Does a Christian have to attend church every Sunday?
An increasing number of people who call themselves Christians are asking, “Does a Christian have to attend church every Sunday?”, “Must a Christian attend church?”, “Do I have to regularly attend church?” or “Can I attend occasionally?” The questions are asked for two reasons. We shall consider both.
God Wants Us To Worship Every Seventh Day
God has communicated His will for us regarding a day of rest and worship in Exodus 20:8-9. He told Moses to pass this instruction to the Israelites and to us.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God . . . Exodus 20:8-10a (NASB)
The message is clear. We are to remember the Sabbath day. Many think that God gave us this command because He wants us to worship Him. That is, the Sabbath is for God, but that is not true. The Sabbath was actually created for the benefit of every human. Notice Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27.
Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 (NASB)
Jesus says that the Sabbath was created for us. Then He gives us His credentials for making the statement. He is the “the Son of Man.” He “is Lord even of the Sabbath.” He has the authority to make the statement. So the Sabbath was created for us. It should be a day of rest and worship for us.
After Christ’s death and resurrection on Sunday, the early Christians changed the day of worship from the Sabbath to Sunday. Sunday now reminds us that it is the day Christ’s physical body arose from the grave. Also note that Jesus appeared to the apostles after His resurrection for the first time on Sunday (John 20:19). Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 clearly state that the early church met on the first day of the week or Sunday.
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. Acts 20:7 (NASB)
On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:2 (NASB)
Sunday is the new day for rest and worship for Christians.
Early Christians Eagerly and Regularly Gathered Together
Christians should want to gather with other believers to worship God, but some professing Christians are not motivated to do worship with other believers. They would rather go to the beach, go to an amusement park, go to the park, prepare for a super bowl party, sleep in late on Sunday mornings or stay home and work on a hobby. Some who claim to be Christians do not go to church week after week and month after month. For some it is year after year. They do not stay home because of medical problems but simply because they want to do so. It is sad that some who claim to be Christians have such a low desire to publicly worship God. It reveals they are not really Christians. Scripture is clear that works does not save a person, but a saved person can be identified by their works (James 2:26).
In sharp contrast, we should note that after Christ’s resurrection the early Christians and apostles eagerly and regularly gathered together for worship. Acts 2:42 tells us why they met together. The most important part of their worship was the apostle’s teaching, followed by fellowship.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (NASB)
The opening two Greek words of this verse are very powerful. The two words are eimi proskartereo. The literal meaning of the phrase is “to repeatedly, continually do something with intense effort.” The first Greek word, eimi, is in the imperfect tense which refers to repeated activity, and proskartereo is a present participle implying ongoing activity. Combined together the picture is of repeated and continuous activity. It has the sense of serious eagerness. The early Christians were seriously committed to gathering together for worship which included listening to the apostles’ teaching. Put it another way, the early Christians were not looking for an opportunity to go to the beach with friends, spend time with a boyfriend on Sunday mornings or open Christmas presents and stay home for a holiday breakfast when Sunday falls on December 25. Sadly, some of the lowest days of the year for church attendance are the Sundays near Christmas, Super Bowl Sunday and Easter. They have become family days and not days of worship.
Early Christians Assembled Together For Corporate Worship
1 Corinthians 5:4 tells us that the Christians regularly assembled together.
In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus . . . 1 Corinthians 5:4 (NASB)
When the early Christians assembled together the purpose was for corporate worship and relationships. It is amazing that some Christians want to have communion at home by themselves and not with other Christians as the early church did. In sharp contrast the early church also gathered together for communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-34) in addition to corporate worship. The early church gathered together for corporate worship, communion, teaching of the Word and communion.
The strongest and clearest statement in the Bible about regular church attendance is in Hebrews 10:24-25.
. . . and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NASB)
The Greek grammar reveals that the phrase “not forsaking” means that Christians are not to be continuously “leaving, forsaking or abandoning” their own assembling together. Notice the Holy Spirit says, “our own assembling.” He does not refer to an individual worshiping in private. He said “our.” He figuratively pointed His “finger” directly at all Christians. He is speaking to you!
The Holy Spirit rebuked these Christians and told them to stop their habitual pattern of not regularly gathering together. The root Greek verb that is translated as “habit” is enkataleipo and has the meaning of “pattern or custom.” The word refers to custom such as the custom of a culture. The Spirit’s point is that the custom of some Christians was that they did not regularly gather together at church. They stayed away. The teaching of the Word and fellowship were not important to them.
