Monday, December 30, 2013

Church Attendance and Other Life and Death Matters, Part 1

We are quickly approaching the New Year, and for many people, that means making New Year’s Resolutions. I am neither a proponent nor an opponent of such resolutions; but if you are one for them, or are considering making one this year, can I make a suggestion for one? Why don’t you commit to being a regular, active member of a local church? If you are a Christian, this is vital. It’s not an extra, an add-on. It’s at the heart of what the Christian life is, and it has increasingly become neglected in our society. Many who call themselves Christians NEVER attend a church, and regular church attendance has been redefined to include people who show up once or twice a month. Over the next several posts, I hope to convince you, if you fall into either of those two categories, that this should not be! And if you are at church every time the doors are opened, I hope to also convince you that mere church attendance is not even enough, that we ought to be striving for real community with our fellow believers.
            Let’s begin with that first step; understanding the importance of regular church attendance. There is simply no Biblical way to defend avoiding a regular gathering with fellow believers, certainly not for any extended period. Take a look at what Hebrews 10 has to say about this.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.” (Hebrews 10:23:25)

Take a look at several things from this passage. I want you to notice the connection between perseverance and church attendance. The passage begins with a call to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Now, notice what he says. We do so, knowing that God is faithful. I’m Southern Baptist through and through, so I believe in the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” or the promise that all those God saves, he will keep. So the writer of Hebrews says we should hold on, recognizing his faithfulness to us. Jesus has died for our sins, and he has created a way for us to have relationship with God. So we are to hold fast.  How do we do that? We get the answer in the next verse, with a positive and a negative command.
The positive command is this - We consider how we can stir one another to love and good works. So the means by which God causes us to persevere in our faith is by having us be around people who will stir us to love more and live better. This is how our faith grows, and it is how we hold fast. And then the negative command follows the positive one – we don’t neglect meeting together. We cannot stir one another to love and good works unless we are regularly meeting with other believers. And we will not persevere in our faith unless we are constantly stirring one another to love and good works. And notice what else this passage says. We shouldn't neglect meeting together, but we should encourage one another all the more as “we see the day drawing nearer.” What’s the point here? Our society says that church attendance is less important than it once was. Hebrews says regular gathering with the saints is more important. Every single day, it gets more important. The closer we get to the return of Jesus, the more important it is that we meet together.
Now, it requires more than simply showing up at church to make this happen, but it will most certainly not require less. God has given us the church, and one of the main reasons he has given it to us is so that we will last, we will persevere, until the end. If we ignore regular church attendance, we have no reason to think that our faith has the kind of legs that will last.
Does this mean that we must be at church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night? I’m afraid this passage does not go that far, much to the chagrin of some of my pastor friends, I’m sure. But what it does say is our meetings ought to be regular and not-neglected. So if you are a believer, look back on your last year of church attendance. Was it regular? Was it neglected? Might the New Year be the time to re-commit to regular church attendance? Could you set a goal to be there a certain number of times this year? I think it’s quite clear; this is life and death. It’s not simply an extra. Your faith depends on it.
Now, I know I have made this issue much simpler than it is in reality. There are a myriad of reasons why people who profess to be Christians do not attend church. I hope to address them in a post coming up in the very near future. I also plan to talk about the difference in simply being a member of a church, and committing to it in a way that will truly help you grow in your faith. Finally, I hope to suggest a few reasons when it might be okay to leave a church, with the idea that you immediately begin looking for another one. Be on the lookout for those posts in the near future!

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