Is Church Attendance/Baptism Mandatory?
We continue our study on how to defend one's faith and how to respond to various questions concerning the Bible or the church. I remind you of our ground rules for a religious discussion:
1. Respect the other person's sincerity and faith.
Other people want what we want. They want to know and please God. I believe that this fundamental desire is worthy of our respect, even though we may not agree with how they approach or think the Bible says about certain matters.
2. Keep the discussion focused on the Bible.
If you don't know what the Bible says about a topic or issue, it is acceptable to admit this and say that you will find out what they want to know and share that with them the next time you meet. It's okay to say, "I don't know." We are not expected to know everything.
3. Be patient.
Not everybody is ready or able to hear what we have to share.
Here's a question that often comes up from believers. "Do I have to attend church every week?"
- If you're a good person, do you still have to go to church?
- Is three times a week necessary?
- Where does it say that in the Bible?
- Why can't I worship alone without going to services? I go to the park on Sunday. I'm with the trees, the birds. These are all God's creation. I see the sky, it moves me to give thanks. Isn't that good?
Some have the mistaken attitude that it doesn't matter if you attend or where you attend, church is church. I hear evangelists say that all the time in their preaching. They'll be proclaiming the gospel, and they'll say, "Whatever or wherever you want to go, just make sure you go to church. It doesn't matter which church."
Another question that comes up is the following: "Who decides how often we meet? Show me the chapter and verse where it says we've got to be in church Sunday night. Where is that?"
Most defend this attitude with the argument that it's what you feel in your heart that is important, not if you go to church or not. Again, I'm simply articulating arguments that I've heard over and over again.
Finally, the excuse that so many fall back on to justify not attending worship regularly, "The church is full of hypocrites!" No kidding. I hadn't noticed. I suppose that's what happens when you put 300 sinners together in the same room.
These are varied comments and questions, but they can be reduced to two simple issues:
- Is corporate public worship mandatory, and if so, how often?
- Is membership in the Church of Christ necessary and exclusive?
Is worship mandatory?
If anybody says that they can worship God by themselves, or they can worship wherever or however they wish, or they don't need to attend a public corporate worship at all, they are simply demonstrating that they have not read or understood the Bible.
From the very beginning God required some form of worship from His people. It started with individual worship through sacrifice. We read about this in Genesis. The book of Genesis doesn't give us much information about how they worshipped, it simply gives us an example of these two men, Cain and Abel, offering worship to God. So, worship has existed from the very beginning.
During this time worship was practiced by individuals who offered various sacrifices to God. As the population grew worship was led by the head of the family on behalf of the family (i.e. Noah, Abraham, etc.).
After the period of the patriarchs, beginning with Moses until the appearance of Jesus, God demanded very specific forms of worship from His people. They offered worship and sacrifice to God through their priests and Levites at the Tabernacle in the desert and later on at the temple in Jerusalem. Many of the Old Testament books (Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus) are dedicated to explaining the details of the sacrificial system of worship offered by the priests and assisted by the Levites on behalf of the Jewish nation.
Following this period, Jesus through His Apostles continued this practice by giving us in the New Testament the form of worship that we practice since that time. This includes prayers, praise in songs, teachings, communion and giving.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
- Acts 2:42
On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.
- I Corinthians 16:2
I use these scriptures to demonstrate that from the day that the church was established, worship was something that was mandated. It was taught. All the believers participated. It was explained. God didn't simply leave the practice of worship to the people to figure out for and by themselves. He gave specific instructions through the Apostles concerning the manner in which they were to worship Him.
We also note that in every period God was the One who provided the way in which He desired proper worship to be conducted. For example, Cain's worship was rejected by God. We're not told exactly why but the fact that it was not pleasing to God means that something he did or some attitude that he had was not correct, because both Cain and Abel offered worship to God. One was accepted, one was rejected. The one who was rejected obviously didn't do something right.
During the Mosaic period, the manner in which worship was performed was very specific and some were punished by death for deviating from it. An example of this is found in II Samuel. The Jews were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem after it had been captured by their enemies. They attempted to move it from someone's home where it had been left by their enemies, the Philistines, and bring it into the capital city.
