"They're a bunch of hypocrites that go to church. I don't want anything to do with them!"
"I watch so-and-so on television. That's my church."
"I've looked for a good church but I can't find one."
"I used to go to church but the last one I went to really hurt me. I don't want anything to do with church!"
"My church is going out into the woods and communing with God. God's creation is good enough for me."
"I just don't have the time. I have to work on Sundays."
"I don't believe God exists in buildings. I believe He's in my heart."
These are just a few of the reasons people give for not going to church. This article is written to look at these objections in more detail and to examine what God says about them in His Word (i.e., the Bible).
Many many years ago, God inspired prophets to write down on paper His thoughts (2 Peter 1:21). The compilation of these writings comes down to us as the Bible. It is God's message to people. It communicates His ideas, mandates, warnings, exhortations, and heart to His followers. When someone accepts Jesus as Lord over their life and asks Him to come into their heart, that person is born again (John 3:3; Romans 10:9,10). The Bible is predominantly written for the believer. As a born again believer, the Holy Spirit, Who dwells now within (1 John 2:27), helps explain to the reader the meaning of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Words of the Bible is the actual source of faith (Romans 10:17). God impregnates His Word with power and faith. He Personally makes sure that His Words come to pass (Jeremiah 1:12; Numbers 23:19). God's Words are also the means by which someone is born again (1 Peter 1:23). Being born again is just the beginning of an eternal life with God. It is a starting point to a journey which will never end. Being born again allows someone to receive God's very Spirit within the heart of an individual (1 Thessalonians 4:8). It means an exchange of authority has taken place: before the new birth, the individual was god over their own lives, but after being born again, Jesus Christ is Lord of their life.
Jesus is the personification of the Word (John 1:14). Indeed, He is called The Word of God (Revelation 19:13). God and the Bible are one (1John 5:7). When we read and meditate on Scripture we are literally reading into the heart of God Himself. In the Scripture, God has hundreds of promises He has given to us by way of covenant. A covenant is a set of promises - something like a contract. The promise of the new birth is only one of hundreds in the Bible. Additionally, there are many commands or mandates God has given us. Most of the promises of God also entail some command. For instance, God says in Romans 10:9 that if we confesses with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead as payment for our sins, we will be born again and thus receive His Spirit. The new birth is the promise; the command involved in receiving it is: 1) confession with the mouth to God, and 2) believing in the heart that what you are saying with your mouth is true. The promises of God are conditional.
The remainder of this article will explore what God has to say in His Word about going to church, what His commandments are concerning it, and what promises are available as a result of heeding these commandments.
What Does the Bible Say About Going to Church?
Perhaps the first question to ask is, what is church. Is it a building? Is it a gathering of individual believers? Is it a corporate structure? Is it a denominational hierarchy? The word church in Greek, which is the original language of the New Testament, is the word ekklesia. It simply means a gathering together of people for some purpose. In the case of Christian believers, the purpose is to worship God, to be instructed, and for fellowship. Old Testament believers also congregated in a similar fashion.
The totality of all Christian believers, past present and future, is now called the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ Himself is the head of this Body (Ephesians 1:22,23). He directs its corporate as well as individual activities. Analogously, the physical body is made up of individual cells and each cell is of a given type. When cells of the same type are joined together they form what is called tissue. Organs of the body are made up of tissue. All cell types are dependent upon all other cell types. No cell type can survive without the nutrients and benefits afforded by other cell types. For example, a liver cell can perform its function only when it is given protection by white blood cells, when kidney cells are effectively filtering out toxins, when red blood cells are supplying oxygen to the whole body, etc. As Christians in the Body of Christ, no individual is designed or equipped by God to live independent of other believers. We all have finite abilities and callings. The Body is designed by God to function as a whole (1Corinthians 12:20-27), not as separated parts. None of us lives to himself (Romans 14:7).
There are many Scriptures that speak of unity and gathering together of believers as necessary for proper function. Psalms 34:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together;" Psalms 55:14 - "We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company; Psalms 122:1 - "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the LORD." The New Testament also speaks along the same lines: 1 Corinthians 12:20-22 - "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you", meaning, the Body of Christ does not function correctly without all members working together. 1 Corinthians 13:9 says, "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part" - no one has all knowledge and insight into the Spirit of God. The part that you have may be the part that all the rest of us need to hear.
1 Corinthians 7:7 says, "Every man has his or her individual gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that." Your gift may be the one missing from a congregation to function well. Ephesians 2:10 says we all have a ministry: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." Our ministries are wrapped up in Jesus, and Jesus is the Body of Christ (1Corinthians 10:16,17). No body is disjointed and separated from itself. A believer outside a functioning church is disjointed and cut off.
