Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT)23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Earlier this year I published three posts on the importance of joining and worshiping with a local church. In those posts I defined church as a gathering of believers in a local place of meeting. It might be a “church building”, a hotel ballroom, a school cafeteria, or a house. The believers who met and worship together have a structure that results in there being purpose in their meeting. That purpose is praise, worship, teaching, and fellowship. See the Church category of this blog at this LINK.
There are lots of Christians that say they don’t do church. They don’t do church for various reasons. They had a bad experience with a church member, or pastor, they fell for a false teaching and got hurt, they don’t see any difference in church goers and people who don’t go, or are not even believers. They think they can read the bible and gain as much knowledge by themselves as if they went to church every week. Church repulses them because they feel it’s full of hypocrites. Other people accept that people are hypocrites by nature; they just can’t stand churches talking about money.
Even if they can get past those issues, still others steer clear because church is irrelevant to their everyday lives. Some may even want to attend church, but when they do, they feel even guiltier than they did before. The pastor and all the other put-together, perfect people just make them feel worse about themselves. They tried church before, and it didn’t make a difference. So why bother?
Finally, there are the “super spiritual”. Their ideals are so high that no church can possibly meet their standards. They have detailed lists of what’s wrong with each church in town. The worship music isn’t “Spirit-led” enough, or it’s too loud, too soft, or too whatever. The sermons are too shallow or too intellectual. The missions program isn’t aggressive enough or it’s all the church talks about. They spend too much money on the building or not enough.
Here’s the thinking of a lot of Christians today. We can get all the Christian content we need from websites, podcasts, and books—even television and radio. I don't have a big problem with Christian television, radio, and tape ministries, websites (I have one),but they are no substitute for regular attendance and involvement in worship services, ministry outreaches, and educational programs of a local church.
God never intended for his believers to be independent. He wants us dependent on one another and on him.
Galatians 5:13 (NLT)13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Romans 12:10 (NLT)10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
As believers in Christ, we are incomplete without the rest of his body—the church. And the church is incomplete without us. We need others, and others need us.
Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function,5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
"Those who isolate themselves from other believers do so at their own peril, because the Bible tells us that it is important to get together, encourage one another, and correct one another.". . A true Christian will want to be around other Christians. After all, why should God go to your house if you won't go to His? A lot of us want all of the fringe benefits of Christianity without applying ourselves. - Greg Laurie (from "What Makes an 'Authentic' Christian?")
When we use the word organism in relation to the church, we are speaking of a body that possesses inner life and is not dependent on human organization.
It is the concept of the church as being the body of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The inner life of this body is the life of God himself, imparted through the Holy Spirit, who lives in every believer.
An organization is human-made. It may exist as an orderly whole; it may have different parts and functions, just like an organism, but it lacks the essential, generating life of an organism. An organization can be disbanded or altered or replaced with new parts and new programs without destroying its existence. But with an organism, when any part is removed or altered, there is a mutilation. False members may be added that may function, but even those do not make the body whole again.
Therefore churches are organizations of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ scattered throughout the earth, having specific tasks defined by the New Testament.
Scriptures added by me. (see my sermon The Called Out HERE
6 Reasons Doing Church Away from Church Isn’t Church
By Eric Davis
Maybe you’ve heard it. “We can’t make it to church today, so we’ll just do church as a family.” “I can just do church on a hike this morning in God’s creation.” “The church is really the people, so we can do church wherever. God is everywhere, after all.”
Do we really need to go to a building on a certain day for it to count as doing church? If so, isn’t that legalistic?
It’s becoming increasingly popular to fashion new ways to “do church.” But how do we discern what does and does not constitute going to church? God’s word has plenty of wisdom on the issue. In short, my hike or a Bible open in my living room with the kids is not church.
Here are a few reasons why doing church away from church isn’t church.
1. We wouldn’t approach other areas of life like that.
To assert that we can do church away from church is an unparalleled way to approach life events. Do we approach other areas of life like that?
