The Bible’s Viewpoint
Should We Go to Christian Meetings?
“I USED to go to church, but not anymore.” “I think you can worship God anywhere, not just in a church.” “I believe in God and the Bible, but I don’t believe in going to church.” Have you heard similar expressions? More and more, people today say such things, especially in Western lands. People who used to go to church no longer think that it is necessary. What does the Bible say about going to church?
The words “church” and “churches” occur over 110 times in the King James Version. Other translations also use these terms. The Greek word translated “church” literally means “a calling forth,” or, in other words, a gathering of people. For example, Acts 7:38, in the King James Version, tells of Moses being “in the church in the wilderness,” that is, among the congregated nation of Israel. In another instance the Scriptures state that “a bitter persecution started against the church,” referring to the community of Christians in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1, The Jerusalem Bible) In one of his letters, Paul greets “the church in [Philemon’s] house,” the local congregation that met there.—Philemon 2, Revised Standard Version.
Clearly, the term “church” as used in the Bible designates, not a place of worship, but rather a group of worshipers. Acknowledging this, Clement of Alexandria, a second-century religious teacher, wrote: “Not the place, but the congregation of the elect, I call the Church.” Still, must Christians be present at a specific location or building in order for their worship to be acceptable to God?
Worship in the Nation of Israel
The Law of Moses required that all Jewish men be present at a specific location for three annual festivals. Many women and young ones also attended. (Deuteronomy 16:16; Luke 2:41-44) On certain occasions the priests and the Levites taught the congregated throngs, reading from God’s Law. They ‘expounded it, put meaning into it, and gave understanding in the reading.’(Nehemiah 8:8) For Sabbath years, God’s direction stated: “Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident who is within your gates, in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn, as they must fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this law.”—Deuteronomy 31:12.
Only at the temple in Jerusalem could a person offer sacrifices to God and receive instruction from the priests. (Deuteronomy 12:5-7; 2 Chronicles 7:12) In time, other houses of worship were established in Israel—the synagogues. These were locations for the reading of the Scriptures and for praying. Still, the temple in Jerusalem was the principal place of worship. This is illustrated by what the Bible writer Luke reports. He mentions an elderly woman named Anna, who was “never missing from the temple, rendering sacred service night and day with fastings and supplications.” (Luke 2:36, 37) True worship with other devoted ones was the focal point of Anna’s life. Other God-fearing Jews followed a similar course.
True Worship After Christ’s Death
After Jesus’ death his followers were no longer under the Mosaic Law, nor were they required to worship at the temple. (Galatians 3:23-25) Still, they continued to meet together for prayer and study of God’s Word. They had no elaborate buildings, using instead private homes and public places. (Acts 2:1, 2; 12:12; 19:9; Romans 16:4, 5) Free of ritualism and pomp, those first-century Christian meetings had a beautiful simplicity.
Amid the moral gloom of the Roman Empire, the Bible principles taught at those meetings sparkled like diamonds. Some unbelievers attending for the first time could only exclaim: “God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25) Yes, God was really among them. “Therefore, indeed, the congregations [“churches,” RS, JB] continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 16:5.
Could a Christian at that time have God’s approval by worshiping in pagan temples or on his own? The Bible gives clear direction on this matter: Approved worshipers had to become part of the only true church, or congregation, the “one body” of genuine worshipers. These were the disciples of Jesus, known as Christians.—Ephesians 4:4, 5; Acts 11:26.
What About Today?
Instead of encouraging us to worship in a church, the Bible encourages us to worship with the church, “the congregation of the living God,” the people who “worship with spirit and truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15; John 4:24) Religious meetings approved by God should instruct people “in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion.” (2 Peter 3:11) They should help those present to become mature Christians, who can “distinguish both right and wrong.”—Hebrews 5:14.
Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to follow the model of the first-century Christians. Over 91,400 congregations worldwide meet regularly to study the Bible and encourage one another, doing so in Kingdom Halls, private homes, and other locations. This is in harmony with the apostle Paul’s words: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together.”—Hebrews 10:24, 25.