by Casey McFall
Many people have stopped going to church or refuse to attend services regularly while using the following reasoning:
“Everyone there is a hypocrite, and I don’t want to be around those kinds of people.”
“The church is the people, not the building; so, I can worship God even in the middle of a corn field.”
“I can just sing at home and listen to a sermon online, so there is no reason for me to go to church.”
The thing is that there is truth in all of these statements. Churches are full of hypocrites; the church is not the building; and it is beneficial to worship God in our own homes. Why then do we go to church? Is it really required by God in the Bible, or is it a tradition of man that has evolved into a mistaken biblical doctrine?
There is only one verse in the entirety of the Bible that absolutely declares that Christians must go to church. Hebrews 10:25a states, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is;…” Note that it does not say, “Go to church, period.” This is because, as indicated previously, the church is the people of God, not the building in which the people assemble themselves. However, in modern day vernacular we do refer to this “regular gathering of Christians” as “church,” and we are command to not “forsake” that. In other words, if the people of God have scheduled a time and a place for themselves to gather together, we should make it our top priority to not be absent!
Right about now readers may be asking, “What about the hypocrites? I don’t want to be around those kinds of people and feel discouraged in my faith by their hypocrisy.” First, allow me to commend the diligence in being picky about with whom we spend our time! Not nearly enough Christians are sufficiently careful when they choose their friends and acquaintances. This leads them into temptations and trials that they could have avoided!
To answer the question regarding hypocrites, the truth is that there are hypocrites everywhere. People naturally put on a front when they are around others. This may be an attempt to not only portray their best selves, but also to show their alignment with the group with which they are associating in order to receive greater acceptance and improve their own self-actualization. Moreover, both inside and outside of church, we will be surrounded by liars, adulterers, cheaters, murderers, and every other sort of sinful person. Consequently, are we really protecting ourselves simply by not going to church? When it comes down to it, we cannot realistically avoid being around these people, but we can choose with whom we spend our time!
There will always be that person at church who is the chief gossip but publicly teaches that people of God should hold their tongues and learn to be peaceable. There may be that one person (or several people) who talks loudly about the grace and peace of God on Sunday, but he is living in sin and openly shares his misery every other day of the week. We should avoid these people like the plague! Spending time with them will only bring us down, discourage us, and negate the entire purpose of going to church. While these people might be more noticeable and easier to spot, there will also be those in the church who recognize and admit that they are not perfect themselves but that they are trying to be better. These are the people who are faithful in their walk with God and are striving every day to become closer to Him. We should focus on these people, make friends with them, and allow them to help us grow in the faith.
Even knowing that God has commanded us to go to church, we should simply do it out of love and obedience to Him. We also know that God would not have commanded it for no reason. Thus, there must be some benefit for us as believers to go to church. What is the reason for us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together?
Ultimately, it all boils down to one reason: for us to become more worthy vessels for Him. There are several ways that going to church consistently accomplishes this. First, it fires us up spiritually. Philippians 2:15 teaches that we as born-again believers shine as lights in the world. Matthew 5:14 teaches that we are the light of the world. We are supposed to be guiding others to God as beacons of truth in a world full of lies and darkness. The constant pressure and ugliness of the world makes this difficult because Satan and his minions wage a constant war to diminish our light as much as possible and in any way possible. (Eph. 6:12) We are as coals of a fire that flare brightly in the darkness but whose flame goes out quickly unless they are all stacked together. When those coals are all pushed together in a pile, they not only burn longer, but they also burn brighter!
This is not merely an analogy. Multiple secular studies, such as one published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have found that people have a built-in need to be around and spend time with like-minded people. This means that if we have a godly mindset, we will always be surrounded by worldly people who do not share our beliefs and ideals. Over time, this constant psychological barrage of not quite fitting in will wear down even the most tenacious in their faith. This will cause them to engage in behaviors that emulate those around them in order to gain greater acceptance. Those new behaviors, however, will not align with the beliefs of these people, which will cause cognitive dissonance or mental distress as a result of our mental beliefs not aligning with our outward actions. The only way to alleviate this cognitive torture is to either change our behavior or to change our beliefs. Considering the fact that reverting back to previous behaviors would be the equivalent of sacrificing the acceptance that had recently been gained, most people choose instead to lie to themselves and to find excuses for their behaviors. Naturally, this means that they will now have less alignment with the people of God and will feel uncomfortable and convicted in their presence.
This results in only three choices:
- Admit wrong-doing, confess, and return to God.
- Avoid believers and stop going to church in order to stave off the discomfort.
- Don the robe of hypocrisy and emulate proper behavior while around believers, and sear their conscience with a hot iron to stop feeling it. (I Timothy 4:2)
Never forsaking the assembling of true believers allows us to avoid this downward spiral into sin and despair! There is a reason why the Psalmist started chapter 122 by saying: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD…” and ended the chapter with, “Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.”
Other than this reinvigoration of the spirit, making a habit of going to church even when we do not feel like it helps us to become more worthy vessels by enabling growth. Christians should be growing in their faith and drawing closer to God every single day. Every one of us should not only be studying the Word of God (II Timothy 2:15), but should also be practicing submission of the flesh in order to manifest the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:24). There is a limit to how much we can grow on our own, however. A study in isolation is very limited in scope and value. Look at historical Japan whose isolationist policy caused the country to fall significantly behind the rest of the world in technological advancement. Proverbs 27:17 teaches us that we are all sharpened by each other. Without personal study, we will be sore unfit for sharpening; but, without the sharpening of interactions with other believers, we will always be dull tools with great potential and limited value! The two are absolutely reliant on each other. Both must happen in order for us to become the willing vessels and who God wants us to be!
At church we sing songs to worship God. We listen the pastor preach what God has given him for us. We give our tithes and our offerings, attend Sunday school classes, and participate in the choir. However, this is not why we go to church. We do not go to church to worship God. We worship God at church because we are always supposed to be worshiping God. We do not go to church to hear the pastor preach. The pastor preaches because this is what he was called to do and because God demands order in His church (I Corinthians 14:40). To assume we go to church for just these reasons is shallow and is merely a superficial understanding of why we go. We go to church because God commands us to do so, and because we want to become more worthy vessels for Him! We go to church because to not do so would not only be sinning against the will of God, but it would also stunt our Christian growth and would even lead us away from God and the path of righteousness!
I Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:”