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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

The Church and Going to Church

The Importance of Music in Worship
The Church and Going to Church
Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 1)
Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 2)
Introduction: Financial Support for Ministers
Financial Support for Ministers (Part 1)
Financial Support for Ministers (Part 2)
Church Leadership and Authority Conditional
Communal Living

Have you ever been asked where you go to church? It is not an uncommon question among believers and usually does not evoke a second thought. But have you ever stopped to consider how odd of a statement this question is? If you did the first thing you might wonder about is just how the term church is being applied. We all know that the church is the Body of Christ. It is most certainly not a building.

What's wrong with the above question is that the term church is being applied to a place. But the church is not a where it's a who. We do not go to church, we are the church. Its not where we go, but who we are. It does not make sense to ask someone where they go to church any more than it would to ask them where they go to family. And, although from a biblical standpoint, the question "where do you go to church?" is erroneous, the modern church does not seem to recognize that this is the case. But why?

This confusion over the term church has arisen because the term "church" has taken on secondary applications in referring not only to the Body of Christ, but also to the buildings we meet in and at times specific segments of believers who meet there. But what does the Bible mean by "church"?

In the Bible the Greek word translated as "church" in English is the word "ekklesia." Literally translated it means "called out" or "called out ones." It is a compound word formed from two other Greek words, "ek" meaning "out" and "kaleo" meaning "to call."

At this point a brief discussion on the modern concept of the "local church" would be helpful. This is because it is this "local church" that many would argue we must attend and be involved in regularly. The modern view of a "local church" is of a formally recognized organization of believers, which is distinct somehow in identity from other such organizations that exist within a given community. Many other characteristics are also added to this concept. Some of these would include a paid and ordained pastoral staff, a church building and offices, as well as sanctioning by and affiliation with a national, denominational, governing board. Biblically speaking, this is all very artificial.

In a New Testament sense the word "church" is applied in three ways. The first way is in reference to the universal church, collectively it is all persons (past, present, and future) who believe, accept, and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Secondly, it can be used to refer to an assembly or gathering together of the "called out ones" in a specific geographic location. In a third case, the term is sometimes applied to the particular group of believers who met in someone's house. Examples of the second and third type are shown below.

Revelation 3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write;

Romans 16:5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.

The Biblical idea of a "local church" does not lend itself to the modern concepts mentioned above. Instead it would be applied to all believers in a given geographic area such as in Revelation 3:1, the church in Sardis. In modern time this would be equivalent to saying the church in St. Louis, Missouri. It would include all believers who lived in that area without regard for where they "attended church". It was not used in the sense we might think of today, such as, the First Baptist Church on Main Street.

Another important point that comes into play is that formalized membership in such a "local church" is deemed necessary. Such a notion is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. In the New Testament we do not see any other sense of membership other than membership in the universal church. The requirements for membership is a simple belief in Jesus Christ. To institute further requirements for membership in specific groups of believers borders on contemptible. Why do we insist on dividing up the Body of Christ in this way? Such practices are evidence of the preference to indoctrinate instead of teach, to convert instead of disciple, and for a quick bottom-line kind of salvation instead of a lifelong commitment to understand the God of the Bible and the Word of God.

Now that we have examined how the term "church" is used in the New Testament we can return to our original question "where do you go to church?" Even if we were to accept this as a valid question, the standards the modern church has imposed for acceptable answers to this question are not valid.

For example, consider if someone were to respond to this question in the negative. The reply that someone does not "go to church" arouses grave concern for the commitment of that someone's faith. Such a person is often labeled a backslider or a rogue. But is this stigma warranted from a biblical point of view? What does the Bible have to say about our "going to church?"

The first place to turn in answer to this study is Hebrews 10:25.

Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. (NIV)

Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; (KJV)

Upon this one verse many in the modern church have hung all of their strict regulations regarding church attendance, membership, and involvement. This is because this verse demonstrates clearly that we as believers must continue to meet together. We do not argue with this one bit. But exactly what does this gathering together require in order to obey the command?

First, we will note that the term "church" or "ekklesia" is not used in this verse. So, it would not follow that Paul is here insisting that we "go to church" so to speak, just that we meet together with believers. But we need not quibble about this point, and instead completely agree that Paul is instructing us with regard to the gathering together of the church. Even still this verse is far from proving the argument that we must attend church. To illustrate this we pose the following question in an attempt to clarify exactly what Paul expected from us in this matter. How many believers need to be present in order to be compliant with this command?

