“I love God, but I don’t go to church”. Is it really possible for these two viewpoints to co-exist in someone who professes to be a Christian?
Have you ever sat down with someone you went to high school, university, or some social gathering with, and had that little conversation of “Where Are They Now?”. Oh yeah, Billy, I remember that dude, he married that girl who looked like a model. Ah yeah, Jen, she was the school dux, now she’s a software engineer at Google.
I was doing that over the last few weeks with a few different people (they brought it up in every case) and instead of it being a happy moment, it was actually quite sad. Whilst we could recount a number of people who were doing extremely well, there kept coming up a list of different people who we are actually sorrowful about talking about where they are in life and what they’ve been doing.
And almost every person we were all sad about was someone who was a professing Christian who used to be a regular church attendee who no longer is anymore. And unfortunately there were a number of other surrounding decisions to be saddened about.
One of the most hotly contested topics in the world of busy schedules and online congregations is whether or not a Christian can still be a Christian when they don’t go to church. This is certainly a very layered issue with lots of moving parts. There can be a lot of hurt. There can be illness. There can be rejection and former employment (in the case of former pastors). Sometimes people just get busy with career, children, and sporting commitments. Most churches stream their services to YouTube – isn’t that the same thing as going to church?
But I would submit to you that professing Christians who don’t go to church are missing the point.
I understand this may be quite offensive to some people. You may think I’m attacking your Christianity or trying to invalidate your faith. That’s not the case. I would just like to show you a number of reasons that I believe a Christian is missing out on one of the most key parts of the identity of a Christ follower by staying at home.
I would ask you to consider these points, and then prove to me with Scripture why you believe the opposite if I’m unable to convince you here.
Now, what would we describe as church here? For arguments sake, the church is the gathering of the believers somewhere. That could be whatever day you think is appropriate, in a building labelled as “church”, in a cell group or small group, or by regular and consistent fellowship with other believers. I’m talking leaving your house and going to other Christians, or having other Christians coming to you.
Because exceedingly abundantly doesn’t happen by staying home
One of the most popular, overused, highly claimed promises in Scripture is Ephesians 3:20. You know the one. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly above and beyond what we could ask or think… yeah! What an awesome verse! We can have way more than we could ever imagine! That’s such an encouraging idea. God is so good. As a Christian who believes in Jesus, I get to receive way more than I ever could on my own!
…Keep reading, people.
“To Him be glory in your isolation”. Whoops, that’s not it. “To Him be glory when you’re sitting by yourself and keeping busy”. That’s not it either.
To Him be glory… in the church.
In the church. Corporately. Not the individual. Not sitting by yourself. Not spending your time how you want to. If you want the promise, you need to appropriate it where it says.
Imagine trying to plant a seed on concrete. You can’t because that’s not the context a seed can grow. It’s the same with trying to claim this verse outside of a church setting.
Because there’s usually unforgiveness involved in the decision
If I can be real for a second, staying in church can be really hard. People suck. They can do some seriously messed up and hurtful things.
This definitely happens in church. But it also definitely happens in businesses, in sporting teams, with old friends, at restaurants, on planes, amongst families, in partnerships… everywhere. People hurt people.
And I’ve never known anyone who has made this conclusion without having someone hurting them in church being the main catalyst for this sudden shift in theology.
The problem though with being adamant about your Christianity and how spiritual you still are despite your lack of fellowship is that you’re still living in unforgiveness. You’re still allowing what one person did, or a few people, to drive you away from the house of God.
“You don’t understand what they did”.
Maybe not. I know I’ve had my fair share of hurts and hangups in churches and similar organisations. But you can’t be an unforgiving Christian. It’s an oxymoron. It’s also dangerous, because if you don’t forgive others, Jesus teaches us that God won’t forgive us. Because you’re making what that person did to you bigger than what you did to God.
And you’re calling it holiness.
Because body parts dry up outside the body
Have you ever seen an operation take place where an organ was being extracted, or transplanted? Man, it’s a time critical exercise. And if that organ is not placed in some sort of cool storage or reconnected back into the body, it will shrivel up and die. It will rot. It will start to decay and biodegrade. Eventually there will be nothing left of it.
Why? Because it’s purpose only makes sense inside the body. What does a concrete path need with a human heart? What good is a lung that’s sitting on a car seat? What use is a kidney that is left sitting at an office chair? Even if it were in storage, it’s still not performing any of the functions it was intended for.
And when we refuse to commit to regular fellowship with other believers, we end up much the same way. Disconnected. Dried out. Decaying. Useless.
Your purpose can never be accomplished on your own, my friend. Ephesians and 1 Corinthians highlight to us that the whole point of the amazing gifts and talents that God has given us is not for our own betterment, but for “the equipping of all the saints”. Our spiritual ability and the things God has designed us for were not for us to bury in the ground like Mr One Talent, they were for distributing and investing like Mr Five Talents and Mrs Two Talents.
Because you aren’t safe and neither are the people around you when you’re alone
Proverbs gives one of the strongest warnings possible regarding the attitude of isolation. It says that the person who isolates themselves rages against all sound judgement. What strong language this is.
