My nephew, his wife and children were going to a certain local church until a new minister came in last year and gave them a hard time about joining the church and getting baptized, etc. To make things worse, money was very tight for them, as he was out of work. So they stopped going. They now study the Bible nightly and hold their own Sunday services.
Well, to make a long story shorter, someone told them that it says in two or three places in the Bible that if you don’t go to church you are sinning. My nephew asked me if this is true. So my question to you, are there such references in the Bible and where?
The Bible makes several points related to your question. Perhaps the most relevant is its advice that believers should love and encourage one another, and one way of doing this is by assembling. We are told also that God recognizes such assembling. The author of Hebrews is very definite: believers are instructed not to “forsake” assembling together “as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10: 25).
Jesus said that the size of the gathering did not matter–”where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
When God gave laws to the nation He was molding, the people He brought out of Egyptian bondage, He planned that they should assemble frequently, both for religious instruction and to worship. For this purpose He ordered the setting up of the tabernacle (and later the temple) to be a center for their religious life.
Tabernacle means literally “tent of meeting,” implying the place where the people assembled to meet God. The tabernacle served until Solomon built the temple, for the same purpose.
The Lord, speaking through His prophet Joel, also commanded the people to assemble: “Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders” (Joel 2:16), as a preparation to be ready to meet Christ, the coming Bridegroom (Joel 2:1-2).
The prophet Malachi observed that believers spoke often one to another, with the result that “the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name” (Mal. 3:16-17). Such speaking would assume that the people assembled (met, gathered), and the gathering was spiritually beneficial.
The apostle Paul advised his brethren to meet together, sing hymns together (Col. 3:16-17), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13), serve one another (Gal. 5:13), encourage and edify one another (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:24-25)–all these activities require believers to gather or assemble in some type of formal or informal fellowship.
From the other side, we are commanded not to assemble with unbelievers or those who do not share our faith. Paul said, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). We are also told to depart from the presence of one who does not have within him the “lips of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7). Again we are told that sometimes it is better to be alone than in the wrong company (Jer. 15:17; Prov. 21:9).
The apostle John wrote to his brethren, advising them not to accept into their church fellowship any who did not share their beliefs and purpose. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him [fellowship], for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 10-11).
And just as a community of believers would not want to take into fellowship a non-believer, so a believer would not want to fellowship with unbelievers. The exception would be, of course, where the believer was trying to influence or instruct the non-believer, to help him see the benefits of Bible faith. Such meetings should be viewed as an opportunity to share one’s faith and hope, and acquaint others with the cause of God, just as Paul did when he preached at Athens, or Jesus when He met with unbelievers. The apostles were constantly looking for opportunities to tell others about their faith, but they were not assembling with others for the purpose of learning from them or of joining in with their worship or being part of their fellowship. One is better off alone than in the company of those who might lead him away from God.
The Bible is very clear that we must believe right and live right. What we teach and what we believe are matters of utmost importance. As Paul told Timothy, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). And John wrote to his brethren, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit [teacher], but test the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8); or as Paul wrote to Timothy: “If anyone is teaching otherwise, and will not give his mind to wholesome precept–I mean those of our Lord Jesus Christ–and to good religious teaching, I call him a pompous ignoramus. He is morbidly keen on mere verbal questions and quibbles, which give rise to jealousy, quarreling, slander, base suspicions and endless wrangles: all typical of men who have let their reasoning powers become atrophied and have lost grip of the truth” (1 Tim. 6:3-5, NEB)–all these passages show the importance of correct belief and teaching.
Does the Bible tell us that we sin because we do not go to church? The vital question is: Can I be of any help to them, or they to me? Can I share my beliefs and faith with them? Will they lead me closer to God, or away from Him?