Husbands, next time you’ve scheduled a family day, just before it happens, tell your wives, “Honey, I’m actually going to do our family time on a solo-camping trip. But I’ll think about you and the kids while I’m sitting out there with the dog and my knife cramming Spam in my mouth. It still counts as family time, right? We don’t have to be all legalistic, honey.”
I wonder if we would use the “church-away-from-church-still-counts” jive towards other things in life, like missing the game, our daughter’s ballet, our hobby, or that movie we really want to see. “I’m going to forsake my daughter’s ballet, but I’ll do the ballet by remembering the moves I saw her practice in the living room last week.” “I’m going to miss hunting with the crew today, but I’ll do hunting by watching hunting YouTubes at home.” “I won’t make it to the premiere of that movie, but I’ll do the movie by watching the preview again on my phone.”
A YouTube video isn’t hunting with the crew. Meditating on her grande jeté is not attending my daughter’s ballet. Watching the preview on my six-inch screen isn’t doing the movie premiere. And doing church at home, in the car, or on a hike is not doing church.
2. Since we are not God, we cannot redefine things that are God’s.
If we are the head of an organization, then we can choose to define things in that organization. If you are the founder of a company, you can define your company’s goals. You can define standards for your employees, because you are over the thing.
Christ is the head of the Church
Ephesians 1:22-23 CEV God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything. The church is the body of Christ and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.
He bought the Church with his life.
Acts 20:28 CEV Look after yourselves and everyone the Holy Spirit has placed in your care. Be like shepherds to God's church. It is the flock he bought with the blood of his own Son.
He birthed the Church into being. It’s his Church.
Matthew 16:18 CEV So I will call you Peter, which means “a rock.” On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it.
So, he gets to say how things go. When he lays out things for his Church, that’s how they need to be.
Christ has specified how things look for his kind of church. And there are no verses which say, “Well, if you want to alter this thing that I’ve specified, go for it.” So it is when it comes to doing church God’s way. He is so great and worthy that it is reasonable for us to submissively and carefully approach what he says about church. We’ll look at some of what that means below.
3. Worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor.
Much of the Bible begins with God laying out what it means, and does not mean, to worship him. One take-away from Exodus and Leviticus is, “Wow. This glorious God does not leave the details of worship up to us.” That’s because one of the great problems with humanity is that depravity renders us unable and unwilling to worship him correctly. We have manufactured 10,000 ways of worship. And every one of them is profane and idolatrous.
Not once in the history of humanity has a person or people devised the correct way to worship the true God. That’s why we need the Bible. Whenever man takes the self-determined approach to worshiping God, he makes an idol. In his grace, God prescribes worship to sinful man for good reason.
Just consider some of these Old Testament examples:
Leviticus 18:3 CEV So don't follow the customs of Egypt where you used to live or those of Canaan where I am bringing you.
Leviticus 20:23 CEV The nations I am chasing out did these disgusting things, and I hated them for it, so don't follow their example.
Consider those Old Testament times. With all of those blood sacrifices, couldn’t someone just offer up a sacrifice at home? Wouldn’t that be good enough as long as they meant well and thought about God? Those who offered a sacrifice away from the tabernacle were to be killed.
Leviticus 17:8-9 CEV Remember! No one in Israel, including foreigners, is to offer a sacrifice anywhere except at the entrance to the sacred tent. If you do, you will no longer belong to my people.
The point is that proper worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor. God has not left it up to me to decide what defines obediently gathering as the church for corporate worship.
4. Church means something specific in the New Testament.
Not once in the New Testament does God refer to an individual or parents and their kids as the/a church. Individuals are called by their name. Families are called households. But they are not called “church” or said to be doing church. An arbitrary group of Christians is neither called church, as in the gathered body for corporate worship.
Sometimes “church” refers to the larger body of believers.
Ephesians 1:22-23 CEV God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything. The church is the body of Christ and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.
Ephesians 5:25-27 CEV A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. Christ did this, so he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.
And sometimes to local bodies of believers
Acts 14:23 CEV Paul and Barnabas chose some leaders for each of the churches. Then they went without eating and prayed that the Lord would take good care of these leaders who had trusted in the Lord.
