I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, do I?

I think the question in and of itself reveals the problem at hand. Brick-and-mortar has replaced flesh-and-blood in our working definition of “church.” My question, in turn, then becomes, “When did a building replace the people as ‘the church,’ by definition?” Before we can ever deal with whether or not we need to “go to church,” we must deal with the fundamental flaw in our thinking that initiates such a question. Either we are asking if we need to venture to a building, which is a legitimate question, or we are asking to be removed from humanity somehow (which is quite irrational).

The first official “church building” – a central structure where Christians meet for worship – did not appear until the third century. Before that, any given community could have had any number of “church meetings” in any number of houses in said community. The average house would hold a handful of people and, in turn, several houses would make up the local “church.” When Paul wrote his letters to specific “churches,” it was not to centralized buildings to which he addressed them. They were circulated among the many “house churches” in the community (and, by the way, many of his letters were circulated among many communities).

Thus, it was the people, and specifically gathered, that constituted “the church.” In fact, theologically speaking, humanity itself is the church (at least by original intent). And Christians signify that mass of humanity. Where two or more are gathered, by definition that is church.

That being said: I understand your sentiment of “going to church” as the building and, typically, on Sunday. While folks could “have church in [their] front yard,” many (it is safe to say) do not. However, technically speaking, I have played football with my kids and the kids in the area in my front yard, which could have been defined as, in fact, “church.” A time and chance to be a part of their lives is the gospel message lived out in humanity. Unfortunately, our excuse of no need for “going to church” has less to do with living the gospel out in humanity and more to do with, ironically, living without (out-side-of) humanity.
And while I agree that the building has become an idol and graven image of some so-called god for many, certainly in order to have church in my front yard I need to be equipped in order to do so. Perhaps, rather than discounting the building, we should utilize it and its centrality as a center for equipping the saints. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, simply throw away churchianity!

So, to answer your question: If we are speaking of “the church” as a building then, no, we do not “need to go to church” to be Christian (“Christianity” is not about church but, rather, Christ by definition). But if we are speaking of “the church” as its proper meaning – humanity – then, yes, it is how God has designed to have His Good News expressed. With this definition in mind, it is “the church” for which Christ died. And it is His death which initiated the same.

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