People often tend toward extremes. One extreme is minimizing the importance of the Lord’s church, often with statements like, “I have a relationship with the Lord, but I don’t do church,” or, “I am a Christian, but I opted out of organized religion.” This concept itself is a deadly way of thinking, but as one of my former Bible instructors sometimes would say to his students, “The pendulum swings,” and the other extreme is the idea that all a Christian needs to do to please God and go to heaven is “go to church.” This deadly doctrine is the subject of this article.

God expects His people to attend worship and Bible study services of the church. It should first be observed that the extreme view of not attending or being involved with the church faithfully is a false concept and without biblical support. The church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23), and what is done to the church is done to Jesus (Acts 9:4). So, it is impossible to be a Christian and not be interested in and involved with the church, the very body of Christ. It is not possible to have a relationship with the Lord apart from His body. God Himself adds Christians to the church upon their obedience to the gospel plan of salvation (Acts 2:47). Realizing the church was “purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28), how can we not take an intense interest in something so valuable and important to our Lord? Thus, let it be clear: this article in no way minimizes the importance of a Christian’s attendance at worship and Bible study.

While being present at the services of the church is vitally important, such is not all that is involved in being a faithful Christian. It has been said (and rightly so), “Sitting in a church building does not make a person a Christian any more than sitting in a chicken house makes a person a chicken.” It is a fact that a person may show up at the building and be present physically, but be spiritually far from God. In Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the older son was “lost at home.” Though never having left home, the older son is clearly demonstrated to be very much outside the father’s will.

Humans sometimes fall into a “checklist mentality,” seeking to “check off” various items/acts in order to be pleasing to God. The Judaizers of the first century often had this mentality, which Paul countered with statements like, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15). In other words, being a Christian means being a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and that means every aspect of life is permeated by Jesus’ example and the teaching of Scripture.

Some of Jesus’ strongest words of rebuke were directed at the Pharisees, who were professionals at “checklist religion.” The Pharisees never would have willingly missed a synagogue service, but their religion was all a show, as Jesus pointed out in a series of severe rebukes recorded in Matthew 23. Of particular note is how the Pharisees and scribes were meticulous to pay tithes even of insignificant herbs, yet they neglected such substantial matters as justice, mercy, and faith. Jesus’ words remind us they were not wrong to do so, but their “picking and choosing” with God’s commandments was unacceptable – “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23). Without faithful living, worship is simply vain (Matthew 15:8-9).

God’s plan for Christians is not just “showing up” for worship and Bible study. God’s plan is for Christians to be present at worship and to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). God wants Christians to attend Bible study and to be engaged in heart and mind, making personal application to their own lives (Psalm 119:11). But, God also desires—yea, commands—Christians to study the Bible on their own (2 Timothy 2:15), doing so daily (Acts 17:11), growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). God wants His children striving to help others who are in need (Matthew 25:31-46; Galatians 6:10). God tells Christians to be evangelistic, telling others about Jesus and His church (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19,20). Ultimately, God wants Christians growing more and more like Jesus – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). The “predestined” of Romans 8:29 is not personal, but speaks of God’s eternal plan that all who are baptized into Christ (all Christians, in other words) will strive daily to be more like God’s Son.

“Going to church,” though a noble and worthy effort, is not all there is to being a Christian. A Christian’s life is a daily effort to crucify self and live for Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Reading the gospel accounts, it is evident that, to Jesus, doing God’s will was never confined to a few hours per week. It was, rather, His very sustenance: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). What about us?

Chad Dollahite