Monday, June 11, 2012

Is going to church necessary?

Yesterday I worshiped in my home church, First Southern Baptist Church of Terre Haute, Indiana. As an adult in a culture where I can choose to worship any place I like, there is something bracing about returning to a church I did not choose. My parents began attending this church when I was an infant, and as I grew up, we remained there because the Bible said that we should not forsake gathering together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). The sermon at First Southern was on 1 Corinthians 8, and the pastor emphasized the first three verses: concerning knowledge that puffs up and divides, and love that builds up the church and its people.

In religious life, the knowledge that divides us can be doctrinal. However, other kinds of knowledge can prove a more subtle danger. If I know that some churches orchestrate their services with care, skill, and beauty, it can become difficult for me to worship in a service that does not come with a detailed outline and unswerving schedule. If I know that some buildings have stained glass, I might regret the plain sanctuary of a less affluent congregation. If I know that some Sunday school classes provoke lively, thoughtful discussion, I might resent other styles of teaching.

During his sermon, the pastor of First Southern mentioned a passage from C.S. Lewis's God in the Dock. In this essay, Lewis answers a number of questions about the Christian life. His response to the following question about the role of the church reminded me how important it is to humble knowledge--even right knowledge--to love:

 Question 16.
    Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?

    That's a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn't go to the churches and Gospel Halls; [...] If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can't do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit bean peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit. (God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. 61-62)

How would you answer the question Lewis tackles? Is attending church and belonging to a Christian community necessary for the Christian life? 


  1. Absolutely necessary! Not only does God say it..but if we dont go to church then why would God need preachers? He uses the preachers by speaking through them to us :) Yes...there's no way about it...attending Church is a MUST!

  2. Belonging to a Christian community is absolutely, ABSOLUTELY necessary for the Christian life. However, I don't believe that attending church is synonymous with belonging to a Christian community...

  3. Attending a fellowship of believers is vital. Some churches are more of a feel-good social club unfortunately. Believers are to interact with the rest of the body of Christ. We are to encourage and challenge each other to grow in our faith. Attending church allows us to focus on more than ourselves and to see a bigger picture.

  4. That is a good question, Bethany. It's one that's been on my mind recently so naturally I'm thrilled that you brought it up and provided some good for thought in your post.

    First of all, let me just say that I love my church. It's the one I was born into and it feels like home. I can't imagine that there could ever be a time that I would not be a part of its community.

    That being said, there are some aspects of it that make me say, "Why are we here and why are we doing this???".

    For better or worse, the first head-scratcher that comes to mind is MONEY. I spent a term as the assistant treasurer and committee member of our finance team. I like numbers so I thought this would be a good fit for me and in some ways it was, but one thing that it did was make me aware of just how much money it takes to run a church and how much of that money goes toward things that seem so futile when considering their contribution to furthering God's kingdom. (i.e. buildings, blacktop, computers, snow-removal, sound equipment, insurance, etc.). I know these things are necessary for a church to function, but it just makes me think... what would happen if we just all redirected all our tithing money toward projects that worked directly for social justice, ending hunger, peacemaking, etc. what would happen? Would it be sustainable? Could we just meet as small groups and maintain the feeling of community without the overhead that goes along with an organized church? I don't know, but it's something I think about.

    Sometimes I feel that church is a way in which we(or maybe just "I") appease our guilt for the injustices in our community and around the world. However, the less-cynical way of looking at this might be to say that the church can be an ideal place to equip people to fight those injustices. I guess it's just the idea of focusing too much on Sunday morning worship, as opposed to being the hands and feet for God's work on earth.

    Anyway, just some things I've been thinking about. Thanks again for posing the question, Bethany.