This seems like a rather basic subject, but it’s one that every Christian who is working at ‘the next level’ should be prepared to answer. We tend to think of apologetics as something involving those who are outside the church, but sometimes we need an apologetic to deal with challenges that arise from within.
Because church attendance is no longer culturally mainstream, there are a lot of ‘lone ranger’ Christ-followers out on the fringes deriving their teaching from podcasts and sermon downloads, and getting their worship from CDs and mp3s. But this fails to provide corporate worship, it fails to provide interactive opportunities, and it fails to provide a prayer covering should one be dealing with things ranging from illness to temptation to broken relationships.
However, it must also be stated that with many people, church affiliation is over-rated; they tend to speak at great lengths as to the greatness of their church, but rarely, if ever, talk about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, to know they are loved by the God who created the universe. Such people occupy the opposite extreme end of the church continuum, and are as guilty of ‘missing the point’ as those who believe they can follow Christ in isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ.
Layfayette, Indiana pastor Jeff Mikels dealt with this issue after someone in his church asked a question at the end of a recent sermon:
This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation…
Does this mean that you cannot be a Christian unless you go to church?
The simple answer is that you can be a Christian without going to church if you define “Christian” to mean “I have been saved.” (Salvation does not depend on going to church or anything else you do. It is a gift from God. See Ephesians 2:8-10). You can also be a Christian without going to church if you define “church” as “an event where I show up, sit, soak, and leave 60 minutes later.”
However, if you define Christian to mean “follower of Jesus” and if you understand “church” to mean “the universal family of God, specifically expressed in local fellowships” then you can’t be a Christian and intentionally avoid the church. Reading the rest of Ephesians will make it clear that God did not save us to be isolated individuals destined for heaven. To the contrary, Jesus died for us to cleanse us of sin and thereby bring us into God’s family! Reading 1 John will remind you that you can’t love God and hate his family.
Even more strongly, John speaks of people who were once part of his church and then decided to leave the church:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. — 1 John 2:19
To state it strongly, every true follower of Jesus will pursue frequent fellowship with other believers that involves locality, leadership, mutual submission, expression of gifts, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and worship. Any fellowship expressing all of that is rightly called a church.