Fellow Christian and blogger John Pavlovitz makes an argument that going to church is not a necessity for the Christian.
I guess that depends on one’s definition of the word “church”. If one defines “church” as a “building”, that I believe John is 100% correct.
If one defines “church” as a “group of people gathered to worship God in community” than I disagree completely.
Why? A cursory read through
the gospels, Acts, the Pauline letters the entire Bible, will find the people of God worshiping in community. There is absolutely zero context for the worship of God and a relationship with him absent others.
In fact, we find the exact opposite. We see Jesus teaching in the synagogue. We find Paul and other church leaders worshiping in the synagogue. And yes, we find believers meeting in homes. And, while the location (except for the Old Testament) may matter very little, the thing that we consistently find is believers together in community.
To be sure, I’ve been in many “sacred places” outside the brick and mortar of a church building. I’ve found them while on a morning run, while listening to Radiohead (the guitar solo in the song “The Bends” is exquisite), in a morning cup of coffee and around my dinner table. And, I’ve worshiped God with others outside of the spacial context of a church building.
And yet, we consistently find communities of people, gathered for the express purpose of worshiping God, throughout the Bible. The Greek word for this gathering is (in English) ekklesia; it is defined as, “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” In the Christian sense, it is, “an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting.” Notice the phrase, “called out”- this is purposeful and intentional. Christians are indeed called to worship God in community.
You need other Christians who are committed to your spiritual well-being. They are the ones who will be able to get to know you and identify the fruit of new birth in your life…we are not good judges of our own hearts. Some people are entirely too easy on themselves. They imagine that they give evidence of genuine regret and repentance for their sin when in reality there is none. Others with a tender conscience are far too hard on themselves. They take every weakness and failure as evidence that they are hypocrites and false Christians. Being involved in a local church is immensely helpful for both kids of people- Mike McKinley, Am I Really a Christian?
My edits italicized below.
“Without this limitation (what is biblical), we leave ourselves open to calling anything we fancy a Spiritual Discipline. Thus, one might declare, ‘Gardening is a Spiritual Discipline (going to church) for me,’ or ‘Exercise is one of my Spiritual Disciplines (going to church),’ or claim that some other hobby or pleasurable habit is a valid Spiritual Discipline. One of the problems with this approach is that it can tempt people to assert something like, ‘Maybe meditation on Scripture (going to church) works for you, but gardening (playing with my dog, etc) does just as much for my soul as the Bible (going to church) does for yours.’ And the result is that virtually anything can be designated a Spiritual Discipline (going to church), and worse, it means that we determine for ourselves what practices are best for our spiritual health and maturity rather than accepting those God has revealed in Scripture (like the worship of God in community)”- Donald S Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
I’m in agreement with John on this point- “we do not gather to sit with strangers and consume religious entertainment…”. Rather, we gather in community with people to worship God. And yes, while I can worship God “on my own”, and while we are to worship God with all we are and through all of our activities, thoughts and deeds, we are indeed called to be in community (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12).
The response to bad community is not “no community” or a retreat to selfishness. This is exactly the attitude and behaviors that Paul warned against in 1 Corinthians 12. The proper response to bad community is Christian community. And that design is described for us in God’s Word.