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Do You Have to Go to Church to Be a Christian?

March 14th, 2012
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Great blog post by Pastor Michael Walther . . . Recently pop icon Justin Bieber got a tattoo on his leg – a tattoo of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. Of course this caused quite a sensation among his followers, the “beliebers” as they have been called. They wanted to know what this meant. What kind of Christian was he? Sadly, Justin said that he didn’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Now I know he is a young man, and young men are known to say stupid things. I know that I said some stupid things like that when I was his age. But this is wrong. Justin either doesn’t believe what Jesus taught, or (more likely) he doesn’t understand.

Many people see problems in the church such as hypocrisy or people weak in faith. Unfortunately they respond by rejecting corporate worship or what some people today would call “religion.” People also feel that they can connect to God on their own without other people being involved. Justin probably wouldn’t want to be lumped in with Tom T. Hall, who sang, “Me and Jesus, We Got Our Own Thing Going,” but I think that’s were he and a lot of people are today.

This rejection of religion or seeking Jesus privately is not the solution. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18.20). The writer of Hebrews warns us not to forsake the “assembling of ourselves together” (10.25). We would do well to notice that the longest of the Ten Commandments is the Sabbath commandment calling us to worship. Luke tells us that on the Sabbath Day Jesus went to the synagogue “as was His custom” (4.16). Jesus also describes the church as the “body” of which He is the head. No one can love the head (Jesus) without loving the rest of the body (the church) (Colossians 1.18).

In John chapter two we read about Jesus clearing the Temple of animals and money-changers. He wanted to clean up the hypocrisy and weakness that sometimes infects worship. But He didn’t tell them to stop coming to the Temple! Instead He renewed worship by calling people to repentance and by offering His own perfect life and death as a redeeming sacrifice.

See “Renewing Worship” (sermon for March 11, 2012)

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    March 14th, 2012 at 09:24 | #1

    Maybe no one has pointed him in the direction of “Lake Pointe” or “The Alley” which would be right down his… oh, never mind.

  2. Chris Paavola
    March 14th, 2012 at 11:19 | #2

    So, now that we’ve established the importance of corporate worship and how this generation is missing the point, the importance shifts to finding ways to reach them. At one point in his life Justin used to visit the homeless, pray with them and lead worship. (There’s a video on Youtube if you haven’t seen it.) So, analysis aside, I’d like to hear some solutions. How do WE change to reach those who are not of the household of faith yet? I think it starts with being open to different methods.

  3. Heather Melcher
    March 14th, 2012 at 12:17 | #3

    You have done a great job of concisely explaining the importance of being a part of a body of believers regularly (going to church). However, I think some people might need a little clarification that any person who believes in Jesus is a Christian (saved by grace through faith, not by works). So, strictly speaking, a person can be a Christian without going to church regularly. However, when someone chooses not to go to church, their spiritual health is compromised. By not going to church, a person not only deprives himself or herself of the encouragement and guidance of other believers, but they also deprive the rest of the body of Christ of the encouragement and guidance they could be providing others. A dear friend of mine has not been able to attend church regularly for several years because she was caring for someone who could not be left alone for very long. She tried to fill the void by watching church services on t.v., but now that the person she was caring for has passed away, she is eager to find a church home and attend Worship regularly again. She feels much like someone who has been nearly starving on a desert island. Separating ourselves from other members of the body of Christ is much like living with missing limbs. A person can survive without arms or legs, but why would anyone choose to live without important body parts if they didn’t have to?

  4. SorenK
    March 14th, 2012 at 13:02 | #4

    @Heather Melcher
    I believe you flipped your metaphor, but want to second the emphasis of the church is the body of Christ, and like a body part we die when we’re separated from the body…no matter how much we don’t like sharing the peace…

  5. March 14th, 2012 at 13:28 | #5

    One does not have to go to church to be a Christian. One gets to go to church. This was pointed out sometime ago in one of Pr. Cwirla’s sermons.

    It would be good however, to be careful how Christians treat each other in order to not offend one of the little ones who believe in Jesus. I spent too many years offended at how those in
    church leadership treated my dad and some others who did not see eye to eye with them. It was only after understanding the difference between those who profess Jesus from Jesus himself. That is if we are truly concerned for our young persons and those new to the faith.

    Rant over!

  6. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    March 14th, 2012 at 13:51 | #6

    @Chris Paavola Respectfully Chris I think you’re begging the question on this. If there is evidence of Justin’s faith in the past and now he has decided he does not need to go to church, why is it that one young man’s rebellion, ignorance, doubt or stubborn refusal to belong to a church the fault of the church per se? Why is it that “change the church’ is the first response to one man’s error? There’s no indication that Justin attended a staid and stodgy old liturgical church and got bored and gave up on worship. Rather it seems his background is more on the neo-evangelical side. For all we know, he may have gone to a church that taught him he didn’t have to go to church.

