“I don’t like church.” “I can worship God on my own. Why do I need other people?” We hear statements like these, spoken with conviction, and we wonder if they have any validity. Do we need to be involved with other Christians in a local church in order to effectively serve God? After all, salvation is an individual decision. Why afterwards must we involve other people? What’s wrong with flying solo?
It is true that a relationship with God is an intensely personal decision. No one can give us the faith to believe except God (Ephesians 2:8–9; John 6:44). Church activity does nothing to impress God or earn His favor. He loves and favors us on the basis of our faith in the shed blood of His Son for our sin (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13–14). Obedience and surrender to the Holy Spirit are individual decisions that cannot be made for us by others. God will hold each of us accountable for our stewardship of all He has given us (2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12).
However, when we enter the family of God by being “born again” (John 3:3), we become “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we experience the new birth, we are like snakes shedding our old skin. Our spirits inflate with the presence of God, and that new Spirit crowds out the old ways. Our desires change. Our outlook changes. Where we once lived only to satisfy ourselves, we now have a longing to please Jesus and glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). If no change occurs after a supposed conversion, it is likely that no regeneration occurred. C. S. Lewis said, “If conversion makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions then I think his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary.” Part of the change is a desire to be with others who also love and serve Jesus. Being a “solo Christian” is not the norm.
There are several reasons why every born-again believer needs to be involved with other Christians. First of all, the New Testament is filled with admonitions to “love one another”—the “one another” refers to fellow Christians (John 13:34–35; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 4:11). Love is not just a noun; it is an action verb (see 1 Corinthians 13:1–8). We are to actively pursue ways in which we can demonstrate unselfish love for each other. “Solo Christians” who avoid association with other believers cannot do that.
Second, most of the books of the New Testament are letters written to churches, not to solo Christians. Although God loves us as individuals, we are collectively referred to in Scripture as “the church” (Ephesians 5:25, 32). The Epistles, addressed to groups of Christians, include detailed instructions about how members are to conduct themselves within the group. The letters were to be read corporately and are best understood in the context of a church working together. As a unit, Christians are the “bride of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7). Most of the New Testament is instruction on how the “bride” can ready herself for her groom, Christ.
We are also called the “body of Christ.” This body has many parts, just as a physical body does (1 Corinthians 12:27). One body part cannot exist on its own. The heart cannot go solo; the chin cannot survive on its own. Any one part needs the participation of all the other parts in order to function successfully. The same is true for the members of the body of Christ. Jesus equips each one with certain gifts that He wants us to use to benefit the whole (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–30). Romans 12:4–5 says, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” There is no room in this passage for solo Christians.
A third reason solo Christianity is not a good idea is that we need the encouragement and accountability provided by our brothers and sisters in Christ. Often, those who shun involvement in a local church live with major blind spots and spiritual strongholds that they are only mildly aware of. Because they do not make themselves accountable to other believers, solo Christians have no one to strengthen their weaknesses. Flaws such as pride, greed, envy, anger, and a judgmental spirit often grow unchecked in the heart of one who rejects spiritual oversight from those who could gently guide him back to obedience (Galatians 6:1).
The solo Christian is a loner also misses out on preaching, corporate worship times, and opportunities to serve. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We grow sharper as useful tools for God when we learn from each other, pray for each other, and invest ourselves in the lives of others. Local churches offer many opportunities in which to use our gifts to serve others and glorify God. Avoiding such connections weakens the solo Christian as well as the local body.
Finally, we have a powerful enemy who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The lion metaphor works in Scripture because God’s people are often referred to as sheep (Psalm 95:7; 100:3; 1 Peter 2:25; Mark 6:34). As any good shepherd knows, the sheep are safest when they stay with the flock, under the watch-care of a kind shepherd. First Peter 5:2 exhorts pastors with this: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them.” A pastor is called the shepherd of the flock. It is his responsibility before God to nurture, protect, and encourage the sheep God has entrusted to him. A lone sheep, separated from the flock, is vulnerable to the enemy. Wolves and lions don’t usually attack a healthy flock. They wait for one who lags behind, isolated from the shepherd and the safety of the fold.
Christians need to involve themselves with other believers in order to remain healthy and productive. Satan cannot steal a soul that belongs to God (John 10:29), but he can render our lives useless for the kingdom by convincing us that we don’t need fellowship, spiritual encouragement, or challenge from anyone else. He likes to stir up trouble, bitterness, disappointment, pride, and a critical spirit to keep lone sheep away from the flock (Ephesians 4:30–31; 1 Peter 2:1; Colossians 3:5–10). Then he attacks them with discouragement, temptation, and deception to eliminate any heavenly treasure that loner could have stored up for himself (Matthew 6:20; 10:41; Luke 12:33; Revelation 22:12). We will spend all eternity worshiping with other redeemed saints of God. We might as well learn to enjoy it now.