A Guest post by Leah of LeahEGood.com.
“God doesn’t need me to go to church. He just wants us to be in community with other Christians.”
I first heard this (paraphrased) statement as a teenager. I was at a conference waiting for the next session to start and the cluster of people next to me were talking about why they no longer attended a church.
Since then, I’ve heard many peers (mostly through online communities) communicate the same sentiment.
It can be tempting to jump ship when we see hypocrisy in the church, are hurt by members of the church, or feel the church is not adding value to our lives.
Hebrews 10:25 encourages Christians to not forsake meeting together. I’ve heard people argue that, as long as they surround themselves with Christian friends, they don’t need the construct of a church meeting to remain obedient to the Bible. Is going to church really necessary?
I’d like to explain why, when you take the context of the Bible into account, you’ll find God does call us to be members of an organized local church.
Full disclosure: I do not come to this conversation as someone who has been hurt by the church. Sure, I’ve occasionally had my feelings hurt and my opinions challenged, but my relationship with the body of Christ has been overwhelmingly positive.
If you’ve been hurt by the church, I’m sorry. If you wonder if a positive church experience is possible, I’m here to say it is.
Christian friendship is amazing. I am so thankful for my Christian friends, and I don’t attend the same church as most of them. But my heart breaks when I hear people settling for hanging out with Christian friends instead of committing to regular church attendance, because it’s just not the same.
So let’s take a look at…
4 Reasons Why Christian Friendship Can’t Replace Going to Church
1. Friendship is Casual, Church is Structured
It’s true that the church isn’t a building, a denomination, a location or anything else like that. It’s also true that, because the church is the collective unit of people who belong to Christ, the Bible never point blank says, “Go to church.” That doesn’t mean that an organized, structured, local, regularly scheduled meeting of the church is unbiblical or superfluous.
When was the last time you evaluated the qualities of your friends in order to appoint an overseer for your friend group? Do you intentionally pray over your friends to select who should focus on teaching the Bible and who should be dedicated to hands on ministry?
These types of activities definitely aren’t on my mind when I ask a friend to grab coffee, and that’s okay. Appointing leaders and caretakers are things we do as local representations of the church.
If a defined leadership structure for the church matters enough to be included in the Bible, we should pay attention and participate.
2. Friendship is About People, Church is About God
When I was small, my Dad often asked a series of questions as we drove to church on Sunday mornings.
“Where are we going?” he would ask.
“To church,” my brother or I would respond.
“Why?” Dad asked.
At first we floundered trying to figure out the answer he was looking for, but in time it became routine. “To worship the Lord.”
“Why do we do that?” Dad persisted.
“Because He told us to,” we learned to chorus.
“Why do we do what He tells us?” Dad asked his final question.
“Because we love him,” my brother and I concluded.
Though my dad’s repetitive litany of Sunday morning questions often exasperated me, they drilled a truth into my long term memory. Attending church services isn’t about me or what I receive. It’s about obedience and love for my heavenly Father.
Iron-sharpens-iron friendships bring God glory, but they do not typically focus on worshipping and learning of the Savior. When Acts 2:42 talks about the activities engaged in by the early church, fellowship is one element but not the whole picture.
Gathering together as a church reserves time in our busy schedules to focus on God. The meeting of the church refreshes our fast-forgetting minds so that we do not forget the magnitude of what Christ did for us.
3. Friendship is Usually Homogeneous, Church is Usually Varied
Though there are exceptions to the rule, we typically form friendships within our age group, season of life, gender, socio-economic grouping, etc. Commonalities are a great launching pad for friendships, but there is something special and valuable about how a local church unites a wider variety of people.
Titus 2:4 encourages older women to teach the younger women how to be godly individuals, wives, and mothers. In the opening of 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives directions for how a young man should interact with both peers and those older than himself. Proverbs 20:29 and 1 John 2:14 remind us that there is value in both the experience of age and the strength of youth.
I love pausing during chapel work days and missions trips and taking stock of the people around me. A banker, accountant, truck driver, and mailman raking leaves together. A successful, middle-aged father partnering with teenagers to serve during a missions effort. A healthy, local church creates a unifying melting-pot of Christians that rarely develops in a friendship setting.
4. Friendship is a Sample, Church is the Whole
Each Christian is part of the body of Christ. This is true in our individual lives, in our friendships, in our church attendance, and in our place in the global church. The New Testament is filled with illustrations of how a body requires each of its parts to function properly. An eye on its own can’t accomplish much, and a body without one of its eyes feels the loss keenly.
The same is true of a Christian and the local church when a Christian chooses not to participate.
There is so much more that could be said about this topic! The local church carries so much Biblical support and practical value.
If you haven’t had a positive experience with local churches in the past, don’t give up! The church is made up of flawed people like you and me. When people start focusing on their own agendas and reputations, conflict and hurt happen.
Maybe you can be part of the solution where you are. Maybe God will lead you to seek another church. Maybe you will meet some new Christian friends.
But don’t forsake the type of structured, intentional gathering outlined in the Bible. It’s a blessing and a privilege, and there isn’t any friend group or social club that can replace God’s people coming together to purposefully remember, worship, and learn about Him.
Have you experienced this opinion some people have about the Church? What is another reason why Church is necessary?
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