  7. March 14th, 2012 at 14:06 | #7

    Apart from ‘desert island’ situations such as you describe, the question ought to be whether a person can have faith if they are knowingly, willfully, and unrepentently sinning by not attending divine worship. Whether they are saved is, of course, up to God, since he alone knows the heart–but humanly speaking, what expectation is there of that? Whether they should be considered ‘Christian’ will depend on what that term means.

  8. Jonathan Trost
    March 14th, 2012 at 14:32 | #8

    Does going to church make me a Christian? I say “No”, for I was made a Christian at the moment of receiving God’s grace in Holy Baptism. God grants me faith, admits me into His Church, and makes me a Christian. As His grace makes possible, I respond to that gift gratefully by attending The Service, there to grow and be nourished in my faith by Word and Sacrament.

    I didn’t “make a decision for Christ” by attending church, or otherwise. Rather, as Christ says to the apostles in St. John’s Gospel at 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you….”

  9. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    March 14th, 2012 at 15:39 | #9

    @Jonathan Trost
    Yes, quite right. If a man came home and found his wife had packed up and left, leaving a note that said “I don’t need live with you or have anything to do with you to be married to you.” That man will not likely be saying his wife was a faithful and devoted spouse, in fact he’d probably be thinking she’s not making much sense.

  10. Pastor Dave Likeness
    March 14th, 2012 at 16:33 | #10

    “Do you have to go to Church to be a Christian?
    This is a LAW question.

    “I want to go to Church to be strengthened by
    Christ through Word and Sacrament.”
    This is a GOSPEL statement.

  11. Pastor Dave Likeness
    March 14th, 2012 at 16:50 | #12

    My point is that a Christian will want to attend worship
    out of love for Christ and his gifts to us.

    The issue is “HAVE TO” versus “WANT TO”

    Are we motivated by the Law or the Gospel as
    Christians when we attend worship?


  12. debra swearingen
    March 14th, 2012 at 17:49 | #13

    I think the clarification would be to define ‘church’. As a Lutheran I take great comfort in knowing our definition: church is where the word is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly delivered. We start to loose sight of that once all the other rat-wheel riga-ma-roll gets added in!

  13. Robin
    March 14th, 2012 at 18:53 | #14

    My husband actually went to high school and church with a pastor/youth speaker who mentors Justin Bieber and went to the Grammy’s with him. What I find shocking is that after all this time with this youth pastor (according to the pastor who posts things about Bieber on Facebook, they talk daily) is that Justin Bieber, a young impressionable fellow, comes away with this theological assumption. It doesn’t surprise me that Bieber would say this, it is surprising that he literally interacts with a baptist minister almost daily and he comes to this conclusion.

  14. March 15th, 2012 at 09:49 | #15

    Unfortunately Justin Bieber is just like many Christians, especially today. When people believe in salvation by faith alone, it is very easy to reach the logical conclusion that “it doesn’t really matter what I
    do or don’t do.” The problem really is that what Paul said in his epistles about “we are saved by faith and not by works” was not understood in context. We all believe that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself.
    So therefore, what Paul said can’t contradict what the writer of the Book of James said when he made the statement that “show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
    When Paul said you are saved by faith and not by works, he was trying to make a point to those churches that were trying to re-institute the Jewish Law back into the church. Paul was saying that
    making circumcision a requirement, or following the dietary laws, or enforcing the rules about working
    on a Sabbath would have no effect on your salvation. Paul did not mean that Christians should not follow the Laws that Jesus gave us in the gospels. Jesus said that if we are his followers, we had two laws that we were to follow: love God and love your neighbor. These two laws are directly from Jesus, not Moses. If we follow those two laws, we are doing what Jesus told us to do. Justin Bieber and thousands of other so-called Christians feel that they are not required to attend church. What a delusion! By not attending church, they are breaking the greatest law that Jesus gave us; not loving God by giving him the honor and glory due him. If you don’t believe me, just look at the writings of the Early Church Fathers – those who were taught directly by the Apostles before the Bible was codified and put together into a single book. They saw and believed that salvation is accomplished by faith and by obedience to the laws that Jesus gave us (works). These elements are inseparable. Please research this for yourselves.

  15. Jonathan Trost
    March 15th, 2012 at 17:39 | #16

    @Tim Strang

    The relationship between faith and works makes sense to me when I approach it within the context of the Doctrine of Total Depravity. Given it, I am reminded that both faith and works are made possible only by God’s grace. Therefore, faith and works are not the fruits of my will but works are a manifestation of, and flow from, the gift of faith. (Didn’t St. Paul say something to the effect of “What good I do I do not do, but Christ who dwells within me.”?)

    As Lutherans, we subscribe to the Athamasian Creed.Toward its end it reads:

    “At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.

    “Those who have done good will enter eternal life., those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

    “This is the catholic faith.

    “One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.”

    I believe this quoted portion speaks withinin the context of faith in the Triune God, by whose grace faith is possible, and from which faith true good works flow as a manifestation of faith. Does that not lead St. James to say at 2:17: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

    This understanding helps me make “sense” out of the lines quoted from the Athanasian Creed, (But, I remain very open to further edification here.)

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