Is Regular Church Attendance Optional?
Church Attendance is Essential to the Christian Life
I read a joke recently from a sermon illustration website. It was two people talking about church attendance that went something like this:
Person 1: "There was a tremendous crowd at our church last night!"
Person 2: "Why, was there a new minister?"
Person 1: "No, it was burned down!"
This might be funny if it were not reality. Many people who call themselves Christians today will not attend church unless the building is on fire.
According to a recent poll, 29 percent of adults in the United States say that they never attend church. And only 23 percent say that they go every week. Interestingly ,despite only about a fifth of the population going to church weekly, 40 percent consider themselves to be very religious.
Have you ever heard someone say: "I don't have to go to church to be a Christian." That is one of many excuses that people who say that they are believers in Jesus Christ give for not regularly attending a local church. But is this true? Does a true Christian have to go to a local assembly each week?
For those who may be reading this message in the future, we are just beginning to emerge from a time now where a pandemic virus has literally shut down America and most of the world. A large portion of businesses, and thus the economy, have been closed because people have been told to 'Shelter in place.' at home in order to limit the spread of the Covid 19 virus. Sadly, all except for businesses that are considered 'essential' such as grocery stores and hospitals etc. have had to shut down temporarily. Many smaller businesses, that couldn't afford this, have had to close their doors forever. And the unemployment has been worse than it was during the Great Depression.
Sadly, church's were among those considered non-essential and they were mandated to close up for 3 months. But are they really non-essential? That all depends on whether you are thinking about eternity, or merely this short life in which we all live on this earth. To God, the local church is essential to the lives of every believer, and ultimately, the world.
The reality is, if a person really loves the Lord Jesus Christ and wants to become all that God would have them to be, it is not an option. The Bible does not recognize a category of believer who is not attached in some way to a local church assembly. In fact most of the New Testament was written to either a local assembly, or to a leader of a local group of believers.
In order for us to get a biblical perspective on church attendance and to see why it is so important, we must understand three facts that are clearly seen in the New Testament.
The first thing we need to glean from God's Word is that going to church, though essential, will not save you, any more than being in a garage makes you a car.
I. Church Attendance Does Not Give Salvation
We must dispel that notion that simply going to a local assembly on a regular basis will somehow bring to you salvation. Scripture teaches clearly that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). Grace means "unmerited favor." That tells us that we did nothing to deserve it. Salvation is rather a free gift of God. Titus 3:5 teaches that:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."
There is absolutely nothing that we can do to save ourselves. In Romans we read that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). Isaiah says that all the righteousness which we do are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
We could not save ourselves, so God came to us when Jesus Christ entered this earth to die for our sins. And since salvation is a free gift, there is nothing we could do to either earn it, or lose it. In fact Romans 8:38,39 tells us that nothing will separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
No amount of church attendance can save us. And no amount of missing out on church can cause us to lose our salvation, if we are truly saved. But that doesn't mean that it isn't important or unnecessary. In fact, it is commanded by God Himself!
II. Church Attendance is Commanded by God
When a person becomes a Christian, they also become a member of the family of God and they are placed in the Body of Christ.
In the book of Hebrews, because of the persecution of believers at the time, there were many who stopped attending the regular gatherings of believers. The writer tells them this:
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching" (10:23-25).
The word for "stir up" here has come down to us in English as the word "paroxysm", which means convulsion. In this context this word speaks of the tremendous impact that believers have on one another. That is why it is so important to come together. The writer says believers have to exhort one another. This indicates that our job is to come alongside each other with the truth of Jesus Christ.
As we come together it helps fellow believers and ourselves to remain strong and to live life as God intended. If we stay apart, we become weak in our faith and cannot grow to a point of maturity. I liken it to a stick of wood burning in a large campfire. As long as the stick is in the fire, it burns hot and bright. But take that stick out of the fire and see what happens. Soon it burns out. Each believer is like that stick.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that the closer it gets to that Day, the more necessary it will be to come together to remain strong. The Day that he's referring to is the Day when Jesus Christ will return. As it gets closer to the day of the Lord's return, we all need to encourage each other to remain faithful in this world which is no friend of God.
This leads to the final fact which we can glean from Scripture. Church attendance helps us to fulfill our biblical responsibilities to one another.
III. Church Attendance Let's us Fulfill our Responsibility
As we noted, when we become Christians we are placed in the Body of Christ. (I Corinthians 12:27) That means that we are not Lone Rangers, but are responsible for each other. As a matter of fact, we are all given Spiritual gifts in order to edify, or build one another up. As individuals, we are a part of the Body, and all of us are essential for it to function properly. None of our gifts are unnecessary, or insignificant. This is what Paul says in I Corinthians 12:12-20 that:
"If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members each one of them in the Body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the Body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one Body."
Without the members coming together and using their Spiritual gifts, the church is hurt, but the person who doesn't attend is hurt even more, because he cannot reach full maturity without the assistance and encouragement of fellow believers (I Corinthians 12:21-26).
The New Testament tells us of our responsibilities in the Body by using the Greek word "allelous" over and over again. This word can be translated "one another" or "each other." Some of our responsibilities, just to name a few of the many, include being devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10), honoring one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10), having equal concern for one another (I Corinthians 12:25), serving one another in love (Galatians 5:13), accepting one another as Christ has accepted you (Romans 15:17), being patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). All of these show us that the Christian life was never meant to be lived alone, apart from fellow Christians. It was meant to be lived in fellowship, with each member responsible for the welfare and Spiritual growth of the other members of Christ's Body.
There is an illustration that I read recently which might help to summarize what we've been saying. It goes like this:
A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. The letter reads as follows:
“I've gone to church for 30 years now. In that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can't remember a single one of them. So, I think I'm wasting my time, and the pastors are wasting their time.”
This started a real controversy in the Letters to the Editor column – much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote the following clincher:
“I've been married for 30 years now. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work.
If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today as well!"
For the Bible believing Christian, regular church attendance is not optional. You absolutely cannot be what God wants you to become without it. But not only that, a true believer should have a desire to worship God, listen to His Word and have fellowship with other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not normal, according to Scripture, for it to be any other way.
If you love the Lord Jesus Christ and want to follow Him totally, and you aren't currently attending a Bible believing local church on a regular basis, then don't hesitate any longer. You need to start today to make it a regular part of your life. You really can't afford not to do this. Your spiritual life depends on it.
For those of you who have been active in church for many years, don't think that you don't matter. Everyone that attends is a vital part of the whole group of believers and your absence leaves a hole that only you can fill. God has given you a unique set of gifts and abilities that make you necessary to the Body of Christ. Don't hesitate to find them and use them for His glory.
The Church, the Body of Christ is God's idea. And He has chosen for all of us to meet together regularly. May we not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is. For as a group, with the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we are a wonderful source of strength for one another and for good in this world. And we will help each other to bring glory to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Praise God for a body of believers called the Church!
© 2012 Jeff Shirley