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Does “Loving Jesus Enough” Cancel the Need for Church?

Does “Loving Jesus Enough” Cancel the Need for Church?

It’s something you might hear from time to time: “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church.”

Those words will often sprout from someone who’s disenchanted with a given congregation or denomination, or who’s been wounded by the actions of a given church. They feel no desire to attend weekly worship. They worship at home, perhaps, or go out in nature.

But is that what God wants for His people? Or is there still a command to, as far as a person is physically able, come together in worship every Sabbath?

Generally, believers are instructed to gather together each week. In the tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews, believers were told to “hold fast” in the perilous times in which they found themselves. Beginning in verse 23, we read, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 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.”

(Of course, it’s certainly understandable that some people are unable to attend regularly due to illness or disability, or not being near a congregation, or other reasons. But those are generally circumstances beyond a person’s control and are not a matter of choice.)

Because God is faithful, believers are supposed to go about “without wavering.” We are to “stir up love and good works” among each other, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”

First Believers Met Weekly

What assemblies is the writer speaking about? Those involving weekly worship: The disciples and the early church were noted by their fervor for worship and service. In Jerusalem, the first believers met for communal meals in such numbers that workers needed to be appointed to make sure everyone was served. In the ancient city of Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy found women at the river who worshiped on the Sabbath day—most notably Lydia from Thyatira in Asia Minor, today’s western Turkish city of Akhisar—and shared the gospel with them.

Clearly, the thought of those in the early church was to assemble for weekly worship, in the synagogues as long as they were welcome, and the concept that “I love Jesus but not the church” was something unfamiliar to those believers.

So where did it come from? In 2017, Barna Group, a research firm that specializes in issues affecting spirituality, noted that half of America was unchurched and that ten percent of Americans identify as people who “love Jesus but not the church.” They were classified as people who had a Christian commitment but were “de-churched”—not having attended services for six months or longer. Most were not millennials, however: “The majority are women (61 [percent]), and four-fifths (80 [percent]) are between the ages of 33 and 70.”

According to a statement released by the research group, “This group represents an important and growing avenue of ministry for churches,” Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group, said. “Particularly if you live in a more churched area of the country, it’s more than likely you have a significant number of these disaffected Christians in your neighborhoods. They still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture and most of the tenets of their Christian faith. But they have lost faith in the church. While many people in this group may be suffering from church wounds, we also know from past research that Christians who do not attend church say it’s primarily not out of wounding, but because they can find God elsewhere or that church is not personally relevant to them.”

Several thinkers in the Christian world took issue with the premise of the ten percent who told Barna they didn’t love the church, despite claiming a relationship with Jesus. Grayson Gilbert, at the time a master’s of divinity student at Moody Bible Institute, asserted such claims “just means you don’t love Jesus” in a blog at the Patheos website.

No Worship, No Love

Gilbert wrote, “There may be healthy reasons why one leaves a particular local church, but when it comes to reasons why one leaves the church entirely, there’s really only one: they don’t love the church. Synonymously, they don’t love Christ.”

It’s important, then, that when one makes a decision to follow Christ and keep the Sabbath that Jesus kept that you affiliate with a local congregation that teaches the same faith and the same commandments of Jesus. “Why Go to Church?” is a two-part broadcast series in which this question is thoroughly discussed, with answers straight from the Bible.

You can learn also listen to this Bible Answers Live broadcast titled “Church Attendance Improves Health.” The beginning of the broadcast details a study by the American Medical Association that said a group of people who attended weekly worship were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who don’t.

If you’re wondering about which church to attend, our free book The Search for the True Church will help. It’s great reading—and it could help change your life!