David and others with him loaded the ark on a cart and followed along with gladness and song until the oxen pulling the wagon stumbled risking the fall of the ark and Uzzah, to prevent this from happening, reached out with his hand to steady the sacred ark and was immediately killed by God for having touched it which was forbidden. We find out that later on, David returned with the Levites (who were sanctioned by God for the transport of the ark and other sacred objects located in the tabernacle) who brought long poles which were slipped through eyelets built into the ark for the very purpose of transporting it and thus safely returned it to the holy city.
At the establishment of the church on Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles immediately began to teach the new converts the manner of Christian worship, and they continued both by example and teaching, to encourage them to worship regularly in the way that they were taught (Acts 2:42-47).
The God who created the world, the God who gave Moses the Law, the God for whom the Temple in Jerusalem was built, the God who sent Jesus, is the same God today Who was worshipped then. We don't have a new-and-improved, or a more relaxed God in the New Testament. However, some people seem to think that the Old Testament God was an angry Deity who wanted everything done by the book, but now in the New Testament, God has become more lenient when it comes to worship and allows His worshippers to do as they please in this area of Christian life and practice.
My question is this, "If He was so exacting about how and when they worshiped Him in the Old Testament, what makes us think He makes no demands of us concerning worship in the New Testament?" Nothing has changed concerning the need to offer God acceptable worship.
- The Old Testament puts it this way, Exodus 20:8, "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day." This is a commandment, so the instruction to worship is conveyed through a commandment in the Old Testament.
- In the New Testament, the instruction to worship is given to us in the form of teaching and example. We need to understand that God conveys information to us in various ways. Sometimes it's a command, sometimes it's an example or a particular teaching. However, the message is still from God. We are still bound by it. Therefore, how does God convey His will in the New Testament concerning worship?
- To begin with, God used the inspired teaching of the Apostles to train the early church in the matter of proper worship. We note that New Testament worship is more simple and requires no appointed priests or complex sacrificial system to conduct (Jesus is our once for all sacrificial offering never to be repeated). However, we do have various spiritual practices that make up the Christian worship required of us by God today. We note early on that the Apostles were teaching the disciples how to worship. Acts 2:42 says the following: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." In this verse we see four of the five spiritual exercises of Christian worship - teaching/learning God's word; fellowship; breaking of bread/communion; prayer/praise. Later on in Acts 2:44-45 we note the fifth spiritual exercise of Christian worship and that is giving/sharing to meet needs.
The point is this, whether the Bible gives us instruction by a specific command, or a stream of teaching, or several examples, all of these things still have the weight of God's will. We tend to think that if it's not in a command form, then we're free to do as we will. We need to understand that an example of what we should do is just as weighty as a commandment to do what we should do.
So, in the Bible God expresses His will in a variety of ways, through commands, through teachings or through apostolic examples. Explaining this will be necessary if you wish to teach someone who asks you such a question, because their confusion usually centers around how God conveys His will. They think that if they don't see it in the New Testament as a command like the Ten Commandments then it has no bearing on our actions today. This, then is a misunderstanding about how God conveys information to us. I repeat for emphasis, anyone who feels that regular corporate public worship is not necessary, is a person who has not carefully read the scriptures or has read them, but chooses to ignore the passages that inconvenience their chosen lifestyle.
So yes, the Bible teaches that worship is mandatory, but does it teach that you have to do it three times a week? Now, in order to answer this question, I want to use a comparison to married love.
In a marriage relationship, God designed us in such a way that we must have sex at least one time in order to conceive a child. I think we all understand that. But how many of us would say that having sex once every year or two, to produce a child, would be something that would contribute to a healthy and a happy marriage? Yet, the command or the basic necessity is that only one occasion of intimacy between husband and wife can ultimately bring a child into this world. Here's my point, in our relationship with Christ, the Bible stipulates through teaching and example that Christians should worship at least once per week, the Lord's Day, to take the Lord's Supper. This is a pretty clear teaching in the New Testament (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2; Hebrews 10:25).
