I can start this article with no better scripture than the wonderful, clear teaching from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If you truly believe that all Christians should go to a church building on Sundays then please hold the following scripture in your mind as you read this post.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another;
as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
By this all will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
The sign that Jesus gave us of outward proof that we are His disciples was our love for other believers. He didn’t put a little footnote that said, “But you only need to love those who regularly attend the same church congregation as yourself.” Or did He? If so, I certainly haven’t found such a footnote yet!
However, I have had church-goers tell me that people who do not regularly attend church services are disobeying scripture! I have had other bloggers say that those who suggest or teach that it is OK for Christians to stop “going to church” are outright “false teachers” to be avoided like the plague! As these are both pretty serious allegations for the supposed body of Christ to be throwing around about one another I felt it was time to write what I have learnt about this issue.
Love Is The Building Block for the Whole Body
“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.
He who loves his brother abides in the light,
and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:9-11
So how we treat one another is a vital issue in the body of Christ. We certainly don’t want to be counted as those with “darkness blinding our eyes” do we?
So, the foundation of any discussion on church attendance versus non-attendance must be based upon this LOVE for the body of Christ. Only from there can we then look at other scriptures to see how they fit in with this core doctrine of our faith.
Who is the Body of Christ?
If you read 1 Corinthians chapter 12 you will see Paul refers to the true, born-again, Spirit filled believers as a body. He tells us that there are differing levels of strengths and weaknesses in each part but that all believers ought to care for all parts or members of the body. The Bible teaches us that we are not to segregate on the basis of gender, wealth, nationality, previous religion or maturity level of their faith.
“For as the body is one and has many members,
but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—
and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
For in fact the body is not one member but many.” v 12-14
“But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body,
but that the members should have the same care for one another.” v 24-25
Now I have a couple of questions for you.
1. How does a person become part of this body?
2. How does a person stop being a part of this body?
I will tell you some wrong answers to start with.
1. You don’t become a part of the body of Christ by attending church services! Not one service and not three times a week for the next sixty years! You can become a part of or a member of a religious institution or group but that isn’t how to become a member of the body of Christ.
2. You don’t stop being a part of the body of Christ by not attending church services. Not if you just miss one service and not if you miss three services a week for the next sixty years! You can stop being a part of or member of a religious institution or group but that isn’t how you stop being a member of the body of Christ.
Shock, horror gasp!! If this is true then we need to all think a little bit deeper for some right answers, because if we can still “BE” a Christian when we don’t “GO” to religious church services then that ought to have an impact on how we both perceive and treat the body of Christ.
And on the other hand, if we can “GO” to church services and not actually “BE” part of the body of Christ, then some serious Bible reading and seeking the truth of this matter would be the order of the day.
Here are a couple of scriptures to start you off in the right direction.
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,
for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.
For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me,
and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and
believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:37 & 40
Forsaking the Assembly?
For some Christians, there may come a time when you feel that you can no longer fit into churchianity any longer. Now this can happen due to various reasons; ranging from physical, emotional or mental health issues and disabilities, or for spiritual and doctrinal reasons. It can be a mixture of everything and other things as well. But for some genuine Christian believers, there may come a time when you feel that you can perhaps no longer cope with the superficial smiles and pretense that all is well; or when the false doctrines that abound become too toxic to tolerate, and then you may start to get that odd-man-out kind of feeling. If you decide (for your own sanity perhaps) to stop going to church services, then you may find that when you bump into the church-going crowd that you may sadly have to fend off their accusations.
Firstly therefore, I want us to look at the proof-text that “church-goers” most often use to accuse fellow believers who no longer attend “church services.” It is, of course, Hebrews 10:24-25. So, what does it say and more importantly, what does it mean?
“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 the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Now as with all scripture we must look at it both in its context in the Bible, and its history and culture. This is not always easy I know, but it is vital if we are to truly follow the Lord in all matters that please Him. Jumping to conclusions that are perhaps not truly supported by the text and appear out of kilter with the rest of scripture isn’t helpful for any of us, in the long run.
Context & Culture
The scripture is set in the book of Hebrews that is speaking to Jewish believers not to return from the wonderful new covenant (achieved for them and us by the shed blood of Jesus Christ) back to the old covenant ways. Some such believers were so very nervous of serious persecution by their fellow countrymen that there was a tendency to separate themselves from the Gentile believers, in an attempt to avoid such persecution from the Jewish Sanhedrin. Believers in those days were paying with their lives.
This understanding is also borne out by reading Galatians 2:11-13.
“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came,
he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.
And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”
You can see that the writer of Hebrews was most likely speaking against such a segregating practise, rather than commanding them to meet every Sabbath (or Sunday) at a certain location, as many today presume.
