I know a lot of people out there who wrestle with skipping church. I’ve been there myself. The guilt. The condemnation. The concern over people judging you. I think we’ve all been there!
The purpose of this short blog is two-fold:
1. It’s to help you change your perspective on how you see church.
2. With the change in perspective comes freedom from guilt, judgment, and condemnation.
After all, Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1).
So if you’re in Christ Jesus then you should not feel condemnation, right? But let’s explore this further.
Biblically speaking, it is impossible for you to “skip church.” The language of the New Testament never uses the word “church” to describe a building or a location for a meeting. From a biblical perspective, the word “church” is used exclusively to describe the Christian community.
If you were to hop into a time machine and travel back to Jerusalem during the time of the Book of Acts, you wouldn’t find any church going people there. First century Christians simply did not “go to church!” If you were to ask one of them, “Where do you go to church?” they would be confused and look at you like you were insane!
Why is that? Because to them “church” wasn’t where they went. It was who they are. It was their identity.
And likewise, 2,000 years later, “church” should be our identity, not our Sunday destination.
I am the church. You are the church. We are the church. Christians from all around the world are the church. It’s not where we go. It’s who we are. It is our identity.
My “skipping church” is like my “skipping Eric.” Eric is not a destination. Eric is not an event. Eric is my identity and, similarly, as a Christian “church” is who I am. As long as I am in Christ I cannot stop being the church, any more than I can stop being Eric.
So skipping church is biblically impossible.
It’s the assembly that you’re skipping, not church.
There is a difference. Yet, here we are in 2017 and most Christians do not know the difference or understand it. To them, church = assembly. After all, that’s what they do every Sunday and sometimes Wednesday nights. They assemble.
Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of the church is not for assembly once or twice a week. It is for community.
Each and every church that you read about in the New Testament was a community of believers:
The church in Corinth: community.
The church in Ephesus: community.
The church in Galatia: community.
The church in Rome: community.
The church in Philadelphia: community.
The church in Pergamon: community.
If you take a close look at the church in Corinth, when Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians he was not writing to a single group of Christians who assembled in a building on Sunday mornings, but to the community of believers that lived in the city of Corinth:
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. “ -1 Corinthians 1:1-3
These communities of believers lived together, worked together, and did life together. They raised their families together. Cared for each other together. They plowed the fields—together. They sold their property and possessions whenever one was in need because they were committed to each other in community. They put each other’s needs ahead of their own. It was one, giant spiritual family who were very much involved in each other’s lives.
Their focus was on community, not necessarily on the assembly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. They assembled whenever and wherever they could. It wasn’t about being together once a week. It was about being together as much as possible, in fellowship and in community.
Often it was small, in homes, and over a meal. During the assembly, they would share meals, songs, Scripture (Old Testament—they didn’t have Bibles yet), testimonies, prayers, encouragement, exhortation, etc. Occasionally, a letter from one of the Apostles would circulate through the community and it would be read and discussed during assembly. Several hundred years later, these letters would be compiled to become what we know today as the New Testament.
Even though they were assembling as often as they could, their focus wasn’t on growing bigger assemblies. Their focus was on growing their community through discipleship. The community was where discipleship occurred, not in the assembly. Unlike churches today, the early church did not assemble to make disciples. It assembled for disciples.
Keep in mind that during this time the church was under intense persecution from both Rome and the Temple. They would not, nor could they, let just anyone in their assembly. Most of the time they met in secret, much like the underground churches do today in China. You would not have been invited into an assembly unless you had already professed faith in Christ and were actively being discipled.
We see an example of this in Acts, chapter 9. Saul is persecuting the Church and while on his way to Damascus, he encounters Jesus. Saul (later known as Paul) converts. The Lord sends Ananias to pray for him. Scales fall off of Saul’s his eyes, he eats, and is strengthened. From verse 19 onward, we learn:
1. “…for some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.” -9:19
a. Saul was with the disciples at Damascus.
b. They were beginning to disciple him.
2. “And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues.” -9:20
a. The Greek word used here in the ESV for “proclaimed” is “kerysso,” meaning to make a public proclamation.
b. Saul was preaching publicly, not in a Christian assembly.
c. And he was doing so under the watchful eye of the disciples in Damascus.
3. “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.” -9:22
a. Once again, Saul wasn’t preaching in a Christian assembly to other Christians.
b. He was preaching exclusively to the Jews in Damascus.
4. “But his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.”
a. Saul had already made disciples, himself.
5. “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” -9:26
a. The Greek word for “join” used here is “kollao”, which means, “to glue together, fasten.”
b. Assemblies assemble. They join together.
c. They weren’t letting Saul just join their assembly.
6. Barnabas told the Apostles the story of Saul’s conversion, how he preached publicly in Damascus. -9:27
7. “So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” -9:28
a. Saul went out among them, the Christian believers at Jerusalem.
b. He was now welcomed into their assemblies.
Saul was not just casually let into the assembly. First, he had to prove himself as a disciple. It was just too dangerous, too risky, to let just anyone in. So it was only after Saul’s conversion that h was made a disciple in the community. It was the community that discipled him. And it was within the community in Damascus that Saul had made his first disciples—after he had proven himself as a disciple and then been allowed into the assembly.
The assembly was for disciples. It wasn’t where disciples were made. Disciples were made on the streets, in the community. Just like Jesus did with his disciples.
Final Thoughts: You are the Church
You are the community. You are makers of disciples. You are a part of something great, grand, and glorious. The crazy thing is that you don’t have to “go” anywhere to be a part of this community called the church. Your belief in Jesus Christ already makes you a member of the Church. That’s who you are. You are the Church.
So then, do we need assembly? Absolutely, yes! Hebrews 10:25 makes it very clear:
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Never forsake getting together as believers of Christ. I don’t care where you meet—in a home, a dedicated building or garage, a coffee shop or a picnic pavilion. Assemble—and meet as often as you can.
We all need fellowship. We need the prayers and personal ministry of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to hear their stories, testimonies, and songs. And they need the same from us.
But if you cannot make it to an assembly/church, then don’t sweat it. Take to heart the apostle Paul’s encouraging words:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” – Romans 8:1
Remember, you are not “skipping church.” You can’t skip church. It’s impossible. Because you are the Church and if you have other believers in your life then you can assemble with them at any time, any place.
You are not missing church. You’re only missing an assembly. Know the difference and be set free.
Eric Johnson wears many hats! Husband, father, organic church planter, pastor, preacher, conference speaker, worship leader, songwriter, cancer survivor, and a semi-retired professional stand-up comedian, Eric has been really blessed over the years to have the following artists close the show for him: Hawk Nelson, 7eventh Time Down, The Josh Gilbert Band, and Shinebright. Eric makes his home in majestic mountains of Bristol, Tennessee, with his amazing wife, Crystal and their son, Kyle. Follow him at @EricIsGuitarted.