The ‘progressive’ faith of the 21st century popularly portrays an individual who does not need the institutionalized church to define his/her system of belief. Likewise, those individuals who ascribe to this non-institutional faith view Christ as one that does not care if a person goes faithfully and dutifully to the worship service, but rather cares more about the good and loving heart of the believer. The prevailing Christian fad is that “it is true to say that you don’t have to be a church goer to be a Christian” (“Questions and Answers” Christianity.net.au). Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to hear comments like, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” However, many Christians who believe in the non-institutional image of Christ will still make the argument that people should “be a church goer” because attendance allows for building fellowship within the Christian family and “for the people who are missing out on her [or his] gifts that she [or he] may bring to that church” (Ibid). The advocates of the non-institutional image of Christ will not discount the contributions that regular attendance at a church service can have, but likewise, will admit that worship attendance is not necessary to be a Christian or go to heaven. With the Word of God being the foundation of saving faith (Rom. 10:17), the dutiful believer should ask, “Is the image of Christ who advocates for the idea that one can be faithful to God while not attending the worship one that can be found in scripture?” If God does not represent Himself in scripture as said image, then the depiction cannot be true, but rather a fabrication of false teachers wanting to promote their ignorance through Christ.
First, the institution of the church must be understood properly, as God explains in scripture. ‘Church’ is not an event or place or building; the church is the people. The word ‘church’ derives from the Greek ekklēsia meaning “the called out” (Strong). Christians are the church in all walks of life (1 Peter 2:9; Col. 3:17). If a person is a Christian, then the person is automatically added to the body of believers, the church (Acts 2:47). One does not ‘join’ a church. God “adds” the obedient in Christ to His church as soon as the individual obeys the gospel (Acts 2:47). Christians may determine which congregation to attend or discover more about the church to which God has added them as the newly obedient grows as a Christian, but God only instituted one church, and that church teaches the same doctrine no matter what building the church uses (Matt. 16:18,19; 1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 16:17,18). Trying to make a differentiation between the church and the Christian is like trying to distinguish between the water and the river. There cannot be a separation between the church and the Christian (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Cor. 12:12). Christ establishes the church in His name under His authority and teaching; therefore, Christ would not have His followers separated from what He built (Matt. 16:18,19; Eph. 5:23-27). What most people think when they say, “church goer” is more accurately described in scripture as the “assembling of the saints” (Heb. 10:25).
Second, the image of the non-institutional Christ would be false if His scripture commands His followers to attend the assembling of the saints, i.e., the church worship. Does the Law of Christ command Christians to attend the worship services? The writer of Hebrews writes by inspiration, “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” (Heb. 10:25). Since the beginning of the church’s establishment on earth, God designates the body to come together to worship and exhort one another (Acts 2:41,42). For a believer to have no desire to attend the assembling of the body, to refuse to be a part of a congregation, is to abandon his/her responsibility that God assigns to each follower. How can someone be a part of the body of believers (i.e. be a Christian) and be one member (a church unto themselves)? As the apostle Paul asks, “And if they were all one member, where were the body?” (1 Cor. 12:19). Paul implies that a believer cannot be part of the family of God alone. One is either a Christian and part of the family (the church), or one is not part of the family, and therefore, not a Christian. As stated before, if one is a Christian, then God automatically adds the person to the church.
God sets each Christian in the church and each member has a responsibility to contribute to the church (1 Cor. 12:19; Eph. 4:7). To be a Christian is to be part of the church and to contribute to the ministry; there cannot be a separation between the Christian, the body of Christ, and the church. They are all one (1 Cor. 12:12-14). What happens when a Christian decides to abandon the Lord’s assembly because he/she is bored or because he/she does not like it anymore? Paul tells the church at Ephesus what would happen when he writes, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:17,18). The individual becomes vain, darkened, alienated, ignorant, and blind. Let no Christian be deceived into thinking they can be a faithful Christian and not be a part of the church. Christ built the church, and it is His bride; He certainly cares if a person refuses to be a part of His family (Eph. 5:25-27).