This is a very short (trust me!) response to an important question. Is it a sin for someone who professes faith in Jesus Christ to be consistently absent from and thus inactive in a local church?
Yes, I believe it is a sin.
When considering this issue, many will point to Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
While I believe that clear calling and command are helpful, I believe 1 Corinthians 12 is even more helpful when considering the critical importance of active church membership and involvement for a follower of Jesus Christ. As verse 12 and following make clear, the singular body (the church) with many individual parts (church members) cannot possibly function properly if those parts are not actively involved.
“Now you ([plural you – i.e. you all]) are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Paul was writing this letter to the local church in Corinth. They were one body – one church – consisting of many members. And, just as we understand clearly from the body and body parts analogy, a body that is missing members simply cannot function properly or naturally. All members are needed, just as all members need the body. When a member is missing, the rest of the body is affected.
So often, when people choose to miss church services and not maintain active church involvement, they think it is primarily about them…
“I’m busy and just don’t really have time for the church right now.”
“I’m not getting much out of it.”
“I don’t need to go to church to worship God.”
But, all of those excuses (and countless others I have heard) are centered on the individual choosing to not engage with the church. I do not recall the last time I heard someone say, “I really need to get back in church, so that I can better serve others and help them grow in their relationship with God.”
What if that was our motivation? What if we loved one another so much that our longing to be actively involved with our church was less about our individual selves and more about each other and the church as a whole?
What if we applied the greatest commandment to love God with your entire being and the second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40) to our church life?
“But, I’m busy and just don’t really have time for the church right now.”
Sure, you might be busy, but you will make time for what is important in life.
“But, I’m not getting much out of it.”
You might not be “getting much out of it,” but what can you do to make sure others are getting much? And, are sharing your concerns about spiritual growth and health with church leaders?
“But, I don’t need to go to church to worship God.”
Yes, you can worship God anywhere, but you need the church and the church needs you.
In a letter to another local church, Paul said, “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…” (Romans 12:3-6).
Now, consider your excuses for not being an active church member, and see if they can still be defended in light of 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. I am not aware of any that can, with the exception of those who are sick or imprisoned for their faith, in which case the church is called to go to them.
Granted, many choose not to join and be active in a church because they do not yet have a born-again relationship with Jesus Christ. In that case, we cannot expect unbelievers to act like believers.
If you do profess to know and follow Jesus, though, please prove the legitimacy of your faith by obeying His Word and loving His church.