Over the past two weeks, we have been giving thought to our overall health around the concept of “heart, soul, mind and strength.” If you missed the first two lessons, you can find them here:
How Are You Doing? (Assessing your heart, soul, mind and strength)
Five Key Questions for Stronger Relationships in 2021 (Emotional Health)
Today we will consider the “Soul” quadrant and talk about spiritual health as it pertains to the Christian faith.
Here are three big questions I often hear when it comes to living a life of Christian faith.
1) Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?
2) How do I know God’s purpose for my life?
3) How can I develop strong spiritual disciplines?
Obviously, these are VERY large questions that could lead into deep theological discussion; however, for our purposes, I hope to touch on some high points over the next few weeks and lead you to Scripture that will help guide you into your own exploration around these questions.
So, let’s dive right in with our first question:
Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?
First, let’s define the word Christian for our context.
The word Christian literally means, “follower of Christ”. A person who identifies as “a Christian” proclaims to have entered into a personal relationship with Christ by acknowledging his or her own sins and inability to have victory over them apart from surrendering to Christ’s lordship. Salvation, through His death, burial and resurrection is a gift freely given. It cannot be earned but must be accepted through faith and faith alone.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 “It is by grace you are saved, through faith, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8
By adding anything to what we must do to be a Christian (beyond repentance and believing), we are not practicing Biblical faith. I love a quote I heard recently, “You can’t work for a gift…it then becomes a paycheck.”
So, going to church does not make someone a Christian any more than being in a garage makes him a car. By the same token, not going to church does not cause someone to lose his salvation.
So, the answer to our question, "Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?"is NO, but...
...but, if the answer is “NO”, one doesn’t have to go to church to be a Christian – then why would anyone ever attend church and why does it seem to be such an important part of a life of faith?
As we consider spiritual health, let’s dig a little deeper.
There are three phases to the Christian life.
The first begins and ends at the time of salvation and is called “justification”. This means that by accepting the free gift of salvation we are putting aside our old lives – our past – and beginning a new life with Christ. Because He paid the price for all of our sins, when we accept the gift of salvation it is “just as if I never sinned.” The debt is paid in full for sins past, present and future.
It is at this point that we begin the process of “sanctification”- or living out our present life with Him. If we consider the often-used term “born again” to describe the justification experience – sanctification indicates that we now have an opportunity to “grow up” in our faith. We don’t want to remain in spiritual infancy (“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-2) but rather we want to become more mature in our walk with Christ as we seek each day to learn to become more like Him.
Although we are justified at the point of salvation, the growing up process requires a daily death to sin and self as we look toward the day of our entrance into our eternal home – at which time we experience “glorification” or our future freedom from a life and world full of sin and everlasting life in His presence.
So, considering that we want to be “growing up” in our faith with each day, let’s look at a few concepts found in Scripture to further consider our question, “Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?”
1) Every Christian is given a part in the body of Christ.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Romans 12:4-6
“But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:18-20
Scripture is clear that each of us is given at least one gift, one part to play, when we become believers. It is also clear that the gift is given to be used in conjunction with those of other believers. We are described as the body, and without each part, the body is left incomplete.
Perhaps far too many of us view church attendance as a weekly event that “peps us up” for the week to come or as an event we attend as a spectator. But being part of a local church is not only about what we can get, but much more so about what we can give. Once you become a believer, you have a part to play. In fact, I encourage you to watch this video “We Need You on the Team” where I give more thought to the idea of being a part of the body of Christ from a sports perspective.
2) Scripture tells us we should regularly gather together.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
Being a part of a church body means that you will have others to encourage you in your faith. As life gets harder and messier, having people who will love you and hold you accountable will strengthen your faith as you help to strengthen theirs. The Christian life is often difficult, and can even feel lonely, so the importance of a church family should not be minimized.
3) Discipleship happens inside of the local church.
“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4
It is the expectation that more mature believers help disciple new believers. By being a part of small group Bible studies or mentoring relationships, often found in the local church, each of us can be discipled by those who have more experience in the faith and we can disciple those who are younger in their faith.
4) Jesus went to church.
“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:46-49
5) Jesus loves the church.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25
6) We all need a pastor to shepherd us.
“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15
In the age of the world wide web, it is possible to find dozens and maybe even hundreds of preachers who motivate you with an inspirational sermon. You can find church services around the globe with incredibly entertaining music of various styles. It is easy to convince yourself that watching church online from the comfort of your sofa with coffee in hand is the same as driving to your local church each week. But I would have to disagree. Listening to a preacher and having a pastor are not the same.
Can you reach out to the preacher you listen to each week when you or someone you love receives a terminal diagnosis and you need spiritual guidance. What about when your children or grandchildren are planning a wedding and you want an officiant who will provide pre-marital counsel and perform the ceremony? Do you call on the internet preacher when an unexpected death in your family occurs? What about during difficult seasons of marriage or parenting?
Even pastors need shepherding from other pastors. By being part of a local church, you are much more likely to have access to a pastor who knows you personally and who will be willing to walk alongside you through the highs and lows of life. It is wise for each of us to regularly sit under the teaching of those who have been called to the position of pastor and who are devoted to leading by the divine counsel of the Lord. The kindest thing you can do for your pastor is to pray for him or her daily and provide frequent encouragement. It is an incredibly difficult role and one that comes with great responsibility.
7) When we gather in His name, He promises to be among us.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20
God enjoys corporate worship. We know the angels spend all of their days singing “Glory to God in the highest.” We know that we will spend eternity praising and worshipping our Lord. We get to practice here on Earth when we regularly attend church services full of various forms of worship.
8) Spiritual Disciplines are a vital part of the Christian Life.
In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney describes eleven spiritual disciplines found in the pages of scripture.
1) Bible Intake
8) Silence and Solitude
11) Perseverance in the disciplines
Although some of this list is accomplished in solitude – the majority occurs through our interaction with other believers – which typically happens in a church setting. We are more likely to grow in our faith when we choose to be a part of God’s church body. We will explore these spiritual disciplines much more deeply when considering the question “How can I develop strong spiritual disciplines?” in weeks to come.
I realize that there are many reasons some of you may be struggling with church attendance. Perhaps you have been terribly hurt by a member of a church body. Perhaps you see the church as a place full of hypocrites. Perhaps your church isn’t gathering due to the pandemic or you are continuing to isolate due to risk of getting the virus. Maybe you are having a hard time finding the church that feels like the right “fit” for you. I understand it is not always as simple as just finding a building and showing up.
But remember, there is no such thing as the perfect church – and if there were – it would become imperfect the moment you or I step through the door. Pray about where God wants you. Pray about how you can serve Him. If you are uncertain about your spiritual gift(s) here is the link to an inventory you can use to explore further and to learn more about them.
You are an important part of the body of Christ. I encourage you to find your place and go to work. We need you.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:38
(As a disclaimer, this content is not intended to be a statement for or against gathering during the pandemic. I encourage each individual to make his or her own decision as to whether or not it is safe to gather based on the guidance of medical professionals and church leadership).
Stephani Cook is a life coach, speaker, writer and creator of On Purpose Coaching. Through On Purpose Coaching she helps others to improve relationships and to discover intentional abundant living. She does that through several services including group and/or individual coaching, live event speaking or Enneagram workshops in private and corporate settings.
To connect with Stephani visit her website http://www.stephanicook.org.