Do Christians Have to Go to Church to Be Religious?

By William Mackis.

There would seem to be a too-obvious answer to the question posed above - that answer being "no" - but the real answer is hardly that simple.

First, of course, we must grapple with the meaning of the word, "religious." Most would agree that one does not have to go to church to be "spiritual," or "good," or "moral." But being religious implies something either more or at least different than those terms, including the concept that one is actually affiliated with a religion and observant of the rules of that religion. And different religions have different rules about going to church.

The Judeo-Christian Bible does not specifically state that one must go to church once a week, Here's what it does say, in the Third Commandment:

Exodus 20:8-11 King James Version

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Thus, the Old Testament tells us what not to do on the Sabbath Day, which is traditionally on Saturday, the last day of the week.

As far as the New Testament, Christians can refer to the following:

Colossians 2:16-17 King James Version

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.


Hebrews 4:4 King James Version

4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise,
And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

The reading from Colossians is particularly interesting; going vegetarian and avoiding alcohol at the time of every new moon sounds very New Age, doesn't it? Nevertheless, there's no mention of church attendance.

Roman Catholics do, very specifically, have what's referred to as a Sunday Obligation. This is mentioned twice in the Code of Canon Law: #1246 states that, "Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church;" #1247 adds that, "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass..."

Consequently, The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly informs the faithful (#2181) that, "The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin." A grave sin, in Catholic terminology, translates to a mortal sin as opposed to a venial sin. The Sunday Obligation actually entails more than church attendance, and the Catechism includes additional information on these obligations, as well as an explanation of why Sunday is considered the sabbath day for Catholics.

So, returning to our question . . . yes, if you're Catholic, you do have to go to church to be considered religious. (And not to be considered to be in a state of mortal sin.) Other religions have differing rules. But there's another obvious point here, too, which is that a religious person would want to go to church on Sunday.

This is one of those situations where actions have to be consistent with beliefs and words. If you truly believed in God, then you wouldn't consider it a great personal sacrifice to stop in at church once a week, and you wouldn't prioritize other things - sleeping in, watching television, going food shopping - above such a visit. In fact, you'd welcome the chance to go to church. We've all read news stories where we're told that folks who consistently go to church live longer, and many have hypothesized on why this might be so. I believe it's the consistency. When there's no gap between what you say you believe and your actions, then you're naturally going to be a happier, healthier person.





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