Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?

“I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian”—have you ever heard anyone say that?

Sometimes I understand the circumstances that can lead to this conclusion. If you’ve ever witnessed the mess of a bitter church split, or endured the unfolding saga of a pastor caught up in a major sin like infidelity, or the victim of humiliating gossip – then I can understand the feeling.

I have been in a few of these situations in my life.

Sadly, however, I think the “Christian Lone Ranger” attitude has more often than not become a mere excuse for some people not to go to church anymore. Pastors told me that about a third of people who walked away from church because of Covid never came back.

They have lost the habit. They can read their Bibles at home; listening to worship music; read sermons online by pastors with degrees behind their names – so why the need?

I really think it all depends on your motivation. Why do people go to church to begin with? For some, it’s simply because they were raised in the church and their parents expected them to carry on that “tradition.” Some go there because they want a social life and friends. Depending on the careers, some attend large churches to facilitate their “networking” skills and also to appear respectable in their community.

Some go as a sort of “self-help” effort – to help improve some character trait or overcome some of the negative traits. Some go there because they want good things to happen in their lives (blessings), while hopefully avoiding a lot of the bad things. Some go simply because they are afraid of going to hell; call it “fire insurance”.

May I suggest that none of these “reasons” is sufficient? Jesus said, “You will know my disciples by their love for one another. It’s a curious fact that people tend to want to be around people they love.

If I told my wife Susan “I love you so much honey” but constantly made excuses for not being home most of the time, she would soon begin to question the depth of my love – Well Named. My southern relatives had a phrase they used: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

People tend to date people who they perceive to be like themselves or who share major common interests, careers, or hobbies.

I think we also sometimes forget the very important role of personal salvation, or the “new birth” experience. Before giving my heart to Jesus Christ, I had no interest in going to church.

When I invited Jesus into my heart, I felt a love flooding in that was supernatural. I suddenly loved God and felt that love reach other Christians in this small church in Michigan.

I wanted to shake hands and squeeze my neck; it just wasn’t in my character before. I wanted to tell them about their experiences and it wasn’t long before we were communicating often, becoming close friends.

To me “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” makes as much sense as saying “I don’t need to go to Nissan Stadium to watch Titans in order to be a Titans fan. Why wouldn’t you? If you couldn’t afford it, at least you would want to watch them every Sunday on TV.

Having no desire calls into question whether you are a true fan. Where is the passion? where is the love? I also suspect that most people who say they can read their Bibles, pray, and sing worship songs at home without going to church do less and less as time goes on.

Once you become a Christian and begin to study your Bible, you quickly realize that the church with the offices of pastor, elders, evangelists, teachers, etc. was designed by God himself and further explained in the Pauline epistles.

We all need to learn and mature as Christians. Worshiping together in person and fellowshipping has the effect of strengthening us spiritually on a deeper level than trying to do it all on our own individually. Think of the analogy of coals – they glow much brighter and stay hot much longer when together.

I go to church mainly because I love God (put there by God himself during salvation), and I love his people. Jesus said these are the two greatest commandments. I just want to be with the people I love. Incidentally, this is also a biblical command – “do not forsake the assembling of yourselves…” (Hebrews 10:25).

If you no longer have any desire, any passion, any love for those other Christians at church, it may be time to do a “heart examination.” It is possible to rekindle the flames of your first love.

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