Widespread restrictions against large gatherings have forced the closure of many churches and have made church attendance nearly impossible at this time. The government requests that churches not hold services have also generated much discussion about whether or not it is sinful for a Christian to miss church. On one side of the conversation are those who say it is always wrong to miss a church service and they refuse to cancel services no matter what. On the other side of the conversation are those who think church attendance is entirely optional and rarely, if ever, attend.
The first question to answer is if the Bible commands Christians to attend church. Yes it does, in the clearest possible terms. The words of Hebrews 10:25 carry the force of a command, “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another.” This verse is a command to Christians to regularly attend church. The New Testament is also full of instructions that are dependent on faithful church attendance. Fundamentally, the New Testament word for church means an assembly. If Christians do not assemble together they are not a church.
Can Christians assemble online together? Hebrews 10:25 says Christians assemble together to exhort one another. Christians go to church to interact with other Christians. While online interaction can serve a useful role, it cannot replace the relationship that can only be developed face to face. Christians need the kind of relationship that sits across the table from you, shares a meal with you, looks you in the eye, holds your hand or gives you a hug.
Virtual church may supplement church attendance, or serve as a temporary substitute when circumstances make church attendance impossible. But listening to a sermon online, singing hymns with your family or watching a church service on television can never replace face to face church attendance. Only gathering with other believers as the body of Christ is “the assembling of yourselves together.
However, the Bible does not command perfect church attendance. The command of Hebrews 10:25 is that believers “not forsake” the assembling. Christians are not to be deserters from the assembly. When the church assembles Christians should be there, but missing a church service or two is not necessarily forsaking the assembling. The Christian’s desire and priority should be to gather with other believers. The Christian who disregards church attendance, only attends when it is convenient or always has an excuse for why they cannot attend this Sunday is breaking the command to not forsake the assembly. If you go to church and the regulars greet you with surprise, or someone hands you a visitors card, that is a pretty good hint you might be forsaking the assembly.
The Christian who misses a service because of illness or weather is not sinning. The church that cancels Sunday services for a week or two because of factors outside their control is not sinning. The church is God’s great gift to the Christian. It is a wonderful gathering of the members of the body of Christ who are joined together in Jesus to worship their Savior, to serve one another, to be encouraged in Christlikeness and to be equipped to take the hope of Jesus to the unsaved. Why would you not want to be a regular part of that?