Surely I don't have to go to church to be a Christian?

In one sense the answer is “NO”, for if you are disqualified by being in hospital or are bed ridden then the church should come to you. If you are in hospital for a month, you do not cease to be a Christian! But if you can go to church and choose not to then that is a different matter. 
What makes a Christian is not whether you are good or bad, because you can be a good person and not go to church, but a Christian is one who says “I will follow Jesus as my Lord and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins”.
The church – which is an assembly of God’s people- is God’s new society and the living embodiment of the Gospel communicated through people. God calls out a people to live to his glory, so that others can see him visible in Christians who love one another in a community of love.
Christians go to church to be taught the Bible as a group and learn how to behave together as a group, to pray with and for each other, to encourage each other, and to love each other across the barriers of age, sex, race, rank or wealth and to care for those who are alienated, hungry or in pain. You are not really going to mature and grow as a Christian by keeping yourself in isolation.
Being a Christian is more like playing basketball than playing golf. If you play golf then you are essentially playing by yourself and even if you are playing with others you are playing your own game. To be a basketball player, you can certainly practise skills on your own, but because it is a team game then you must play in a team. There is no point in just “shooting baskets” all day long on your own and not developing your skills in a team game or match.
The same is true of church because that is where you can train and learn the outworking of your faith effectively. Hebrews 10 vv 24,25 states
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together ……. but let us encourage one another…..” and Psalm 113 opens with “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.”
There are two other points worth making. One is that there may be some churches where the Bible is not really taught and Christians are not nurtured and fed, and thus attendance at one of those would hardly seem beneficial for maturing in the faith. 
The other point is that the questioner may be thinking “I am a Christian because I reckon I am good enough to please God as I am, and anyhow church is boring and full of hypocrites”. Such an opinion raises other issues that need to be dealt with, such as realising that we are all basically sinful. We also need to be reminded that we may feel we are good enough to please ourselves and our moral code, but we need to ask what God expects of us. 
To love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, is a tall order. We therefore need to seek the power of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement and support of fellow Christians.
(Some of the ideas above can be attributed to John Chapman (Matthias Media) and John Stott’s “The Living Church”.)
                                        David Howell

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