Friday, November 2, 2007

Is It a Sin Not to Go to Church on Sundays?

Someone asked this question a while back, and I thought it would be a good question to kick off this blog with. The question is actually a lot more complicated than a simple yes or no. Technically, the answer is no. There is no place in Scripture that says “Thou shalt go to church on Sunday morning.” BUT, I would argue that not going to church on Sundays is, in most contexts, an indication of neglecting one’s faith and relationship with God, which is sin.

A few concepts to consider from Scripture:

1.) God calls us to Sabbath. Read the ten commandments in Exodus 5:6-21. In verses 12-15, you’ll see the command to observe the Sabbath. In those verses, the command is linked with remembering how God brought Israel out of Egypt. This is fleshed out more in Exodus 4:9-10. On the Sabbath, Israel gathered to remember what God had done for them, and to teach that to their children. The same is true of the Christian Sabbath. As the people of God, we gather to remember what God has done in the past, and to teach that history to others. That’s why we have the Sabbath on Sundays; we’re commemorating and celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, and looking forward to our future resurrection.

2.) Spiritual growth is communal, not just individual. Time for personal devotion in prayer and Scripture reading is important, but we don’t grow primarily alone. Paul describes growth in Ephesians in terms of the Church as a temple in Eph 2:19-22: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophet, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the LORD. And in him you (plural) are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Later in Ephesians (ch. 4) and also in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, Paul describes this building up in terms of Spiritual gifts. The Holy Sprit works in the midst of the community of believers. For us to grow into mature faith, we need to receive the gifts given to us and the rest of the church. We need to receive the benefit of the gift of preaching given through the pastor, and the gifts of encouragement, teaching, etc. given through the other members. On top of that, the spiritual growth of others depends on your presence; they need to receive the benefit of the gifts being given to the Church through you. Basically, Spiritual growth depends on us being in community with one another, and historically, Christians have come together on Sunday mornings.

3.) Worship is both individual and communal. A lot of people will say that they can worship God on their own in private. They can, but that’s not a balanced, biblical model. Throughout Scripture, there are examples of people worshiping as individuals. Many of the psalms are written in the first person singular point of view, for example. However, there are also countless examples of worship being done by the whole of God’s people together and in one voice. Revelation 7 is one of the best examples of this. The point is: we need both. We need time for us as individuals to worship God, that’s why we do QT’s. We also need to time to worship as a community; that’s why we come together to worship on Sundays.

4.) The Church will never be perfect in this lifetime. Someone brought up the point that some people choose not to go to Church because of the politics and problems that often come up in churches. It’s true that we need to be sensitive to people with this objection. A lot of them have good reasons for making this decision and have been genuinely hurt in a church experience. However, this will always be the case since the Church is composed of humans. Problems and scandals in the Church are nothing new. Just skim over I Corinthians and read some of the subheadings in the NIV version: On Divisions in the Church, Expel the Immoral Brother!, Lawsuits Among Believers, Sexual Immorality, and the list goes on. The church in Corinth had all kinds of problems, and I’m guessing a lot of people probably were jaded and hurt by what was going on. Paul, though, never denies that they are God’s people. In fact, Paul still thanks God for them in the opening chapter.

So, while it may not be a sin explicitly to go to church on Sunday, it is a sin to neglect the community of God’s people. When we’re a part of a church, we essentially make a covenant with the other members to meet together as a Christian community. In nearly all churches, the set meeting time is Sunday morning, as a way of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

1 comment:

Matthew Bell said...

Amen to all the above! In its thoroughness, I can't think of any other Scriptures to point folks to except maybe Hebrews chapter 10.

What I will add is a little personal reflection that may give people a bit of a new reason to go to church. As I'm in England now, I've had the opportunity to worship alongside brothers and sisters in a different cultural context on a regular basis, sometimes in churhces that are very different from what I'm used to.

One of the major differences has to do with how they celebrate Holy Communion. For one thing, they do it alot -- usually every Sunday. For another thing, the meaning they see in it is a bit Larger than I've ever seen before. Allow me to explain.

My past experience with Holy Communion has been that the emphasis is on the forgiveness of sins. Christ's blood has been shed for us as a sacrifice to clense us of our guilt. All that is true! But the brothers and sisters I've met here focus on a different meaning, one I hadn't reflected on before. Their focus is how Christ's sacrifice makes us into One Body, and that as One Body *WE* are now together a living sacrifice to God. Every time we take Communion here, we celebrate that we are one and we offer ourselves to God in prayer as one church to go and share Christ's mission in the world.

I've found that worshiping that way every Sunday is changing the way I see everything every morning I get up. I want to pray more. I want even my ordinary activities to become acts of worship.

That's one reason to come regularly to worship together on Sundays: meeting other Christians and worshiping alongside them as one body changes the way you view yourself and everything else around you. You start seeing yourself as part of something larger -- our great High Priest Jesus Christ (again, read the book of Hebrews!) offering up not only himself, but everything in the universe as a sacrifice of worship to God. As His Body, we participate in that offering together.