“Hi, I’m a student working on a Religious Studies project and I wondered if you could help me by giving an opinion. I have an essay title, “Can You Be a Christian and Not Go to Church?” and having seen your website I was curious as to your opinion. If you do have the time to reply, I’d love to hear from you, Thanks, Student”
I recently received the above email from a young student. I have substituted the senders name and simply call her ‘Student’. The following reply was sent:
Thank you so much for your email. I am delighted to be asked my opinion on this question.
“Can you be a Christian and not go to church?”
If you have looked much into my web site you will know that I believe that all such questions can only be answered from the Bible. The first thing that is necessary here therefore is to define what the Bible calls a ‘Christian’ and what the Bible calls a ‘church’.
So, biblically speaking, what is a Christian?
Well, we simply have to read in the Bible about the lives and events of those people who were ‘called’ Christians to find this out. In summary of the key events you find: A Christian is someone who has encountered Jesus Christ (like Paul on the road to Damascus). A Christian is someone who has been filled with God’s Holy Spirit (like all those who were gathered together on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came). In a nutshell, a Christian is not someone who merely holds to a set of beliefs or someone who was born into a ‘Christian’ family or even a so-called ‘Christian’ country. A Christian is someone who has met with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, has repented from all of his sin, placed all of his faith and trust in Him and God has given him the gift of the Holy Spirit to live inside of him. The indwelling of God’s Spirit in this manner is also known in the Bible as being ‘born again’.
Now, what is a church?
Did you read any of my study entitled ‘His Church’? Here is an extract:
“The word ‘church’ appears seventy-seven times in the Inspired Scriptures and thirty five times in its plural form ‘churches’. With only one exception, each time the word church(es) occurs it is translating the same one Greek word – ‘EKKLESIA’. EKKLESIA is also translated on three occasions as ‘assembly’.”
And here’s another extract:
“The word EKKLESIA, on the other hand, in no way at all implies anything to do with buildings of any kind, or any type of place dedicated for religious purposes. Its meaning is – ‘an assembly’, with an underlying meaning of – ‘separated’, that is – ‘a body called out’. If God were to call-out, or separate a group of people for Himself for some special purpose this would be an EKKLESIA. This is exactly what God has done. The churches, which received apostolic letters, were addressed as – “called”, “chosen” and “sanctified” (set apart).”
Here’s one more:
“It is the gathering together of the believers that constitutes a church. Jesus promises to be “in the midst” when just two or three are gathered in His name (Mat. 18:20). This does not mean that every gathering of Christians for fellowship is a church. However, if needs be, it would be sufficient to qualify as such (albeit an undeveloped one) if those gathering were seeking to fulfil the role of a church under God’s leading. The local gatherings of such people are the churches.”
A ‘church’ is not a ‘place’ or ‘building’ that someone can go to; the Christian people are the church. Therefore it is an absolute biblical impossibility for ANYONE to ever ‘go to church’!
However … Christians are instructed in the New Testament to ‘assemble together’ (Hebrews 10:25). (The biblical place for a church gathering was in the Christian’s homes). So now we ask the question slightly differently:
“Can you be a Christian and not ‘assemble with’ a church?”
We must understand that it doesn’t require ‘a trip to church’ to become a Christian in the first instance. Jesus told his apostles to go into all the ‘world’ and preach the Gospel. Philip (the evangelist) preached to the Ethiopian eunuch on a dusty road in the desert. It was there and then that the man ‘believed and was baptized’ In the Bible people never gathered with a church first and then became Christians as a result of that. They all, like Paul, became Christians outside of the church and then gathered with a church afterward.
Now we ask: Can a Christian continue to be a Christian if he doesn’t gather with a church after his conversion?
Simple non-attendance at meetings would not reverse the process of ‘new birth’ and invalidate someone’s conversion to Christ. But here one would have to ask, what are the reasons for that person not gathering with a church? It could be that he has ‘backslidden’ and grown cold in his love of God and those who are his spiritual brethren. Or, it could be the other way round! Maybe the churches around have grown so cold and so compromising that he can no longer meet with them for conscience sake. Here we open a whole can of worms! And here we end the lesson for today.
I hope that this might help you, not just in an academic sense – it may not be ‘the answer’ your tutor is looking for – no quick ‘copy and paste’ :^). But I hope it will help you to see that all that is called Christian is not necessarily so, and all that is called the Church is not necessarily so!
I pray that God Himself would help you in your studies.
With thanks to Student for this question to whom it was mentioned that I would use this on the web site.
Related Reading ~ Bible Study: His Church (study on Biblical Church)