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.