“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to an auto parts store makes you a mechanic.” Ever heard something along those lines? “I can worship just fine when I’m on my own, so I don’t need to be in church all the time.” How about that one? Or maybe this: “I connect with God better out in the woods than I do in a roomful of people.” Or perhaps this: “The church is full of hypocrites; it’s better for my faith to not be around all those people very often.” You know what? There’s at least a little bit of truth to every one of these.
I’ll bet you probably didn’t expect me, a preacher, to say that. I’d rather be honest with you, though. Going to church will not make you a Christian. It won’t even make you a better one. I too have had some of my most meaningful times of worship happen not in a church. Many of those have come when I’m out in nature, particularly the mountains or a quiet lakeside. And, yes, the church is filled with people who profess and advocate for one thing and then do the opposite on occasion. True, true, true, and true.
But (come on, you know you were waiting for it), while those all may be at least a bit true, the deeper truth is this: Without being deeply connected to a local body of Christ which we happen to call “the church,” no follower of Jesus will grow normally or healthily. Without regularly engaging with a group of committed fellow followers in order to worship, fellowship, pray together and for each other, study the Scriptures, and receive accountability, encouragement, support, direction, and occasionally, admonishment to get back on track, an individual follower of Jesus will not move smoothly and steadily down the path of becoming fully who He designed you to be. You will not walk the path of Christ with anything resembling the consistency you should be. You will very likely veer off into malpractice or heresy of some kind. You will eventually be overtaken by the world.
Now, notice carefully there that I didn’t say, “Going to church,” is what is necessary. That phrase often comes out of an understanding that the church is primarily a building, a place where Christians congregate in order to do whatever it is they do when they gather together. That’s not the most correct or biblical view of the church. When the guys who wrote the New Testament wrote about the church, they never had a building in mind. Ever. They had a group of people without whom a Christian cannot make it. If you think of the church primarily in those terms, then you are absolutely correct to say going there won’t accomplish good in you by itself. Too many people have “gone to church” all their lives and yet are no closer to Jesus than the person who has never darkened the door of a church building. Walking into a building is not enough. We need people.
If you want to become fully who God designed you to be as a follower of Jesus, it is not going to happen unless you are engaging regularly with people; people who can pour into you because they are further along their journey of faith than you are; people into whom you can pour because you are further along than they are; people with whom you can relate on the deepest levels possible, sharpening each other in your faith commitments and practice because they are in the same place on their journeys as you.
The bottom line here is this: You don’t need to go to a building to be a follower of Jesus. The folks who make such a claim are correct. But, you do need people. You need people who regularly meet together…usually in a building of some kind. And when they get together they sing songs and pray and fellowship and listen to good preaching and study the Scriptures and serve each other and others who aren’t like them at all but need the help and observe the Lord’s Supper and practice believer’s baptism (I am a Baptist preacher after all) and so on and so forth and “all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In other words, if you would claim to be a Christian, you need the church. Make sure you have one and that you engage with your community regularly. Nothing less will do.