By David Bonebright
I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).
Since the beginning of the first church nearly two thousand years ago, believers have been meeting together to read and study the Word of God and to pray on a regular basis. They have found strength and comfort in the company of others with whom they share the same belief in God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Their meeting places have varied from monumental buildings that we still see today, to various houses of believers, to open fields.
Throughout many times in church history, congregating in a church was illegal and preaching the gospel was met with very harsh punishment. These churches met in secret, its members were in hiding, and usually only the most devout believers would brave the risk. Understandably, one could assume that these believers took their church attendance very seriously. Often that was the only way to hear the Word of God which they desired so much. They might not have had the ability to read or find a copy of the Scriptures in their own language.
Fast forward to the early days of American history. The printing press had long since been invented, and the holy Scriptures were much more readily available. The country was founded with freedom of religious practice of paramount importance. Small town America usually had a church in the center of town where believers met openly on Sundays. The church building was not only used for church, but for school and for town hall meetings. Church was also the social hub, and believers and non-believers attended alike. Much like today, not everybody attended church, but church attendance was much more acceptable and encouraged in those days.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).
Enter the twentieth century with the industrial revolution well underway. Once Americans got used to having television and radio, ministry did not take long to take advantage of technology. Today, a Christian who desires to stay home from church has so many options, from watching their favorite pastor preach during his televised church service, to downloading their favorite sermon on the internet by use of their pocket computers. I have heard Christians say they do not need to attend church because these technological advantages have allowed them to worship God on their own time. Putting skepticism aside that the NFL broadcasting cannot compete with Charles Stanley’s In Touch ministry in the hearts of fallible man and assuming prayer and worship is actually being conducted, is that a viable replacement for church attendance in person?
As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17).
There is a reason God wants us to congregate together in fellowship with other believers. Anybody who has ever been involved in a battle, confrontation, debate, challenge or even a project knows there is strength in numbers. God does not want us to be "Lone Ranger" Christians. Even the most independent people need encouragement. The enemy would love nothing more than to cause division, to divide and conquer the body of Christ. If we are forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, are we not already doing part of the enemy's work for him? Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is with us in our midst.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
The apostle Paul discussed the body of Christ, or the church in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Both passages talk about the diversity of believers within the church.
In Romans 12, Paul discussed spiritual gifts and talked about the diversity of gifts, but more in the context of individual Christian living. The chapter opens with a call to be living sacrifices for God's service and concludes with love for others, even our enemies against whom we should not seek revenge. In the middle of the chapter, from verses 4 through 8, he exhorts us to use the gifts in the course of our daily living. When we come together, these gifts can be used to be a blessing to one another. We do not all have the same gifts by design, so we can work together to bless, comfort and edify one another.
Where Romans 12 discussed spiritual gifts in use during a daily Christian life, 1 Corinthians 12 discussed the use of spiritual gifts in context of a church. Paul makes a comparsion of individual spiritual gifts to that of parts of a body. Clearly, Paul's body metaphor is a call to work to gether as a body of believers. Paul was admonishing us to go to church. If you have a spiritual gift that could be metaphorically compared to an arm or a foot, wouldn't you be depriving the body of that part by staying at home?
By not attending church, you could be depriving the body of a key member. You could also be depriving yourself of a part that you don't have. Some people have more than one spiritual gift. As gifted as you might be, you won't have them all. Wouldn't you prefer to reap the benefits of gifts that you don't have? Wouldn't it be better to build yourself up through the help of others who might be strong in areas where you are lacking?
Another modern day philosophy is the use of small groups instead of a larger, traditional church that meets on Sundays. People have said that they get all they need from their small groups, so they don't need to go to church on Sunday. The iron still sharpens iron, and Jesus is still in their midst as He has promised if they are gathered in His name. If they can get "all they need" from their small group, doesn't that meet the requirement of assembling themselves together?
I love small groups and encourage every Christian to find one. I belong to one. The intimacy of a small group allows the participants to really dig into God's word, to really study deeply. But I believe small groups should be supplemental to church, not a substitute. Small groups by definition are small. They are usually made up of likeminded people of similar backgrounds or stations in life, usually with similar interests. For example, men's breakfast, ladies' Bible study, singles group, youth, etc. That is not a fair representation of the whole church body. There are blessings and lessons that other groups can bring that you might only be able to experience in church.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
Jesus answered and said unto him, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18).
Ultimately, whether or not you choose to attend church is between you and God. If you have questions about God's will for your life, remember this. You will never be out of God's will when acting in obedience to Him. Jesus told his disciples, "If you love me, keep my commandments." After Jesus' resurrection and before His ascension, He asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. After Peter told Him that he did three times, Jesus then told Peter three times to feed His sheep. Peter then went on to become one of the human founders of the early church.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
Of course, nothing in this article would mean anything to you unless you have been saved. Have you confessed your sins before God and believed that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son and the one and only way to which you can receive everlasting salvation from your sins? If you have not made this decision to accept Jesus as your Savior and do not have a personal relationship with Him, then church attendance is nothing more than meaningless religious ritual. Church attendance itself will not save you, but please don't take that as an encouragement to stop attending. If you don't remember a specific time in your life when you came to the realization that you need Christ to save you from your sins, then you most likely have not.
Have you found a good, solid, Bible believing church that teaches you directly from the Word of God? If so, good. Get involved and take part in the ministry that God has lead you to do. If not, I would like to encourage you to come to Somis Community Church, a place where we would accept you with open arms. It is a place where we worship the one true God of the Bible. It is a place where we are not perfect, but we worship a God who is.
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David Bonebright is my wife Janet’s oldest son. He is an active member of Somis Community Church. He and his wife Christine and daughter Ashlyn live in Camarillo, California.