BIBLE READING: Acts 2:42-47
TEXT: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
There is a growing trend in some parts of the Western Church to argue for churchless Christianity. St Augustine would have struggled with this novel idea: ‘He who does not have the Church for his mother, cannot have God for his Father’ (Augustine). It’s partly based on a truth. We are not saved because we go to church, just as we are not saved by good works. But if we are saved we will do good works and if we are saved we are part of the Church.
Part of the problem here is again with definition. Have you noticed how in this book we have continually needed to define what we mean? This is because clear answers need clear questions. Your question speaks about going to church. What does that mean? To many it means the building – they are wrong. The view of church as building has no justification in the terms of the New Testament. The term church is from the Greek ecclesia which means ‘the assembly’. The church is first of all something that we are, not something that we go to.
The church is the whole body of Christ throughout the whole world, throughout all ages. That is what we call the universal church. We are baptised into that Church. We are part of it when we become believers. In that sense, you cannot be a Christian without being part of the Church, without being part of the body of Christ.
But the Bible also speaks of local churches (Galatians 1:1-2 or the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3) – that is the local gathering of believers and their families. There is little evidence for the use of the term ‘church’ to describe a denomination – although many Christians would see that New Testament churches were not isolated and did act together as one body.
There is, however, a sense in which church is something that we both belong to and go to – when we gather together with the local congregation. Do you need to do that? Do you need to belong to a local church in order to be a Christian? This is a bit like baptism – you don’t need to be baptised to be a Christian, but a Christian (a follower of Christ) will be baptised because they are following him. A very few people, like the thief on the cross, don’t have the opportunity to be baptised, but these are exceptions. And exceptions make bad rules. The bottom line is that we are commanded to meet together and not to be isolated Christians, or just to gather with people we like.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’ (Matthew 18:20). ‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts’ (Colossians 3:16).
Why would you as a Christian, not want to meet with other Christians? Why would you not want to obey Christ? Why would you not want to be taught God’s Word? Sing his praise? Join together in prayer? Evangelise with his people? Have fellowship with your brothers and sisters who you are going to spend all eternity with?
Because the church is full of hypocrites and is not perfect? Sometimes I am told, ‘I can’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites’, to which the most obvious response is ‘you should come, you would be very much at home!’ The Bible tells us that every church is filled with sinners, including the pastors, elders and deacons. It will not be perfect. As C.H. Spurgeon said to a woman who was leaving his church because it was not perfect; ‘Madam, when you find the perfect church, don’t join it. You will only spoil it!’
Christians (including you and I) say one thing and do another because we are sinful. That is not to excuse our sin – nor to say that there are not fake Christians and false teachers within the Church. Sadly this has been the way since the New Testament. But God is working out his purposes through his church and there is a great deal of reality, truth and beauty within it. For you to stay away from it is to harm both yourself and the church.
CONSIDER: Why would a Christian not want to go to a church? What should we look for in a church? How do we deal with hypocrisy within the church and ourselves?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: Why Bother with Church? – Sam Allberry
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for your church – glorious as she is throughout the ages and even more glorious in heaven. I thank you for the hundreds of thousands of local churches throughout the world today and that you are continuing to build and increase your church through them. Lord, protect your church and lead me to serve in one that is faithful to you and your Word. Amen.
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