Note that Scripture never says Christians are to attend church. Instead we are always told that Christians are to gather together. We are commanded to come together. Why? Because we are to encourage others and stimulate others to love and good deeds and to hear the teaching of Scripture. Notice, the Christians were urged to be givers but not receivers. Christians are to give in the sense that they motivate others to love and deeds. Too often Christians go to church because they want something for themselves such as friendship, to serve God or to be encouraged. The Spirit’s emphasis in the passage is to motivate other Christians. When they gathered together, their primary purpose was worship.
Warning To Christians Who Have Little Desire To Gather
We need to repeat that Scripture never says that Christians are to attend church. We are always told that Christians gathered together (Hebrews 10:24-25) and when they did gather worship occurred (Acts 2:42). They seriously devoted themselves to the teaching of the Word of God and fellowship (Acts 2:42). Notice the emphasis on worshipping together. The second commandment (Matthew 5:43; 22:38-39) urges us to love others as ourselves. It is the mark of a Christian (John 13:34-35).
And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Matthew 22:37-39 (NASB)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35 (NASB)
Some professing Christians should be concerned that they have little or no passion to be with other Christians or under the teaching of the Bible by a spiritually gifted teacher. It is a warning sign. Notice the message of 1 John 3:14.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 1 John 3:14 (NASB)
The message is simple and not difficult to understand. If you claim to be a Christian but you have little or no desire to gather together with other Christians in corporate worship, this verse says that you are not a Christian – “abides in death.” When the Holy Spirit says “brethren” He refers to other Christians. Those who are not motivated to gather together for worship have revealed that the Holy Spirit is not at work in their hearts. They are headed to eternal punishment. You are not saved. If you do not regularly attend church, you are disobeying the Holy Spirit’s direct command in Hebrews 10:24-25 to gather together. The church in America should be concerned that it is soft and spiritually weak. We should be concerned that we have left our first love (Revelation 2:4).
In summary, Christians are to repeatedly, eagerly desire to regularly gather together for worship. True Christians who love other Christians will strongly desire to worship together with other Christians. Sunday is the new day of rest and worship for Christians.
The early Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. The apostle Paul described himself as being a boring speaker (2 Corinthians 10:10). If the apostle Paul was alive today, many Christians would avoid him because he would not be dynamic enough. He would not be considered “spirit-filled” because of the sad and wrong definition today of spirit-filled preaching is “powerful speaking.” 1 Peter 2:2 tells us that Christians should want to study and learn the Word. Instead, many settle for a peer Bible study instead of sitting under the teaching of someone trained to teach the Bible and living in close communion with God. Hebrews 5:11-14 warns that a Christian will slip backwards without regular teaching of the Word of God. They will just remain spiritually immature Christians.
If you are a Christian and cannot gather every Sunday due to work, then you should consider the following options. First, speak with your employer and attempt to obtain a schedule adjustment that will allow you to regularly attend church. Second, if that is not possible you should consider changing jobs if that is possible. Third, try to attend a mid-week service at the church or a Bible study so that you are gathering together with other Christians for worship each week. Fourth, if your church is small and does not provide alternate opportunities for worship, then maybe you should consider another church.
Another problem of concern is the spiritual diet of the person who does not gather together every seven days. We should remember that this is God’s will for Christians. The difficulty with attending church three times or two times a month or less is that a Christian has a very poor spiritual diet. It is like eating for two days and then fasting every third day or fasting every other day or eating once every third day, every fourth day, every fifth day or less often. Such a diet is great for losing weight. Just imagine what happens to a Christian’s spiritual growth. For a good understanding of what happens read the study, “You Should Be Teachers” and listen to “Are You Spiritually Mature?”
Finally, if a Christian is hospitalized, injured or sick, they should not feel guilty about not gathering together. If a Christian needs to care for a sick child, an elderly parent or a family member then it is okay to be home. These situations are not the norm for most believers. Even Jesus healed on the Sabbath and He did it repeatedly. The issue here is the desire to worship God, the heart’s desire to be with other Christians, minister to other believers and one’s spiritual growth. Let us please our God.
1. Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 400.
Reference Links:Christians Are Not To Be Ashamed
Are You Spiritually Mature?
You Should Be Teachers