“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.
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?