WHAT CHURCH DO YOU GO TO?
Have you ever been asked where you go to church? It is not an uncommon question among believers and usually does not evoke a second thought. But have you ever stopped to consider how odd of a statement this question is? If you did the first thing you might wonder about just how the term “church” is the body of Christ. It is most certainly not a building.
What’s wrong with the above question is that the term “church” is being applied to a place. But the church according to the scriptures is not “where” rather it’s a “who”. We do not go to church, we are the church. It’s not where we go, but who we are. Although from a biblical standpoint, the question “where do you go to church” is erroneous, the modern church does not seem to recognize that this is the case. But why?
This confusion over the term “church” has arisen because the term has taken on secondary applications in referring not only to the Body of Christ, but also to the buildings we meet in and at times specific segments of believers who meet there. But what does the bible mean by “church”.
In the bible the Greek word translated “church” in the English is the word “ekklesia”in the greek. The literal translation means “called out” or “called out ones”. It is a compound word formed from two other greek words, “ek” meaning “out” and “kaleo” meaning “to call”.
In a New Testament sense the word “church” is applied three ways. The first way is in reference to the universal church, collectively it is all persons, past, present, and future who believe, accept, and follow Christ.
Secondly, it can be used to refer to an assembly or gathering together of the “called out ones” in a specific geographic location. Thirdly, the term “church” is also applied to the particular group of believers who met in someone’s house. Let’s look at some examples of the second and third type shown below..
Revelation 3:11 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,Here in Revelation 3, the church is referred to a specific geographical location such as “Church of Sardis”.
Romans 16:5 “”Likewise greet the church that is in their housee”.
The biblical idea of a local church does not lend itself to the modern concepts mentioned above. Instead it would be applied to all believers in a given geographic area such as the “church in Sardis”. In modern time this would be equivalent to saying the church in Sacramento, California. It would include all believers who lived in that area without regard for where they “attended church”. It would not be used in the sense we might think of today, such as First Baptist Church on fifth street.
Another point that comes to play is that formalized membership in such a “local church” is deemed necessary. Such a notion is found nowhere in scripture. In the New Testament we do not see any other sense of membership other than membership in the universal church. This requires only that you believe in Christ.
Now that we have examined how the term “church” is used in the new testament we can return to our original question “where do you go to church”? What does the bible say about “going to church”.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Upon this one verse, many in the modern church have hung all of their strict regulations regarding church attendance, membership, and involvement. This is because this verse demonstrates clearly that we as believers must continue to meet together. But what does this gathering together require in order to obey the command.
First, we will note that the term “church” or “ekklesia” is not used in this verse. So, it would not follow that Paul is here insisting that we “go to church” so to speak, just that we meet together with believers. But we need not quibble about this point, and instead completely agree that Paul is instructing us with regard to the gathering together of the church. Even still this verse is far from proving the argument that we must attend church. To illustrate this we pose the following question in an attempt to clarify exactly what Paul expected from us in this matter. How many believers need to be present in order to be compliant with this command?
At first the question may not seem relevant to the issue at hand, but let’s see if the bible clarifies this for us. Biblically speaking, the only numerical requirement we are given comes from..
20For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
It’s interesting that here we have a statement from Jesus that He is present when only two or three gathered in his name. So if Jesus is present in such a small number then clearly our fellowship needs are being met. The term “gathered together” in the Greek in Matthew 18:20 is not the same as in Hebrew 10:25. But this does not mean Matthew 18:20 is not relevant to this discussion. On the contrary, it is of the utmost importance. In Hebrews 10:25 the word “assembling” is the greek word “episunagoge” meaning “a gathering together in one place” or a “religious assembling of Christians”. This word is used only one other time in the New Testament and that is in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 where Paul is speaking about the coming of Christ and our being gathered together with him. On the other hand, the Greek word used in Matthew is the word “sunago” which means “to gather together”, “to draw together”, or “to bring together”.
Obviously the two terms are closely related. But “sunago” used in Matthew 18:20 is also used a number of other times in the New Testament to refer to church gatherings. Look at these next few scriptures references.
27Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
7Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
I Corinthians 5:4
4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The point of displaying these texts is to demonstrate that Matthew 18:20 application to the question posed earlier. That question was how many believers need to be present in order to be compliant with this command? The answer is two or three.
So as long as there are two or three believers present we have enough to constitute a church gathering which at least numerically satisfies the Biblical standard. Having answered this, we pose another central question with regard to the Bible’s commands about “going to church.” What places does the bible say the church can or must meet? We turn to the New Testament to see where in fact the church gathered.
First in the book of Acts, it attests in several places that the Jewish synagogue was the first place that church began to gather together on a weekly basis for instruction. The apostles would have been familiar with Jesus’ custom of visiting the synagogue and teaching there as the Gospels attest to.
Second, we would find that as time went on the church began to meet in people’s homes. Look at these next few scriptures beginning with Acts 20.
20how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,
3Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
I Corinthians 16:19
19The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
2to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
At this point we need not continue with more texts as this proves that the church often met in houses. So far we have established a church gathering which stratifies the biblical criteria of as few as two or three can meet in someone’s home. This post is not meant to say that it is wrong for us to meet in a traditional modern day church building. This post is meant to remind us all, that “church” does not only have to be in a traditional modern day building. “Church” can be anywhere as long as you are with fellow brothers and sisters.