In some countries where persecution is prevalant then I guess the same pressures come into play. The Muslim who converts to Christianity in a Muslim culture is no doubt under similar pressures as the Jews who believed and trusted in Jesus Christ as the Saviour in the Bible times.
Yet using this scripture to state that Christian believers MUST attend “church services” is a prevalent practice within Christendom, making it difficult for each side of the “church-going” versus the “not-church-going” body to discuss and relate to one another effectively. I believe that the misuse of this particular scripture has caused a great deal of heart-ache, loneliness and sadness within the body of Christ unnecessarily. This must of course, grieve the Lord, as His body attacks one another, wielding the “sword of the spirit” but in a wrong manner. Please consider the following scripture.
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this:
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” Galatians 5:13-15
Hebrews 10:24-25 also cannot be referring to attending religeous meetings in church buildings as we know them today. At the time it was written there were NO Christian church buildings in the way we now have them. The Hebrews letter was written before 70 AD, when the Christian church was in its infancy, and there were no church buildings at all!
Buildings came later – many think they started in the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine in about 330 AD, when he amalgamated Catholicism and paganism with a form of Christianity. Back in the days of the early church, as far as we can tell from the New Testament, Christian fellowship was an ongoing, daily lifestyle, where the believers assembled in their homes or outdoor places.
In fact, the word “church” is the word “ekklesia,” meaning “an assembly” or “assembly of called out ones.” It doesn’t mean a meeting in a special building at all. I encourage you to do some further reading about the word “ekklesia” as it is quite instructive to see the difference between what we have these days as “church” compared to what they had in the New Testament ekklesia.
Jesus said, “…I will build My ekklesia, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18b
SIDE NOTE: – Robert Young, produced a Bible translation in 1862, which he called, “A Literal Translation of the Holy Bible” (YLT). Throughout he used the word “assembly” as the translation of “ekklesia,” (the word “church” is not found in his translation at all). He gave us an actual translation of the word “ecclesia” rather than substituting the word “church,” as most other Bible versions do. You can read from this version on Bible Gateway here – or better still buy yourself a copy, as I have done – it is proving to be most helpful.
So, on the one hand, we now know that the Hebrews 10:24-25 verses do not necessarily mean that those who live their Christian lives apart from the institutional church setting are rebellious or disobedient to this scripture; and on the other hand, we bear in mind that those who attend such church services are not all necessarily pleasing the Lord either.
Many who attend do just that – attend!
They arrive physically, sit in pews, sing some songs, listen to a “talk,” share some small talk and go their own way. They can just be “gathering” due to tradition, but not in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord. I have certainly come across people who are just members of Churchianity and not actually part of the body of Christ. Some churches seem happy to baptise them and make them into church members but when you spend time with some such people you realise there is no fruit of the spirit coming from them.
Assembling & Exhorting
The early church is frequently mentioned as meeting in one another’s homes and they also met in the open air sometimes. This tells us clearly that it is biblically OK to have small groups for fellowship in homes. In fact Jesus said where two or three are gathered He would be in the midst of them.
So we assemble to:
- Consider one another in order to stir up love and good works
- Exhort one another, especially as the time gets shorter to Christ’s return.
Exhort generally means to strongly encourage, urge or try to persuade someone to do something.
In Strong’s Concordance it is 3870. Parakaleó – to call to or for, to exhort, to encourage, beseech or comfort. The most frequent word with this meaning, literally denotes “to call to one’s side or aid.”
We see from this scripture that when Christians get together with other Christians it is for the mutual building up, strengthening and for encouraging one another to be more loving and to persevere in good works of service towards one another.
We can come alongside one another to help practically, prayerfully and lovingly in all manner of life’s issues, to support and encourage each other. We study and teach scriptures to one another to be built up in the Lord as His body. I feel sure that no one could dispute that this is the sort of lifestyle the Lord advocates for His followers.
With regards to how and where He wants us to worship Him we must remember His words to the woman at the well from John 4:21 & 23.
“Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
So Jesus told her that the place wasn’t the important part of our worship, but rather the truth and the spirit were the aspects that the Father God was seeking.
I want to ask you then if all these things are really happening within your church setting? I know that some happened for me in my early years as a young believer. I can remember getting invited to someone’s home on a weekly basis to do subject-based bible studies on Christian basics, such as handling money, relationships, work etc. I used to look forward all week until the next time. Also, in my first church I learnt a great deal, as back in those days the gifts of the Spirit were at work occasionally amongst some of the people in a real way that actually blessed me.
However, over the past couple of decades things have been much more difficult. I have come to understand that I am still a Christian in spite of the churches. I had kept on forcing myself to attend due to the religious mindset that I had to do so. I had been taught that if you leave then you will be like a coal out of the fire, or that you are in rebellion to the submission of the leaders, or to the Hebrews 10:24-25 scripture. Such fear and control tactics are heaped upon us to keep us attending. I know for those of us who finally reach the end of the road with “church services” then we often have quite a bit of agonising about these things to work through. It is not an easy thing to walk away from such a deeply established church-going habit, and none of us do so lightly, I can assure you.
