Monday, February 23, 2009

Is Church Compulsory?

Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:25

We live in the 21st Century; the age of sophistication, class, technological advancement beyond imagination, human rights and the do-it-your-own-way attitude. Sadly, these end time attributes now flood the church in a negative sense and are hugely informing the way some “Christians” approach church and church attendance.

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship,
and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Acts 2:42-47

The topic of whether church is compulsory was never a question in the era of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the apostles or even our 19th–20th century church fathers. One of the consistent traits that marked the post-outpouring of fresh anointing on the apostles was unity; not only spiritual unity, but also unity in fellowship. I will explore this further in the text.

I have a confession to make; it took me several weeks to even start writing this editorial because I couldn’t help but take time to ponder why Christians are asking the question “Do I really need to go to church to be close to God?” or “How relevant is the church today?” I believe we are getting a fundamental truth misplaced here… it’s not whether we need church (the edifice); rather whether we are part of the body which cannot do without the head. Christ is the head of the church and we (the church) are His body, Ephesians 5. I have heard people say “I sit at home on Sundays and watch gospel channels instead…” I need to be careful here because I know there may be some exceptions where people find themselves in critical situations where they do not have access to a gospel church, either as a result of geographic or other constraints. But I am not talking about such people; rather my point refers to those who stay at home in front of a TV in the name of watching gospel channels.

Hebrews 10:25 clearly states, “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.” Place that scripture beside Acts 2:42-47 and you will discover that God had a plan when He ordained church membership and attendance. While I agree that the Christian life is a personal journey, the Bible repeatedly makes it clear that Christian fellowship is vital to spiritual growth. When Peter admonished in 2 Peter 3:18 that we should grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, he wasn’t speaking to a single individual. He was referring to a body of believers in Asia, Galatia, Cappadocia, and so on. Put it this way, he was saying “grow together in grace as a church…” Church is a means of grace that God has provided for believers to mature in the faith. None of us can run this race alone and God in His wisdom has ordained and also commanded that believers gather in a place to meet in His name, thereby putting Him in our remembrance always. For the apostles, it was a house fellowship setting. For us, it is primarily at church and other places of worship such as house fellowship centres or believers’ homes.

So why are people really asking this question about the necessity of church attendance? This might surprise you but it is true;
1. Questioning the relevance of church attendance is a mark of the end times. 2 Tim 4:3 gives us a deeper insight into this trend, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” Don’t we see this happening in this generation? I am not speaking against televangelism, not by any means. But I am saying it is absolute disobedience to God to substitute church attendance and commitment with televangelism.
2. In Hosea 4:6, God said that His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. There is a grave danger with falling into this category; no mouth will be able to give an excuse to God by claiming ignorance. Having said that, I believe it is spiritual ignorance and darkness to question the purpose of church, both as a gathering of God’s people unto Him and the church as a body of Christ.
3. Thirdly, the devil is out in the world to deceive many. This has always been his primary responsibility, so that many can be led astray. So beware!!!

I believe with the whole of my heart that church attendance is not only compulsory but commanded by God as I have earlier pointed from the scriptures. And we need to look beyond just Sunday worship services but literally every church activity in the week that has been designed for our spiritual well-being and service. Why? Because there is power in mutual fellowship, grace in doctrinal devotion, growth in communal exposition of the word of God, power in united confession of our faith, and joy in joint celebration of our God in praise and worship. When you do that as a true Christian collectively with other true believers, you can be sure to be part of the people God will look at and say, “My people, in whom I am well pleased.” Don’t be a branch that is broken off from the tree and think you can stand on your own. You might say, “But God is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I worship; at home or in church…”

Well, yes and no. God is everywhere and can be worshipped at anytime. That’s true. But that’s on your personal relationship level and walk with God. Of course you should cultivate a deeper walk with God on your own and you can do this wherever you deem suited for such. However, God has also ordained corporate worship and fellowship (in the church) as a means of grace for His children to learn, grow and run with the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Written by Joseph Iregbu.
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