Revelation 1:11 CEV The voice said, “Write in a book what you see. Then send it to the seven churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
When Paul and his team roll into Philippi, they find some people praying by the river.
Acts 16:13 CEV Then on the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to a place by the river, where we thought there would be a Jewish meeting place for prayer. We sat down and talked with the women who came.
Then, they meet with the jailer and his household in a home.
Acts 16:34 CEV They were very glad they had put their faith in God. After this, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home and gave them something to eat.
Neither venues were deemed a church. They needed to be baptized and gathered with other regenerate individuals under biblical leadership. Crete had a similar situation. While there were many Christians scattered around the island, they needed to be shepherded and gathered under qualified biblical leadership. Until then, Paul did not consider it ecclesiologically complete.
Titus 1:5-9 CEV I left you in Crete to do what had been left undone and to appoint leaders for the churches in each town. As I told you, they must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. Their children must be followers of the Lord and not have a reputation for being wild and disobedient. Church officials are in charge of God's work, and so they must also have a good reputation. They must not be bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business. Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things. They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled. They must stick to the true message they were taught, so their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.
The book of Acts gives us a clearer picture:
During the earlier days of the book of Acts, the church was in its infancy, foundational stages. God matured it towards the end of the first century. By the time we get to 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, many of the necessary ingredients of a local church are prescribed and handed off by the apostle. Contemporary believers have the responsibility of observing these prescriptions so as to keep with God’s idea of church.
Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 14 is that the church gathering needs to look a certain way. The way of self-centered, self-expression did not count for Paul.
1 Corinthians 14:12, 23 CEV If you really want spiritual gifts, choose the ones that will be most helpful to the church. Suppose everyone in your worship service started speaking unknown languages, and some outsiders or some unbelievers come in. Won't they think you are crazy?
As certain individuals intelligibly use their gifts in the corporate gathering, the whole body receives edification
1 Corinthians 14:26 CEV My friends, when you meet to worship, you must do everything for the good of everyone there. That's how it should be when someone sings or teaches or tells what God has said or speaks an unknown language or explains what the language means.
Intelligibility and orderliness must abound.
1 Corinthians 14:33, 40 CEV God wants everything to be done peacefully and in order. When God's people meet in church, But do everything properly and in order.
In other words, the church gathering is to be done as God defines.
All that to say, church means something that is not arbitrarily defined in the New Testament. In part, the emphasis is on the corporate body gathering for edification in an orderly manner according to commands prescribed to church leaders. Thus, it will not do to consider myself “doing church” away from the local church.
5. Gathering corporately observes that God has saved us into the body of Christ.
“Well, the church isn’t a building. It’s people. So, if I am with Christians, then it’s technically church.” As demonstrated above in #4, the New Testament does not support that argument. Hanging out with my family or a few Christian friends might be practicing the one anothers or studying the Bible or praying. But it is not the church gathered in obedience for corporate worship.
That’s the very thing that the writer of Hebrews corrected. Various individuals, and likely families, were not gathering with the church for corporate worship. In response, he does not say, “Oh, right, the church is not the building, so go ahead and forsake corporate worship.” Instead, he says,
Hebrews 10:25 CEV “Some people have given up the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord's coming is getting closer.
Paul addressed an individualistic attitude towards the body of Christ plaguing the Corinthian church. His argument there speaks to the “church-isn’t-a-building-so-I-can-do-church-wherever” attitude. Speaking to a local church, he writes,
1 Corinthians 12:14 CEV Our bodies don't have just one part. They have many parts.
Yes, the church is not a building. No, you and your family do not constitute the church. A local body is made up of many members. You need those other members, and they need you.
1 Corinthians 12:17-18 CEV If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn't hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn't smell a thing. But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best.
Paul's illustration helps us understand this:
Consider Paul’s illustration; a body. Can a lung be considered a body? “Well, it’s my family, not just me.” Can two kidneys and an armpit be considered a body? In a New Testament kind of church, God has made that group of believers as a functioning body. It’s not perfect. It needs work. But it’s a body, and far more so than lungs and kidneys sliding around our kitchen floors.
