QOTD: Do you have to go to church to be truly spiritual?

QOTD (Question of the Day) Introduction: This blog series reviews questions asked to teenagers as part of the NSYR study as documented in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. These questions relate to “seeker attitudes” among American Teenagers. I am also using these discussion questions to engage the kids in our After School program at a deeper level.

Question: Do you need to be involved in a religious congregation to be truly religious and spiritual?

“Here the majority of American teens swings back to the more individualistic position: two-things say believers do not need to be involved in congregations to be spiritual and religious; only one-third say that they do.” (Soul Searching)

My Brief Answer:

First, we need to answer the question, “What does it mean to be truly religious and spiritual?” This could mean a few things. It could mean, “right with God (saved)?” It could mean, “fully obedient?

If they mean “right with God” then the answer is No. It’s No, because only one thing is required to be right with God: faith in His Son Jesus Christ. To add anything to that list, no matter how good a thing, is legalism. I’m a big fan of being part of a church, but it doesn’t contribute to your salvation.

However, if they mean “fully obedient” then I would say Yes. I say this for a few reasons.

  • A head without a body is as bad as a body without a head: Kevin DeYoung made this point in Why We Love the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church is the body of Christ. It’s always bad news when you have the body without the head (a church without Christ). But it’s just as bad if you have a head without a body (or an invisible body). The Body of Christ was always meant to be a visible and serving witness to Christ in the world.
  • A severed limb isn’t good for anything: In this body, every part has a role to play. That means you. You are needed. You are needed to build others up. But you have to be present (or at least involved) to participate in a meaningful way.
  • Disengagement leads to disobedience: Read my Advice for College Students.

What if you are unable to participate in a religious congregation?

Certainly there are those individuals who are unable to actually attend a church on a regular basis. In our church we call them “shut-ins.” Although they don’t come to church they continue to participate in the religious community in other ways. Various members of our congregation go to visit them and give them updates on church life. They continue to participate through prayer. They are not present, but they participate. I am extremely thankful for the shut-ins in our church. They are a blessing to all of us. There are occasions where church attendance is not possible. However, for the vast majority of us, it’s not about possibility it is about priority. Sometimes we say, “I couldn’t go” when we really mean “I didn’t really want to go.” Do your best to understand the difference.

What do you think? Have I gone too far? Not far enough? What are other reasons why church participation is essential?


2 thoughts on “QOTD: Do you have to go to church to be truly spiritual?

  1. exreligiouschristian

    I would yes and no to this question, back in November I left my former church that I’d been raised in for my entire life. To make a long story short, there were some extreme doctrine errors and they were very legalistic. I didn’t attend another church until March and during that time I was figuring out my relationship with Jesus without being guided by religious teachers or legalism and I grew immensely from it, I was able to figure out where I stood with Jesus and didn’t have the distractions church can bring, so for this reason I say no church isn’t essential to be spiritual. On the other hand those months were very, very lonely and I craved to be around believers. Like you said a body is nothing without a head, also I think Christians weren’t meant to be in isolation, we were meant to be with each other, praising Christ and building one another up. For me, I know that church is very important now and will always be but I would understand if people needed to take church sabbaticals for the purpose of healing or growing closer to God on their own.

    1. stevenkopp Post author

      Well said. It is a sad fact that many need to take “sabbaticals” from church. Such was certainly not God’s intention. Nevertheless, it is true that sometimes churches are places that hurt, instead of help, those who attend. Jesus had pretty strong words against that kind of religion.

      I would like to add, though, that for those who have been “spiritually abused,” while a short break might be reasonable, that that break should be time-limited. After which, go, find a healthy, God-honoring church, and begin participation in the life of the body. It sounds like you did just that.

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