There is a lie floating around out there that says, “the Christian can have a flourishing spiritual life without any commitment to a body of believers.” You may have heard someone say they are “spiritual but not religious.” This is problematic because the gathering of the believers is inextricable from the Christian faith in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews has explicit instructions for believers facing severe persecution in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The author exhorts these believers to continue to meet together, even in the face of persecution.
So why, if a person’s relationship with Jesus is personal and salvation is not by works, should the Christian commit to regularly gathering with a body of believers? Well for one, the Christian must endure this present world, and it will be increasingly difficult to do so without the encouragement of fellow believers. Christianity in the West has enjoyed a long stretch of peaceful freedom, but this may not always be the case. The tides of Christian persecution may return, as they already have in other parts of the world. Should that day come, the believer must rely on the assembly to persevere in the faith.
Second, the Hebrews author instructs us to “consider how to stir up one another in love and good works.” The Christian life is not one lived in seclusion but in community. We are to consider or be thoughtful about how we can stir up or stimulate other believers in love and good works. It is not enough for us to focus on our own pursuit of holiness, but we must be deliberate in spurring one another along in their holiness. This will take time. It will take energy, and it will take commitment. But it is for the glory of God and the good of His Church.
Does this mean the Christian simply needs to associate and fellowship with other Christians? He or she can do that without being a member of a local church or even attending church. Today’s Christian can hear preaching from the most renown and talented preachers through podcasts, listen to worship music from the best musicians, and meet with friends to have Bible study. Why is it necessary to go to church? While all those things are good and spiritually valuable, they should not replace the corporate gathering of believers. Exclusively listening to your favorite preacher, hearing your favorite worship group, and socializing with your favorite people, teaches you nothing about servanthood. It reinforces the lie that Christianity is all about you. It is an a la carte faith, where you can pick and choose exactly what you want, so that your preferences, and yours alone, are met. But the Church is not about having your needs met, but meeting others' needs.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:14-20, in the context of teaching the local church how they are to gather together, compares the church to a body, which is made up of many parts. Each part has its own function and does not perform the function of another part. God has gifted every believer with something they are to contribute to the body of Christ.
Finally, perhaps the most important reason for gathering together corporately is that it is a reflection our glorious eternity. Revelation 7:9-10 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’.” There is coming a day when every single person in the history of the world who has trusted in Jesus for salvation will gather as one to sing praises to the King of Kings. This multitude will be too large to count and will be composed of every imaginable kind of person. Why would we not want to emulate that while still on earth? The regular gathering of believers is a picture of what is to come. We have been given a taste of Heaven, why would we forgo it for our own fleshly preferences? Every single week you have the opportunity to engage in something that is a reflection of our glorious future hope. 'Tis the height of foolishness to miss out on such joy, wallowing in selfish desires and fixating on unmet preferences, under the motto of being “spiritual but not religious”.