Christianity Questions: Do I have to go to church?

“I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!”

I’ve heard this exclaimed quite a few times in my life, always defensively.  So, is there truth to it?  Do you have to go to church if you’re a Christian?

If only the question was that simple.  Unfortunately, the whole issue seems to come from a place of extremely misunderstanding what a church is.  Now, if you want to ask, “Do I have to go to one of those buildings that people call churches if I’m a Christian?” I could make the answer very simple: Nope.  Not at all.

You know why?  Because it’s not a church.  It’s a building.  Made up of the same materials as your bathroom at home, and no holier.  It is not God’s house, the house of the Lord, or God’s holy sanctuary.  It. Is. A. Building.

I swear the two biggest hindrances to our American faith are A) Our traditions and B) The fact that we don’t read Greek (which most of the New Testament was written in).  There are an unfortunate number of words in our English translation of the bible that just don’t express to us clearly enough what they meant in the Greek, what they meant to the original speaker.

The word for “church” in the new testament is the Greek word ekklesia.  It means “the called out” or an “assembly” or a “popular meeting”.  So every time you see the word “church” in the New Testament like say, oh, in Romans 16:1 -

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”

What it really says is, ” our sister, a servant of the group that gathers in C-town.”

And do you know where these gatherings of early followers of Christ typically met?  In homes – In small groups. No fixed preacher, no structured “worship” service, no pews, no pointy building, no “order” of worship – they were led only and fully by the Holy Spirit.  For hundreds of years they did this and their numbers grew astronomically and supernaturally.

All of the things I’ve said so far are facts.  True things.  Now here’s a little slice of my opinion:

If I had it my way we would all meet in homes or similar places.  All. We would very nearly sell all of our buildings (btw, did you know the amount of debt churches are in for their buildings?  It’s crazytown.  Did you know God said a whole bunch of times not to have debts? Yeah…) and use that money to help a great deal more people in need and to spread God’s good news.

Many people might say, “Well, we already have the buildings, so we might as well use them for God’s glory”.  Fine.  Turn them into homes for the homeless, and abused, and widows, and orphans.  God considers that pure and faultless.  But don’t waste your times sitting around in them when you could be meeting in homes, where you’re already paying the bills.

The building isn’t the church, we are the gathering of believers.  We are the bricks that God builds his house with.  We are the temple for God’s Spirit.

So, do you have to “go” to church?  No.  Because church isn’t a thing you can go to.  It’s people.  BUT, should you be gathering with other true followers of God regularly to teach, and build each other up, and admonish, and encourage, and share, and fellowship, and study, and pray, and pool together your resources to help those in need?  Absolutely.

I have to say that everyone who I’ve ever heard use the defense “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” was not using it in a God-honoring way.  They were using it as an excuse not to turn away from the life they knew they shouldn’t be living and follow God seriously and let that be reflected by gathering with other Christians.  Hopefully you can discern that that’s not what I’m alluding to here.

Where you taught growing up that the church building was holy?  Would you be willing to follow God exclusively in a house church?

-Jessica

Comments

  1. No. I was not taugh that growing up. I started going to church at 21. We have a nice church building, but it has no debt. They did do that part right. Lol. I do have other issues with it though. ;-)

    I felt more churched in a slum building outside the walls of the Nicaraguan dump than I have in ANY other building. Ever. When I think of my time there, worshiping with people who lived in a dump stands out more than anything.

    I have friends who have turned away from traditional churches, but still meet together.

    Have to say I agree.
    Amy recently posted..I don’t thinkMy Profile

    • I’ve heard something similar from just about every person that’s ever been on a mission trip. I pray that God continues to open the eyes of the “churched”.

