Do I Have to Go to Church?



Some who read the title above will immediately respond that we don’t go “to church,” we are the church, and we go “to worship.”  This, of course, is completely accurate, but it is a technicality that does not negate the basic question.  Some honestly wonder whether it is absolutely necessary to be present every time the church gathers for worship or Bible study.  Others ask only to validate their laxity about church attendance.

Elders and preachers have struggled with this question for generations.  Some take the view that a “faithful” Christian will be present every time the doors are open, unless providentially hindered.  Others take the view that once a week, sometime on Sunday, is enough, and anything more is optional.  One side will argue from scripture that we must be present at every assembly, while the other side argues that to believe such is Pharisaic.

Complicating this discussion is the fact that the scriptures simply do not give the kind of answer either side desires.  Nowhere in scripture do we find any statement that specifically requires attendance at multiple assemblies each week.  Neither, however, do we find any statement granting the freedom to be absent from the assembly for whatever whim might strike us.

The clearest statement about attendance in the assembly is in Heb. 10:23-25.  Here the scripture says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

The writer of Hebrews says we must not forsake the assembly, but did he mean three or four such assemblies every week?  The simple answer is, “No.”  The scriptures suggest that first century Christians met once on the Lord’s Day to worship and to observe the Lord’s Supper.  They did so because of the realities of their work week, rather than as a doctrinal statement.  They worked seven days a week and thus had to meet either early on Sunday morning before going to work, or late Sunday evening after finishing work (cf. Acts 20:7-8).

The rise of multiple assemblies each week came about in modern times, and for at least two reasons.  At one time the morning assembly was when communion was served, and was thus closed to those who were not members of that church.  The evening assembly was an evangelistic assembly, when non-members were invited to attend.  Later, especially during World War II, an evening assembly was deemed necessary because so many people worked shifts at defense factories that operated around the clock.  The addition of Bible classes, or Sunday School, and mid-week Bible study or prayer meeting arose from a perceived need to facilitate knowledge of God’s word among members of the congregation.

The point in assembling together, as stated in Hebrews, is as a sign of holding fast to our confession, and to stimulate one another to love and good deeds in view of the imminent return of the Lord.  Compared to our first century brethren, many of whom met daily and from house to house (Acts 2:46-47), even meeting four times a week seems insignificant.  As we consider this issue we have to ask two questions.  First, “Is worshiping God less important than anything else we might do when the church assembles?”  And, second, “Is holding fast our confession and stimulating one another to love and good deeds less important than anything else we might do?”  If so, then, no, we don’t have to go to church.  But, if we love the Lord and appreciate the salvation He has given us, then we won’t want to be anywhere else when the church meets, however often that might be.  In the end, we know that this pleases God, and isn’t that more important than anything else in life?