I’ve heard many professing Christians say something along the lines of “I have a personal relationship with Jesus, I don’t need the local church.” And today, social media, live streaming worship, and “online church services” have created even greater opportunities for Christians to avoid regularly gathering in person with the local church for corporate worship. Can you be a faithful Christian without gathering regularly with the local church? I’d argue that the answer is nearly always a “no.” It’s not faithful to the Bible nor is it loving Christ to forsake your local church, when it’s in your power to gather. Now, I’m not talking about Christians who are sick, handicapped, or shut-in. I’m not talking about frontier missionaries where no local church exists. There will be times when Christians are hindered for a time from gathering with the local church for worship, but those rare occasions are the exception, not the rule. It should cause any Christian serious pause to argue that the pattern of God’s people gathering regularly for worship throughout the entire Bible has now been tossed out or is irrelevant. Scripture & church history totally reject this idea. That being said, I think Scripture gives us many reasons why Christians should regularly gather together in the local church for worship, but I’ll briefly give 5 reasons:
1) 1 Timothy 5:17 and Hebrews 13:17 teach us that Christians are to submit to their own pastors. How can you submit to or be led by pastors when you fail to gather with the local church?
2) Paul teaches us that the local church is a body with many members (Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:12–31). The eye can’t say to the hand “I have no need of you.” A member that’s cut off from the body will grow sick and die. A Christian can’t say to the local church “I have no need of you.” That person’s professed faith will shrivel up and die.
3) Jesus and the apostles commanded Christians to regularly participate in the ordinances of the local church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23–34). Also, the NT commands local churches to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13). You can’t restore repenting members to the body if you’re not there to pursue them and win them back.
4) James commands Christians in local churches to confess their sins to one another (James 5:16). Paul commands Christians in the body to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). These commands demand that Christians be present in a local church. I know I have brothers and sisters in Christ overseas, but I can’t know them, confess my sins to them, and bear their burdens regularly to the degree Paul and James command me to know, confess to, and bear the burdens of my fellow church members.
5) Finally, and most importantly, God commands Christians to regularly gather with the saints for worship in Hebrews 10:24–25. And the context of this command is important for our question. I often hear this statement. “I wasn’t being fed at that church, so I stopped going. I’m fed by my TV or online preacher.” In Hebrews 10, God doesn’t command you to gather with the local church primarily so that you might be fed, but rather so that you might encourage the other Christians in your local church.Christians who fail to gather with the local church or who opt to watch a sermon online every week on their couch are thinking like American consumers, not biblical Christians. Christ came to serve, not to be served. Christians who have been deceived by this mindset are thinking only in terms of how they might be served when the overwhelming emphasis of Scripture is on you serving others.
Ultimately, failing to gather regularly with the local church is a failure to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Scripture says we must encourage and exhort one another in the gospel, so if you fail to gather regularly with the saints, what brother or sister will miss your encouragement or exhortation? The church is the bride of Christ and the local church is the primary means of God saving, growing, refining, and protecting His people (Ephesians 2:1–10,17–22; 4:11–16; 5:22–33). You can’t love Jesus and hate his bride. Jesus is jealous for his church. We must strive diligently to love and value the church as the Lord does, laying down our lives for one another as we follow our crucified Savior.