The Apostle Paul said that these last days would be perilous times (2 Timothy 3:1). In the verses following, Paul described the character of these last days, and they are indeed perilous! What is more fearful is the realization that these character traits were applied to professing Christians, rather than the lost world (2 Timothy 3:5-7). We see these character traits played out before our very eyes, from those who profess godliness, but deny its power in their own lives (2 Timothy 3:5). We also see that these professors are constantly “learning” more about God, getting so close to Him (in their own words), yet they can’t seem to grasp the simplest Bible truth
One very practical avenue by which we see the character of these perilous times is the philosophy that church is unnecessary, and that “nowhere does the Bible command us to attend church.” Too many professing Christians have the idea that church is optional, for those who have nothing better to do with their time, or for those who are just feeble-minded sheep, not being mature enough in their Christian walk to step out on their own.
So, let’s take an honest look at the Bible. Is there one verse of Scripture that says, “Thou shalt attend church?” And, if not, why would we think that people should attend church?
Those who oppose the idea of church attendance will rejoice to hear me say that the Bible does not directly say, “You have to attend church.” It says a good many other things that we will consider, which will inevitably lead us to the conclusion that it is God’s will for every believer to attend church (and be a member of a New Testament church, too). Let us begin at the beginning.
The Word “Church” Requires Church Attendance
The Greek word that is translated “church” is “ekklesia.” This word means “an assembly.” But, more than that, it means “a called-out assembly.” When we are speaking of a New Testament church, we are talking about “Christ’s called-out assembly (Matthew 16:18).” By mere definition, you have to assemble (attend) to have a church.
But, we do not really have to appeal to the Greek to understand this truth. The best dictionary for the Bible is the Bible! When we approach the word “church,” we find that God gives us a clear definition within the pages of Scripture. In Acts chapter 7, Stephen was detailing the history of Israel before the Sanhedrin. As he spoke of Moses and Israel in the wilderness, he used the phrase “the church in the wilderness.” The Old Testament never uses this terminology to describe Israel in the wilderness. Instead, the Old Testament uses the phrase “the congregation of the children of Israel (Exodus 17:1).” This means that the word church may be defined as a congregation. Again, the very word congregation teaches us that to have a church, one must congregate (assemble/attend)!
The Purpose of the Offices of the Church Requires Church Attendance
The New Testament teaches that a New Testament church has only two offices: Pastor (Elder/Bishop) and Deacon. As we study the office of the Pastor, we find that he is given by Christ as a gift to men (Ephesians 4:11-16). The purpose of a Pastor, according to Ephesians 4:12-13, is to produce maturity among the believers, to accomplish the work of the ministry, to build up the church (as a whole) so that every (Paul uses the phrase “…we all…” He left no believer out of this statement!) believer might arrive at the unity of the faith, to the point that they are moulded into the image of Christ. It is impossible for a pastor to accomplish this in the life of every believer, if every believer does not attend church.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).” As a Pastor, Timothy had a responsibility to “pass the torch” of the faith to the next generation, but that could not happen without believers attending church.
The Example of the Churches in the New Testament Requires Church Attendance
The book of Acts is filled with examples of how the early believers conducted themselves. There should be no doubt that they have set an example for us, as Paul said about the Old Testament: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope (Romans 15:4).” What was their example?
Jesus commanded His church to remain in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. He gave this command as they were assembled (attending) together. “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me (Acts 1:4).”
The new believers at Jerusalem assembled with (attended) the rest of the church there. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:41-42).”
As you search through the book of Acts, you really do not find a believer that is not an active member of a New Testament church. Even in the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we find that he went preaching the Gospel and ended by planting churches with those new converts (Acts 14:22-23), which gives a further indication that God’s plan is for every born again believer to be an active, attending member of a New Testament church.
Barnabas and Saul assembled with (attended) the church at Antioch. “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26).”
The “Gotcha” Verse for Church Attendance
So, the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt attend church,” but there are indications everywhere one looks in the New Testament that promote faithful church attendance. Still, there is one more reason why church attendance is necessary.
While God didn’t say, “You must attend church,” He did say, “Do not fail to attend church.” In Hebrews 10:25 we read, “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.” It is very clear that God’s will is for every believer to assemble with other believers (remember, a church is an assembly). This requires faithful church attendance!
According to this verse of Scripture, we are not to attend church less as time goes on. We are to attend church more, and more faithfully, as we draw closer to the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In the end, there is not one verse that says, “Thou shalt attend church.” There is, however, one verse that says, “Thou shalt not fail to attend church (Hebrews 10:25).” There are also the many examples in Scripture that teach us the necessity to attend the House of God. There is even the meaning of the word “church” which teaches us the necessity to attend together with other believers.
We should not fall prey to the character of these last days by thinking that church attendance is for the weak, and that we are so spiritually mature that we no longer need to attend church anymore. We need to grow in the Lord in these last days, and one of the best ways of accomplishing that is through faithful church attendance.
People are often intrigued when they find out that our church is "Independent" Baptist. They often have many questions about how an Independent Baptist church can function and thrive in this world.
