I used to tell people they had to go to church. I was a pastor. I didn’t tell them that they had to go to my church (though that’s what I wanted them to do). Like everyone else, I just assumed that going to church was what Christians were supposed to do. After all, there it was in the Bible. Of course, there were other things in New Testament church weren’t going on in my church (no church has everything happening in it that was happening in the New Testament church), but I just accepted the discomfort that this thought brought me because of my assumption that church was necessary.
It never occurred to me that church might be something, like temple sacrifices, that God meant only for a time. Over the years I began to see that Jesus and the apostles taught much more about the kingdom of God than they did about church. Once I realized that the kingdom had come just when they said it would (i.e. around late 1st Century A.D.), everything made sense.
I could then see why church actually had a stifling effect on faith rather than an energizing effect. Church life promoted church life – not kingdom life. Church life is going to the meetings and tithing. Kingdom life is doing the right things in life and being generous with others. I cannot think of a single church I could go to this Sunday that would tell me how to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Rather, they would tell me how to be a follower of their church. They think they’re serving Jesus, so to them, going to church is going to Jesus. In New Testament days, however, the church indeed was the body of Christ, for the apostles kept it from splintering. But since the apostles, that one body has split into over 30,000 factions and therefore represents, if anything, a dismembered and mutilated body of Christ. The church of the New Testament could rightly claim to be the body of Christ, representing Him in the earth as one body. No church today can make that claim.
When people go to church today, their faith in Jesus gets smothered by faith in other Christians. It’s people operating in the fear of man, not the fear of God. And sooner or later, those people let them down. When that happens, people find that they can be wounded as easily in church as they can by living in the world.
I now gladly tell people that they should walk with God and forget about walking with other Christians. I realize that they do not need to go to church. I realize that God is not commanding them to go to church. Moreover, I realize that if they went to church it would weaken their faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Devotion to an unseen, omnipresent God will have far more of a righteous effect on a person than going to a meeting or two a week with other people.
If someone wants to hear about Jesus, by all means let them go to a church that preaches Him. Once they hear and believe, however, they should walk away in liberty and not become subject to the bondage that church attendance has become. Stand fast in liberty in which Christ has made us free!