    • My best experience to date was in the quiet room of a prison. I started out coming in each week with a plan. God quickly showed me he had another plan each week as my lesson “derailed”. Those prisoners would share testimonies, pray for each other, and ask great questions about God and life. One man who was a gifted singer would sing an a cappella song if he had written one that week. They would encourage each other, because they faced a lot of persecution in there–they came into the Bible studies bleeding on occasion. I just sat there as an equal, they’d refer questions to me if they weren’t able to answer them themselves, but by the end of my time there they were, as a group, able to find the answers to their own questions in Scripture (because they were actually reading it during the week…). They had a “supernatural” understanding of the Bible, considering they had begun as nearly illiterate and unlearned, and within 6 months they were reading fine and explaining it to each other.
      I remember closing my eyes in there once, and it felt like I should have been able to reach my hand out and touch God’s Spirit. It felt so thick in there. I liked going there much more than my “real” church.
      Jeremy recently posted..Christianity Questions: Do I have to go to church?My Profile

  2. You say that the early church had “No fixed preacher.” What do you make of Paul instructing Timothy concerning those who desired to be overseers? To whom was he referring? Also, Peter seems to have someone with a specific position in mind: 1Pet. 5:1-3 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the suffer…

    Jesus speaks of seven specific churches in Asia, each with an Angel or messenger – Implying a fixed Preacher is there. Rev. 1:20 – As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Philip

    • I think that those verses you refer to in no way have to emulate what we think of as a preacher in our modern interpretation of church.

      And even in Revelation the word that is used is ekklesia, so I’m not really sure what you’re getting at.

      • Rev – “To the Angel (messenger) of the (called out ones) in Ephesus write…” There are seven specific groups of called out ones in Asia to whom Jesus is instructing John to write. The Angel of the ekklesia’s has been viewed as the overseer of each gathering.

        • Ah, I see what you’re getting at. And so I revert back to my first answer. :)

          • I agree with Jessica tht the verses about overseers are misunderstood today. We are applying our current tradition and understanding to something that looked *quite* different in teh NT and first century. The churches had leaders– but it was a plurality of elders, with whi=om there was nonoe of this “first among equals.” Some were gifted as preachers (though none was called “the preacher” some as pastors (though none was called “Pastor”) some as teachers, some with administration, miracles, etc etc. The point is that the structure and organization we “expect” from our churches today is a radical departure form what was put into place and implemented by the Apostles and described in Scripture.

            One of the biggest stumbling blocks to true koinonia and Kingdom life today is the filter of man made traditions through which we view Scripture and apply understanding. We all need to have a LOT stripped away to see the simplicity of the faith once and for all handed down to the saints.
            Cultured Mama Dawn recently posted..My Take on Radical Unschooling as a ChristianMy Profile

  3. I would agree with you that church buildings incur too much debt. In many situations, money worries can get in the way of ministry. If the people (the ekklesia) are worried about the electric bill or the mortgage payment, they see new people walking in as $$ instead of PEOPLE.
    And yes, I would LOVE to have be a part of a house church. But I also love my big church. The people are amazing, and talented, and love serving the Lord. I would the close association with them. However, I also love the small groups I am a part of. That is when the real teaching, discipling, mentoring, praying, anointing, etc, can happen.
    When folks ask me if them NEED to go to church, I remind them that it’s the people and the fellowship that God calls us to take part in. Not a denomination, or to follow a certain preacher. God is in the people business. And we should be too.
    Heather @ Not a DIY Life recently posted..I Like to Move It, Move ItMy Profile

    • Church budget meetings really depress me. It usually goes something like this:
      Total budget = $100,000 per year.
      Overhead cost = 85,000 (or more)
      Money used for ministry = 15,000 (at best).

      So, to make ourselves feel better, we’ve chosen to ignore Ephesians 4:11-12, and we’ve decided to call anything that the church staff does (paid or unpaid, it doesn’t matter) “ministry”. We’ve taken the Bible, and rearranged the words to euphemize our failure to minister to the nations.
      Jeremy recently posted..Christianity Questions: Do I have to go to church?My Profile

  4. I’m Roman Catholic so on occasion my family and I go to a church building for the Eucharist, however we meet in homes for fellowship and with our friends regularly. Mu favorite model of a home church was something I experienced while serving a mission in Siberia. I traveled around the province with a teacher and we would go to different villages, meet in someones home and he would teach and answer questions. Since so many believers were so new to Christianity they needed guidance (though I know even old believers need guidance too). So while they would gather together on a regular basis when the teacher came to town they could clarify and dig deeper on different parts of the bible. Another thing, the villages that did have a building used it as a sort of all purpose building. If someone needed a place to sleep, a bed would be made for them, if they needed food it was served to them etc. The building were truly used as a form of outreach and help within the village as a whole.
    Nichole recently posted..Menu Plan Monday, Beef, It’s What’s for DinnerMy Profile

