Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is it Sinful for Christians to Not Meet with the Church?

My good friend Alan Knox has asked a couple of interesting questions of Christians who are not currently meeting with the church. I encourage you go look at his post and read the comments.

Let me throw in a related, if lengthy, question: Is it sinful for Christians to not meet with the church if there are no churches meeting near them who follow the biblical model?

I realize this question may seem unfair to some people. I'm just curious. What do you think?

We know that the model in scripture is for Christians to gather together on a regular basis. We see the expectation in Hebrews 10:24-25:

"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." (ESV)

"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (NKJV)

Today, in this country, most churches do not gather together in a manner that even resembles what we see in the New Testament. Because of this, many Christians feel convicted to not meet with this type of church. On top of this, there may literally be no church near them that they know about that is trying to follow the biblical model.

However, the bible doesn't seem to say that we should gather only with churches that follow practices we agree with. And, at what point does this end? Do we only gather with people we line up with in every area of church life?

On top of this, we should ask if there are certain practices that should keep us from gathering with other Christians.

I've purposely asked a loaded question because I really would like to know what you think.

Let me ask it again: Is it sinful for Christians to not meet with the church if there are no churches meeting near them who follow the biblical model?

Let me add another to it: Why or why not?

20 comments:

christwashomeless said...

Sinful.. no.

Eric said...

Christwashomeless,

Thank you for commenting. Could you please elaborate?

Arthur Sido said...

Is it sinful? I don't think so but I don't because I don't think it is possible for someone who is regenerate to not be drawn together with other believers. The form it takes may not be what we traditional associate with "church" but then again as you say neither does the form we see in the Bible.

Jason_73 said...

Sin defined as:

A) Mankind turned in on itself - Martin Luther

Yes*

B)Missing the mark/bulls eye - Old English definition

Yes*

* I don't think I could ever call anyone on it though. Maybe because I'm a chicken, I don't know. I just know it would be sinful for me.

I attend a church I struggle a lot with.
It has many theologies I find difficult and un-helpful. In addition, I don't think the gospel is valued as highly as I think it should be.

Regardless, I remain** and don't give up on this fellowship because Christ hasn't given up on me.

Also, I believe suffering a little bit with church is kind of healthy. It keeps you on your toes!

** I feel called to remain, but try not to judge others (which has been hard!)

Eric said...

Arthur,

I wonder what people are to do who want to be part of a church family but cannot find one anywhere near them that approximates what they believe church to be. I know there are many Christians stuck in this situation.

Eric said...

Jason,

Thanks for your comment and honesty.

I appreciate your willingness to stay even though there are some problems in your church. In our consumer culture, the first response is often to leave.

Are you able to work for biblical change there?

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

There are passages in the OT where God says that he hates their sacrifices and festivals... sacrifices and festivals that God told them to offer and hold. Could we be seeing something similar today?

I have never met a believer (not saying they don't exist, but that I haven't met one) who did not want to meet with other believers. I've met plenty who found it more beneficial to stay away from organized religious gatherings where the church did not act like the church.

Which is sin? I don't know.

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I was hoping you would comment because I was wondering what you think about this.

That is an excellent point about the OT sacrifices and festivals. I had not thought of that.

I agree with you about never meeting believers who did not want to meet with other believers. It shows that sad state the church is currently in in our country when there are so many Christians who find it more beneficial to not gather with the institutional church than to do so.

For many of those not gathering, I wonder what would have to happen for them to start doing so.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

If your question refers to what is generally understood as "attending church", the short answer: No!

Formalism is the great sin which very much associated with what most churches do, some on Saturdays and others on Sundays and other times.

My main reason for saying so is related to the Scripture Alan mentions. I have stood before far too many expressionless, apparently comatose, Baptist (and other) congregations to think otherwise.

The problem was one which J.C.Ryle put his finger on somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, when he preached a sermon entitled "Formalism". He quoted Thomas Hall (1658), preaching on 2 Timothy 3:5, "Formalism,
formalism, formalism is the great sin of this day, under which the whole country groans. There is more light than there was, but less
life; more profession, but less holiness."

By the way; he didn't equate the prideful pious attitudes we see today with "holiness". He calls it "heart religion", the expression of which is far different.

Ryle's sermon had three points:
I. We learn, first, that formal religion is not true religion, and a formal Christian is not a true Christian in God's sight.

II. We learn, secondly, that the heart is the seat of true religion, and that the true Christian is the Christian in heart.

III. We learn, thirdly, that true religion must never expect to be popular. It will not have the "praise of man, but praise from God."