Divisions Among You
If the Hebrews passage is a warning to Jewish believers to not go back to Judaism and its segregating rules then I want you to consider, for a moment, the segregation that exists in the institutional church sphere. Have you ever considered the posibility that the many denominations that exist in our day are perhaps rather like the warnings Paul issued to the early Corinthian church body.
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,”
are you not carnal?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-7
I have been thinking about all the these denominations within Christendom and how each one wants the people to sign up to become members of that group. In my town we have Baptists, Church of England, Free Methodists, Methodists and a couple of Christian Fellowships too. I have been to most of these and find that they don’t really encourage mixing with the Christians from the other groups. They appear to have a sectarian mindset! They want to you commit to their group exclusively and you can come under much condemnation if you visit another church or start going to another church. This is much like what Paul warned of in the above scripture. Following men rather than following God is not something he commended. It is foolish and divisive.
I have come to really dislike the way pastors and congregations refer to the church as “my church” or the people refer to it as “Pastor Joe Blog’s Church”. No!! The ekklesia, or true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, are His body, they are HIS CHURCH. He is the head and those who love Him will follow Him. Yet for many of us these days, that is out of the doors of the institutional churches, and never to return.
I want to emphasise that people like me haven’t left the church/ekklesia as we are still in Christ, following Him, dying to self quietly in our homes and places of work. We are still filled with His Holy Spirit and seeking to make the most of every opportunity to share the Gospel. We are still very keen to assemble together with other believers to encourage and edify one another in the Lord, in whatever way we can.
But we are greatly saddened when we are shunned and castigated wrongly by church-going believers. They think we have left them, but we still live in the same place in their town. Our doors are still open to receive them in Christ-centred fellowship if they called us. They have our phone numbers and our addresses. We have not left them, we have only left the religious trappings of sitting through “church services.” I have come to think that perhaps they, having judged us wrongly, have actually left us. We are still Christ’s called out ones, His body, His people, His church.
Another blogger puts it this way:
“The problem is an almost blind assumption that those of us who choose to opt out of traditional organized Christianity are somehow spiritually less than those who stay in. The problem is others automatically presuming they know better than I about how, where, and when I should worship. And the problem is friendship offered not on the basis of faith in Christ, but on condition of conformity to another person’s specific Christian tribe. …
I know, it’s easy to label Christians ‘backslidden’ when they are less than enthusiastic about church involvement or dismiss them as those pesky ‘perfect church’ seekers: easier, that is, than deal with the uncomfortable fact that there may actually be something missing in our local church that people are desperately seeking.” **
I have found that true spiritual life is found ONLY by abiding in our relationship with Jesus Christ Himself and in no other person; neither in a “church” nor in the friendships with other believers. It is so good to find out for oneself that Jesus is quite enough to sustain you and lead you into all truth – to just BE part of His ekklesia that doesn’t really need to GO anywhere, as we ourselves are the spiritual house that the Lord desires.
“Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men,
but chosen by God and precious,
you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood,
to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:4-5
If you are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and still finding encouragement within the walls of the institutional church then I just hope this article will have given you a little insight and a softening or your heart towards those of us who can no longer walk that path. Conversely, if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and have recently left attending a church and are feeling heaps of guilt and struggling about this, then I hope to have answered a few of your questions and encouraged you to keep on going with the Lord.
The Lord will build His church, as He has said, of that we can be sure. What that looks like to Him may very well be quite different from what it looks like to us presently. I pray that we will all have our minds transformed and our hearts filled with His love for His body, His ekklesia, His people, wherever they may be found.
By this all will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
God bless you,
**Quote from Cherly McGrath at Bread for the Bride – I highly recommend this article to you. Also please read an associated article entitled, “Invalid reasons for staying in a church that you know teaches false doctrine” here, at Rick’s site.
Ps – Other sites/articles on this issue that I have found helpful in some way:-
“The Church Outside The Camp” by Tricia Tillin at her site Banner.org.uk here This is a very helpful 2-part article on the subject of believers living outside of the institutional church setting and is by far one of the most thorough and helpful articles I have found thus far (found it after writing the above post). I highly recommend it to you – it is such a blessing. And also her article The Biblical Church is very good.
Pps – If you didn’t know the answers to my two questions in this article then I advise you to read through the gospel of John and seek the Lord with all your heart. You can get some more information at The Blue Letter Bible here and you can also read about what a Real Christian is at Sean’s site here which is called, “Real Christianity”. He has some free books on there and book 1 is called, “How to become a Christian”.
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