Not going to church is heresy.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 June

Yeah, this article’s title, “Not going to church is heresy,” is gonna be provocative. Mostly because most people don’t understand what heresy means. It means “not orthodox”—when people don’t believe what Christians have historically believed, and oughta believe, because to believe otherwise is gonna lead us away from Jesus. Most people presume heresy means “a belief that’ll send you to hell.” No; we’re saved by grace, remember? Not good works. And our belief system (our “faith,” if you wanna call it that) is a good work.

Going to church is one of those good works. Jesus created the church when he picked the apostles and told ’em to go make him more followers. Which they did; which we still do, I hope! And he expects us followers to fellowship. That means we talk about Jesus with one another, share what he’s done in our lives, encourage one another, confess shortcomings and sins if necessary, pray together, worship together, do sacraments together, listen to some teachings about Jesus together… in other words, do church. Go to church!

But people don’t wanna.

Which I get. There’s many times I didn’t wanna. I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings like a pagan. I wanted to listen to anything other than my pastor’s sermon series—either it was full of stuff I already know, or it’s full of stuff I don’t believe. I likewise wanted to listen to anything other than the worship music: Our worship pastor didn’t care to stay current with music, and was stuck in the 1980s… as you could tell by his wardrobe. And I wanted to avoid the jerks in my church who just frustrated me about how much partisanship has infiltrated American Evangelical Christianity, and made us less patient, generous, kind, and gracious.

Plus nowadays there are entire church services on YouTube! Didn’t have those 20 years ago; at most we had radio, and Christian radio shows are often just sermons, abridged to 25 minutes, or edited into two or three parts. But I could watch video church instead! I could even watch ’em from the bathroom, during my high-fiber-cereal-induced B.M. I love modern technology.

But. But but but.

All these things are convenient substitutes for the Sunday morning services. And while the coronavirus pandemic was raging in 2020, they were a godsend. But do I need to remind you Sunday morning services are not church? Guess I do: They’re not.

The church is people. Not the denomination, not the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, not the leadership, not the building. It’s people. It’s the collective Christians who make up the Holy Spirit’s temple, and when we got the temple, we got church. Yet usually, those who wanna ditch church don’t even think of the people when they think of church. They’re thinking of the Sunday morning services, the unimpressive pastors, and the uncomfortable building—which is never at the right temperature. Poorly ventilated, or someone went a little bonkers with the air conditioning. Why is the only pastor undergoing menopause in charge of the thermostat?

But I digress; back to the point. The church is people. If you’re avoiding the people, you’re not doing church!

And that’s why we’re instructed to not skip meeting with one another He 10.25 if we can help it. If we’re gonna have healthy and productive relationships with our fellow Christians, and encourage one another to follow Jesus, we gotta interact. The ancient Christians, who spent most of their lives under persecution, realized this support system is absolutely necessary—and intentionally put “the fellowship of saints” in their creeds. It’s not an afterthought; it’s not something they threw in there ’cause it sounds nice. People were ditching church even back then.

Thing is, going it alone leads people astray constantly. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Do I have to emphasize this harder?

People go astray even when we do attend church services faithfully! But when we’re not attending at all, we’re guaranteed to go wrong. Not sometimes gonna go wrong; will. Without fellow Christians to correct one another, reinforce one another, confirm what the Spirit is telling us, it’s a given that we’re gonna develop wrong beliefs and heresies, and become less and less Christian over time. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.

So no, it’s not just me saying skipping church is heresy. I don’t get to define orthodoxy and heresy, y’know. (Neither do you. Neither does your denomination.) Christianity determined it, centuries ago. They recognized it’s vitally important we interact—because Jesus made it important. It’s why he created the church to begin with.

Video church, and other inferior substitutes.

I went to a Christian college, and my first semester I tried to find a local church I could attend while I was at school. Didn’t like any of ’em. (Partly because they were full of my eager classmates, and the pastors of those churches had unwisely decided to take advantage of their enthusiasm, and actually put ’em in charge of stuff. Um… I wanted mature Christians to run things in a church, not my peers whom I got to see peeing in the shower on weekdays. But I’m digressing again.)

So, my second semester, I discovered the joys of sleeping in. It’s kinda awesome!

And I justified it by saying, “Well I go to chapel every day. Plus I’m at a Christian school; I’m surrounded by the community of saints. If I need correction, I have resident advisers. Confirmation?—there’s the guys in my dorm, or the professors.” If you’ve been to a Christian college, you’ve heard these excuses. They’re lame and self-justifying—and easily exploded by pointing out, “Say you meet a pagan in the local coffeehouse and lead him to Jesus. Where y’gonna invite him to church? How’s he gonna get baptized? He can’t go to our chapel, you realize.”

Besides which: The church is people. And the people who attend our chapels, as soon as the semester is over, go home. They’re only a community for 10 weeks. We’re meant to be part of a community a bit more permanent than that.

I did have my home church, which I attended faithfully when I wasn’t at school. Had YouTube existed at the time, I’d’ve definitely watched their video church services. (I have no doubt lots of Christian college students are doing just that, instead of attending local services.) That was my permanent community; when I did evangelism back home, that is where I’d invite new converts to plug in.

Since I’m already talking about video church: Yep, thanks to the pandemic, lots of people have switched to video church, and same as with their office jobs, they’re not gonna stop telecommuting anytime soon. Again, I don’t blame them: I’ve watched Sunday morning services from home, in my jammies, eating Belgian waffles, which are the only proper waffles y’know. It’s very convenient. But again: We’re dodging people. Which is one thing when they’re spreading plague, but once things go back to normal (as we’re taking all appropriate precautions), so should we, and go to church.

Because I guarantee you those people who are doing video church, are not interacting with their fellow Christians in those churches. Some are—and they’re the exceptions, who intend to go back to in-person services as soon as they can. The rest? They took advantage of the situation and ghosted their churches. They interact with nobody, lest someone ask them the uncomfortable question, “So… when are you coming back?”

Look, if you wanna evade interaction and accountability, I get it. (Particularly when you’re sinning, and trying your darnedest to ignore your conscience.) But sin and irresponsibility is an even faster way to get all twisted and wrong. Video church, radio church, podcast church, and every other kind of multimedia church, is still dodging church—because the church is people.

I’ve met plenty of people in the past, before the internet got big, who listened to Christian radio instead of attending church. Big heretics. Usually because a lot of Christian radio stations back then did not care which shows they broadcast, so there’d be a lot of heretics. Like Harold Camping, who straight-up told people to stop going to church; he said it was apostate, and people could listen to his radio show instead. (And send him their tithe money instead, while they were at it.) Radio-only Christians tended to be mighty fleshly—to fear everyone and everything, and their fears made ’em unkind, impatient, angry, conspiracy-minded, and gun-worshiping. Typically the worst kind of dark Christians—and full of weird, confusing, false beliefs about who Jesus is, and what he’s gonna do to people once he returns.

Those people have internet now. They’re way crazier. Don’t follow them; follow Jesus! And importantly, follow Jesus collectively—with fellow Christians. Whom you don’t solely interact with through a computer screen.