Knowing to do good and not doing it constitutes sin (James 4:17), and habitual sin prevents prayers from being answered (Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 59:2). If you know these things and don't do them, you are in sin and your prayers are ineffective. Perhaps your heart has become hardened on this issue of going to church. Let's look at what the Bible says about that. Hebrews 3:13,15 says, "But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. While it is said, Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." How can we exhort one another if we are not regularly assembling? Hearing God speak to your heart is much easier when believers are assembled together in one heart and mind than when by yourself. We need to encourage one another lest sin and discouragement take over.
Going to church is not just a once in awhile thing but a regular behavior. What we do every once in a while does not really effect us. It's what we do consistently that changes us. Physical exercise is an example of this. Romans 2:7 admonishes the believer: "By patient (consistent) continuance in well doing ... do we inherit eternal life." Eternal Life is the life of God. It is experienced at the new birth but also continuously on a day be day basis (Ephesians 5:18,19). In Greek eternal life is the word zoe. It is a force that brings dead things to life, changes discouragement to encouragement, sorrow to joy. It comes to the Christian believer, in part, by consistent behavior of well doing. Regular church attendance is part of doing well.
Hebrews 10:24 says, "And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works." Provoking or admonishing one another to keep on seeking the face of God and to pray for one another can't be done effectively outside the assembly. Perhaps you have not received encouragement at church. This does not prevent you from encouraging someone else. Jesus said when we give something to someone else we will receive back in kind (Luke 6:38). If you need encouragement, give some away. If the sermon was poor and the worship stiff and religious, the promises of God still hold: you will receive the reward from God for obedience to gather together.
It is conceit to think you're so spiritual or so intellectually developed that you can't get anything out of the service (Romans 12:16). Jesus said an attitude of hunger for more will result in blessings (Matthew 5:6). Whatever gifting you have as an individual came from God, not from yourself (John 3:27). The power of your hands to do things, the brain on your neck to think, were both given to you by God (Deuteronomy 8:17,18). It's pride that thinks these are owned: our body and spirits belong to God (1Corinthians 6:20). The greatest person is the servant of all, the Scripture says (Matthew 23:11). Go to church to give rather than receive. As you give you will receive back in kind from God directly.
God instructed Moses in Numbers 10:1-3 to make a trumpet for the purpose of gathering the believers together for assembly at the tabernacle for church. Why would He do this unless He ordained church gathering on a regular basis? The ordinances of feasts in Old Testament times were all directed to the assembly, not just to the individual. The Scriptures say the Old Testament was written for our learning (Romans 15:4). How can a family be separated from itself (Ephesians 3;15)? If it does so it is dysfunctional. Dysfunction is sin. The Good News is that Jesus has overcome sin (Romans 8:2)!
The last verse of the Old Testament describes lack of mentoring as a curse (Malachi 4:6). How can one be mentored without assembly? There is strength in numbers and unity, even non-Christians know this. Church is a place where everyone is doing the same thing you are: worshiping God. If you were to ask God if He wanted you to go to church, do you honestly think He would say no? He does not contradict Himself. He won't say one thing to your heart and something contradictory in Scripture. The Scripture is a more sure Word of prophecy (2Peter 1:19), meaning, if there is a contradiction between your heart and the Scripture, the Scripture should take preeminence.
The Bible speaks of satan and demons as being enemies of God and His people (1Peter 5:8). Their agenda is to kill the believer if possible; to steal property, health, and relationships away from them; and to destroy everything and anything associated with them (John 10:10). There is therefore a war going on between the church and satan's demonic forces. A Christian believer outside a church body is an easy target for him. If one can draw an analogy of a wartime situation, if a platoon of soldiers is in enemy territory fighting the enemy and one of its members gets lost or straggles behind, the enemy sees this and easily shoots and kills this individual with little or no resistance. The enemy will probably receive little or no retaliation from the other platoon members. Why? Because they are not together and don't even realize that one of their members has been shot. There is strength in numbers and cohesion. Satan hates unity. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
So, the answer to the question of what is church, it is an assembly of believers in Christ Jesus who regularly meet together for reasons of prayer, worship and instruction. Strictly speaking, it does not involve a church building. These assemblies may meet in a school auditorium, in private homes, or public owned facilities. They are recognized and mandated by God. They are not simply believers meeting together without oversight. They have an authority structure ordained by God. Ephesians 4:11 says, "And (God) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the encouraging and building up of the Body of Christ." Christ is the Head of any believer, but God has ordained that believers called to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers are there to run the local church, whether it embodies a handful of individuals or thousands.
God says go to church!
The Scripture admonishes the believer to assemble together regularly. Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another." Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).
