Do I have to Go to Church to be a Christian?
It’s quite rare that I remember my friend’s Facebook posts beyond the time it takes to read this sentence, but over the years there have been a few posts that have stuck with me. Several years back, one of them was this: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” While the statement is absolutely true in one sense, it’s absolutely not true in another.
So, how is it true? Christianity’s big idea is that God doesn’t accept us based upon our moral achievements, but based on what He has achieved for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus came and lived the perfect life that we could not; He suffered and died to take the penalty of sin that would have crushed us. So, acceptance from God is no longer based upon the moral scale system, but upon the completed work of Jesus Christ to perfectly satisfy the justice of a Holy God. We can have this credited to us when we stop hopelessly trusting in ourselves to pay the cost of our sin, and turn to Jesus who paid it for us.
This makes Christianity unique amongst all the world’s religions. Every religion besides Christianity is based upon a moral scale system; if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds then God will accept you, give you a blessed and happy life, and take you to heaven to be with your friends and family when you die – But if they don’t, well, then He’ll do the other thing. In this sense, Christianity is anti-religious since it has abandoned moralism as the basis for God’s acceptance, and so going to church does not make you a Christian.
However, Christians must do church. Why though? Because the church isn’t the building, it’s the people who are following Jesus. The building is just the place the church meets, and there is nothing sacred or holy about it at all. God doesn’t dwell in the church building, He dwells in the people who make up the church once they’ve accepted Jesus. Because the church is the collection of people following Jesus, not a sacred or holy building, if we say we don’t need church, then we’re saying we don’t need other followers of Jesus to follow Jesus. This is not true.
If we want to follow Jesus and not something else, then we must put ourselves under the regular influence of other Jesus followers. Culturally, we tend to think that our choices are based upon our reason, and so it is our rational choices that determine who we are as a person. So, we think that we can simply decide to follow Jesus without being in community with Jesus’ church. However, our rational choices are only one part of what makes us who we are as a person. Our families, friends, and culture influence our identity far more than we care to admit. But they do, drastically. For the most part, we are who we spend time with.
Jesus summed up all of God’s rules into two: Love God completely, and love your neighbor as yourself. In the Bible, the church is often called the body of Christ, and like human bodies, it is composed of different parts that are meant for a common good. But, when we isolate ourselves, we withhold our unique abilities from one another – not very loving. Consequently, as Christians, choosing a church is one of the most crucial decisions we will ever make, and so a better expression might be, “Christians need church as cars need oil.”