“I don’t need to go to a building to meet with God.”
“I can read my Bible and pray anywhere.”
“I love Jesus, but I’m against organized religion.”
I often hear these types of statements as a justification to skip out on the weekly gathering of God’s people (church). It’s true that we can meet with God anywhere, but is that a biblically acceptable reason to miss the church?
We live in a culture where church attendance is valued less and less, especially among younger generations. I’m not talking about non-believers either many who call themselves followers of Christ don’t place a high value on church attendance anymore.
Perhaps some are rebelling against hypocrisy or inconsistency they have witnessed among churchgoers. For some, church attendance may never become more than a religious ritual that seemed irrelevant to them. Or perhaps we’ve become too busy, and the church isn’t high on our priority list.
You Need the Local Church
We are all likely familiar with the admonition in Hebrews 10:24-25:
“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.”
This well-known passage reminds us that we NEED to meet together with God’s people. Doing so stirs our hearts and affections toward the Lord and provokes us to do good works. You NEED brothers and sisters to encourage you and pray for you. You NEED people in your life who will correct you in grace and love. Our hearts cannot be trusted, so we depend upon others in our lives to help us see our blind spots.
God has provided the local church to be this kind of spiritual community. If we are not involved in a local church, if we are not living life with people we have covenanted with, or if we try to live out a “it’s between Jesus and me” kind of spiritually, then our spiritual growth will be stunted. Thus, the Lord warns us not to neglect this important time together.
Hebrews 3 also reminds us of our need for Christian brothers and sisters:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
What will help us remain strong in the faith and fight against a hard heart? Exhortation from our brothers and sisters in Christ. The regular gathering of the saints is a God-ordained community for that very purpose.
It is true that we can worship God anywhere, but is that the only purpose of the church gathering? No. God has designed the gathering to do what can’t be done alone in your living room. You can meet with God by yourself, but God didn’t call you to serve him merely as an individual; he called you to be a part of the whole body.
Christ is the head who provides nourishment to the rest of the body, and every believer needs this nourishment. If we cut ourselves off from the body of Christ for a prolonged period of time, we are in danger of being blinded by our sin and having our hearts slowly hardened.
Is it messy when sinners gather together? Yes. There will be issues and effects of our sin. But, in His wisdom, God has decided to use us even in our messiness for the sanctification of the whole body. We need one another; we can’t become holy by ourselves.
It’s Not Just About You
Ephesians 4 says that God gives each believer gifts, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Being a part of the body of Christ means using my gifts, energy, and resources to help the body to grow in spiritual health and vitality.
However, we are often self-centered in our thinking about church and only consider what we can get out of it. We rarely consider how our presence or absence from a local church affects others.
If you are a believer, then the body of Christ needs YOU and the unique gifts that God has given you. He has given you relationships that others may not have. He has equipped you and called you to use your gifts and talents to benefit the church. Just like you need the encouragement, prayers, rebukes, etc., of others, so they need those very same things from you!
To do this, we must be committed to the local church. Yes, there is a universal church made up of believers worldwide. But, to serve and use our gifts as instructed by Scripture, we must be a part of a local gathering of the redeemed. If we are not gathering with the body of Christ, we rob others of what God has intended to give them through us.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Just like it would be harmful to your physical body if you cut off one part of it, so when you cut yourself off from the body of Christ, you hurt the whole body.
A Picture of Heaven
In Revelation 7, we see a glimpse of heaven as multitudes of people gather around the throne to praise God:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Even in heaven, we will gather together to praise God! The only time we get a glimpse of Revelation 7 on this earth is when the redeemed gather together in person and worship him.
In a fallen world, the bride of Christ will be hated because she looks different than the world. However, the heavenly scene in Revelation reminds us that God will protect his people, and our victory is secure. While the world may look at the church as insignificant, old-fashioned, or irrelevant, here we see our place in eternity near the throne of God!
You can sing songs and have devotionals to the Lord in your house (and you should!), but that doesn’t paint a Revelation 7 picture. When the church assembles each week, she provides a beautiful foreshadowing of believers gathered around the throne in heaven, and it’s the only picture like it on earth.
We show that we are a part of the people of God (universal church) by showing up and gathering regularly with the people of God (local church). Where we choose to spend our time will expose what we truly value, and the things we prioritize reflect what we truly believe. When we prioritize the local church gathering, we show our children that church is not an empty religious ritual, but a needed community of saints saved by grace and committed to one another. As we meet each week, we display to this broken world a picture of the coming kingdom where God’s people will be gathered around the throne as one praising his name.
Don’t miss what God has intended for you and what he intends to do through you as the saints meet together. Yes, there are a thousand other things we could do on Sunday morning (or whenever your church meets), but what could be more beautiful or valuable than uniting with the body of Christ each week? Anything else we prioritize over the church gathering pales in comparison.
For the glory of God, our good, and the good of others, let us not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some.