By “go to church” I mean in this instance regularly worshiping together with a gathered body of believers in Jesus Christ. I could make at least as long a list of why one ought to “belong to a church,” but right now I’m thinking simply about joining with other believers in gathered worship. In our day this has become highly optional in the minds of many who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. I suggest that Jesus has a problem with that. Why? The following is not an exhaustive list, but will get us started.
When you gather regularly with other believers to worship God …
1. You honor God.
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
2. You please God.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people … This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” (1 Timothy 2:1, 3)
3. You obey God.
“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 …” (Hebrews 10:25)
4. You follow the pattern of the first Christians.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
5. You help others grow in their relationship to and service for Christ.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …” (Hebrews 10:24)
6. You aid the entire church in expressing its submission to God’s Word by sitting together under the opened and expounded word of God.
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13)
7. You demonstrate the miraculous unifying power of God’s Spirit.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)
8. You encourage your fellow believers.
“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 10:24-25)
9. You speak the truth to your fellow believers.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)
10. You give visible, physical expression to your union with other believers.
“… for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)
11. Your singing is a confirming witness to your fellow believers.
“… be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18b-20)
12. You demonstrate your submission to other believers and their needs.
“… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
13. You help your brothers and sisters fight off the deadening effects of sin and its lies.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
14. You help beautify Jesus’ Bride.
“… that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish … This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:26-27, 32)
15. You make others happier and revive them spiritually.
“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving … When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.”(Psalm 69:30, 32)
16. You actively act out and demonstrate God’s wisdom to an unseen world.
“… so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10)
Can’t some of these things take place outside gathered worship? Sure, but gathered worship is the single most demonstrative gathering point of the church. Parts of the body gather at other times, in other places, for other more specific purposes—and they should. We should multiply such opportunities for the purposes of God’s Kingdom. But none of those are an argument against the necessity of the gathered community of believers in the worship, prayer and submission to one another and God under His Word.
Do any of these find fulfillment in contexts other than Jesus’ people gathered together in corporate worship? Sure, but not fully. Any notion that you can worship God just as well in the park (on the golf course, in the woods, etc.) as in the gathered assembly of God’s people is, well, silly. Of course, worship God everywhere and at all times! But if you read your Bible as you do you’ll find God guiding you to regularly gather with others in His name to worship Him together.
Gathering in worship with God’s people is an expression of our delight in God: “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Psalm 34:4a). It is also an expression of our delight in His good gift of other believers: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). That’s the apostolic pattern: giving oneself first to God and then to His people (2 Cor. 8:5). Joining in regular, gathered worship with God’s people is a discipline in both.