I can only recommend that folk read that sermon. You might be shocked as to how such an old sermon applies so well today. It's easy to find. Just Google "J.C.Ryle on Formalism" on Google.

micah7 said...

I'm going to zero in on the last part of the question: "...if there are no churches meeting near them who follow the biblical model?" Is there a church out there that follows the biblical model? Perhaps but I'm not aware of any. In that case, the question is on the church, not on the individual. It all boils down to the prescriptive/descriptive question. The church, not the individual is responsible for discerning the answer to the question. As a church we need to look at how we "do church" and discern what is biblical or unbiblical about it as well as what are we not doing that we should be. Otherwise you end up with many people like in Alan's post who are in a pickle, so to speak, not wanting to neglect the assembly of the church but not having anywhere to go that they feel is biblical.

Jeffrey said...

Jason_73 used the definition for sin of "Missing the mark/bulls eye". I have long found it helpful to use this definition. It helps me understand a lot of passages. Using that measure, I believe it is sinful for a believer to not gather with the church. The definition of the church, however, is important here.

After seeing some of the same issues you have been talking about in this blog, We attempted, for a time, to influence change in the organized fellowship we attended, but it was not to be. We knew we had to do something different, but were unsure what that might be. For a season, our family comprised the totality of our church. Then we found another family doing the same thing, and gathered together with them. Then others decided to meet at the same time/place as well. Wherever two or more are gathered....

Jeff

Eric said...

John,

The attending of church for so many people is simply sitting through a performance as a spectator. Sadly, this makes a great number of people very comfortable. The ironic thing is that if many churches made the changes they need to make to become more biblical, they would lose many members who would no longer feel comfortable there.

Eric said...

Micah,

You are right that much of the question of what the church should be comes down to the prescriptive/descriptive issue. There are some churches that are trying to follow both the descriptive and prescriptive aspects we see in scripture. These are usually house churches.

The difficulty comes when people are looking for this type of fellowship but cannot find it because the vast majority of today's churches reject most of the descriptive aspects of church life that we see in the bible.

Eric said...

The definition of what constitutes both the church and the church gathering is key.

I can see why your family made up your church for a while. I'm glad others have come together with you. It certainly is a struggle whenever you go against the grain.

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

I'm not sure we can pin it to the prescriptive/descriptive issue. There are many, many, many "prescriptions" that are ignored by churches today when they meet together.

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I may have over simplified.

My point was simply that many people struggle to find churches that follow the biblical model in its descriptions. I agree, however, that many churches also pick and choose which prescriptions they want to follow. As you have said before, we tend to select based on our traditions and comforts which aspects of scripture we want to follow.

Tiffany Kohnen said...

My answer to the question is no, it is not a sin. Let me explain my reasoning behind this. There was a period in my life where I wanted to gather with people, and went to a few different places to find people who are Bible-believing Christians, but are part of the "sit down and listen to sermons" models.

I am hard of hearing, so the sermons never profit me; I was there to find people who wanted to live a Biblical church model but are stuck with the church they attend because it is one that closely resembles the model described in the Bible.

Then I fell away from attendance because I found these friends and had a gathering with them once a week and as mentioned, the sermons rarely gave me any understanding.

A new season began in my life when I started attending, and still attending my university. It is there where God answered my prayers for a Biblical church. We literally gather, have a great 'sermon' if you could call that, where everyone is engaging in what the pastor is saying, and I can hear people by me scratching away in their notebooks (and my hands are never silent either).

So, I believe that if we want to find other people who are spiritually desperate for someone to have a gathering with, to have Jesus in their midst, we ought to keep praying for such a Biblical model of the Bible and have Biblically based fellowships. I have been praying for this fellowship, for this church since my pre-teen years. I am so happy and so thankful to God for giving me this blessing and answer to prayer.

Eric said...

Tiffany,

Thanks for sharing that with me. I know is an incredibly difficult issue for many people.

Jason_73 said...

Hi Eric,

to answer your question:

"Are you able to work for biblical change there?"

I'm trying to without an agenda. The way I am trying is by:

Praying, being faithful, sharing my testimony at every opportunity, and constantly suggesting to my pastor that he read my Tim Keller & Piper books, etc!

Also, my pastor has agreed to let me develop and teach a course on "the gospel". That is exciting for me.

Finally, I have to believe that being a Spirit- filled and directed believer will affect change for the Glory of God in whatever fellowship I find myself in.

P.S. If you see me sitting outside my church building, talking to myself and pulling out my hair, remind me to re-read all the stuff I just wrote!

Eric said...

Jason,

I encourage you to continue doing what you are doing. God is honored when we obey.

Maybe your pastor would be open to the idea of a sharing time in the service that would give everyone the opportunity to speak.