Perhaps you have heard statements like these: “Salvation is in Christ, not in a church.” “Your relationship with Christ is not defined by your attendance at a church.” “I want Christ, but I don’t want the church.” “Christ did not die for us to be religious, but for us to be like Him.” “I don’t attend church, but I read my Bible and pray every day, so I know I’m right with God.” Do statements like these accurately express what God expresses in His Word? Let us examine these statements from a Biblical perspective.
Some say, “Salvation is in Christ, not in a church.” Yes, salvation is “in Christ” (2 Timothy 2:10), but salvation is also in Christ’s church (Ephesians 2:16; 5:23). Therefore, when one becomes saved, he is both in Christ and in Christ’s church. When a person is “baptized into Christ,” he is also described as being “baptized into one body,” because the Lord adds those who have been properly baptized to His one church/body (Acts 2:38-41, 47; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 2:16; 4:4; 5:23; Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Therefore, one cannot be in Christ and be outside of Christ’s body/church at the same time. Christ is “the head of the church, and he is the savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). If Christ is the Savior of the body/church, then one must be in the body/church for Christ to be his Savior! Christ’s saving blood is in His body, and if one does not enter and remain a faithful member of the body, he severs himself from the saving blood of Christ (1 John 1:6, 7). There is no salvation apart from Christ’s church.
Some say, “Your relationship with Christ is not defined by your attendance at a church.” Faithful attendance and participation in the worship of a local church are not the only things that defines one’s relationship with Jesus, but they are necessary:
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 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. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:23-26; cf. 10:27-31).
John said that if we claim to be Christians, but do not obey Christ, we are liars: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3, 4). Again, it is not the only thing that defines faithfulness, but faithfully attending and worshiping with other local saints is a necessity to be faithful and go to Heaven (Revelation 2:10).
Some say, “I want Christ, but I don’t want the church.” This statement indicates a lack of love for Christians, which violates essential commands of Christ: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34, 35). Should we not view the church the way Christ views the church? Jesus indicated to Saul of Tarsus that the way Saul was mistreating the church was equivalent to Saul mistreating Christ Himself (Acts 9:4). To reject the body of Christ is to reject the Head of the body also, and if the church is not important, why did Jesus allow Himself to be tortured and die for it? The Bible says Jesus shed His blood to purchase His church (Acts 20:28; cf. Matthew 16:18). To say the church is not important is to say the blood of Christ is not important! If the church is that important to Christ, it should be important to us. In fact, it should be so important that we would lay our lives down for it: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
Some say, “Christ did not die for us to be religious, but for us to be like Him.” Friends, yes, we are to be like Christ, but Christ was religious! Christ had a “custom” of attending the synagogue assemblies to participate with others. Not only did He faithfully attend, He also had a “custom” of being actively engaged and participating (Luke 4:15, 16; cf. 2:42; John 18:20; Acts 17:2). Although some apparently think the word “religion” is a terrible word, the Bible commands Christians to be a part of “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:26, 27). The Greek word translated as “religion” is defined as “ceremonial observance” (Strong’s Greek Lexicon). The early church repeatedly gathered in local congregations to observe a clear pattern for worship (Acts 2:42). They gathered at least once per week, sometimes every day for various reasons (Acts 2:46), but consistently on the first day of every week for corporate worship (Acts 20:6, 7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).
Some say, “I don’t attend church, but I read my Bible and pray every day, so I know I’m right with God.” Studying God’s Word is commendable and necessary (2 Timothy 2:15), but if one is truly studying, he will learn that God does not accept the prayers of those who live in disobedience to Him (Proverbs 28:9; John 9:31; 1 Peter 3:12). One should learn from Biblical accounts like that of King Saul that partial obedience equals disobedience (1 Samuel 15). If a child of God refuses to assemble, not only is he disobeying God (Hebrews 10:23-31), but he is also depriving himself of the best opportunities for spiritual growth and encouragement.
Some say, “There are hypocrites in the church.” That may be true in some cases, but do you want to be with those hypocrites forever? To choose not to assemble with a local congregation of Christians means that you will be with the hypocrites forever in a place where you do not want to be. Judas Iscariot was a follower of Christ and a hypocrite, but did that stop Peter and the other apostles from following Christ? It does not make sense to stop following God because of the actions of men.
For those who think they can go to Heaven without loving the church for which Christ died, we encourage them to seek the Scriptures to see how Christ feels about the church and how we should feel about it. Why would He build something unimportant? (Matthew 16:18). Why shed His blood for something unimportant? (Acts 20:28). Christians are to glorify God in the church (Ephesians 3:21), but that cannot be done by those who have disdain for the church and live contrary to Christ’s commands. If any think active and faithful participation in a local body/church of Christ is not necessary, we encourage them to seriously consider what Christ commands men to observe regarding faithfulness in the church.