Theology Thursday: Do We Have to Go to Church?

By Dr. Peter Rasor

Little girl praying on pew

Numerous recent studies show that it is increasingly popular to believe that “going to church” is not important or necessary to be a Christian. Just as long as a Christian has a genuine faith in Christ, this is all that is required. But is this true?

We should first realize that a person certainly can be a Christian and not “go to church” as such. For example, some people simply cannot physically make it to church on Sundays for medical or some other limiting reasons. Surely, such individuals can have faith in Christ and be saved. After all, one is saved “by grace through faith” and not “works” as Ephesians 2:8-9 explains. The person’s faith is what saves him or her, not “going to church.”

Although one can technically be a Christian without “going to church,” it is interesting to note that the New Testament does not know of a Christian apart from the church (of course, minus the exception just mentioned). At every turn in the New Testament, it is assumed that Christians are a part of a local church and they are even commanded and encouraged at times to continue meeting with the church.

For example, Hebrews 10:23-25 states, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering . . . 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.” The author of Hebrews specifically says that Christians ought to continue meeting together (or “going to church”). And notice the reason for doing this: it is not to be saved or to follow some kind of legalistic command, but to “encourage” one another and to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”

The point is that Christians need to be a member of a local church for their own good. They “go to church” so they can be encouraged and loved. No one can live as a Christian alone. Christians need each other. As an island that is bombarded by a hurricane will be destroyed, so are Christians in this world without the church. This is why Jesus began the church and expects us to be a part of it. (Remember, Jesus told the Apostle Peter: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus is even called the “cornerstone” and “founder” and “head” of the church, see the book of Ephesians, especially chapters 2, 5, 6).

Yes, any Christian can read the Bible on her own and do her best to put into practice what it says. There are, however, numerous things a Christian cannot do apart from the church:

  1. Take the Lord’s Supper. According to I Cor. 11, participating in the Lord’s Supper shows unity with Christians (the church) as well as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice.
  2. Be baptized. No one can baptize himself or herself. Moreover, one is “baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13), i.e, the church.
  3. Confess sins one to another and pray for each other (as James 5:16 says).
  4. Learn how to love other sinners and forgive them. Jesus lays out specific ways of how to confront others and be reconciled to them when disagreements occur and if someone hurts another. See Matt. 18:15-17, which lays out how to do this and indicates that sometimes the entire church is to be involved.
  5. Being properly instructed in what the Bible teaches and how to live. This is why Jesus set up pastors and teachers in the church (see Eph. 4:11-13). We can read the Bible on an individual basis for devotion, but this is quite different from being taught by others who have studied the Bible for a lifetime and even received degrees (some with Master’s and PhD’s) in studying Scripture. The Bible is not something to be interpreted subjectively; it is to be interpreted and understood objectively. No one person can do all this on her own. Christians need the help of others, just like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

Of course, there are other reasons Christians ought “to go to church,” like to express our love for the Triune God of the universe through worship (this would, in fact, be the most important reason). This short list, nevertheless, ought to make us pause and reconsider the idea that “we don’t have to go to church” and the assumptions behind it. Although we do not have to “go to church” to be a saved, it is indispensable to grow as a Christian and to remain strong in one’s faith.

Want more? Check out all the articles from Theology Thursday and return each week for a new post. Learn more about the College of Theology by checking out our website or requesting more information with the button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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