Through simple human experience, however, we have learned that the more times we repeat the worship experience, the healthier and more rewarding will our relationship be with Christ, our Lord. We've also learned through experience that those who limit their worship to the absolute minimum, usually end up falling away sooner or later. Just as in marriage, the more contact and interchange, the better the relationship.
Now, I could list a host of other positive reasons and benefits for repeated and regular worship, fellowship and Bible study, but this one, the fact that it strengthens our relationship with God, is the one I believe that really matters. People who neglect worship for worldly pleasure or pastimes, demonstrate what their priorities are. This is not a way to build up your faith. I understand that people work shifts, things happen, babies get sick, we go out of town and have to work overtime. There are plenty of reasons why you can't attend worship on a Wednesday or Sunday night, or make it for the Lord's day service. However, when our lifestyle includes regular worship, our faith can stand the pressure caused by missing regular worship at times. This is because in our lives, regular worship is the rule and not the exception.
Do you have to be a member of the Church of Christ?
The short answer to this is yes. Do you have to be a member of the church of Christ to be saved? Yes. Why? Three reasons.
1. You cannot be a Christian and be saved without being part of Christ's church.
Simple as that. I'll make it even more simple. There are really only two places to be in existence: you're either in the kingdom of darkness, which is the world, or you're in the kingdom of Christ, which is the church (Colossians 1:13). When you are saved, Jesus Himself adds you or places you into His body, which is the kingdom, which is the church (Acts 2:47). And the church, in this world, is an organized religious body. It's organized, of course, according to the New Testament, not according to somebody's idea, but it, nevertheless, is organized.
When I hear people say, "I'm a spiritual person, I love the Lord, but I have no use for organized religion." Really? Is that so? Well, I guess you and God don't agree on this, because He has a role for organized religion, because in the Old Testament He went to great lengths to organize Jewish worship, Jewish religion. And in the New Testament, His Son died on the cross in order to create the "organized" church of Jesus Christ, church of Christ or kingdom of light. Call it what you will. People who say they hate organized religion, are saying they hate the Lord's church, because the Lord's church is organized religion. I understand what they're saying. They hate religious groups that are there simply for money or who talk a good game, but they don't really do what they say. Sure, I understand that. But still, the very idea of being saved means to be part of the church.
Saying you don't want to be part of the church or you don't need the church, is to say that you don't need Christ. You cannot have Christ without the church. Why? Because He is the head of the body. Some people say, well, I'm faithful to the head, but I have no use for the body. Really? How do you do that metaphysically? You can't do it physically. You can't say, well, I'll just be with the head, but I don't want the body. You see, we haven't figured out how to remove the head and keep it going without the body, not yet. It's the same thing in the church. The body is Christ's body and the head is Christ. If you're faithful to the head, you're connected to the head and the body. No way around it.
2. You don't choose a church, because there's only one church that is pleasing and recognized by God, and that is the one formed according to His Word.
Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build My church," Matthew 16:18. Notice, He didn't say, upon this rock I will build a variety of churches to appeal to all religious flavors. He didn't say that. He just said, My church, one church. And that church belongs to Christ. You can join a religious group that calls itself a church and be part of that if you want to, but the Bible says that when you confess your faith in Christ, repent of your sins and are immersed in water in Jesus' name, He Himself adds you to His church.
Acts 2:41 says, "And on that day 3,000 souls were added to 'the church.'" Who added them to the church? Christ did. What did He add them to? His body. How? They confessed His name, repented, and were baptized, subsequently added to the church. Has anything changed in two thousand years? No. We continue to add people to the body of Christ in exactly the same way. Therefore, you have to be a member of the church that Christ adds you to in order to be saved.
3. There are many religious groups claiming to be Christ's church, but the only church that Christ will receive when He comes will be the one that has obeyed His word and His teaching concerning what a church is or is not.
