Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25
I was raised in the church, specifically a traditional Southern Baptist congregation in Dallas. In fact, you could say I attended church for nine months before I was born. I was in Children’s Choir, Royal Ambassadors (the Baptist version of the Boy Scouts), and then the Youth Group. I attended Sunday School every Sunday morning, and most Sunday nights I was there for evening worship. Dress tended to range from business casual to business formal (suits and ties). Then I became a leader in a more nontraditional church. Yes, we shared all the doctrine of the church in which I was raised. But in the interest of becoming “all things to all people,” we specifically reached out to the “unchurched” in our community. We had contemporary music for our band (which used to be totally rockin’), we had a very informal dress code, and we used our website as the “front door” for our evangelism. So I've been in pretty much on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the church.
So is church attendance really something that God expects for all Christians everywhere at all times? I mean, I can get everything I want from watching worship services on TV Sunday morning, right? What’s the big deal about church attendance, anyway? I mean, that bed’s pretty comfortable on Sunday, and sleeping in sounds really good. . .
First, I need to be completely fair here. There’s no verse in the Bible that says that you specifically have to worship God in a congregation on Sunday morning. My wife and I once visited a Messianic congregation on Saturday morning, and we loved it. There’s some indication that the early church met and worshiped together on Sunday, with good reason. That’s the day that our Lord rose from the dead, after all. But I’d be remiss in telling you that the Bible commands you to worship in a church on Sunday.
But setting aside the specific day for a moment, is there a command for us to worship in a church building one day a week? No, I can’t find anything on that either. So let’s take a look at the verse readings for today, and see what the Bible actually says.
The book of Hebrews seems to be at least partially written to alleged Jewish believers who were tempted to abandon the public expression of their faith. At least in front of other Jews, they were tempted to stop professing Yeshua (as they would've called him) as the Messiah.
So what’s the author’s cure for that? Well, in these verses he lays out some thoughts for us:
• We're supposed to encourage each other daily. Please notice that it says nothing about once a week. We're called to take responsibility for the morale of our siblings in Christ, and it's a daily thing.
• Why? So that none of us might be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. My friend, sin is deceitful. It rarely comes upon you in a blatant attack. No, it tries to sneak in with a disguise. And over time, if you let it take root and make itself at home, it can harden your heart. What once really disturbed you about sin doesn’t do so any longer. So in order to avoid that, you need siblings to keep tabs on you and say “Hey buddy, we need to talk.”
• Looking at the other passage, it gets even more striking. We don’t just point out what’s wrong with each other. We’re supposed to positively encourage each other (I love the image of “spurring one another on”) towards what Christ has called us to be and to do.
• And here the author gets even more specific. We're commanded by God through this author not to give up meeting with our siblings in Christ. We’re supposed to encourage each other, to lift each others’ spirits. Of course, that entails worshiping together and listening to God’s word preached.
Please listen to me very carefully: You cannot get this by watching a service on TV. And quite frankly, if the only times you’re meeting with other believers is on Sunday morning, you’re asking for trouble. That’s why our church has small groups during the week. That’s why we encourage our small group leaders to be in contact with their participants during the week.
But of course the reality is often much worse than Christians thinking they get enough connection just by attending worship on Sunday morning. There's a large portion of believers who supposedly love Jesus but for whatever reason (maybe legitimate, maybe not) have become disillusioned with the church and don't even attend a local gathering of believers (what we refer to as a "church") at all. I've had believers tell me to my face that they just fellowship with Jesus through personal prayer and Bible-reading, and that's enough. They don't need to permanently link up with local "church" in order to grow closer to him.
Can we think this through together for a moment? Your Bible--which you supposedly read--tells you that the Church is the Bride of Christ. Imagine if you said to me "Keith, I really like you a lot. You're wonderful guy, and I love hanging out with you. But your wife, well, not so much. In fact, I can't really stand to be around her, and the less time I spend in her presence, the happier I am. So is there any way I can spend time with you and not with her?" How would you expect me to respond to that? The best case scenario response (the one in which I don't go to prison for assault): "Uh, my wife and I are a package deal. She's the love of my life, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. If I hear one more word out of your mouth that's insulting to her, then that's the end of our conversation. There's absolutely no way on earth you can call me your friend if you have that type of attitude towards my wife."
So how is it that Christians (who supposedly take the Bible seriously) feel it's perfectly fine to claim to value Jesus but disrespect his Bride?
I know that the Church (both local and universal) is imperfect. Our Savior's in the process of cleansing her and making her more beautiful--not just in terms of covering her with his own righteousness, but in terms of making her more righteous in her personal conduct. Just like with me and you and every other individual believer on this side of Glory. I know that my wife has her faults, just like I do. But she's my wife, and we're a package deal. Talk bad about her in my presence, and we're going to have (in the best case scenario) a very unpleasant conversation.
Can I just be brutally frank here? Sorry, I gotta go on a quick rant here: The concept of a Christianity for individuals which is separate from the Body is completely foreign to the Bible. The idea that anyone could read their Bible and take it seriously at all and still come away with the notion that it's OK not to be plugged into the Body is nonsense on stilts. The fact that there are actual Christians walking around who seriously believe that you can have any personal relationship with Jesus and at the same time be detached from his Bride--again, gotta be frank--just boggles my mind.
All right, rant's over. Your Savior God has provided this incredible resource—for you. If you don’t avail yourself of it, then why do you wonder if your spiritual growth is stunted?
Lord Jesus, you've given us your Body, your Bride in order to be a conduit for blessing us. I’m sorry for all the times I’ve taken it for granted and haven’t availed myself of her to the fullest. Let’s change that, shall we?