There is something supernatural that happens when fellow believers get together to worship God that does not happen when they are apart doing the same. Christians who do not assemble regularly in a church are not destined for hell, but they are subject to attack from the enemy of satan more so then if they assemble regularly. An example of this is found in 1 Corinthians the 5th chapter. Apparently a man in the congregation was discovered having an incestuous relationship with his mother. Paul admonished the church leadership to deal with this mans sin immediately. Paul, in verse 5, says something very interesting. He instructs the church leadership to cut the spiritual tie of this man from the church which apparently provided supernatural protection against satan. The reason? So that either he would repent, or that satan would kill his body before the man might totally renounce Jesus all together (see also 1Timothy 1:20). The point of this incident is to relate that there is a supernatural protection from satan God has ordained and provided for by formal church assembly.
What are the benefits to going to church?
There are many. One already mentioned is protection from evil. Another involves fellowship. The Greek equivalent to this word is koinonia. This does not mean socializing, it means the spirit of one person communing with the spirit of another, or "deep calling to deep" (Psalms 42:7). The result is a wonderful refreshing and rejuvenation. Fellowshipping yields a feeling of being fed with something good! We are not only called to be in fellowship with Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 1:9), we are admonished to fellowship with other believers as a basic behavior. Acts 2:42 describes basic conduct of the believer as: following doctrine, praying, fasting, and fellowshipping. It is difficult to fellowship with other believers outside of a regular assembly.
Another benefit mentioned earlier is perfection. Ephesians 4:11,12 says that one of church leadership's responsibilities and powers is to perfect the believer. The Holy Spirit of course is involved with this process also but God works through people. Getting along with imperfect people is not easy, but in the process some of our own imperfections are manifest and eradicated by the Spirit. Solomon put it this way: "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17). Romans 1:2 says when we accuse others of some misconduct we do the very same thing in some fashion or form. Being around others can bring this out. We are admonished to purify ourselves, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3). Even Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). It may be a pain to be around imperfect Christians but it has the benefit of self-perfection.
Another benefit is corporate worship toward God. Worshiping God is not mere singing of hymns or songs to God. It is the expression of awe, thanksgiving, and praise to Him Who saved us through the vehicle of music. It is a very powerful weapon that God has given us (Psalms 149:5-9). Psalms 22:3 says God inhabits the praise of His people. In other words, God communes with us when we worship Him. We can expect supernatural benefits such as physical healing, revelation, and deliverance as we worship our Creator. Worship can also be thought of as waiting on God. Isaiah 40:31 says, "But those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." There is an exchange that occurs when we worship God that involves the taking away of our weaknesses for Gods strengths. All of these benefits are available to the individual believer at home, but God promises us an exponential benefit when we worship Him corporately: "One puts a thousand to flight and two chase ten thousand to flight" (Deuteronomy 32:30). God loves unity. Love glues us together, sin separates us from each other.
Another benefit is the promise of the tithe. The tithe is one tenth of your income. The promise of the tithe is described in Malachi 3:10-12 - "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open up to you the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer (satan) for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, says the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for you shall be a delightful land, says the LORD of hosts." The tithe belongs to God (v.8). The benefits are: the windows of heaven being opened to the individual, God personally seeing to it that satan is rebuffed of his aggressions on you, that your endeavors in life aren't destroyed, and that you will be materially blessed and others will see it. The storehouse technically is the place that feeds you. God's intent is that your church feed you spiritual food for your growth. People who don't go to church generally do not tithe.
Objections to Church
At the beginning of this pamphlet was mentioned several objections to church. Let's now address them one by one.
1. The first was the issue of hypocrisy. Someone once said, "Don't join this church, you'll ruin it!" Sometimes we don't see ourselves as the problem when we in fact are part of the problem. When we accuse others of hypocrisy, we are guilty of the same thing (Romans 2:1). The Scripture is clear that we are to attend church. If we don't we are in sin. If we maintain a self-righteous attitude about it, we also are being hypocritical. All Christians are not perfect, in fact most are still pretty messed up. Being born again allows God to indwell us with His Spirit, but He only changes us to the depth and rate which we let Him. Some Christians refuse to grow up. Jesus came across the same sort in His day. God did not say go to church only if the others act right. He put no qualifications on His mandate. If others are hypocritical, that does not mean you have to be. Why not be an example of how not to be hypocritical? Why allow the behavior of others to dictate your relationship and obedience to God? If God says go to church, then go to church. If others are hypocritical then purpose in yourself to love them anyway. You'll grow by leaps and bounds! Paul said, "That I may know him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). It doesn't take much effort to love someone like yourself. It takes much more character and suffering to love someone that is unlike yourself, or worse, despises you. God is interested in developing our character.