In Matthew 7:22-24 Jesus has told us this. Many will say, Lord, Lord, on that day, and He'll say, I never knew you. What do you mean? We did miracles, we called on Your name, we had a big group. He said, no, get away from me. What did they do wrong? They didn't obey His word. You can't have any part of Me, if you don't obey My word. You don't become part of Me on your terms. You become part of Me, meaning Christ, you become part of Me on My terms. And on My terms I accept everyone, on My terms. There's no sinner who's too sinful not to be brought into Me, if he comes to Me on my terms, which are what? Believe, repent, be baptized Acts 2:38. Those are my terms.
If you love the Lord and want to be received by Him when He comes, you need to be sure that your church obeys and follows Jesus' word. All I can say to that is to compare the church of Christ to others, as far as their obedience to Christ's words in the New Testament are concerned, and see who is really following the pattern here.
The true church doesn't have a physical address, necessarily. That's not how we decide it. The true church is the one that truly follows Jesus' words. We're not saying that Churches of Christ are error free or perfect. But we do understand what the goal is. We do understand what it is that we need to do to please God. Now, are we actually doing this all the time? The scripture that comes to mind is, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We strive to be a faithful New Testament church and if we are faithful in this pursuit, we will love other people in the name of the Lord; we will sacrifice ourselves in the service to the Lord; we will give generously in order to move the cause ahead; we will strive for sexual purity; we will try to be honest people; husbands will love their wives and wives will respect and submit to their husbands. We will be those people, because that is what a faithful New Testament church teaches and encourages all of its members to do.
Let's put it this way, you have to be a member of Christ's body in order to be resurrected unto glory. And the church of Christ that I know, is dedicated to following Christ's words, and being His church, His body. You get to choose what you want to do from there on. Don't be ashamed of that. You can declare that and share that with someone, without being pompous or self-righteous. Again, it is not, I think or I believe, it should always be, I believe that the Bible teaches... and then fill in the blank and let the other person judge and decide if what you have shown them is accurate.
Here's another common question: If a person is baptized in a church other than a Restoration church (Church of Christ), and then wants to become a member of the Church of Christ, does that person have to be rebaptized? That's a good question. A person is baptized by immersion, let's say, by a Baptist preacher. And then later on starts to go to the Church of Christ, does he have to be rebaptized? An excellent question, because it refers to a very common occurrence in this area where there are so many Baptist churches as well as many congregations of the Churches of Christ.
So remember the rules, especially rule number two, keep it biblical. When it comes to baptism you have to consider two main factors:
- It must be done according to the Bible.
- It must be done for biblical reasons.
In order to be Christians according to Jesus' words, we must follow His words concerning all the facets of our spiritual lives, and this includes our baptism, about which Jesus and the Apostles taught quite extensively. So according to the Lord, baptism had to be done according to His Word, and for the reasons that He Himself outlined.
The manner of baptism
The manner of baptism is easy to understand, because the actual word for baptism is quite descriptive. I've explained before, so we're not going to spend a lot of time here. The word in the Greek (the original language of the New Testament) for baptism means to be plunged or to be immersed or to be buried in water. That's what the word means. There are other Greek words that mean to sprinkle water or to pour water and the Holy Spirit could have inspired the writers to use any one of these words, but no. Every single time baptism comes up, the word "baptizo", which means to immerse in water, is used.
So, if someone says, how does Jesus want me to be baptized? The answer is by immersion in water. Pretty simple. So if you were sprinkled with water or you had some water poured over your head, or you never had contact with water, then the manner of your baptism was incorrect and you need to be immersed in water in the name of Jesus to be biblically baptized in the name of Jesus or the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit which both mean the same thing…by the authority of.
The reasons for baptism
The reasons for baptism in the New Testament, believe it or not, are quite numerous. For example,
- Baptized in order to become a disciple - Matthew 28:18
- Baptism is also to obey the Lord - Mark 16:16
- Baptism in order to be born again - John 3:3
- Baptism to enter the kingdom - John 3:5
- Baptism to receive forgiveness - Acts 2:38
- Baptism to receive the Holy Spirit - Acts 2:38
- Baptism to be added to the church - Acts 2:47
- Baptism to wash away sins - Acts 22:16
- Baptism to be buried and resurrected with Christ - Romans 6:3-5
- Baptism to put on Christ - Galatians 3:26
- Baptism to have a clear conscience - I Peter 3:21
- Baptized in order to be saved - I Peter 3:21
There are more of these but this list is a good sample. Here's the point, three points actually.