  5. Don’t forget all the man made and inspired teachers o God’s word. I’d much rather be taught and inspired by God himself. If I wanted to go on another mission trip through my church, that I have to pay for, I have to be “approved” by a pastor.
    Amy recently posted..I don’t thinkMy Profile

  6. Julie Williams says:

    I have personally done both and prefer to be in the company of my “church” family who love us unconditionally, support us as a family,we study the Word together, we worship long together, admonish each other, laugh with each other,and eat meals together. I guess we have the best of both worlds…most people who visit say they can feel the love emanating from each of us and they become overwhelmed with it and weep as they feel His love,and feel and see His goodness(Glory) I believe this is the way “church” is meant to be done. Are we a large church? no.. maybe 50 members..and yes we are debt free… I would call us an Acts church..:)

  7. Great post. My husband and I are super blessed by the church that we go to. It’s a small church, and everyone is HIGHLY encouraged to get involved with the small groups offered, because that’s where the real “business of church” happens. Our pastor has been also moving us in an exciting new community-oriented direction, and as a result we’ve gotten to know the other members very intimately while still being very open to “outsiders.” It’s so fun to be a part of this community, which is truly akin to the “churches” we seen in the book of Acts. Amazing!! It would be amazing if everyone could be involved with a group like ours, whether that be through small groups at a big church, at a home church, or at a simple gathering of Jesus-lovers over dinner.
    Betherann recently posted..Art Supplies Seeking New Living ArrangementMy Profile

  8. Jessica -

    Honest questions (I’m not being antagonistic):

    -Why do you personally, “go” to a traditional church if you are embarrassed by it?

    -If God is moving you away from the direction of traditional church, what is it you are waiting for before fully embracing a house-church lifestyle?

    Personally I’ve seen some awesome house-churches in Paris and in India. The ones in Paris were quickly multiplying as they brought up “home-grown” leaders within the church to go and plant new churches in other parts of the city. Exciting stuff indeed. The missionaries who were helping to start these churches served almost as apostles in that they traveled to different houses on different Sundays checking to see that what was being taught was scriptural. This experience in Paris forever changed my view of the local church.

    • *amended that paragraph because I think people were taking it not how I intended it*

      Hope it’s more clear now.

  9. We’ve recently started a home church here in Mexico, and each Sunday so far, it has grown. Real ministry has happened and the Holy Spirit was there with us. We totally agree about not meeting in huge debt ridden buildings when you can always meet in homes and use the money that would’ve been spent helping the needy. The worship is powerful and the potluck “breaking of bread” :) together afterwards is priceless. This kind of initimate setting is amazing for our growth in the Lord….unlike walking into a building…listening to a sermon…then walking back out the door. It a shot in the dark if that sermon even moved anyone’s heart. Accountability and discipleship happens in the home church setting. Love it. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. I’ve been to both house churches and church services in a building, of all denominations. My family visited at least three dozen churches over the course of my childhood as they searched for the meaning of what “church” truly meant for the body of Christ. In my honest opinion, I think that a group of believers can be genuine in a building, or in a home, and it really just depends on their attitudes, beliefs, and actions towards the world! God uses all sorts of ways to bring growth to His children. Thanks for writing your post!
    Lyssa recently posted..Grassroots: Day OneMy Profile

    • I agree. I’ve been to real churches in prisons, under trees in Africa, in my living room, and in plenty of buildings called “churches” all over the world. The only difference I’ve ever seen is when you invite a bunch of people who don’t care or don’t want to believe, or they’re in there for some selfish reason. Then it kills the atmosphere of the whole thing. But, as long as people respond to God, it doesn’t matter where they are, God will move them to where he wants them.
      Jeremy recently posted..I Was Broken: KimmiMy Profile

  11. We are in this place as well. Great post. Thanks for writing.

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  1. [...] not fleeing from Christianity itself.  (Which can easily bridge into a conversation of “What is the church?“) Most of them simply feel like church has strayed far from it’s roots; That church has [...]

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