At first this question may not seem relevant to the issue at hand, but let's see if the Bible clarifies this for us. Biblically speaking, the only numerical requirement we are given comes from Matthew 18.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Its interesting that here we have a statement from Jesus that he is present when only two or three gathered in his name. So if Jesus is present in such a small number then clearly our fellowship needs are being met. For if Jesus is present what fellowship would be lacking in this situation?

But the term "gathered together" in the Greek in Matthew 18:20 is not the same as in Hebrews 10:25. But this does not mean Matthew 18:20 is not relevant to our discussion. On the contrary, it is of the utmost importance. In Hebrews the word is "episunagoge" (Strong's #1997) meaning a "gathering together in one place" or "a religious assembling of Christians." This word is used only 1 other time in the New Testament in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 where Paul is speaking about the coming of Jesus and our being gathered together unto him. On the other hand, the Greek word used in Matthew 18:20 is the word "sunago" (#4863). Strong's gives the following as definitions to this word.

1) to gather together, to gather
1a) to draw together, collect
1a1) of fishes
1a2) of a net in which they are caught
2) to bring together, assemble, collect
2a) to join together, join in one (those previously separated)
2b) to gather together by convoking
2c) to be gathered i.e. come together, gather, meet
3) to lead with one's self
3a) into one's home, i.e. to receive hospitably, to entertain

Obviously, the two terms are closely related. But "sunago" used in Matthew 18:20 is also used a number of other times in the New Testament to refer to church gatherings. Three useful examples that are relevant to our study are Acts 14:27, Acts 20:7, and 1 Corinthians 5:4.

Acts 14:27ΚΚ And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.

Acts 20:7 And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

1 Corinthians 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The point of displaying these verses is to demonstrate Matthew 20:18's application to the question posed earlier. That question was how many believers need to be present in order to be compliant with this command? The clear answer is as few as two or three.

So as long as there are two or three believers present we have enough to constitute a church gathering which at least numerically satisfies the Biblical standard.

Having answered this, we pose another central question with regard to the Bible's commands about "going to church." What places does the Bible say that the church can or must meet? For an answer to this question we turn to New Testament to see where in fact the church gathered. We will find that there are two common answers to this question.

First, the Book of Acts attests in several places that the Jewish synagogue was the first place that church began to gather together on a weekly basis for instruction. This makes sense since they were a sect of Judaism. Also the apostles would have been familiar with Jesus custom of visiting the synagogue and teaching there as the Gospels often attest to.

Secondly, we would find that as time went on the church began to meet in people's homes. This is demonstrated clearly in Acts and several times in the epistles. These verses are listed below.

Acts 20:20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.

Romans 16:3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19 Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Colossians 4:15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

Philemon 2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house.

At this point it is not necessary to continue this exercise. We have adequitely established that the church often met in their homes. So, so far we have established that a church gathering which satisfies the biblical criterion can have as few as two people and can meet in someone's home. Biblically speaking then we cannot object to any two believers who gather together in Jesus' name in this manner. We cannot say that they are disobeying God's command through Paul in Hebrews 10:25.

Many might still object on the grounds that no pastor is present. But where in the New Testament does it list who must be present in order to constitute a church gathering? This objection is based upon the theory that Christians must be accountable to some human authority figure. This position would be difficult to uphold in light of 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 John 2:27.

1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

These verses clearly bear out that there is no human intermediary imposed by scripture between each man and Jesus Christ. However, it is beneficial for immature believers to submit to instruction. But so long as sound doctrine is being taught there can be no biblical objection based on the grounds that an authority figure of some type need be present.

Of course there are other questions to consider as well. What kind of activity should these meetings involve? Paul lays out many possibilities in1 Corinthians. But, although he gives us sound instructions for how we should operate and organize these activities he does not define which types of activity must occur in order to constitute a valid church gathering. As such we do not have a strict New Testament standard of how to qualify or disqualify the church gathering based on which activities should go on. One thing we can state with confidence is that they were instructed in the Word of God when they gathered together. Based on this we would posit that any church meeting, which consistently neglected the teaching of the word could be in danger of falling outside of the New Testament model. For more information on the prominence of scriptural instruction at church gatherings please see our article on "The Importance of Music in Worship". For more information on the format of scriptural instruction please visit our article entitled "Reason and Learning through Questions" in our In Depth Study section.

As far as church gatherings go all we can biblically say is that there must be at least two or three believers present, sound doctrine should be taught, and that these believers can meet in their homes. Having established this it seems that the modern church's position regarding this matter is entirely without precedent in the scripture.