A friend brought to my attention a very legalistic article, Why Should Christians Attend Church? by Dale Robbins. Each statement is flawed, and on that friend’s blog I answered each one point by point. Now I’m reposting here.
(1) Is church attendance an expression of our love for God? No. Worship is the expression of our love for God. Many people who “go to church” do it for various wrong reasons rather than to worship. Saying that this activity is an expression of our love for God is making worship into an outward thing rather than a heart thing.
(2) Does church attendance build up spiritual strength? No. Jesus Christ is the sole source of our spiritual strength, rather than any activity that we do. Can I build up my spiritual strength by doing a hundred push-ups a day? Neither can I build it up by driving to a building and walking into a building and sitting in a chair and opening my Bible.
(3) Does church attendance bring a special visitation of the Lord’s presence? No. A special visitation comes with a gathering in the Name of Christ, which is more than just in words. This can happen anywhere with any Christians, and may not happen “at church.” (There are churches that have “Ichabod” written over the doorposts.)
(4) Does church attendance provide fellowship with other Christians? Sometimes, but often not. The very way that most church meetings are designed seem to be trying to eclipse fellowship with other Christians. Come. Sit quietly. Shake hands. Sing. Sit quietly. Shake hands again. Go home and watch the football game.
(5) Is church attendance an act of obedience to God? No, certainly not in and of itself. How desperately the Christian community needs to understand and recognize that outward acts of “obedience” are utterly noxious to God when there is no faith. God calls them “dead works” and commands us to repent of them.
(6) Does church attendance provide accountability to spiritual leadership? No, though church involvement could, if it’s the right kind of church.
(7) Does church attendance combine our spiritual strength in prayer? No. However, corporate prayer could do that. Do we even have any spiritual strength to combine? Are we praying together? Are we REALLY praying together? Are we even praying? Is this accomplished by church attendance?
(8) Does church attendance honor the Lord’s Day? No. There is nothing in the Scripture that even hints at this. But Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath rest.
So why do I want to “attend church”? That term is too passive, and I never use it. What I say is “be connected with a church” or “be part of a church,” because a church is a living, breathing organism, rather than simply a meeting.
Here are some reasons:
1. I want very much to find and connect with other like-minded Christians. Through the church, especially one that fosters relationships, I can meet people–those who need mentoring or monetary help or physical assistance–that I can help and encourage. I can meet women who can help and encourage me. The church gathering, especially the hallways and lobbies and cafes and nurseries and aisles and prayer rooms, is an ideal venue for meeting these people.
2. I want my children to learn more who God is. The church we’re a part of right now has a primary pastor who is very clear in his presentation of the truth of who Jesus Christ is and how the good news of the gospel applies in our everyday lives. It’s important for them to hear it from some other authority figure other than just us.
3. I want to worship God with other believers. True corporate worship really is strengthening to the faith of all of us.
4. I want to pray with other believers. Our church may have a ways to go in developing believers in this department, but they’re making the attempt, and they provide opportunities and places to go to pray two or three together. It’s not unusual at our church to see people clustered here and there spontaneously praying together.
5. If I ever were in a situation that needed church discipline or crisis counseling, I would be in a sad state if I didn’t have a connection with a church that had pastors who took their job of discipling seriously. Though all pastors make mistakes, some of them grave, the pastors of the church we’re in still try to counsel in love and wisdom and follow the Matthew 18 protocol in their dealing with difficult discipline situations.
In Dale Robbins’ article, a number of statements revealed an underlying worldview built on a shaky foundation. But I’ll address here only part of one of the statements:
“For believers, there is no substitute for attending church. Besides something that pleases God, it is necessary for a believer’s spiritual well-being.” All three of these concepts are problematic, but I want to address here the phrase that church attendance is “something that pleases God.” The Christian community desperately needs to understand and internalize the crucial fact that without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God. It is only those works that spring out of FAITH in Jesus Christ that are pleasing to God.
Can a woman who has a sterile relationship with her husband decide that she’s going to produce a baby to please him? She could produce a lifeless doll (“dead faith, dead works”) and pretend that it’s a baby, and maybe everyone around her will even pretend along with her, because they’re all carrying their own lifeless dolls, but the real baby will be produced from the intimate trusting relationship born of mutual love. The loving husband is pleased in that intimate relationship, and then, ultimately, the husband is pleased in the beautiful fruit, a living, breathing human being, that is born out of that intimate relationship.
Though there is work involved in having a baby (just as there is work involved in the Christian life), a woman cannot produce that fruit of the womb in her own strength: that fruit of her life is a gift of God. The fruit of our lives that is well-pleasing to God is the works that are born out of our faith relationship in Jesus Christ, “Christ in you.” Those works, those living works, are a sweet savor in the nostrils of God, because they are produced from the intimate relationship of mutual love.