Why do Christians believe that church attendance, as today’s culture defines it, is such a necessary component in the faith of Christ’s followers? I’m going to make a statement that will not rest well with many: I’m not convinced that being a member, adherent or card carrying, of a local church is an absolute prerequisite for those that love Jesus. Generally, I prefer to write about topics that I’ve thought deeply about and already reached a conclusion, but this one, admittedly, I continue to address and continue failing to conclude every time. That being said, any further insight beyond what I lay out here would be very much appreciated.
I’ll begin by prefacing that I wholly believe that each Christian soul comprises Christ’s church, the church that He sacrificed Himself for at Calvary and the church that is His bride. It isn’t that church that I’m tiptoeing around as to whether it’s necessary; it’s the church that has an address, a budget, a building space to rent out for weddings and receptions, a program or ministry for everything under the sun, and politics aplenty. The church that teaches the Word of God, ordains elders and deacons into positions of leadership and guidance, the organization that brings a semblance of order to worship, administers the Lord’s Supper and celebrates when believers are immersed in the waters of baptism, harbors hypocrites galore, and lives their messy lives in communion with each other as they strive for the raw sanctification that only biblical believers envision – this portion of organized religion I understand, but the former I struggle with. Of course, most, if not all, church organizations have each of these and there are numerous persuasive arguments for them all to be accepted as God honoring church institutions, but the Scripture supporting what we see as church today is weak and, perhaps, nonexistent.
What is the body of believers supposed to look like as the Bible portrays? Many things are written of in regards to Christ’s bride: orderly worship, praising with hymns and song, prayer and speaking in tongues, laying on of hands for healing, preaching sound doctrine, each member being an integral part of the whole body, urging each other on in good deeds, accountability amongst, not forsaking meeting together, building one another up and carrying the burdens of others, breaking bread, supporting those in need, and this list is ever so partial. Since God’s Word says that these are components of the church as He desires it to be, I wouldn’t and couldn’t question. However, in today’s context, how all of these biblical church model mandates are carried out still has me perplexed as to whether faithful attendance and apt participation in a local congregation is the umbrella that covers what the gathering together of Christians is required by God?
Seven years ago, I began regularly attending my first church, but have had sporadic attendance throughout the past two years. Five years ago, I began regularly fellowshipping with believers outside of the church building. It is only my experience, but the time spent living alongside other Christians, from their twenties and up through their seventies, purposefully engaging in either weekly, or monthly one on one meetings, has brought profound growth into my life. In addition, for these five years, I’ve remained blessed by two women, in particular, that have provided ample accountability, countless excavations through Scripture to seek His counsel, several topical Bible studies, and priceless lessons learned as to how to live out loving others. Again, a home group fellowship that our family has been part of faithfully every other week. And another, probably close to a thousand sermons I eagerly crave, most of them via media. One more maybe, I live in a community where I’m able to meet new faces frequently and, being the gregarious personality that I am (most days), invite others into conversation that remains superficial for only a brief moment until I whip out the “desperation to discuss theology” card and hope for a fresh and fruitful interaction. Last, but not least, and this should go without saying, spending time in God’s Word on a daily basis. I offer this laundry list as a precursor to my next question: for those that check the church box by attending Sunday service, yet happen to neglect most, or all, items on my list of boasted deeds, how is it that my reservation to join a formal congregation is still viewed as heretical?
I know I’m a heathen and, trust me, my laundry list of unboastable (not a word, but you get the gist) deeds is long and keeps getting longer each second that passes by and I’m still breathing. However, this heathen needs some clarity in regards to church building attendance beyond the Hebrews 10:25 verse claim because I haven’t forsaken gathering with other believers; I’ve done the opposite. There’s nothing more thrilling for me than to engage in a conversation when the topic is theology and I’ve been surrounded by believers who meet, and many times, exceed my desire to embrace God and all that His law and grace beholds. So the initial question stands for the time being, until a clear conviction comes by the Spirit that I’m willfully in sin by not filing into the pews each Sunday like a good Christian girl: is church absolutely necessary?