Do I Have to Go to Church?

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

Our Incredible church watching the baptism of Fernando!

When the Spirit began “the church” on Pentecost, the Scriptures proclaim that those first sold-out disciples were so enthralled with their salvation that their days were “love-feasts” of worship celebrations, fellowship meals, and meeting each other’s needs. Acts 2 reads, “[The 3000] who accepted the message were baptized… They devoted themselves… to the fellowship. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet togetherin the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God!” Likewise, to this day disciples are moved by the same Spirit to “encourage one another daily so that [no one]…turns away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12-13) This “24/7” love identifies Jesus’ disciples in both the first and the twenty-first centuries! (John 13:34-35)

The Bible teaches when a person is baptized into Christ and their sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38) at that same moment the Spirit baptizes them into the body of Christ, the church universal. (1 Corinthians 12:13) To be devoted, “sold-out” to Christ, one must be devoted to the church, His body. Consider this analogy, if one’s arm or leg is severed, it is extremely painful to one’s entire body. However, if the limb is not quickly reattached, the limb will surely die. As many of us can testify, when a disciple misses church, “the body of Christ” hurts. If the struggling Christian does not get “reattached” with the church, he eventually dies spiritually – he falls away.

God is clear: daily involvement with fellow disciples is explicitly commanded in Hebrews 3:12-13. Therefore, “anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17) Today in “Christendom,” people are not only lacking meaningful daily discipling friendships, but they are “habitually” missing the formal “meetings of the body.” This sin of omission of missing church perpetually is alarming! For some, it is a heart issue of wrong priorities. For others, they are deceived to believe that the call to attend “all” worship services is legalistic. Too often congregational leaders, where only half the membership attends midweek services, have confused “love and patience” for the toleration of sin. (Revelation 2:20-23) From other pulpits, there is a cowardly silence on “church attendance,” because of the fear of losing members and thus contribution, if they challenge people as Jesus did the rich young ruler. (Mark 10:17-29) Jeremiah’s words ring true, “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way!” Sadly, in some cases where there is lukewarm church attendance, the minister simply lacks the training and skill to motivate disciples’ hearts through the Word.

Written in the early 60’s AD, the book of Hebrews addresses disciples who had been “in the Kingdom” for 10, 20, even 30 years. The Spirit challenges these brothers to once again “fix their eyes on Jesus,” stop “drifting away,” and stop “ignoring such a great salvation.” (Hebrews 2:1-3) In Hebrews 10:25, one of the symptoms of hearts that have drifted from Jesus is forthrightly addressed, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”

Macque celebrates with everyone after her amazing Baptism!

Macque moves everyone to tears with her heart for God!

Consider Hebrews 10:25 in context. All of Hebrews 10 is a passionate plea of the Holy Spirit to return to God. The Spirit says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ… We have confidence by the blood of Christ to draw near to God… [Therefore] let us not give up meeting together… [for] if we deliberately keep on sinning after we received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin is left… only judgment… [If we do not change we] have trampled the Son of God under foot… treating as an unholy thing [His] blood… [thus] insulting the Spirit of grace. Remember your earlier days after you received the light… You were publicly exposed to insult and persecution [and] stood side by side with [your fellow disciples]… You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you know that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (Hebrews 10 – emphasis mine)

In Hebrews 10 perpetually missing church is drifting from God and in this we “insult the Spirit of grace!” (Hebrews 10:29) It is through His blood that the church universal exists, the Kingdom exists. No longer should one be deceived that the call to church attendance Sunday, midweek or even for Bible Talk gatherings is legalism; it’s all about our response to God’s grace. Legalism is not the act, but the attitude in our hearts during the act. No longer can one put one’s job or tiredness from one’s job, children or school as an excuse not to come to worship, for in “earlier days” we forfeited our possessions in persecutions for “something better.” Our lives cannot be consumed with a worldly “something better” as in making more money. Jesus says, “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things come in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)

God’s people throughout the Bible have been called “family.” (Ephesians 2:19) In a physical family, God requires obedience from a wife to her husband and children to their parents. (Ephesians 5:24; 6:1) Interestingly, nowhere in the Bible does it prescribe a set time for a family to eat dinner. I know of no family that just spontaneously shows up for dinner at the exact same time.

