Do you “have” to go to church if you are a Christian?
Technically, I think the answer to that question is “no”. However, and you knew there was a however coming, why would a Christian not want to go to church? This raises another question. What is church? This is likely another post for another day, but for our purposes this morning, let us focus on the church as the gathering of a community of believers all seeking to follow Jesus Christ.
In Acts 2, the Christian church is birthed. Right away we do see the first Christians gathering together in larger settings. Here is a wonderful description of everything the early church was doing together.
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (Acts 2)
Notice verse 46. Meeting together in the temple would have been the larger gathering. They were meeting in their homes in smaller gatherings, and then these smaller gatherings were also meeting together in larger gatherings. Today we commonly refer to these larger gatherings as “church.”
Do you “have” to go to church if you are a Christian? Well, the first Christians did…
Consider these two images. First, Jesus describes the community of believers as a vine with branches.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15)
Second, the image of a human body is used.
12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (1 Corinthians 12)
This is a powerful image. It is a great reminder that the church needs you. All of us together, following Jesus, is what truly makes for a healthy church.
Do you “have” to go to church to be a Christian? Again, I will answer “no”. However, what happens when a branch is no longer connected to the vine, to the roots that feed it with life? Or even, what good is a foot or a hand by itself?
Maybe you can be a Christian and not connect to a church, but does it make sense? I will answer that with a “no” as well.
(All scripture cited above from Common English Bible Copyright © 2011)