Do I have to go to church? Why should I go to church; I can worship God just as well by myself? Listening to the radio or watching a service on TV is just as good as being there. Jesus yes; church no. After all, they are just a bunch of hypocrites.
Sound familiar? These are all actual questions or comments from people. It seems that some people want to be Christians, but just don’t want to be with Christians. They want the benefit of salvation, but are not willing to associate with others of like mind. Recent studies have shown that this is a growing concern among all American churches, and it has been a concern in Europe for several years. More and more, people who self-identify as Christians are saying they want a closer “relationship” with God, but feel they can accomplish that without the church. They see no benefit from assembly, and many things wrong with it.
Hypocrites and apathy
Among the biggest complaints about assemblies of the church are the accusations that the church is full of hypocrites and that there is no life in the assemblies. To a certain extent they are accurate.
There are hypocrites in the assemblies and out of them. Perhaps the biggest hypocrites are thoseIt may be true that you can worship God as well alone as in a congregation (but probably not). who claim to follow Christ but refuse to assemble with the church—the ones making the accusation. But there are also hypocrites in the assemblies.
Hypocrisy comes in many forms. The most complained about are those who identify themselves as Christians but most of the time do not live like they should. These are the “Sunday Christians” who attend the assembly, and think that by doing so they have fulfilled their obligations to God. Another type is the “Hyper Christians.” These are the holier-than-thou, closed-club Christians. They take pride in their status with God, and see no reason to upset the status quo by speaking to those they consider sinners, which is usually everyone not in their congregation. Less damaging, perhaps, but more unfortunate are the I-want-Christianity-on-my-terms hypocrites. After all, the definition of a hypocrite is an actor who wears a mask. These people wear the mask of Christianity without ever trying to obey God.
Yes, there are hypocrites inside and outside the assemblies of the church. It is the height of hypocrisy, though, to claim to follow God and ignore one of his institutions designed to help one be a better follower.
Interestingly, those same people who complain about hypocrites in the church are more than happy to associate with hypocrites in other walks of life—jobs, politics, families. The problem is that they don’t understand what the church is. They believe the church to be limited to the assembly, or they believe the church should be a bunch of perfect people. There are no perfect people; there are forgiven people. The church is a bunch of people who sin, but try not to. They are forgiven, and at varying stages in the process of working toward fighting sin in their lives. Most importantly, the church does not stop at the door of a building. A living church continues throughout the week in homes, job sites, schools, and anywhere two or more Christians gather, whether or not they engage in “worship” as most people define it.
And that is the other accusation. The church today is apathetic. We hear that mostly from the young people (and the older people said the same thing when they were younger). The singing is unenthusiastic. The prayers are repetitious. The members don’t seem to do anything for others. While this may be true of some, or even many, congregations, it is not a valid reason for failing to assemble with them. If the singing is dead, maybe that is because the one complaining is spending more time listening than trying to enliven the singing. If that one sincere person is not leading, but complaining, it is little wonder they have much to complain about. If one has time to complain about apathy in the church, it is because that person is not working. He or she is like the little boy who told his mother, “I counted ten people with their eyes open during the prayer.”
Parents whose children face various diagnoses are often directed to support groups. Parents of CMV children, Down Syndrome children, and many other conditions are strongly advised to seek out others who share their concerns and face their same fears. We all face the diagnosis of sin, and the church is God’s support group for sinners.
It may be true that you can worship God as well alone as in a congregation (but probably not). Nevertheless, the church is more than worship. When the writer of Hebrews admonished people not to neglect assembling together, he/she did so not primarily because of the singing and the prayers, but because the church is a support group.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb 10:23-25)
While worship is important, encouragement and holding each other accountable is a primary function of the church. The person who feels they can worship God by themselves is missing out on an opportunity or two. That person may worship well, but when temptations come there is the very real danger that that person will succumb. It is little wonder that most of the addiction support groups model themselves on the church. An alcoholic faces his greatest dangers when he is alone. When a person has others to call when facing temptation, that person is less likely to fall prey to the devil.
But the coin has two sides. If you can worship alone, and resist temptation alone, then there is an even greater need for you to be assembling with the church. If a person is able to bear up under such circumstances, his support is in great demand. It is selfish to think that one can follow God alone. No matter how strong or weak you are, you are stronger than someone. Everyone faces their own pet sins. If another person has faced those same sins and conquered, that person needs to help the other.
Family and body
Imagine a person who says he loves his family, but refuses to go to a family reunion. He loves his parents, but never visits or calls home. That is the person who chooses not to “go to church” because he sees no value in it. He is like a child at a family gathering who spends his time standing in a corner; he misses out on the party.
The person who refuses to assemble with the church is essentially saying that family does not matter. Yes, there will be squabbles; what family does not have its fights. But when someone attacks the family they pull together. Families, good families, support each other. When everyone else seems to be down on you, family is always there to pick you up. When good things happen, family is there to encourage and celebrate. Thus the church is encouraged to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Rom 12:15) Sometimes we fail in this, and tend to weep more than rejoice. We often spend much time praying for those who are hurting, when we should also rejoice with those who are celebrating. But overall, family is there for whatever the need may be. That includes correction as well. If a congregation is not family, no wonder some will not worship with them. On the other hand, if the congregation is a great family but a person refuses to assemble with them on principle, that person is missing out on one of the greatest advantages of being part of the church.
Similar to being a family, the church is a body. In fact, it is the body of Christ. That was Paul’s point beginning in 1 Corinthians 12:14. We are a body of which Christ is the head.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? (1 Cor 12:15-17)
If the hand were to cut itself off from the body it would die, and the body would be less for it. If a personIf you can worship alone there is an even greater need for you to assemble with the church. chooses not to associate with the church, he will die spiritually. And the church will be less for it, because he would have brought his own experiences, abilities, and outlook to the body.
The person who does not want to associate with the church is telling the Lord that he does not like his body. The person that says, “Jesus yes; the church no,” is like a man who tells his wife that he loves her face, but can’t stand to look at her body. Guess where such a man will not be sleeping tonight. Even if he thinks her body has flaws, he still loves his wife (his entire wife) and wants to be with her.
To refuse to join with the church in activities can only be explained by that person not loving the people of God. But in so doing, he is rejecting God as well. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20) The person who says “I can worship God just as well by myself” just may be lying to himself. If he chooses to worship by himself because he does not love those who are in the church, then he cannot worship God because God wants worship from those who love him. If he does not love God, as shown by his refusal to love the body of Christ, then his worship is not really worship at all.
God made the church for those whom he saves. Being from God, it is a blessing. It is a gift. The person who refuses the gift is really insulting the giver. Rather, accept the gift and enjoy it. It was made for that purpose.