Ultimately, the father exerts his leadership and sets the time for dinner, the “meeting together” of the family. (If he is wise he will ask for input from his wife and kids!) So it should be in each congregation. When the leaders call for “church” at 10:00 am on Sundays or 7:30 pm Wednesdays or Bible Talk during the week, the flock is called by God to obey them. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17) This is not, nor should leaders make it, an oppressive or harsh call to obey, but the caring voice of shepherds protecting, strengthening and persuading the flock’s hearts.

This begs the question, “Are there any reasons to miss worship services or Bible Talk, such as sickness, depression, vacation, family occasions, or even high school sports?” Yes, but as with a family, these absences should involve communication with the leaders, as the leaders are held accountable for your souls. Out of respect and love, absences should not be independently decided. Family works together! However, if you still feel differently from the leadership, by talking with the leadership and hearing their direction, correction or advice, they are no longer accountable to God for your decision. (Ezekiel 3:16-21)

Another family united in Christ in the great Portland church!

Our newest addition to the Portland Family - Kaiyah Joanna Sophia Miller. Congratulations Dustin and Amanda!

Remember, ultimately you will be held accountable by God for your decision not to attend. It must be said, if your decision not to attend has merit, then either the leaders simply have a “different opinion” which is alright with God (Romans 14:2-3), or they will answer to God for their sins of stubbornness or insensitivity. Remember, when leaders sin (and they will) do not become bitter, which can cause you to miss the grace of God. (Hebrews 12:15) The Scriptures are clear: overall church attendance and the daily encouragement of disciples are not matters of opinion, but commands of God. Jesus preached, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness…” Christ and His Kingdom, the church, are the “first priority” of the disciple of Jesus, not one’s physical family or certainly not one’s job.

Another question now must be asked by the faithful, “What should I do if a fellow disciple misses a meeting of the body for unknown reasons?” Well, as with a family member who misses dinner, do not jump to conclusions, find out the facts! However, be urgent in your follow-up, as you would your family. Many passages tell us we are our “brother’s keeper,” yet Ezekiel 3 goes even further. If after talking with the brother, it turns out that he has sinned in missing worship, then with compassion we must confront the sin. Even when gently confronted, some rebellious individuals will defensively complain, “It’s none of your business why I did not come. You are judging me!” To the shock of many, the Bible clearly teaches we are to judge each other, though not hypocritically. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) Concerning “judging” Paul writes, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) Paul had deep convictions that other Christians’ lives were “his business.” Do we?

During a hard week, there are times when a disciple’s “foot will almost slip… and even envy the arrogant, when he sees the prosperity of the wicked.” Yet, the Spirit says though life can be “oppressive,” when one “enters the sanctuary of God [one] understands [the wicked’s] final destiny,” then one rejoices that the Lord is “his refuge.” (Psalm 73) Likewise, worshipping restores my soul and refocuses me on pleasing God. I am so refreshed by celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection during communion, singing praises to God, hearing the Word preached, interacting in deep and meaningful conversations, and then relaxing at an awesome Sunday lunch with disciples and friends!

Today, Lord willing, as you read this article, Elena & I are enjoying the Sunday Service of the European Missions Conference in London! What a joy to be reunited in worship and fellowship with our dear “partners in the gospel” Michael & Michele Williamson, Blaise & Patricia Feumba, and Coltin & Mandee Rohn all of London, Argo & Anu Arneson of Stockholm, Oleg & Aliona Sirotkin of Kiev, Carlos & Lucy Mejia of Washington DC, Mike & Brittany Underhill of Chicago, and so many others!

Indeed, “church” has been the highlight of my week since I was baptized at 17 over 39 years ago! Therefore in light of all these Scriptures, if going to church is a burden, repent. If going to church is boring and not life-changing, your leadership needs to repent. If they do not, then at all costs, find a congregation of sold-out disciples. Seek without pause, a church where the pulpit unapologetically calls each member to the standard of Christ and the Biblical doctrines of salvation. Seek without pause, a church where every member has a deep sense of mission to “seek and save the lost” and a dream to change the world. Seek without pause, a church eagerly embracing the “abundant life” and passionately loving one another more than this earthly life. “Seek and you will find.” (Matthew 7:7) And to God be the glory!

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