First, in the Bible every reference to baptism associates it with something that means salvation in one way or another. In other words, to be born again is the same thing as to be saved. Why? Because only the saved are born again. Baptism is always related to salvation in every passage. That is good, solid Bible exposition. Every single passage where baptism is mentioned, it is always in connection with salvation. How anybody could ever say, no, you don't need to be baptized in the process of salvation, has not read these twelve passages. I only need one. Another point, baptism for any one or a combination of these reasons, is a biblical reason, and thus a right reason to be baptized. You were baptized in order to obey the Lord? You've got a right reason. You were baptized because you wanted to be born again? Good for you. You were baptized because you were appealing to God for a clear conscience? Fine. That's a good reason.
Here's the point I want to make about this, very few people know or understand every biblical reason for baptism when they are baptized, but they must do it for at least one biblical reason for it to be legitimate. I'll use myself as an example. In November 1977 I was baptized. What scripture really drew me to baptism? Mark 16:16. I didn't want to be lost. I was a sinner and I knew it. I wanted to be saved but how would that happen? So the preacher opened the Bible and read Mark 16:16. "Those who believe and are baptized will be saved." The preacher studying with me said, "What does it say, Michael?" "Well, I answered, it says if you believe and are baptized you would be saved." He continued, "Does it mean anything else?" I looked at the passage again and thought about his question and answered, "No." I then said to him, "Well, alright, let's go. Where's the water?" He said, "Why?" I replied with certainty, "I want to be saved. I don't want to go to hell. I want to become a Christian. I want to obey the Lord. I've spent my life disobeying Him, now I want to obey Him."
I had no idea that night that at my baptism I would also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). I didn't understand the concept that at baptism I was added to the Lord's body. I didn't know these things because I hadn't been fully taught yet. Can you imagine every time I learned another reason or blessing as a result of baptism I would have to be re-baptized? This is why I say that if you are baptized for one legitimate biblical reason (i.e. forgiveness or to be saved etc.) then you receive all of the blessings God has attached to this initial expression of faith in Jesus Christ.
However, the opposite is true as well. Baptism for a non-biblical idea or reason invalidates your baptism. For example, being baptized because my friend was baptized is not a biblical reason for baptism. Neither is being baptized because my parents want me to; or baptized so I can marry my girlfriend; baptized because it's my birthday or because everyone else at camp is going to have it done on the last night; or being baptized as a sign that I'm already saved by some other method. All of these are not biblical reasons and therefore not valid. So as true as the first point is: if you're baptized for one right reason, you receive all the blessings that come with biblical baptism. Conversely, if you're not baptized for the right reason, then you don't receive any of the blessings.
For this reason, if you're baptized for the wrong reason, your baptism is invalid. The Bible provides an example of what to do in a case like this.
1It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7There were in all about twelve men.
- Acts 19:1-7
We read in this passage of 12 men who were baptized the right way (by immersion) but for the wrong reason (they received John's baptism to prepare for the coming of the kingdom). However, this baptism was administered after Pentecost Sunday when the kingdom had fully arrived and Peter was inviting people to enter in through the preaching of the gospel. So Paul meets with them and in his study realizes that they know nothing of the Spirit having received John's baptism instead of Jesus' baptism which carried with it the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Even though they had been baptized in the correct manner (immersion), Paul re-baptizes them but this time not only in the correct manner but also for a correct biblical reason (in their case for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit).
So to answer the original question and to finish up this chapter, when you want to know if you need to be re-baptized, compare the reason and the manner in which you were baptized to the Bible. If you were baptized in an unbiblical way or for an unbiblical reason, then the Bible teaches that you should be rebaptized in the correct way and for one or all of the correct reasons.
Of course, as I say, the opposite is also true: if you were baptized correctly for a true biblical reason, then your baptism is Biblical and thus never to be repeated.