We’ve all dealt with it. You know the attitude. “I don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian”, they say. “God knows my heart” or, as one songwriter suggested “…me and Jesus, we got our own thing going”. As frustrating as that is to anyone who knows anything about relationship dynamics at any level, it is doubly so when you consider the consequences of such clearly mistaken thinking. The simple truth is that there is absolutely NO precedent in the scripture, Old Testament or New, for abandoning or neglecting the fundamental mechanism of discipleship and authentic Christian living — that of community. Wait….wait….before you bring up the ‘alternative’ ways of ‘connecting’ – social media, the internet (or TV/radio for us fossils), please note the lack of precedent for depending on such as a replacement for authentic ‘koinonia’ – that deep fellowship that comes from deep relationship, not just casual familiarity. I even heard one millennial preacher saying that the ease of communicating today has made the church more interconnected and focused than ever. HOGWASH! I agree that information is easier to come by today than ever, but that only amplifies the need for context and discernment rather than offering up some novel replacement for gathering together. Anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously never tried to win an argument on social media.
In the early church, assembling on a regular basis was such an ingrained reality that it was not addressed as an imperative (a command) in scripture, but referred to as a fait-accompli. It’s not a matter of “…you should assemble”, but a matter of “when you assemble”. The Apostle Paul, the author of 13 books of the New Testament, spoke repeatedly of the church ‘when’ they were gathered together (1 Corinthians 5:4, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, 1 Corinthians 14:23 & 26, et al), as did James (James 2:2), and of course Luke in his account of Pentecost (….that’s Sunday, btw) and throughout the book of Acts (2:1, 4:31, 5:12, 12:12, 14:27, 15:6 & 30, and 20:7). Not surprisingly, the closest thing to a command to gather on a regular basis comes in a command not to stop doing so! (Hebrews 10:25). There’s really no questioning the Lord’s desire in this matter, so what’s the problem?
Forgive the oversimplification, but here’s my take on it. People that claim to be Christian, are physically able to do so, but choose not to connect to and regularly attend a local church fall into some very distinct and easily identifiable categories…
- Ignorant – those who have been led in some version of the ‘sinner’s prayer’ with no follow-up – they’ve had their nose counted on someone’s list and left to wither as a seed on stony ground (Matthew 13:5) without benefit of the Word and it’s basic instructions nor the regular company of fellow believers – as such, they’re left with a hodge-podge of uninformed, self-diagnosed conclusions about the church and every matter of Kingdom living, often resulting in some wildly unbiblical heresies and emotional opinions rather than biblical truth. How else could a bored airline pilot’s fantasy novel morph into a worldwide ‘religion’ (scientology) but for people being willing to search for God and truth everywhere and anywhere except the only authentic source of truth – the Word of God.
- Insecure – those who have been led into beginning a relationship with the unseen Christ who have not learned to trust Him and His plan, nor the physical manifestation of His Body on the earth today – the Church! This shows up as either a judgmental dismissal and falling back on the ‘hypocrites’ excuse, or a banal reliance on familiar individuals they can follow – often by antiseptic means such as media or internet – rather than gathering en masse with the Body and building strong, vibrant, interdependent relationships accompanied by the presence of the Lord himself (Matthew 18:20). These are those who are vulnerable as the seed that fell along the path, just waiting for those ‘birds’ to come and devour them in their disconnectedness. (Matthew 13:4)
- Individualistic – those who, for whatever reason, decide that after ‘making it right’ with the Lord, they have their own unique entitlement to do it ‘their way’ rather than following after His way. This may partially explain how 380 out of 500 eyewitnesses to the physical ascension of Christ into the heavens chose to chase some other priority rather than ‘gather’ as they were told to do – it happens to a lesser degree every Sunday! At best, this is a lack of submission and at worst, an act of outright rebellion. Either way, the choice is predicated on the false assumption that once they’ve said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, their sin is no longer treated the same — they’ve bought into the lie the serpent lisped into Eve’s ear in the garden that surely the penalty would not be the same for HER – after all, she was SPECIAL now. To know to do good and to willfully not do it is SIN (James 4:17), and the wages of sin is and will be until judgment day – DEATH (Romans 6:23). The very fact that a person claims to have received forgiveness of sin and then willfully and habitually continues in that sin makes that penalty all the more deserved as the sacrifice of Christ to set him free from sin is trampled under the feet (Hebrews 10:29) of whatever convenient excuse makes him prefer the company of the 380 thorns that threaten to choke out his spiritual life (Matthew 13:7).
The bottom line…authentic Christianity demands more than just connection to some amorphous ‘body’ that only God in His supposedly secret wisdom can truly see – it demands deep, habitual, interdependent relationships with other believers whose journeys intersect in this thing called ‘koinonia’ – that spiritual fellowship that only comes from being a participant in the community of faith. Anyone who’s ever tried to have a meeting by teleconference knows that it’s a decent tool for conveying information, but it is no substitute for whites-of-the-eyes meeting in building relationships and understanding. Likewise, you can’t truly build relationship with nor truly understand the purpose of God for your life without the context of the local church. You can’t just ‘phone it in’, people! Find a bible based, full-gospel church close enough for you to do more than just visit occasionally, make a commitment to get your hide out of bed on Sunday – every Sunday, and participate in the life of the institution that Christ died to establish and whose hands He is using to fulfill His great commission. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself praying for one another, developing intimate, life giving relationships (James 5:16), and living out the Father’s will (1 Corinthians 12:27) for this new life Christ died for you to have. Going to church really is A BIG DEAL!