Do we Really Need to go to Church?

It used to be a favourite saying by some young adults back in my day. ‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’. It was usually said by people who either a) wanted to look cool and rebellious, or b) had an axe to grind with the church.At one level it is right, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but can you be a Christian without going to Church? I’m not so sure.

Recently I’ve been reading James K.A. Smith’s ‘Desiring the Kingdom’. It’s not a book that I would normally choose to read, and it has been hard going for me. But I’ve appreciated it, and I’ve been struck by some of the things he has articulated.

Smith maintains that human beings are primarily moved not so much by what we know, but what we feel. We worship what we love, and what we love is shaped by what Smith calls ‘liturgies’, those practices and habits that shape the desires of our hearts in a particular direction.

Smith then extends the thesis to ask ‘what are the liturgies that shape us?’ On the one hand there is the ‘liturgy’ of the secular that calls us to its vision of human flourishing through the pursuit of consumerism. The shopping mall is the primary example of a ‘liturgy’ where human beings are tempted/enticed/shaped to become consumers, to worship possessions, status, wealth etc.

This is counteracted by the alternative ‘liturgies’ of the Christian life, and those practices that train us towards the biblical vision of human flourishing. Practices such as church, communion, generosity, community and service, train our hearts towards a whole-of-life worship of God.

I’m pretty sure I’ve not done justice to Smith’s work, it’s pretty deep and I’m still processing. But I think you get the idea and it’s relation to the title of this blog. Perhaps our church attendance has more to do with the shaping of our hearts and desires, than being simply a place where we get more information from a sermon. And maybe ‘going to church’ is one of those things we do that subconsciously realigns our hearts (and our minds) towards God’s way of living. An act of ‘rebellion’ against the all-encompassing consumerism and materialism that the secular world tries to squeeze us into. A statement that there is another way of living that goes beyond working and accumulating more possessions.

You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, but staying away from church won’t make you a better one either. And if our calling is to be a truly biblical witness, to live out God’s vision for human life, then maybe the opportunity to meet as a community, to remember together, to listen, to participate, to sing and to do communion really does mean a lot more than we realised.

For what it’s worth…

About andy63

Auditorium/Facilities Manager at Kennedy Baptist College. Family man, Dockers Supporter, NFL and NBA tragic who loves the Red Bull Air Race and a good meal. A Christian who is grateful for grace and forgiveness and the fact that Jesus is alive.

2 Responses to “Do we Really Need to go to Church?”

  1. Yes, community is a gospel imperative. I’ve always maintained that you can’t live out John 13.34 or or Matt. 25 by living alone or eschewing community. You can’t love others if you don’t gather, and the corrolary is that the image of God is community as Trinity, so it follows, that loving God also requires community.

  2. And now having been lured into the book, it contains the old dichotomy of Abelard (Christ as loving sacrifice) vs Anselm (penal substitution, and focus on doctrine).

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