Yes, You Have To!

Yes, you have to

You’ve probably heard, and maybe even said, something that goes like this: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a Big Mac. That’s true, as far as it goes. Faithfully attending church doesn’t save anybody. We are saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are not saved by performing acts of good work or penance. We stand justified before God through the saving grace of Christ. That being the case, no true believer will lose his salvation by skipping church.

It was hard for me to type that last sentence. As a pastor who has been in the ministry for many years, the habitual church-skipper has become the absolute bane of my existence. You probably know people like this. They join your church, attend services faithfully for a few months, then they start skipping services. A Sunday spent away on vacation. The grandkids have strep. A birthday. These people always have a good reason for skipping church. You run into them at Wal-Mart and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, “I know we’ve missed a lot of church, but we’ve been busy. We’ll see you this Sunday, though!” Right. If I had a dollar for every time a lazy church member spoke those words to me, I’d be a rich man today; my wife and I would be engaged in some “beach ministry” somewhere in the Caribbean. The fact is, words are cheap and so are habitual church skippers. They’re cheap with the blessings God has given them. They are stingy with yielding themselves to the Holy Spirit. And they hoard the gifts of the Spirit they possess.

Still, you have to love these people. You can’t kill them. So, what do you do with the lazy, habitual church skipper? Let’s lay some groundwork, first.

Christians are supposed to be in church.

While going to church doesn’t save you, the Bible is very clear that the Christian life is meant to be lived within the context of a local church.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 3:10 NIV)

We know that Paul here is referring to the local church because he’s writing to a local church, extolling the virtues of God’s wisdom as manifested by and through the local church for all the world to see. That’s a very big reason to regularly attend church – to be a part of God’s plan for showing the lost world His wisdom. When you habitually skip church, you are hindering God’s plan. Among other reasons, that’s why the Christian life (as designed by God) was never meant to be lived in isolation, away from the Body of Christ. Our very fellowship together with other believers is meant to be a stark testimony to a lost world.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23 – 25 NIV)

Here are some more good reasons to regularly attend services. The writer to the Hebrews links it to “the hope we profess.” In other words, part of being Christian is being a part of His Body, in the context of the local church. In addition, attending services gives us a chance to encourage fellow members in their walk with Christ and vice versa.

The writer to the Hebrews hints at something else in these verses: it is tempting to “give up meeting together.” Every pastor knows this to be true, and honest church members also know how easy it is to find reasons to miss church. It’s always tempting to lay out of church, hence the strong admonition to the Hebrew Christians.

A matter of priorities

Since attending church services is God’s will for His people, when we choose put the activities of the world ahead of church, we are saying to God, “I don’t have time for you.” That’s not a good position to be in! Can you imagine saying to God that you had “better things to do” on Sundays than fellowship with Him and other believers in His House? The title of this article is “Yes, You Have To Go To Church”, but it should probably be, “Do I Have to Put God First?”  Laying out of church so you can “spend time with your family,” by the way, is not putting God first and counts for nothing.  Atheists spend time with their families.  Walking in the woods, appreciating creation may be a wonderful way to lower your blood pressure, but it’s not putting God first, at least when you ought to be in church.

Even Christians who rarely skip church can fall into the dreaded “one hour only” mentality. Think about it. Do you complain about church running past noon? Most of us do, yet most of us never complain about services being too short. It’s about priorities. Are the things of your life more important than God? Regular church attenders would do well to think about this. If you’re in a rush to get out of church so you can “get on with your Sunday,” you’re insulting God. Let’s check our attitude about church often.

It all comes down to priorities. Do you, if you call yourself a Christian, put God first in your life or not? Part of putting Him first is living in obedience to what He wants for your life, and one thing He wants is for Christians – for you – to attend church services regularly. Of course, there are many other important things going on in your life, but it’s when you habitually put those things ahead of God, you find yourself on the outs with Him.

Christians are made to worship corporately – together. It is certainly true that you can worship God any time, anywhere. You don’t have to be in church to worship God. Nowhere in the Bible will find a verse that says believers in God should wait until they are in church to worship God. The Bible assumes believers will live a life of worship. Worship is a lot more than singing hymns and choruses, or taking Communion. And yet, that same Bible admonishes Christians to do these things:

Meet together on the first day of the week.

No kidding! It’s in there.

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. (Acts 20:7 NIV)

Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 NIV)

The Lord wants His people to get into the habit of meeting together regularly.

