Over the weekend I had a conversation with a woman who it turns out had gotten a degree from seminary (in counseling), but didn't regularly attend church until awhile ago when she found a church that "fit" and since then she has been a member of said church. I nodded and smiled and we went our ways, but I was shocked by the fact that someone could go to seminary and yet not go to church. It ate at me, so decided to post my thoughts about the issue of the church on my facebook page. The post read:
"Just talked with someone who said she was A Christian (and had a degree from seminary!) but only started going to church awhile ago.
Folks, people claiming to be Christians who don’t believe in church are like people claiming to be Christians but don’t believe in Christ. It’s that simple."
...It engendered some reaction. You know a post is controversial when it has 3 times more comments than likes, and that even after some have been deleted. In the rest of this post, I am going to draw from the comments made in reaction to this post (mostly arguing against it) and my arguments for it, but in a more organized, logical fashion. This is not directed at any person or group of people.
The structure of the basic argument is this:
Premise 1: Belief in Christ is of foundational importance to being a Christian.
Premise 2: Belief in and participation in the Church (weekly assembly of believers to worship) is of foundational importance to being a Christian.
Conclusion: To disbelieve in/not participate in the local church while still claiming to believe in Christ and call oneself a Christian is inconsistent and hypocritical.
Application: Those who claim to accept what it means to be a Christian should accept all such beliefs, not only ones such as belief in Christ, the resurrection, the Trinity, etc. but also the assembly of the saints...the local church.
It's really, really, simple. Before I attempt to establish these premises, let me list what I've been accused of saying that I didn't actually say and also don't mean, because the majority of the comments were directed against statements I didn't make and didn't mean, thus much effort was wasted attacking straw men.
–I am NOT saying that believing in church makes you saved, or that going to church makes you saved. People literally repeated this straw man multiple times at me. Read the actual post people, and don't assume what someone believes. Respond to what is written.
–I am also NOT saying that those who don't go to church AREN'T saved.
–I am NOT saying that the church is a building. I was referring to the church as the gathered assembly (bit of an oxymoron, but I still have to say it that way for people) which is how the greek word ecclesia is translated.
Now, to establish our premises:
Premise 1 isn't controversial at all, and that is why I used it in my facebook post. Nobody would question that it would be inconsistent for someone to claim to be a Christian but not believe in Christ. That would make you an achristchristian, which is confusing and weird. :-)
Premise 2 is the most controversial, and the one I will spend most of my effort on. The argument will go thus: I will list some imperatives in scripture that don't make sense UNLESS it is normative for a believer to participate in the assembly (church):
1. Communion makes no sense unless you participate in the gathered church.
Firstly, taking communion is a command for believers from Christ. He issues this command in Matthew 26 (to name one gospel) and is quoted by Paul saying "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." In Acts 2 we see the infant church taking communion along with praying and singing and listening to the apostles teaching. We see communion as a function of the gathered assembly in worship again in Acts 20:7.
When Paul addresses some issues surrounding communion in 1st Corinthians 11, he assumes that they should and do come together as a church.
If you don't go to church, how can you rightfully take this sacrament? How can you obey Christ? There are exceptions of course if a church member is sick or otherwise shut-in, but then they still take communion with and from the elders of their church. This brings me to my next argument:
2. Elders and our command to submit to them makes no sense without the gathered church.
Scripture plainly demands the creation of elders in the local church to oversee and care for the church and it's members. See Acts 6, Titus 1:5, and James 5:14 for a few examples.
We are supposed to submit to, honor, and encourage these elders, as seen in 1 Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 13:17 and 1 Peter 5:1.
If you don't go to church then Elders and Deacons aren't necessary. If you don't go to church, you can't submit to them, honor them, and encourage them.
3. Paul's conversation about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 makes no sense without the gathered church.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth on how to exercise their gifts, and he does so in the context of the gathered assemby as a part of the overall body of Christ. He recognizes that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each Christian individually (12:11) but that these are integrated into the whole body. The individual members make up the body (12:12-13.)
Later on, Paul talks about the gift of tongues. Your position on cessationism is irrelevant here, because the point I am making is that in order to properly exercise the gift of prophesy, you must do it in the gathered assembly. This is because the very point of tongues was to edify the body of Christ. This is why Paul says that he wishes that everyone could speak in toungues and prophesy so that they could edify one another (14:5).
Paul writes: "Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at most three, and each in turn, one must interpret...for you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (12:26-31).