"I don't have to go to church to be a Christian.  I can be a Christian very well all by myself'."

On the surface this sounds like common sense. After all, the fact that you step inside a fancy building once a week where they sing hymns and read the Bible and listen to a sermon --- this doesn't make you a Christian. Think of all the hypocrites who go to church. Think of the people who go to church every Sunday and the other six days they're as mean and selfish as old Satan himself.  What good does church do them? Everybody knows it's the way you live that counts. I can live a better life than those hypocrites if I never go to church!    

Yes, there are hypocrites in the church. There are people who may go to church every Sunday and absolutely deny the gospel of Christ by the way they live. Certainly if they live lives that are selfish and godless Monday through Saturday, going to church will never save them from hell.

But while I admit all that, I am going to make a statement which you may find dogmatic and distasteful. Nevertheless I am convinced it's true. If you’re serious about following Jesus, you’re going to do it in company with other people who are following Jesus.  The Master himself fits you into his Body somewhere, and it’s up to you to carry your share of the weight of his glory.  You will gather with these others to receive strength from the presence of the Lord in your midst.   You will pray together.  You will worship together.  You will commune with the Master in the Breaking of Bread.

You can be morally pure without "going to church." Some of the most moral people in the city where you live have not seen the inside of the church since they were twelve years old. You can be a good citizen without going to church.  You can be a religious person without going to church. You can be many other fine things without going to church. But if you are a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, you will fit into his Body wherever he puts you.

The word "Christian" is used so loosely these days that its meaning is often lost. But when the word "Christian" was first used it meant that the person was a disciple of Jesus Christ, a person who had surrendered their life into the hands of Jesus to do his will. To be a Christian meant much more than to be moral and kind and religious. The world is full of moral, kind and religious pagans.

A Christian is a person who has gone down into the grave of baptism, turned their back on their old life, (even if it was moral and kind and religious), and has thrown in their lot with Jesus. Now Jesus is your life. Jesus is your Master and you do what he commands.

All right, so I commit my life to Jesus Christ, what does that have to do with going to church? Can't I follow Jesus and do his will without getting mixed up in church?

If you follow Jesus and do his will, you will soon find yourself in some kind of fellowship. It may be a simple gathering in a neighbor's kitchen, or a large congregation on Main Street. But a church it will be. For two reasons:

1. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ in isolation.

There's a gospel song which has been popular for many years especially with those dear souls who think that they can be Christians all by themselves.

I walk in the garden alone

while the dew is still on the roses,

And the voice I hear falling on my ear,

the Son of God discloses.

And he walks with me and he talks with me,

and he tells me I am his own

And the joys we share as we tarry there,

none other has ever known.

What a picture "Just me and Jesus" in the garden. The "ideal church"!  Nobody to ruffle my feathers.  Nobody to hurt my feelings. Nobody to ask me for help. Nobody to expose my weaknesses. Nobody to submit to. Of course this "rose garden Jesus" doesn't ruffle my feathers, or hurt my feelings or expose my weaknesses, or anything else unpleasant. Do you know why? He's imaginary. A lie. 

When you become a disciple of Jesus Christ, the first thing he does is to bring you into fellowship with other disciples --- flesh and blood people. People with faults and weaknesses and annoying habits and trying ways. But they're his. His disciples. His little children learning to grow into spiritual maturity.

When Jesus spoke to Paul at his conversion, he didn't tell him everything right then and there. He forced Paul to take that wonderful step of humility. Go, join the other believers. Submit to them. Kneel down and let them lay their hands on your head and be baptized by them. "Arise and go into the city and it shall be told you what you  must do." Who's going to tell Paul what he must do? An angel? No, a man. A little fellow named Ananias comes and tells Paul the things he needs to know. Not even the great apostle Paul could be a disciple in isolation. His light and guidance and strength came through other believers: the Body.

All his life, Paul's relationship with Jesus was tied up with his relationship with other believers. Jesus spoke to Paul through other believers, Jesus sent Paul out as a missionary through those believers. Human hands were laid on his head when he was ordained to go forth. And when Paul went out as a missionary did he go alone? Never. He went with Barnabas. Or he went with Silas. Never alone. Never just going his own way.

"For we, being many, are one body in Christ and everyone members one of another." 

If you are really following Jesus you are part of the Body of Christ.  Part of it. You are incomplete without the rest of it. Suppose my right eye decided it didn't want to come with me today. It said to the rest of my body, "I don't feel like going to church today. I'm going to stay here and lie on the pillow and catch up on my sleep." What would happen? My body would suffer without that eye, to be sure. But my eye, lying back there on the pillow all by itself would fare far worse. By the time I returned to my eye in the evening, it would be dead. It would be dead, because the eye cannot function without the constant renewal of the blood stream of my body. Remove it from my body and it dies.

