Sunday, July 2, 2017

When Church is Done Right #2: You Gotta Go To Church

I've gone to church my whole life, at least as long as I can remember. I've been involved in several different local churches at a variety of levels, but most recently (for the last 8 years) as the Senior Pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church in Danville, IL.  Over the course of these years I have been forced, by reason of necessity, to consider what the scriptures say about how church ought to be. A week or so ago I posted some of my first thoughts on this topic in When Church Is Done Right: It Is Like Family. In this post I want to discuss a topic that I have had mixed feelings and varied beliefs over the years. The topic is Church Attendance.... So, here we go:

Open Doors (Image Source)
I want to begin with why I have had mixed feelings on this topic. You see, I grew up with the idea that "every time the church doors were opened, we were there." This usually meant Sunday School, Sunday Morning Service, Sunday Night Service, and Wednesday Night Service. When I was really young, I vaguely remember it also included Thursday Night "Calling". There was additionally the occasional week-long Evangelistic services that included the Saturday before when church members began canvasing local neighborhoods.

The older I grew the more I began to reject this idea because of what I sensed were legalistic undertones. In my mind, many were going to church every time that the doors opened simply because they believed that they had to... or possibly that they believed they were more righteous because they had gone. I suppose I might have been right, as far as some were concerned. I know that, at least for myself, this was partially true. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, if I had read my Bible and attended church... God was just a little bit happier with me. This bad theology would rear it's ugly head when I would feel the urge to pray for something, but then would think about the fact that I had skipped a service or failed to do my devotions... How in the world could I ask God for anything when I had not been doing everything for him?

I don't think that I was alone in this thought process. There are many in my generation that have moved from "I Gotta Go To Church" to "I Oughta Go To Church." I think that the heart motive here may be in the right place. Many are going for a genuineness of church attendance. I understand the reasoning here. If their heart is just "not into it", they believe that they shouldn't go. Some have even, maybe in part because of disappointments with church, decided that they were better off away from it.

Church attendance then moved from, " I Oughta Go To Church" to "I Coulda Gone To Church."  For so many people, now in the second generation of thought, have completely disconnected actual sit-in-a-pew-church-attendance to anything to do with their spiritual life. Now it is, "I Woulda Gone To Church, But..."

As a Pastor, I see this from a different perspective now. In a generation of "I Woulda Gone To Church, But..." Christians, everything trumps church. Traveling youth football/basketball/soccer games, work, vacations, dance recitals, overtime opportunities, needing extra sleep after a hard week, catching up on housework, work opportunity that might lead to promotion, needing more time with family, sports events on TV, sports events at a stadium, etc., etc., etc.

I think that these hearts seeking after authenticity have, in all actuality, led to hearts of apathy.  We have become satisfied with unfulfilling things and non-eternal ideas.

So, if you would stay with me for one more minute, I'd like to Biblically share with you why you should and can believe within yourself, "I Gotta Go To Church."

Reason #1- It is commanded.
We all know the passage in Hebrews that tells us this. Our Grandma probably quoted it to us when we didn't want to go to church.
Hebrews 10:25 - NAS – "not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near"
That first phrase literally means, don't abandon getting together in one place. It has become customary for some to do just such a thing. Don't miss the fact that this is actually in the Bible.

Reason #2 - It is needed.
If you look in this same verse, there is a little phrase that is used throughout the New Testament: "One Another".  Over and over again you will see the New Testament authors using this phrase: help one another, love one another, bear one another's burdens, be kind to one another, encourage one another... And without a doubt, this is referring to a local group of believers when they are together. Sure, there are plenty of scriptures that tell us to love the people of this world that are not Christians. We are to even love our enemies. But we are uniquely commanded over and over again to love and care for one another.

You will also find, when you dig a little deeper, that the majority of commands in the New Testament are written to you (plural). In other words, the majority of commands in the New Testament are written to the Church. Go ahead, pick up your Bible, if you are reading in Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Romans, etc. (all letters written to churches) and you read a command... if you look at the Greek language it was originally written in, you will find that it is most likely written in the plural. This means that it is a command to a church: to a group of believers that are connected together in a relationship.

I would go so far as to say that the majority of the New Testament commands cannot be obeyed if you are not a connected member of a local church. So, being there becomes a necessity to obedience.

Reason #3 - It is beneficial. 
Because of all of these "one another" commands, being at church becomes hugely beneficial. Now you go to church and you will be loved, your burdens will be shared, you will be cared for, you will be treated with kindness and compassion, you will be encouraged and confronted when necessary. There is great benefit to being a part of a church that is seeking to be obedient to scripture.

Also consider that the Spiritual Gifts that are mentioned in the the Bible are all Gifts to the Church (I Corinthians 12-14). Consider especially that God has given to the Church Pastors and Teachers (Ephesians 4). You want to understand the Bible better? You want to learn about what God wants for you? Then yes, read your Bible!  But also go to church!

Reason #4 - It is unique.
The Church is the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-31, Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 1:22-23, Ephesians 4:12, Ephesians 5:30). There is not other institution among men that is ordained by God the Father and headed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. To be a part of a church is to be a participant in the Trinitarian work of God. It is truly unique.

You gotta go to church. Not because you need to make yourself righteous... you can't do that anyway... but because He is righteous.

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