"I'm a Christian but I don't believe in the church; I can worship at home." As a pastor, I cannot even begin to count how many times I have heard statements like this. Let's examine that concept a little.
Can a person really be a Christian and yet not be involved in a local fellowship? Yes. You can be a Christian and not be involved in the church, but, you cannot be an obedient Christian if you are not involved in the church.
The Bible says, "You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. Do this even more as you see the day coming." (Hebrews 10:25 NCV).
If you want to be friends with me, you are also going to have to be a friend of my wife. You cannot come to me and say, "John, I like you and I want to be your friend, but I hate your wife." At that point, you and I are going to part ways because I am not about to tolerate a person who mistreats or is unkind to my bride.
Now the church is called the Bride of Christ; what makes us think that we can stay on good terms with the Groom (Christ) if we despise His bride? I have to agree with St. Augustine on this one, "He cannot have God for his Father who refuses to have the church for his mother."
Now I understand that the modern church has, in the eyes of some, failed. I hear stories about betrayal and hurt that comes from the church. Let me address this. Yes there are sad, sad stories of betrayal within the walls of Christianity, but please understand in such cases it was a person who failed you, not the church.
The church is made up of people, some of whom are true believers, and some of whom are cultural Christians, that is, they have no personal belief in Christ but their family was in the church so they are in the church.
God doesn't have grandchildren. You are either a child of God by personal choice to follow Christ, or you are not. Being in the church does not make one a Christian any more than being in McDonald's makes them a hamburger. You must be born again.
Still others in the church are what Jesus labeled as tares -- harmful, hurtful, destructive plants -- among the wheat, the true harvest. Check out what the Lord of the church says about this in Matthew 13:24-30. While people are hurt by those claiming to be in the church, we must draw the distinction that it was fallen people who hurt you, not the church herself. Sadly, many fail to make this important distinction.
Years ago my family and I were treated very badly by a church. I will not go into details, but it was a very painful experience. I was disappointed, angry, frustrated, confused and disillusioned but I blamed the people involved not the church herself.
We must keep that in mind. People will disappoint you. People will hurt you. Not one of us (myself included) are beyond failing in such a way that others are impacted. If you are using some personal hurt to keep you from finding a healing fellowship, you need to step back and regain your proper perspective. It was people who failed you, not the church.
Can we worship alone at home? Certainly we can. The issue really is, do we really do it? We may watch some preacher on television who, if he is a good and faithful shepherd, may feed our souls, but we really haven't worshipped.
On the other hand, if the preacher is a false one, that only feeds our animosity toward the true church. We see the church as "only wanting my money" as we watch these money grubbing charlatans tricking people into giving beyond their means by the promise of financial prosperity if they do. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 addresses that issue.
Yes, you can be a Christian and not attend church. Yes, it is possible that you may even worship at home. But you cannot be an obedient follower of Christ and experience the full joy of worship as an isolated believer. This is where I will pick up in my next article.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org