Christians know that God wants us to go to church, but do we really understand why we are to make the effort to get ourselves there? Am I still required to attend church if I work Sundays, or the night shift? Moreover, is going to particular location to physically gather together once or twice a week what God wants, or is His heart for something even more?
“And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery [that salvation is for all], which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 3:9)
God’s instruction on “going to church,” regularly gathering together with other believers, is found in the New Testament book of Hebrews:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) Since the goal of gathering together is to stir up love and good works in each other, and since it is not possible to do this if we aren’t around other Christians, we need to make a point of meeting regularly with other believers. The time when most Christians do this is once or twice a week at regularly scheduled church gatherings. But what if my job requires me to work Sunday mornings or the night shift, so that Sunday morning is actually the middle of my “night.” Does God still require that I attend church?
The truth of the matter is that with our sin-infected nature, we are not good judges of what is necessary and what is not. This is why God instructs us in His word. Left to our own devices, we might conclude, as some have, that we can study the Bible on our own, or worship God in nature, and this is certainly true. This does not, however, do away with our need for regularly spending time with other followers of God because He in His wisdom has determined that there are certain blessings we receive only when we are with other Christians. So while there are situations that make it more difficult, or even impossible, for some to attend normally scheduled times of worship, most people are not under such constraints. Those who do genuinely struggle with a scheduling issue need to prayerfuly seek for God to open a way while creatively structuring another regular time of fellowship such as a Bible study.
The church on earth is Christ’s “body,” figuratively speaking, and as the various parts of a human body have different functions, different members of Christ’s body, the church, have different giftings from the Holy Spirit and are led to bless others in different ways:
“But the manifestation [showing, revelation] of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy [foretelling or forth-telling of God’s word], to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many…
But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (I Corinthians 12:7-26)
Each member of Christ’s body has been gifted by the Spirit of God in a way that is intended to be used to bless the other members, yet this is something we cannot do in a vacuum. I cannot exhort another Christian to persevere in His walk with the Lord if I never see other Christians and do not take the time to figure out that someone might be thinking of chalking it in. I cannot financially provide for the need of a struggling member if I am not aware of it because I have excluded myself from the local church.
Furthermore, these benefits go both ways. Not only do I get a chance to use my spiritual gifts to bless other Christians; I also get blessed by the activity of others. This is not something that can happen when I isolate myself.
So why should I make the effort to get myself up out of bed when church is meeting? The answer is because it is imperative that, as a Christian, I spent time with other Christians. I will learn from the sermon, be encouraged by mutual worship, and get an opportunity to share from the bounty God has provided to help meet the needs of someone who has less. But is it enough to go to church once a week? Is that the extent of what God intends for us?
The answer to this is that while we are to commanded to regularly meet with other Christians to minister to them and be blessed by them, there isn’t a specific number of times that we are to show up at church. The early church gathered daily, on the Sabbath, and on the first day of the week (Sunday). The point of fellowship is not that we check off a list and say, “I’ve fellowshipped three times; I’m done,” but that we place ourselves in a position of being around other Christians so we can help them and they us.
Help us construe our schedules in a way that frees us to get together with other people who love You. Help us actually do this regularly so we can bless others and be blessed by them and in so doing, bring You glory. Amen.