If you are a disciple, Jesus has given you a function in this Body ---  in the fellowship. You have a ministry, a work which nobody can do but you. If you don't do it, it doesn't get done, and the whole body suffers. But the one who suffers most when you become lax and careless and isolate yourself from the gathered fellowship is you. You die spiritually.

The Narrow Road of discipleship is strewn with spiritual wrecks.. They are wrecks because they won't believe this. Wrecks because they believe this miserable lie: I can be a Christian  all by myself.

2. You will find yourself in the Body  when you are a disciple of Jesus because you cannot be a disciple of Jesus and miss the blessing of the Sabbath.

Jesus got in trouble with the Scribes and Pharisees because they thought he was breaking the Sabbath. He went through the grain fields and ate grain on the Sabbath day. He healed the sick on the Sabbath. He told a man he had healed to carry his mattress on the Sabbath day. "How can this Jesus be of God?", they said. "Look how he breaks the Sabbath!"

But did he? Did Jesus really break the commandment? Where was Jesus on the Sabbath day? In the synagogue --- church. Jesus didn't agree with everything in the synagogue. He didn't approve of all that was going on. But he was there. "And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read." This is how Jesus kept the Sabbath. He gathered with other believers and read and heard the scriptures.

The Seventh Day Adventists may get side-tracked on the issue of whether the Sabbath should be Saturday or Sunday. But at least they're emphasizing the commandment in an age in which Christians by the thousands are weakening it, and "teaching men to do so."

"Yes, but when I was a child they made me sit with my hands folded all day on Sunday. I couldn't even read a book or take a walk." We all agree that this was ridiculous. As our Lord says, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Our Lord never sat in a corner and twiddled his thumbs on the Sabbath. But there was never a Sabbath that Jesus and his disciples were not gathered with the believers in the synagogue or in the temple. This is how they kept the Sabbath, and this is how we are meant to keep it. One day in seven we turn away from our normal routine and duties and gather to feed upon his word.

In the early days of Christianity, believers risked their lives to gather together in the catacombs on the Lord's Day to worship. They met at great cost.   Were they just being stubborn? They gathered on the Lord's day week by week and heard the word and received the body and blood of Christ because they knew that this Lord's day gathering was essential to the life of God in them. It was a pagan, godless, evil, sensate, corrupt world out there. They knew their own weakness and realized that they would soon slip back into their old sins unless they were constantly sustained in this way.

Today people think it's optional. "If you want to you can, but you don't have to go to church to be a Christian." Friend, the world you live in is ten times as pagan and demonic as it was in the days when Christians were thrown to the lions. If you break the Sabbath, you're breaking your own spiritual neck. You'll never survive as a disciple of Jesus Christ in this world. You'll compromise and cut corners until there's nothing left of your faith but an empty shell.

"But what about the people who do belong to the church? They come every Sunday. Yet they never change. They're the same hypocrites now as they were ten years ago. I don't want that to happen to me," you say, "I don't want to get into that rut."

The answer to that worry is very simple. What you find in your church as you come week by week depends on what you seek. If you come seeking nothing, you may very well get nothing. If you come seeking the dubious feeling of satisfaction, "Well, I've done my duty. I've gone to church," that's about all you'll get. You did your duty. You sat through another service.

But if you come seeking Jesus, you will find Jesus, as you will find him nowhere else on earth, but among believers. Even if the sermon misses you. Even if the hymns don't reach you. If you come seeking to renew your life with your Lord, you'll find him here and he'll speak to you.

Listen to the promise again. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Not just gathered together. Not just sitting in church, but seeking the Lord. Calling on his name. Listening to his word. Crying out for his Spirit. If this is why you come, you'll never leave this church empty-handed. Never.

This is the upper room where the disciples gather around their Lord and receive their instructions week by week.   This is the table where the Lord gives to his family the precious bread of heaven. This is an oasis in the desert of Satan's dying kingdom, where the healing waters flow and the soldiers of God are refreshed and renewed to go back into the battle and fight harder.

Never in all your life, until the day you die, will you come closer to your Lord than you are in the blessed hour when the disciples gather in Jesus' name.

"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy."

May God give you wisdom to keep this commandment and to teach your children to do so, that as the years roll on, your branch in the Vine of Christ may not wither and be cut off and thrown into the fire. Abiding in him faithfully, may you bring forth much fruit and survive as his disciple to the very end.