VOX POP // voice of the people
Q. Is it OK for people to take a break from coming to church but still call themselves a Christian?
Before answering that question we need to define two really important words: "Christian" and "church".
What is a Christian?
The word "Christian" appears only three times in the Bible, and was first used by the people of Antioch to describe the growing group of the disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26). It was an outside term used to label a disciple of Jesus. Today, being a Christian means many different things to different people. Culturally speaking, someone who is born into a family tradition that included going to church once or twice a year may label themselves a Christian. Someone who is a moral person, or someone who hails from the promised land of Abbotsford may label themselves a Christian. People who regularly attend a church may call themselves Christians, but not truly be. Scripturally speaking, ethnic identity, family history, church attendance, moral uprightness all have nothing to say about whether someone is truly a Christian. A Christian is someone who by God's grace is saved through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:5). A Christian is someone who has believed and confessed Jesus as Lord and Saviour (Romans 10:9). And a demonstration of this is a growing sense of desire to live life for Jesus. For His glory. His renown. His pleasure. In joyful submission to His authority as Lord. In awe and wonder of the gracious realities of the transformed identity of the Christian: forgiven, redeemed, adopted as a child of the King, saved from death, brought into life.
What is the Church?
The term "church" is much more common to the Bible. The book of Acts itself documents the beginning of the early church. While, apart from the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament is a collection of letters written to churches and the leaders of churches. Today, we often say things like: "how was church?", "on Sunday I go to church", "our church is on east 19th", etc. While these are by no means malicious sayings they do point to the deeply imbedded thought that church is an event or a place. The reality is that the Bible never talks about church in that way. The church is essentially the people of God, God's household, Christ's body (Ephesians 2:19; Romans 12:5). It is always spoken of in reference to the people that compose it, not the activities that those people participate in. On Sundays we gather as the church, at the Chapel on east 19th. Throughout the week we gather as the church in Community groups, in homes, in coffee shops. So while this may be a matter of syntax, it is important, because the way we talk about things says a lot about how we think about things.
So, is it OK for people to take a break from coming to church but still call themselves a Christian?
Yes, but not as a pattern or regular practice.
As we spoke about above and as was hit on in a previous blog a few weeks ago, salvation is found in Jesus and Jesus alone. It is by faith in Jesus, not by works, that we are saved (Ephesians 2:5). Church attendance doesn't save. Jesus saves (Luke 19:10). But with that said, remember what we just talked about, that the church isn't an event but a people, not a place but a community. One of the most precious pictures we have in Scripture is given of the church as the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:6-10; 21:1-5, 9-10). Jesus' very bride. And if Jesus has in love saved us, claiming us as His own, and we now love Him in return, the norm should be that we love what He loves. And Jesus loves the church. As a good husband Jesus sacrificed everything for her to purify her. Jesus died for her (Ephesians 5:25-27). Also, the New Testament is filled with commands to love one another (John 13:34), to serve one another (Galatians 5:13), to bear with and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13) and to confess sins to one another and pray with one another (James 5:16). These are all played out in the gathering of the church, on Sundays and throughout the rest of the week as we do life together. So while our salvation is thankfully not linked with our church attendance, or any other works and rituals for that matter, the norm of the Christian life is active participation in the life of the church gathered.
With all of that said, a blog response can only go so far. If you are living with a condition or within circumstances that make participating in the life of the church difficult, or even impossible, please get in contact with us so that we can help you navigate this question better.