Do we need to go to church to be part of the body of Christ? The bible says that the church is the body of Christ. So then if we don't go to church are we still in the body of Christ? Are there spiritual consequences for not going to church?
As believers, we should seek to be connected with the body of Christ. Often being part of a church or group of believers is helpful in this. However going to church isn't always a connection with the body of Christ. It depends on the person and the church.
First, it's important to know that there is a difference between "the church" and "churches". "Churches" are creations of man. Churches are institutions that are built and run by different people. Generally churches (and the people in them) have good intentions. However, good intentions don't make them ambassadors of God. Many kinds of depravity can be found within churches.
On the other hand, "the church" is the body of Christ. "The church" is a body of people who have been spiritually resurrected with Christ. The people in this body are certainly not perfect, but they are the flock of Christ. They are distinct from other people because God has redeemed and consecrated them to serve him.
This body of Christ is made up of all sorts of people from different walks of life. They can be within the same church community or separated from eachother by distance and time. In the body, souls are bonded by the sacrifice of Christ, and the common interest of his Kingdom. Within the body of Christ there isn't always perfect harmony (Acts 15.2), but there is perfect kinship. All true believers are a part of the body of Christ.
There is spiritual unity in the body of Christ, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12 KJV bible).
In the beginning of Christianity, the body of Christ was easy to identify. The first Christians were the body of Christ, and they were also the first church. They knew eachother because they served God and worshipped together. The first church was made up of the first Christians. By the Holy Spirit they had unity of purpose and mind.
The first church was the body of Christ, "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:46-47 KJV bible).
However, this time of soundness and unity in the church didn't last long. As the first church grew into a network of churches there quickly arose strifes and difficulties. There began to be immoral conduct, such as people cheating eachother (1st Cor 6.5-8). There were also contentions and divisions.
Strife and division appeared in the churches, "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you" (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 ASV bible).
When we look at some of the latest books of the New Testament we find that the faith was in peril from within. There were all kinds of false claims being made in the name of Jesus. The situation is strikingly different from the first church in Acts.
Many heretics had entered the flock, "...even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:18-19 KJV bible).
John describes many going out from them, that were not of them. They went out in the name of Christ, but they weren't part of the body of Christ. They had left behind the testimony of the original apostles, and were spreading false gospels (see also Revelation 2.2).
This was a part of a general corruption of the faith that affected most of the churches. In Jesus' last message to believers, he reproves five of the seven ancient churches. Some had gone so far astray that he declares them almost dead.
Jesus reproves five churches in Revelation, "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead...Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy" (Revelation 3.1,4 KJV bible).
It's natural for people to think of their own church or denomination as the body of Christ. They often believe that they have the same anointing as the first church, and are doing mighty works for God. They often present their own church experience as being in the body of Christ. In their mind, they are representative of the body of Christ. So to be connected to the body, other believers should be following their example.
Yet, the New Testament documents a dilution of the faith that took place. The body of Christ is no longer a particular church or group of believers. Rather the body is a scattered remnant who are connected spiritually in Christ. No longer is any church "the church".
Serving a particular brand of Christianity isn't being connected to the body of Christ. If anything it tends to have the opposite effect. It creates a suspicion and distrust of others, that disconnects people from the true body. Taken to the extreme, you have a cult.
What's clear is that there still is a body of Christ. However, no group or institution is exclusively the body. A church maybe part of the body of Christ, or it might not be. A church might have some members who are part of the body of Christ, and some who aren't. A church might being doing great works for God, or it might be serving itself.
One of the difficult parts of being a Christian is discerning other parts of the body. Because of corruption, the "Christian" label means very little. Some "Christians" follow traditions they've learned, and aren't sure of what they believe. Others feign a love for Christ because they want attention for themselves, and are seeking their own glory. Some Christians do believe in their hearts, but have many personal flaws to work out. None of us are perfect.
Further, many decent churches are under spiritual attack. The enemy places bad apples in churches to subvert them, and bring them under his authority. These false believers are like weeds that stop the truth from prospering. False believers will turn places of salvation into spiritual graveyards. Because of them, the way of truth has much evil spoken against it (2nd Peter 2.2).
Sometimes churches can be more like minefields than sanctuaries. However, God has not left us defenseless. He has given us the power of discernment. Words are cheap, but we can use discernment to know what's in people's hearts.
We know people better by their actions, than their words, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him" (1 John 2:3-5 KJV bible).
In addition to discernment, we have the witness and testimony of scripture. The Old Testament is a record of the nation of Israel leading up to the coming of Christ. The New Testament is a record of the testimony of Christ and his apostles. Together these books provide a spiritual road map that we can rely on for guidance and teaching. The Holy Spirit uses the scriptures to help us know the difference between truth and lies.
So every true Christian is a part of the body of Christ. We should all seek a deeper connection within the body. Going to church is a way that many believers accomplish this. However, we should also use discernment and wisdom. Being yoked with false believers is not being connected to the body of Christ.
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