Being an Independent Baptist church makes us different from any other church or group, even those who have "Baptist" in their church name. Many "Baptist" churches have a similar, if not identical, statement of faith as their Independent Baptist counterparts, but the difference is easily seen in the practical application of that statement of faith.
First of all, an Independent Baptist church is different because it follows the pattern of the church that Jesus established. This is a broad, sweeping statement, which will surely raise the hackles of those who would defend their denomination. Still, I think it is clear that many churches and denominations do not follow the pattern of the church that Jesus established.
One way in which Independent Baptist churches follow the pattern of the church that Jesus established is by rejecting any form of hierarchy. This hierarchy can be seen both internally and externally among the many non-independent (denominational) "Baptist" churches.
When there is an internal hierarchy, there is no level ground among the church membership. In an internal hierarchy, those who hold a particular position in the church have a greater say in what goes on than another member who faithfully serves the Lord but holds no position. Still, others have boards and committees who make all the pertinent decisions that need to be made within the church, and no other members are consulted in these decisions. In both of these cases, there is an internal hierarchy. This is not the pattern that is laid out for us in the New Testament. When there was a decision to be made, the Pastor brought the issue to the attention of the congregation, who decided by 1) seeking God's direction, and 2) by majority vote (Act 1:15-26; 6:1-6; 15:13-23).
When there is an external hierarchy, there is no consideration of the church membership. Different denominations are set up in different ways, but there is always something bigger and more important than the church itself. There may be a provincial, regional, national, and international group of which the individual congregation, or church, is a part. No one cares about the individual church, because the focus always goes to the top, where the president, council, or synod makes decisions for all their member churches as a whole. This is not the pattern that is laid out in the New Testament. There are only two offices within a New Testament church: pastor (also called bishop or elder) and deacon. The New Testament knows nothing about any position that would supersede the authority of an individual church.
Another way in which Independent Baptist churches follow the pattern of the church that Jesus established is by emphasizing the church. While many churches will emphasize their denomination, an Independent Baptist church will emphasize the church. Jesus taught the importance of the church by making the church the last resort for reconciliation between fellow believers (Mat 18:17). Jesus taught the importance of the church by making it the thing that would overcome the gates of hell (Mat 16:18). Throughout the New Testament, it is the church that is emphasized, rather than anything over the church.
Secondly, an Independent Baptist church is different because she acknowledges Jesus Christ alone as her Head (Eph 1:23; 5:23; Col 1:18). This is impossible in any form of hierarchy or denomination because the hierarchy or denomination forms the head of those churches that make up that denomination. Many "Baptist" churches do not even take the time to put together a statement of faith, because they claim the denominational statement of faith as their own. This means, that if the denomination chooses to change their statement of faith, they have changed the statement of faith of a great number of the churches which make up that denomination. This is not recognizing Christ as the Head of each church, but the denomination! However, every Independent Baptist church will seek the face of Christ for her doctrine, direction, devotion, and demeanor, because He is her Head!
Thirdly, an Independent Baptist church is different because she has one goal. Many denominational churches, including "Baptist" churches, have a different goal set for them each year by their hierarchy or denominational leadership. These goals may be social, and they may be humanitarian, but they are not the same from year to year. The goal of the Independent Baptist church does not change from year to year, because we follow the goal that was set for us by our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ! Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church He had founded during His earthly ministry. This Great Commission is delineated for us in Matthew 28:19-20: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." This Great Commission, in all of its parts, is the one goal of every true Independent Baptist church. We have a desire for all people groups of the world to hear the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also have a desire for every believer to follow after the Lord in Scriptural baptism, and to continue to grow as they are taught and trained in the things of God. In focusing on these things, we are carrying out the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission!
Fourthly, and Independent Baptist church is different because we have one rule book. Most denominations have rules by which they are governed, even to the point of governing the manner of worship within each church. If the individual church fails to follow the rules laid out by the hierarchy or denomination, they run the risk of being removed from the denomination, or even of having their goods and property confiscated by the denomination. An Independent Baptist church has only the Bible as her rule book. If the Bible says that something is sin, the Independent Baptist church will preach that such a thing is a sin. If the Bible promotes something as good, the Independent Baptist church will preach that such a thing is good. We do not appeal to the Church Fathers, commentaries, or the writings of men to find what it is we should preach and practice. We believe that God has already written down the things we need to know within the pages of His Book!
Fifthly, an Independent Baptist church is different because we can glorify God (Eph 3:21). When a denominational church does something special, the praise and glory go to the denomination. When an Independent Baptist church does something special, all the praise and glory go to God, because it is obvious that no human wisdom or ability was able to accomplish what that church has done! We aren't here to honour our denomination; we are here to honour God through Christ! The only way by which we can honestly accomplish this is by being an Independent Baptist church!
No, as an Independent Baptist church, we are not the same as all the other churches around, even those who carry the name "Baptist." There are some important, Biblical differences to which we hold and practice tenaciously, as we seek to please the Saviour!