Ecclesiastes also declares woe to the one who falls on their own with no one to help them.
One of my favourite things about church – and this was something that came up in one of our small groups over the past week – was that it’s like being a tree planted by other similar trees. Our root systems aren’t only in the soil – they also wrap around each other. And when the storms of life come, those roots and those connections to those other trees are what’s going to keep us planted and grounded.
But when you’re not connected, when no one knows who you are, how you’re doing, or what’s going on in your spiritual walk, you don’t have the help to make it through a storm, and you become a stumbling block to others.
And that is one slippery slope, my friend. It starts by stopping the fellowship. But what comes next? Unfortunately I’ve seen the next progression from there is usually disastrous or devastating. And there’s no one there to help you, because you’ve severed your most vital connections.
Because your theology is drifting from the truth
I think one of the saddest things about talking to professing Christians who don’t go to church any more is just what they think is important in life. Our pastor this morning, Mark Ramsay, was talking about how sad it is when Christians get distracted by the small and insignificant issues. Things that don’t have bearing on the way you should be living your life. Things that don’t matter when it comes to the call of God on your life. Things that take you away from the life you should be living.
And when you’re on your own, charting your own Christian life, making your own belief system, picking and choosing what you will and won’t do, you’re like the person who is out in the middle of the ocean who used to be swimming between the flags, but your concept for “between the flags” keeps changing as the tide is taking you further and further away.
One of the best things about regular Christian fellowship is it helps you to stay grounded and to give you a valid assessment of where you are in your believing, and where to make adjustments. Like a drowning swimmer who refuses to listen to the life guards, so are we when we refuse the voices of other believers who can bring correction and encouragement.
Because you can’t love a man and hate his wife
If you said to me, “Matt, I love you man, but I really hate your wife”, guess how I’ll feel? Offended. Hurt. Saddened. Why? Firstly, because my wife is an amazing woman, and I’m a very lucky man.
But second, because if you really loved me, you would give proper consideration to the person I love, also. That sentence makes it sound like you don’t love me at all, and that you really don’t know or regard the things I care about.
Christians do the same thing when they say they love God but hate the church. Man, the church is the thing that God loves the most! He’s not coming back for the individual, He’s coming back for the corporate bride of Christ. Every tribe and tongue singing in unison. Connected, whole, complete. The saints (plural) corporately overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.
I can’t even understand how you can say you love God if you disregard the thing He cares about the most. The church is the vehicle that Jesus built once He finished His work on earth. It wasn’t an individual. It wasn’t an isolated person. It was a network of connected people doing life together. The bride of Christ, the delight of Jesus himself.
And if you think you can say you love God while at the same time hating the one He loves the most, then you really need to take a reflective look at how much you really love God. Because if you acted that way with anyone else you knew, you would pretty much lose the relationship with that person.
Because Scripture and the example of Jesus tells us we should
I could have just written this one and said, “there you go”, but I wanted to argue some of the other points through more fully as there is just so much you’re missing out on by choosing to stay home when you don’t go to church. But just for completeness, let us consider as believers who profess to believe and trust in the words of Scripture, just exactly what Scripture has to say on the topic:
- Paul told us not to forsake the gathering of the believers, as some are in the habit are doing – what are you in the habit of doing?
- Jesus who was God could have just had fellowship on His own, but instead modelled regular church attendance Himself, even from the age of 12
- We are told that we should partake of the holy communion together, doing this in remembrance of what Jesus has done, as often as we gather
- Is anyone among you sick? Let him gather the elders. Also, confess your sins to each other (not to God) and you will be healed. Maybe you’re not finding healing because you still haven’t confessed to other believers what’s really been going on
- As alluded to earlier, all end times imagery describes large numbers of believers gathered in unison, singing and fellowshipping together. If you want to join us later, you really need to get good at it now.
- Every verse mentioned earlier about the folly of isolation
- So many examples in the Old and New Testaments of people who found great strength and lived exemplery lives who made regular fellowship a priority – King David, the psalmists, Jesus, Paul, the kings of Judah (the good ones), Abraham the father of faith… the list is endless
- John said anyone who says they love God but doesn’t love their neighbour (usually there’s a lot of hate associated in disconnection) is a liar and the light isn’t even in them
So, what was the point of all that? Was it to condemn you and make you feel bad if you don’t go to church?
No, my friend. My goal was to implore you to reconsider this position you’ve taken up in your heart that keeps you away from the blessing the church is supposed to be in your life.
Not only do you miss out when you don’t go to church, but so do we. We miss out on the great gifting and calling that only you can bring. We miss out on the gift of your encouragement while it stays at home or in the office, away from other believers. We don’t get to receive the joy of your real and honest straight talk on how to overcome the challenges of life. Many go without the excellent hospitality you used to regularly show to the down and out.
If you love God as much as you say you do, if you believe Scripture with the fervour you tell everyone else that you do – you need to come back to the house, and to make it a regular priority.
And as for me and my house? We will serve the Lord.
NB. Just a little bonus section down here. My wife and I will be away on our honeymoon, so no updates for a little while to the site while we’re away. Thanks to everyone for your support and well wishes during this exciting season. See you on the other side!