What was going to church like for the first Christians?
Beginning with a bit of Roman history for the history lovers out there, the very first precious Christians in the world who were Jews, Romans and Greeks in the Roman Empire, encountered special circumstances regarding going to church ca. 100 A.D.
They were judged by their fellow Romans and Greeks, as before the advent of Christianity in the Roman Empire, churches were only beginning.
Non-Christian Romans and Greeks, who saw that the first Christians met behind closed doors to pray and have the Lord’s Supper, did not understand their meetings.
But the very first Christians did not care, and they persevered. They continued to meet with other believers regardless of being judged by their fellow citizens.
In the present day, many circumvent the habit of going to church, and many have questions such as: Who should go to church? What are our main reasons for going to church?
When should we go? Is there someone who shouldn’t go to church? Is going to church online appropriate?
As we will see, Scripture has answered all these questions with flying colors. Paul taught those amazing first Roman and Greek Christians regarding who should go to church, why we go to church, and all that is important about going to church.
So, What Does The Bible Say About Going To Church?
1. Reasons For Going To Church
As Christians, we should go to church because it was commanded both by the Lord Jesus and then by Paul, in the following Bible verses of Luke 22:19 and Hebrews 10:25:
Luke 22:19: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Hebrews 10:25: “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The letters of Paul(including Hebrews) were written ca. 50-70 A.D, so his instructions concerned Christians from the very first century.
As we can see, there were people that were ceasing to attend church since as early as the first century, to the degree that Paul felt he should write that we must not do so.
As for Luke 22:19, how could we fulfill the commandment of the Lord’s Supper if we do not meet with other like-minded believers first? We definitely need to meet with other Christians to do so.
2. What is Church? A Building? A Hospital For Sinners?
The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is “ekklesia”; this word actually means congregation. So, it is important to note that this word does not refer to a brick and mortar building; instead, it refers to a gathering of people.
There isn’t such a thing as “churches” in plural, as the body of Christ is only one; instead what the Greek refers to in the plural, are “congregations” or “gatherings” of followers of Christ.
Second, the church is as we will see, the church is not a “hospital for sinners” or a social club.
3. Who Should Go To Church?
It is possible that you have seen the following saying being widely circulated, both online and face-to-face: “Church is not a museum for saints, it is a hospital for sinners.”
This saying, while it was possibly stated by someone with good intentions, is unfortunately unbiblical and from the devil.
The fact that this saying is incorrect is most salient in 1 Corinthians 5:11:
11 “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”
Paul even instructs to “not eat with such people”, so it is astonishing. Many people with hidden sins still go to church and are accepted by pastors and the congregation.
We need to pray for our pastors so that they will be able to discern the hidden sins in the church.
This Scripture beautifully leads us to wonder, who should go to church?
Since the ekklesia is not a “hospital for sinners,” and it more closely resembles a family with strict criteria as to who belongs to the family, the answer is not everybody.
We learn that Paul felt this way when he told the Corinthians (who were particularly accepting of a man had immoral behavior) the following:
1 Corinthians 5:2: “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?”
It is powerful how he says, “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this.” May the Lord guide our hearts regarding who we should or should not accept into our church.
According to the apostle Paul, new converts and even old church-going Christians should be expected to relent on sinning, and given a trial period to do so. If not, they should be asked to leave.
4. How Should Church Attendance Be (Online or Not?)
The advent of digital communication technologies has facilitated things like online sermons, online Scripture reading, online worship songs and more, but as Christians what are to make of all of this?
For the purpose of acquiring knowledge, using these technologies as channels of communication for the delivery of knowledge, online church services and Youtube video-like sermons are a good fit.
But for the purpose of worshipping God, receiving the blessings of the presence of God, and establishing the bond of friendship and love with other believers, digital technologies fall short.
This is exactly the way that the apostle John felt, and he communicated so in 2 John 1:12:
12 “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
John loved his brothers and sisters in Christ; he felt compelled to see them in person and so should we.
Undoubtedly, John, felt that letters (which was preferred form of non-face-to-face communication in his time, and would equate to e-mails or phone calls in this time) weren’t enough to have true fellowship with other believers.
5. What Does The Bible Say About Going To Different Churches?
Going to different churches is not a sin, but according the Scripture, it would not be recommended to do so because you would not reap the rewards of establishing a genuine, more frequent connection with other believers.
If you frequent just one single church, you are more likely to be able to develop a better friendship with other Christians and be able to help them better.
6. Is Missing Church A Sin?
If you had to miss a service because of urgent responsibilities, emergencies or illness, then of course not.
But, missing church indefinitely would indeed be a sin, as you would not be able to fulfill Christ’s commandment of the Last Supper or Paul’s commandment to have fellowship with other believers if you did not go.
However, you would not lose salvation as a result of not attending church. But, as we have seen above, you likely would miss a lot of rewards and blessings that come from going to meet with other Christians.
7. What Church Denomination Should I Go To?
The question of what church denomination should Christians go to certainly comes up often, and this is an important question.
We have to remember that denominations are created by men, and Christ is not divided among denominations and he is only one.
But, since throughout history many have corrupted Biblical doctrine, it is preferable to attend only certain denominations.
As a consequence, definitely, do not go to a non-denominational church. To keep the integrity of Biblical doctrine, go to a denomination that adheres strictly and only to the Bible, and not to the traditions of men.
In conclusion, my dear Christian, I encourage you to pray for the wellbeing of the church, which has persevered since Roman times, and for it continue to meet faithfully in the Biblical way.
In commandments stating to love other Christians with earnest love, what the church should tolerate or not tolerate, and to not stop meeting up, all we have to know about going to church is beautifully described for us in the New Testament.
Like the first Christians who had to go against the established Roman religion to meet privately to pray and worship God together, let’s remain faithful in going to church to worship the Lord and carry each other’s burdens.