My family hunkered down at home is not the local, representative body of Christ. Hiking with a few friends is not the body of Christ. Going out skiing with unbelieving friends is not the body of Christ. Doing church away from church isn’t church because doing church without the church isn’t church.
Our good God commands us to forsake these lone-ranger-ism fallacies and instead gather with his people for worship. Doing so expresses the wonderful truth that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We belong to the body of Christ. Gathering with the church shows that we enthusiastically embrace God’s good desire to immerse eagerly into his visible, living church; the body of Christ. Apathy thereto is apathy towards God and the Head of the body.
6. Church constitutes, in part, a group of believers under the committed care of qualified leadership present to bless the local body.
“House churches” are popular in many areas these days. That’s great that people want to gather with others to study God’s word. But often these gatherings are missing something critical; biblically qualified and affirmed leadership. Again, Paul did not consider things as faithfully complete in a church without such leaders. At the close of the first century, the apostles delegated elders/pastors to take the baton in the shepherding-care of the churches.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 CEV It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile. That's why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money. Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful. If they don't know how to control their own families, how can they look after God's people? They must not be new followers of the Lord. If they are, they might become proud and be doomed along with the devil. Finally, they must be well-respected by people who are not followers. Then they won't be trapped and disgraced by the devil.
Tested leaders physically present were necessary in every church.
We need to honor God and the way that he has decided to care for his churches. Part of doing that is working to raise up and install biblically qualified and affirmed leaders
1 Timothy 4:14 CEV Use the gift you were given when the prophets spoke and the group of church leaders blessed you by placing their hands on you.
2 Timothy 2:2 CEV You have often heard me teach. Now I want you to tell these same things to followers who can be trusted to tell others.
Another part of doing that is gathering for worship with a church where such things exist. Prescribed corporate worship involves the preaching of God’s word, administering the ordinances, and disciplining as necessary by these leaders.
Matthew 18:15-20 CEV If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector. I promise you God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but God will not allow anything you don't allow. I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you. Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.
I can’t do that if I’m doing church with my friends on a hike.
“Well, we do sit under the word and listen to a qualified pastor charged to preach. We watch our favorite pastor live-streamed on Sundays in our living room.” Certainly there are intermediate and temporary situations where we can do that. We may be a church plant in the process of becoming a church or have lost our pastor. But these ought not, and need not, be permanent solutions. We need physically present leaders to shepherd us.
Even if the New Testament was written in the 21st century virtual age, the ideal would be a church who is physically, and not virtually, gathered together. It’s possible, and necessary, to do so. Even with the many first century constraints, God’s people were able to travel, train, and get local leaders raised up so that leaders were physically present in the various churches And they did so even in churches within a few miles from each other.
“Well, our family does everything a church does on Sundays.
”Is dad a pastor? Has he been recognized and affirmed as such by a currently-qualified and recognized body of local church leadership? How is your family church disciplining people? And is there not a New Testament local body with whom you could gather?
I cannot consider my arbitrary group of people gathered on a Sunday a church if it does not include a regenerate body of individuals committed to one another, biblically qualified and affirmed leaders, preaching of the word, administering the ordinances, and conducting biblical church discipline as necessary. Therefore, I could not consider such a group as doing church.
More could be said on what church is and is not. But Christians should scrap attempts to justify church-away-from-church as church. We don’t approach other areas of life like that. We are not God, and so have no authority to redefine ins and outs of his church. Truths about church and worship are not arbitrarily defined, but mean something specific in the New Testament. Gathering with the body under the shepherding of biblically qualified leaders demonstrates the privilege we have of belonging to something larger than us; the greatest organization in the universe.
We ought to consider it a privilege and joy to gather weekly with God’s people. The body needs us and we need the body. We need what God desires to give us through qualified, affirmed leadership. We need to see and be seen. If we are missing church with the family, and attempting to supplement it, just say, “We are going to study the Bible, sing some songs, and pray as a family. This isn’t church, kids.”
Share this post whenever you hear someone say “I don’t do church”, “I don’t have to go to church to have church”, “I can do church at home”, or I did church with _______________ on television or the Internet". Doing church away from church is not church!