Or in other words, can someone really be a “Christian” but never go to church? In short, “Yes” and “No” but before you roll your eyes because of a flip-flopped answer, let me explain.
Someone does not have to go to church to be a Christian. The Bible does not directly say, “Thou shalt go to church or thou art not Christian.” Yet to not go to church does not make Bible-sense. Its like a train saying, “I don’t need tracks,” or a fish saying “I don’t need the water.” The longer a “Christian” separates himself from the community the less like Jesus he becomes. Just like a train without tracks becomes derailed and fish without water becomes deadly.
My step-father is a carpenter. One day while on the job his table saw slipped and it sliced through his finger. That finger was dead, but at the hospital the doctor did surgery and reattached it to his hand. It healed and grew strong again. That is the miracle and power of being connected to the body.
You can’t take your finger off and on without consequences. Some might prefer to have a prosthesis that can be removed whenever, yet if you ask a person who has a prosthesis, like my friend Darrell, they will agree the real thing is so much better. To have real blood pumping through your veins connected wholly to the body is in our design (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
A Christian who doesn’t care to gather and connect with other Christians in the church is no different from a football fanatic who thinks his best view of the game is from the comfort of his couch. He will cheer for his favorite team or player though he is missing out on the amazing reality of rubbing shoulders with others other fans, even players on the team. As Kyle Idleman echoes in his radical book Not a Fan,
“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”
There is more to “encouraging one another” than saying kind words and cheering each other on. Encouraging means I will get off the bleacher and onto the field. I participate in the action. I will listen to the calls from the coach and the Playbook. I will hold a block or run a screen. I will cart an injured team mate to the locker room and help him rehabilitate. I will commit to being a team player and show up week in and week out, even bulk up between games.
I think I have overused that illustration, but I did so to make a point. That’s what followers of Christ do. Christians, church going Christians, are not passive or solitary. That makes the church wonderful and wonder-filled, especially when you got more fingers than toes and other complications that naturally come with a body. Being part of a community is more than just being a card carrier with benefits.
Yes, you can be a Christian and not go to church. However, a self-proclaimed Christian who does not belong to the church is not practicing biblical Christianity at all.