We can’t do what we’re supposed to do unless we meet together

You really can’t be all that God wants you to be unless you are in regular fellowship with other believers in the local church. You may be living a good life, enjoying peace and prosperity, but you’ll never know the full blessing of God until you are in church.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18 – 20 NIV)

Those are things Christians are supposed to be doing for each other in church. There’s no getting away from the fact that God intends for His people to live out their Christian lives in the church. Of course, you should live like a Christian all the time, everywhere you go, but doing the things Paul admonished his Ephesian friends to do can only be done in church!

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV)

Offerings can’t be taken up except in church. The offering Paul referred to here was one to meet the needs of another church. Christians looking after other Christians can best take place within a local church. It is there the needs of the Body of Christ are meant to be met.

You can’t follow the example of the early Christians except in church

There’s a lot of talk about “getting back” to the way the church used to be. It seems as though a lot Christians have grown disenchanted with the way the modern church has become. Well, if you want to “get back” to the New Testament church, you had better get used to meeting at least once a week at a central location. Of course, there were “house churches” in the early days, but there were also large congregations that met at a regular location. They had a structure and they were organized  (1 Corinthians 11 and 14).

If you read those two chapters (there are many others like them, by the way) you’ll see why it’s imperative to be in church. You can watch a church service on TV, you can read your Bibles with your husband or wife, and neighbors, but you can’t do what the Lord wants you to do; you can’t follow the example of the early church unless you are in an organized, structured church.

You can only encourage and uplift the saints in church

We’ve already looked at Hebrews 10:23 – 25, but there are other verses that talk about the importance of gathering together, not only to worship God, but also to encourage and uplift other believers. Naturally we can do this any time we happen to run into a fellow believer at the grocery store or at a ball game, but it best takes place in the local church.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:15, 16 NIV)

All those things are to take place in the local church. Just a quick reading of Colossians 3 shows the context. When we habitually miss church services, we are quite literally robbing other believers of our encouragement. Not only that, we run the risk of becoming a stumbling block to other Christians when we skip out of church all the time.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13 NIV)

How does skipping church make you a stumbling block? Among other reasons it’s encouraging the already habitual  skippers to keep on skipping services; it’s setting a terrible example for them to follow.

Respecting God’s authority

Here’s one last thing to think about. When you habitually skip church, you are rejecting God-ordained leadership authority. Churches are led by elders, men (and sometimes women) who, being led by God themselves, decide the days and times of church services. When you choose to disregard the authoritative decisions made by these men of God, you are essentially disregarding the authority of God Himself. It’s no small thing to play fast and lose with your church. The odds are good that if you have this kind of attitude toward the church you have the same attitude toward God.

And now, a word to you elders of the church. I, too, am an elder; with my own eyes I saw Christ dying on the cross; and I, too, will share his glory and his honor when he returns. Fellow elders, this is my plea to you: Feed the flock of God; care for it willingly, not grudgingly; not for what you will get out of it but because you are eager to serve the Lord.

Don’t be tyrants, but lead them by your good example, and when the Head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.

You younger men, follow the leadership of those who are older. And all of you serve each other with humble spirits, for God gives special blessings to those who are humble, but sets himself against those who are proud. (1 Peter 5:1 – 5 TLB)

Is the question, “Do I have to go to church?” Maybe it should be, “Is it permissible to disregard the authority of God and His leaders?”

A word about churches

Maybe you live in a community like the one I live in. There is a church every ten feet here it seems. Everywhere you look there’s another red door. When I talk about being faithful in church attendance, I am assuming you are attending a healthy, well-balanced church that is preaching the Word of God and respects the teachings and traditions of historical, orthodox Christianity. There are all kinds of groups that get together, sometimes calling themselves a “church,” yet have no relationship with the vital essentials of Christianity. Those “vital essentials” include things like: honoring the final authority of Scripture, belief in the great doctrines of the Bible, like the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary, atoning death of Christ, His resurrection, salvation by grace, living a life of holiness, and so on. A real church is faithful in administering the ordinances of the church – Communion and water baptism.

But a true church not only worships God together, they fellowship with each other.  They sometimes discipline each other.  They encourage each other and build each other up. Members of a true church are being equipped to reach out to the lost, offering them eternal life in Christ.

Ultimately, the real question should never be, “Do I have to go to church?” Rather, Christians should want to be in church because they have the right heart before God. No, the real question should be, “Why do you choose not to be in church every time the doors are open?”

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