We live in a culture of autonomy. It’s in the fabric of our culture for us to seek to be left alone to pursue whatever has our attention and to avoid anyone who might slow us down. That’s probably the reason it’s so common to hear to someone explain that he does not go to church for any number of reasons followed by the reminder, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” But is that true? Of course, there’s some validity to the claim – our salvation is not based on our church attendance – but I am most interested to ask that person, “Why do you not want to go to church?” You see, not going to church definitely does not disqualify a person from being a Christian, but his reasons for not going to church very well could.
Not going to church definitely does not disqualify a person from being a Christian, but his reasons for not going to church very well could.
Some would argue that the Bible never says that Christians must attend church and I will concede that point. However, I would also remind those people that almost all of the New Testament epistles were written to local churches, so the letters were written with the assumption that everyone reading the letters would have already been involved in their local church. That means that there would have been no reason for any of the apostles to give a mandate for his readers to be a part of the local church! If that isn’t enough, then we should remember that there are 59 different “one another” statements in the New Testament. Those statements give Christians instructions about how they should live with “one another.” How would it be possible for a Christian to understand those 59 passages of Scripture without acknowledging the apostles’ assumption that Christians were already living in community with one another? In addition, how can a Christian obey those passages if he refuses to live in community with other Christians? It’s undeniable that the connection of the Christian to the local church is a basic assumption that is laced throughout the entire New Testament.
So what are the real reasons that you do not want to connect to the church? Is it because it’s full of hypocrites? If so, then I would ask, “Do you think it would be difficult for anyone to look at your life and find areas where you do not resemble the perfect Christian?” If there are any areas in your life where you miss the mark of being the perfect Christian, then you’ll fit in perfectly among the hypocrites at church! We welcome you! Maybe you don’t want to go because you’ve been hurt by people at church in the past. I ask, “Have you ever hurt anyone?” Perfect! The church has a place for you! The church is by its very nature full of people who openly admit to falling short, which is the reason we know that we need Jesus. It seems a curious thing that anyone claiming to be Christian would want to keep from living in community with other Christians. In every other facet of our lives we seek to surround ourselves with people who share our common interests, priorities, goals, etc. The Bible tells us that the very nature of being a Christian is that we die to ourselves and take up a completely new identity in Christ (Galatians 2:20). If that is true then why would a Christian not want to be involved in a church where there are other Christians? They have the same identity! It makes absolutely no sense to disparage the local church while claiming to have the exact same identity as the people who are there.
It makes no sense to disparage the local church while claiming to have the exact same identity as the people who are there.
Perhaps it’s most important to remember that the Bible teaches that Christ’s love and devotion to the Church is similar to the love and devotion that is supposed to be found between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-30). As a husband to Brittni, I can confidently say that anyone who claims to love me must also love Brittni. If you slander my wife, or refuse to eat with her, then my relationship with you will be nonexistent. My love for her does not leave any room for me to embrace anyone who would look down upon her. To be honest, my love for her would even make it very difficult for me to be connected at a meaningful level to anyone who is even indifferent towards her. I think the same could be said to the person who disparages the Church while claiming to be a Christian. Is it really possible to claim authentic love and allegiance to Jesus while at the same time disparaging and ignoring his bride? If you love Jesus, then you must also love his bride.
Anyone can point fingers at the church and draw attention to the areas where she fails. It shouldn’t be difficult to find such failures when we consider that the church is totally comprised of fallen people. The challenge is not to point out her weaknesses. The challenge is to be a part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and to contribute by building up her areas of weakness, yet that runs contrary to another aspect of our culture – consumerism. Consumerism doesn’t seek to give but to get. In contrast to consumerism, 1 John 3:16 tells us that we cannot love as Christ loves without giving our lives for our brothers and sisters (i.e. those within the Church). So, yes, you can technically be a Christian without going to church, but it’s a difficult case to make that you can remain an autonomous and consumeristic Christian with no desire to change in conformity to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). Let’s remember that the term Christian means Christ-like and that Jesus was not autonomous in nature nor was he a consumer. Instead, he was the exact opposite both. So how would you say someone remain autonomous and consumeristic and still claim to be Christ-like? It’s a tough sell to make.
If you’re that person who claims to be a Christian while refusing to be a part of a local church, then I hope you’ll do two things. First, I hope you’ll do an honest self-evaluation of your life to see if you are truly a Christian, or if you are one by title only, which could explain why you have no desire to be a part of a church. Second, regardless of what your self-evaluation reveals, I pray that you’ll find a local church to join.