Doing Church Away from Church isn’t Church

Christians should scrap attempts to justify church-away-from-church as church. We don’t approach other areas of life like that. We are not God, and so have no authority to redefine ins and outs of his church. Truths about church and worship are not arbitrarily defined, but mean something specific in the New Testament. Gathering with the body under the shepherding of biblically qualified leaders demonstrates the privilege we have of belonging to something larger than us; the greatest organization in the universe.

 

Maybe you’ve heard it. “We can’t make it to church today, so we’ll just do church as a family.” “I can just do church on a hike this morning in God’s creation.” “The church is really the people, so we can do church wherever. God is everywhere, after all.”

Do we really need to go to a building on a certain day for it to count as doing church? If so, isn’t that legalistic?

It’s becoming increasingly popular to fashion new ways to “do church.” But how do we discern what does and does not constitute going to church? God’s word has plenty of wisdom on the issue.

In short, my hike or a Bible open in my living room with the kids is not church. Here are a few reasons why doing church away from church isn’t church.

  1. We wouldn’t approach other areas of life like that.

To assert that we can do church away from church is an unparalleled way to approach life events. Do we approach other areas of life like that?

Husbands, next time you’ve scheduled a family day, just before it happens, tell your wives, “Honey, I’m actually going to do our family time on a solo-camping trip. But I’ll think about you and the kids while I’m sitting out there with the dog and my knife cramming Spam in my mouth. It still counts as family time, right? We don’t have to be all legalistic, honey.”

I wonder if we would use the “church-away-from-church-still-counts” jive towards other things in life, like missing the game, our daughter’s ballet, our hobby, or that movie we really want to see. “I’m going to forsake my daughter’s ballet, but I’ll do the ballet by remembering the moves I saw her practice in the living room last week.” “I’m going to miss hunting with the crew today, but I’ll do hunting by watching hunting YouTubes at home.” “I won’t make it to the premiere of that movie, but I’ll do the movie by watching the preview again on my phone.”

A YouTube video isn’t hunting with the crew. Meditating on her grande jeté is not attending my daughter’s ballet. Watching the preview on my six-inch screen isn’t doing the movie premiere. And doing church at home, in the car, or on a hike is not doing church.

  1. Since we are not God, we cannot redefine things that are God’s.

If we are the head of an organization, then we can choose to define things in that organization. If you are the founder of a company, you can define your company’s goals. You can define standards for your employees, because you are over the thing.

Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 1:22-23 ). He bought the Church with his life (Acts 20:28 ). He birthed the Church into being. It’s his Church (Matt. 16:18 ). So, he gets to say how things go. When he lays out things for his Church, that’s how they need to be.

Christ has specified how things look for his kind of church. And there are no verses which say, “Well, if you want to alter this thing that I’ve specified, go for it.” So it is when it comes to doing church God’s way. He is so great and worthy that it is reasonable for us to submissively and carefully approach what he says about church. We’ll look at some of what that means below.

  1. Worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor.

Much of the Bible begins with God laying out what it means, and does not mean, to worship him. One take-away from Exodus and Leviticus is, “Wow. This glorious God does not leave the details of worship up to us.” That’s because one of the great problems with humanity is that depravity renders us unable and unwilling to worship him correctly. We have manufactured 10,000 ways of worship. And every one of them is profane and idolatrous.

Not once in the history of humanity has a person or people devised the correct way to worship the true God. That’s why we need the Bible. Whenever man takes the self-determined approach to worshiping God, he makes an idol. In his grace, God prescribes worship to sinful man for good reason.

“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Lev. 18:3 ).

“And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them” (Lev. 20:23 ).

Consider those Old Testament times. With all of those blood sacrifices, couldn’t someone just offer up a sacrifice at home? Wouldn’t that be good enough as long as they meant well and thought about God? Those who offered a sacrifice away from the tabernacle were to be killed (Lev. 17:8-9 ).

The point is that proper worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor. God has not left it up to me to decide what defines obediently gathering as the church for corporate worship.

  1. Church means something specific in the New Testament.

Not once in the New Testament does God refer to an individual or parents and their kids as the/a church. Individuals are called by their name. Families are called households. But they are not called “church” or said to be doing church. An arbitrary group of Christians is neither called church, as in the gathered body for corporate worship.

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