2. "I watch so-and-so on television. That's my church." There are many Christian television and radio programs on the air which offer excellent instruction and encouragement to the believer. These programs, however, were never meant to replace the local church. The local church is God's best. If one were to ask these various ministries whether their programs should be thought of as replacing the local church, the vast majority would answer with an emphatic NO! There is nothing wrong with these para-church organizations but, by nature, they are not pastoral, that is, there is no oversight. Accountability, nurture, and protection are characteristics of the local church as ordained by God. The local church offers these.
3. "I've looked for a good church but I can't find one." God says He has placed all believers in some local body as it pleases Him (1Corinthians 12:18). Ask God what church He wants you to attend and then go there. The criteria for finding the church God has for you are several. First, there should be a sense of life. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6); His words are spirit and life (John 6:63). There should be a supernatural sense of the life of God coming from the church. This is a sense of homecoming, of joy, of vitality. Then there should be a sense of challenge, that is, the sermons should admonish you to progress spiritually. Finally, the pulpit should be Word-based, not based on human philosophy. If you can't find such a church then you are not hearing from God because he said He has placed you in one already.
4. "I used to go to church but the last one I went to really hurt me. I don't want anything to do with church." It is unfortunate that people hurt each other. It is probably most damaging when the stakes are so high as is the case with spiritual issues at church. The Scripture says if someone offends you forgive them (Mark 11:25,26). Bitterness and unforgiveness will eat you up like a cancer. It defiles not only you but everyone around you (Hebrews 12:15). Our society today is particularly bad at communicating. It is hard to approach someone who has offended you and confront them in a way that tries to resolve and forgive rather than blame. It says in Luke (17:3) that if someone sins against you confront them. It also says not to tell others about your complaints but to stick to dealing with that person alone about it (Proverbs 25:9). Try to resolve the issues. Ask God to reveal to you anything that you might not be aware of in your own heart that is causing problems (Psalms 139:23,24). "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). Only God can unravel our hearts. And if perchance the issues cannot be resolved, then don't go off in a huff. Ask God to forgive the person, and you, if you were at fault. Avoiding pain is not a healthy way to live and grow. Face your fears; resolve your anger and bitterness.
5. "My church is going out into the woods and communing with God. God's creation is good enough for me." The Scripture talks about God's creation speaking of His presence and nature to us (Romans 1:18-25). But there is no where in Scripture that says this church should replace the assembling of the believers together. All the objections listed in the beginning of this article predominantly revolve around an underlying sense of rebellion against God and others. Don't fall into the trap of the 'accuser of the brothers' - the devil's ploy (Revelation 12:10). One of his schemes (2Corinthians 2:11) is to create faction and division (James 3:16). When we separate ourselves from one another we are being taken captive (by satan) at his will (2Timothy 2:26). We become pawns rather than kings (Revelation 1:6). We do exactly what he wants us to do - not gathering together. He knows there is power in unity.
6. "I just don't have the time. I have to work on Sundays." We live in a fast-paced, hectic world. Some people work on Sundays or Sunday is their only day off. Some of the activities that make our lives busy, however, are not God ordained. We took them on ourselves. God had nothing to do with telling us to get involved in them. Someone once said "good" has one too many "o's" in it. Even good activities are not necessarily God activities. It is good to ask oneself whether all of what one does is what God wants done. The mature Christian is led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). You may indeed not have the time to go to church, but are all those activities that take up your time things God told you to do? Probably not. God would not tell you to do something that contradicts His Word. If He has instructed us to go to church then He will most certainly provide a way for us to attend. It may take a supernatural intervention at your place of employment that would make policy changes regarding church attendance. Alternatively, you might consider asking God to provide for you another job that allows you to attend church at a regular time. Although Sunday is the traditional day of Sabbath, the fourth chapter of Hebrews says Jesus is the Sabbath Day rest. When we are in Him we are at rest. Sabbath means rest. If your regular day of worship and assembly happens to be a Wednesday night, that's fine. If you are accountable to the leadership, are being fed and challenged, and are being protected, you are going to church.
7. "I don't believe God exists in buildings. I believe He's in my heart." God is indeed in our hearts as born again believers (Ephesians 3:17), but this attitude really reflects a rebelliousness against church authority and against the mandate of God to assemble regularly. The Scripture says all authority structure is of God (Romans 13:1). This includes church leadership. When we disobey these authorities by foregoing church attendance we disobey God and incur negative consequences (Romans 13:2).
The believer is instructed to go to church (Hebrews 10:25). Not doing so, while it does not prevent us from going to heaven, cuts us off from many benefits and promises only experienced in the assembly. When we knowingly sin, our prayers are not heard (Psalms 66:18), which further compounds the problem. Further, we become more vulnerable to attack by our enemy satan. Go to church! Be a blessing to others if nothing else. "Let your light so shine" (Matthew 5:16).
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