Is Church Attendance Required in the Bible?
Although there is no direct, specific command in the New Testament that Christians must attend formal Sabbath services in a church building, we do have numerous strong examples from Jesus Christ and His apostles. It was the custom of Jesus Christ and His apostles to attend Sabbath services either at the Temple in Jerusalem or at a synagogue if they were away from Jerusalem:
- Mark 1:21 - Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.
- Mark 6:2 - And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue.
- Luke 4:16 - So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.
- Luke 6:6 - Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught.
- Luke 13:10 - Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
- Acts 13:14 - But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.
- Acts 17:1-2 - Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures....
- Acts 18:4 - And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
These scriptures show clearly that their regular custom was clearly to spend at least part of each Sabbath day in the Temple or a synagogue.
Today, we tend to think of the Jerusalem Temple and the synagogues as strictly Jewish places of worship. Although the Israelites' relationship with God and their practices had become defiled by the time of Jesus' earthly sojourn, their Temple and synagogues were still the official places of worship for the only people who were remotely attempting to worship the true God at that time. However, as most modern Jews reject the fact that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, as well as the idea of salvation for Gentiles, attendance and worship at their services, although interesting, would be uncomfortable and very incomplete for a Christian.
As the first century AD progressed, the leaders and members of the fledgling church of God realized more and more that they were not welcome to worship in the synagogues, and so they began to meet for Sabbath worship and for non-Sabbath "Bible studies" and meetings in other locations: at members' homes, in rented rooms, and even, when weather permitted, in outdoor locations:
- Acts 20:8 - There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.
- Acts 28:30 - Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him...
- Acts 16:13 - And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.
- Acts 13:42-44 - So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.
Some of today's church of God congregations own their own buildings, but most use rented facilities. More important than the meeting location, however, is the fact that the members of the early church accepted as essential for their spiritual welfare the necessity to continue to meet and fellowship regularly and frequently with their brethren in Christian unity. Through the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, God commands Christians not to forsake assembling together:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Although it is true that Christians should take every opportunity to fellowship on any day of the week, distances between members' homes plus work, family, and other responsibilities often allow meaningful church fellowship only on the Sabbath days when we are strictly commanded to refrain from working. There are, of course, valid exemptions from the requirement to attend weekly Sabbath services with a congregation of God's church. They include:
- Severe, chronic illness in which the sufferer is unable to travel to the service location and unable to sit for the duration of the service.
- Temporary illness, especially one that is contagious.
- Excessive distance between the member's home and the closest service location. But in such a case, a wise and zealous church member would be willing to move, if practical, to a location within reasonable travel distance to a congregation.
Finally, notice God's command in Leviticus 23:3:
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
Convocation literally means "speak together," and it has come to mean "an assembly." In this case, God commands a sacred assembly on the Sabbath for instruction and fellowship with other believers.
So, yes, the Bible does require attendence at worship services on the Sabbath whenever physically possible.