Just this past week I was told “you don’t have to go to church to worship God.” I have also been told “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” I think such comments are representative of those who do not attend church with any regularity, and who are not really believers who follow Christ or worship God. Those who make comments like these must be the same people who believe you do not have to read the Bible to be a Christian, otherwise they would know what the Bible says about these subjects.
To be a Christian means to follow the example of Christ and to emulate the life He lived. We read in Luke 4:16, “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.” Jesus had returned to His hometown and it was His practice to be in His place of worship, on His day of worship. A careful reader will note that much of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry took place in the synagogues.
Part of Jesus’ ministry on this earth was to set an example to those who would follow Him. How is it some claim you can be a Christian and then ignore the example of Christ? If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, thought it important to attend religious services what makes anyone think they are unimportant?
Jesus knew the Jewish religious leaders would not accept His life and ministry as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and the changes He would need to institute would not be welcome either. His followers would be considered traitors to Judaism and put out of the synagogues. They would need a new institutional structure to support what would be considered a new religion. So Jesus institutes the church.
The first mention of the word “church” in the Scriptures is in Jesus’ acceptance of Peter’s declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matthew 16:16. Jesus responds to Peter saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” Matthew 16:17-18.
Here Jesus introduces the term “church” and foreshadows its institution. The book of Acts is devoted to the history of the early church, and the church is the subject matter in much of the Pauline epistles, general epistles and figures prominently in chapters two and three of the book of Revelation. Does it seem reasonable that the church that Christ instituted, died for, and is written about in the New Testament should be ignored by His followers today as unneeded?
Those who also say you do not need to go to church to worship are the ones who probably do not worship God at all, either in church or outside it. Enjoying the great outdoors doing what you want to do by way of recreation while marveling at its beauty and wonder is not necessarily worship. Just be honest enough to admit it. The worship of God means to do His will, not yours. And His will declared in Scripture is to not forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” Hebrews 10:25.
Of course church is not the only place we should worship. Worship is an attitude of the heart. I worship God every day as I spend time in His presence in prayer and Bible reading every morning. I worship God in being honest in my business dealings, acts of kindness to others, and being truthful when I give my word. I worship God in the private places of my heart, in the praises of my lips, and in the way I live my life moment by moment.
So it is true you do not need to go to church to worship, because worship for the believer is not limited to a particular location. But I do not go to church merely to sing praises. Church for believers is a family reunion each week. It is a time of fellowship, instruction and encouragement. Church services offer opportunities to serve, and collectively support the cause of Christ through missions.
Many will be worshipping this Sunday; it is only a matter of who or what they will worship.