I just got off the phone with a dear friend and brother in Christ. We live a couple thousand miles from each other, so we don’t see each other very often. As we were catching up on each other’s news, I asked him where he and his wife are attending church. My friend answered that they hadn’t returned to church since covid.
This couple is very dear to me, so I was deeply saddened by his response and challenged him to get back to church. But my friend’s response was not new to me. Now, three years past the shutdowns, I’ve spoken with several couples and individuals who profess to know Christ, but who have not returned to church since the shutdowns. I’m deeply troubled by this, and so I’m writing this blog post in response.
Below, I cite seven excuses I’ve heard Christians give for not being a part of a local church. Then I’ll provide some teaching on why we so desperately need to be a part of a local assembly of believers.
- “After covid, we just haven’t gone back to church.” It should shame us that in countries where meeting as a church is illegal, followers of Jesus will risk everything to gather to pray, worship the Lord, fellowship, and hear from His Word.
- “I can’t find a good church.” We’ve all heard the overused ditty that if you find the perfect church, don’t join it, because it won’t be perfect anymore. But it’s true. There is no perfect church. This excuse also stems from a consumer mentality. But we must not look at a church as consumers. We should look for a place where we can invest in the lives of others. That’s love.
- “I’ve been hurt by the church.” Who hasn’t been hurt by the church (i.e., other Christians)? I certainly have on many occasions, both as a pastor and as a member. I’m sorry but this is really a lame excuse. For example, a few years ago I got food poisoning at a restaurant. Would it make sense for me to say that I no longer go out to eat because of that experience? Part of growing with and in a church is learning to forebear with one another and forgive each other. Growing in Christ is all about relationships.
- “I belong to the Church Universal.” All followers of Jesus belong to the Universal Church. If someone uses this statement as an excuse for not aligning themself with a local body of believers, they don’t understand the meaning of church or the Scriptures. (More on this below.)
- “We’re just too busy.” When I hear people say this, they speak as though their schedule is their master to whom they are enslaved. This is a matter of priorities and good planning, and not slavery to a schedule.
- “I would go, but my spouse won’t.” Then go without him/her. Otherwise, you’re letting their rebellion become yours as well.
- “We attend church online.” I’m sorry, but that’s an oxymoron. Watching a video of a church service may be the next best thing for a shut-in, but it’s a sterile, hands-off approach that lacks some of the primary elements of what it means to be a part of a local church family. We cannot attend church by proxy.
Why We Need to Be Part of a Church:
The church (Greek: ekklesia = local assembly of believers) is the invention of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18). When Saul was persecuting the church (Acts 8:1-3), Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. Jesus so identified with the church that he asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5) When we shun the church, we’re shunning Jesus.
In Ephesians 5:25, we read, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Now, you might be thinking, “All that is fine, but couldn’t that all simply apply to the Church Universal (that is all followers of Jesus worldwide and in every age)?
Yes, those passages do apply to the universal church of Jesus, but they also apply to every local assembly of believers. That’s because the universal church meets locally and only finds expression in the context of local assemblies. How else can the church exercise its basic characteristics and mission? Below are just a few of these:
- To love and care for each other.
- To engage in corporate worship, prayer, fellowship, and preaching of the Word.
- To show Christ to the lost and send missionaries out from its membership.
- To exercise individuals’ spiritual gifts for the building up of the body.
Consider also that most of the New Testament books were letters to local churches. And in Revelation, Jesus instructed John to write letters to seven specific churches. The primary work of the apostles was to establish churches in every town, for without churches, new converts would be left on their own.
When we abandon the local church, not only are we denying ourselves growth in Christ and with His people, but we deny others of the spiritual gifts and service we can provide for them as well. Also, a local church can accomplish what no one individual can accomplish for the Lord. Paul praises the church in Thessalonica for its example and witness that impacted entire regions. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.)
The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
For more information check out: Romans 12:1-13; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:9-16; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Timothy 3:1-15; Revelation 2 and 3.
©2023 Rob Fischer