people running to visit with people. Also, when going as a kid meant that all you would get to do was sing a few songs and hear another sermon about the church, let’s admit it, that got boring. Jesus wasn’t discussed nor was anything mentioned about the rest of the week or what it meant to be a Christian, other than showing up to church to Sunday.

    • That’s a culture of church I’m trying to bury, while helping form a culture where the worship and fellowship gathering is about a genuine expression of faith. Today, during our worship as we had a prayer of blessing for our children, there was laughter as we talked about the some of the foolish mistakes children will make as they grow up… and then there was crying as one woman was overcome with memories of a child she lost. We did typical things that churches do in worship (e.g., singing songs) but the church members also left their seats and gathered around this woman with hugs so that she would not feel like she was bearing her burden alone. Of course, we’re not a perfect church but I do think our gatherings are a genuine expression of faith in Christ.

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