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Series Theme: Difficult Questions

Title:   10. Do I have to go to church?


A series that helps consider difficult questions of the Christian faith



I am a Christian. Do I need to go to church? Can't my wife and I be church on our own?


If we wish to be New Testament Christians, taking our lifestyles from the teaching and practice of the New Testament, then we will find such a concept completely alien. However, that is the crucial question: do we want to be Christians who follow the New Testament teaching or will we be those who simply do our own thing and meander off into unbiblical thinking?


Because there has been so much ‘dropping out' of corporate church life in recent years in parts of the West, we will seek to give a fairly broad (though not exhaustive) response to this question.


Let's consider this under the following headings:


1. Meaning of Church
2. N.T. Practice
3. N.T. Teaching about “the body of Christ”
4. General New Testament teaching
5. Practical benefits from fellowship
6. Why be alone?



1. Meaning of ‘Church'


      The Greek word that is used in the NT for church is ekklesia meaning “a called out body of people”. It was used commonly of citizens who were called together in society to discuss the affairs of state. The concept of church, therefore, is one of a group of people who come together, people who are believers, people who are Christians. The very concept from the outset, denies individualistic interpretations.




2. N.T. Practice

  •   The overwhelming argument must be the very life of Jesus himself. Here is God who did not remain in isolation but came in human form to specifically encounter, communicate with, and have relationships with people, many people.
  •   Jesus didn't merely bring people to God, he brought disciples to himself, to interact with him over a three year period to learn through relationship, not merely words. Christian discipleship is largely about relating to other people and 'church' (thecorporate expression) is the training ground for that.
  •   When the church started off after the day of Pentecost, their immediate practice was to ‘be together' (Acts 2:42 -47), and this continued (e.g. Acts 4:23 -35).  It was the natural thing to do as children of God's family.
  •   Wherever Paul went preaching the Gospel, he formed churches - groups of Christian believers who together practiced their faith. The NT Picture is of Christian people who come together to learn, to grow, to be encouraged and to mature.
  •   If you consider the things that earliest group of believers did (Acts 2:42 -47), you can see that it was impossible to do them in isolation, e.g.
    •   they received teaching from gifted ministries v.42
    •   they fellowshipped together v.42
    •   they were all together and were mutually supportive v.44,45
    •   they publicly met together to be seen v.46
    •   they worshipped together v.47
    •   this acted as a light to the world who were drawn to God through them   together v.47




3. N.T. Teaching about ‘the body of Christ'

  •  One of the main NT concepts to explain the life of the church is “the body of Christ”. Thus when writing to the church at Rome , Paul says we who are many form one body (Rom 12:5) with different gifts (12:6).
  •  In his instructions that follow, Paul gives some instructions that can be obeyed alone, but also some that actually express the corporate dimension, e.g.
    •  be devoted to one another v.10
    •  honour one another v.10
    •  share with God's people in need v.13
    •  live in harmony with one another

                     all of which are clearly, in context, about the body together.

  •  In 1 Cor 12-14, arguably the greatest chapters on spiritual life together, Paul speaking about spiritual gifts,
    •  refers to them as for the common good, 12:7 (clearly within a church-first context)
    •  refers to different people having different gifts, 12:8-10
  •  He then speaks of the body as a unit 12:12 and argues that each part of the body NEEDS the rest, 12:14 -26, which expressly denies the concept of ‘me alone'.
  •  When he moves on to detail in chapter 14, the idea of using prophecy to edify the church denies an individual approach (v.4) – it is expressly to bless others in the church, and then later others outside the church (v.24).
  •  In 14:12 he expressly teaches us to be eager to have spiritual gifts that build up the church. Gifts therefore are to express Jesus as he seeks to bless and build up the whole body of Christians.
  •  Any thought of this being something between a couple at home is refuted by the context (which was to a church group in Corinth), and when he speaks about the whole church coming together (14:23), it is in such a way that unbelievers can come in and witness what is taking place.
  •  He expands this teaching in 14:26 on when he speaks of the corporate use of these gifts. There is so much there in the following verses that denies individualistic Christianity.
  •  In Ephesians Paul again uses this concept of a body – 1:23, 2:16, 3:6, 4:4,12,16,25, 5:23,30
  •  The overwhelming picture that comes through in the New Testament in both experience and practice is of groups of people regularly meeting together.



4. General New Testament Teaching

  •  Heb 10:25 - clearly calls us to avoid ‘dropping out'
  •  The excuse that is sometimes used - surely I can meet with my wife alone and do these things -finds no space in that part of Scripture. The book of Hebrews was written in a corporate context as the references to ‘brothers' (3:1,12, 10:19 , 13:22 ), or ‘none of you' ( 3:12 ,13, 4:1) and ‘dear friends' (6:9) clearly show.
  •  Associated with the ‘body of Christ' teaching, although we have touched on this in our consideration of 1 Corinthians, we need to specifically think about the whole question of gifts and ministries as they are given to the church.
  •  Eph 4:11-13 clearly indicates God's intention of giving gifted ministries to the church to train up the body, bring it into unity and express Christ as fully as possible. All of this indicates a corporate dimension.
  •  The isolationist philosophy means the individual neither gets the benefit of those God-given ministries, nor comes under the protection of God-given leadership authority, nor is able to develop into one of those ministries. The downsides of that are indicated below.



5. Benefits of Meeting Together


      The following, we would suggest, are signs of isolation, common expressions of having given way to Satan's lies:

  •  I can manage on my own.
  •  No one understands.
  •  No one cares.
  •  No one else has gone through this.
  •  I've failed, I'm guilty.
  •  I'm too busy.
  •  I'm too tired.

      The Christian on their own succumbs to these thought simply because they do not have others of maturity, gifting and authority around them as should be in the normal church situation.


In a normal church situation there should always be someone who can:

  •   Help carry our load.
  •   Say, “I know how you feel”.
  •   Say, “I care”.
  •   Share our experiences.
  •   Pray with us and encourage us.
  •   Advise us.


When we are isolated, therefore, we experience the following:

  •   Sense of loneliness.
  •   Feeling down.
  •   Feelings of guilt or shame.
  •   Wrong thoughts about others.
  •   Desire to give up.
  •   Sense of aimlessness.
  •   Feeling that God is at a distance.
  •   Loss of faith.   



6. Why Be Alone


       Experience indicates that people who are refusing to be part of a local expression of church, preferring to be on their own, tend to have suffered from one of more of the following:

  •   a negative experience of church life,
  •   a negative experience of the wrong use of authority, possibly in church life or possibly in the home,
  •   receiving wrong individualistic, unbiblical, self-centred teaching.


    In each case there is a wrong or limited understanding of what it means to be a Christian and what the church is. To bring a right perspective we recommend you read the chapters in Part 2 of Book 2 of “Creating a Secure Church" by clicking here


To Conclude:


      The New Testament experience and teaching clearly encourages us to meet together on a regular basis to ensure support, feeding, and spiritual growth, as well as to receive spiritual protection in a variety of forms.


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