February 25, 2010

Is going to church really necessary for christians?

Can God be powerfully at work in your life apart from being part of Christ's body, the church? This was one of a few eyebrow raising questions posed by our pastor last Sunday while doing a study on Ephesians 2:11-3:13. I like this question. I've been the christian who touted the fact that I had a close personal relationship with God, but was not interested in the "religion" and rituals found in a church. I think this is pretty common thinking of non-christians and believers who did not grow up in church. My sophomore year of college is when I accepted that Christ was my savior and the Lord of my life. I was going to church then and all through college. It wasn't in church that I first accepted this, however. It was in my dorm room with my bible. I learned and benefited from the messages I heard at church, but I really felt my relationship grow during my quiet times with God. After college I moved back to Richmond where I did not have a regular church, and I did not make the effort to find one. This was the stage in my life where I would have said that I didn't need to go to church on Sundays to be a christian. This was reinforced when I moved to North Carolina and had one heck of a time finding a church to call home. There were plenty of churches that I felt like would distract from my faith instead of grow it. This caused me to be even more sure that what God and I had on our own was enough.

It wasn't until I found a gospel-centered church that challenged me to continue to really grow in my knowledge of God and be truly changed as a christian, that I was able to look back and see that I hadn't been growing; I hadn't really seen God work in my life; I hadn't seen the fruits of my faith. I still had the assurance of my salvation, but I certainly wasn't experiencing what God had hoped and planned for me to experience. God's vehicle for fulfilling much of his plan is the body of Christ... it is the church. Being involved in a good church has provided me with opportunities to bless others that are less fortunate that I am, and it has provided me with opportunities to serve those in need in my community. These are both things that are part of God's plan that I was missing out on when I was not attending church. There's so much more though: I'm really learning about God's character, I've got a core group of amazing friends to pray for me and encourage me, I've been inspired by the faith other people exhibit in tough times. It's a true community of people who all fall short of the holiness of God, who are all thankful that God has loved us anyway and desires that we know Him, and who desire for God to use them to fulfill his plans for the world.

Another related point that our pastor made was that people are often looking for God to "zap" miracles or answers to prayers. For us, this is plan A. We pray for it and when that doesn't happen, we try plan B. We go to church and then we find someone who is able to meet our particular need. What we often don't realize is that the church is plan A, it is the way God plans to grow us, bless us, and use us to fulfill the good works He has planned. So can God be powerfully at work in your life apart from being part of the church? My own personal experience says no. If that is the case, then do we have the right to pray for God's blessings in our lives if we're not involved in the church? And how involved should we be in church?

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