Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Church Attendance

How should we handle it?

What should we say about church attendance? What may rightly keep us away from attending church? What makes us unable to go to the churches available in our community?

Either church is too far, or you are too sick to attend. Perhaps you do not have transport! However, what about when there are many churches around, but you still choose not to go to church? How should that be handled?

Obviously, the most important issue that must be raised is the issue of doctrine. What kind of doctrine do the churches in your community teach? When you are in the position that you cannot rightly for conscience's sake attend any church in your community, then certainly, that would be a valid point.

To Scripture, truth is very important. Jesus told the woman at the well that "[23] true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. [24] God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (Jn 4:23-24) We must not let the true importance of this passage escape us! A worshipper that neglects worshipping from the spirit or that neglects worshipping from the vantage point of Biblical truth simply cannot be a true worshipper. Sure, call yourself a worshipper, but you cannot call yourself a true worshipper!

Many churches just hang onto the spirit part of worship and neglect the truth. That is totally wrong. Worship must be a combination of both spirit and truth. Worship in spirit, not singing worship, which is a worshipful life, must be guided by the truth. It is simply impossible to worship in spirit when one does not have the truth. No matter how much we claim to be worshipping in the spirit; when we do not walk in the light of the truth of the Word of God, then what we call worshipping in the spirit is mere fantasy and has nothing to do with Biblical worship.

Coming back to church and walking with a church….

It would be totally valid not to walk with a church if that church does not hold to the essential doctrines of the gospel. However, if there are churches that preach the essentials of the gospel, then the non-essentials should not keep us away from church. The essentials would obviously be the foundational doctrines of the gospel, such as the nature of man, the nature of God, the nature of Christ, the nature of the atonement, the nature of salvation itself and how that is applied to man. If all the essentials are met, then why still stay away from attending church?

What other things can keep us away from church? Our families? Maybe we think our children are too rowdy? They cannot sit still! In my humble opinion, those children need to be trained to sit still. They need to be trained to listen, and to be calm when it is time to be calm. I do not think that we can use this as an excuse to stay away from church. The fact is that, if this is why we stay away from church, we are blaming our children for us not going to church. What will your response be? Many years from now, when you have not taught your children the habit of going to church they find out that it was because of them that you did not teach them to go to church, what response could you expect from them? Personally, I think that we use many things as excuses not to go to church, and that is just what they are…excuses! If you really think that your children cannot sit still and behave in church, then it is time to apply some discipline in their lives. Better for them to learn when they are small that there are certain boundaries in life than finding out later in life the hard way. Thousands of parents have for centuries been able to take their children to church in a disciplined way. What makes us so special that we cannot do the same? If these parents could handle their children, surely we can handle ours! Why do you think that you are the exception?

Our attitude toward attending church should not be one of trying to find excuses to stay away from church! We should rather try to find excuses to go! What can I do to make sure we can go to church? We should not do as much as we can to stay away, but as much as we can to go!

There is an attitude that says that we do not need to go to church. All we need to do is fellowship with Christians here and there. That is simply an excuse. We need to get to that place in our lives where we realise that when it says that we should not neglect the assembly of the saints as is the habit of some (Heb 10:25), that it does not mean to get together haphazardly with individual saints, but to get together in worship with the church. It should be a habitual action on our part, to get together in fellowship with the church, the local church! We need to get together in corporate worship, hearing the Word of God expounded.

Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. He said, "[34] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. [35] By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn 13:34-35) This is one of the hallmarks of being a disciple of Christ. This is not simply speaking of other Christian individuals, but of the body of Christ. How can we show our love for the body of Christ if we never join the body of Christ in worship and fellowship? A burning coal is not a fire! One burning coal must join many other burning coals to make a fire.

The gifts of the church cannot be used in isolation since they are to be used "for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7) We cannot even begin to work towards the common good of our Christian brothers and sisters if we do not actually get together with them for the common good.

When we are told to understand what the will of the Lord is in Eph 5:17, we must note that we are clearly informed what that will is. "[18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,  [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,  [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  [21] submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph 5:18-21 ESV)

This is the will of the Lord:
·        that we do not get drunk with wine.
·        that we remain filled with the Spirit.
·        that we address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.
·        that we always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
·        that we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

At least two of the points mentioned by the apostle Paul as the will of the Lord, are meant for the local church. We cannot address one another "in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" if we do not actually get together with one another. We also cannot submit to one another if we do not get together as a unit.

It is important for us to be knitted together with the local church, for it is in the local church that we can give expression to our own gifts and the talents that the Lord has given us for the church.

Do not let anything stop you from joining a local church and to give of yourself to that church.

When we look at the word "church" we need to understand that when it is used in the New Testament, it is used mostly to signify the local church. In fact, it mostly signifies a specific local church. For instance, the epistle to the Ephesians was written to the specific local church at Ephesus. Similarly, the epistle of Galatians was written to the specific local church in the province of Galatia. It can also be said of the epistles to the Romans and the Thessalonians that those letters were written to the specific churches of Rome and Thessalonica respectively.

The fact of church membership is amply displayed in the New Testament.

Since the church in New Testament times kept a list of widows (1 Tim 5:9), we can with certainty assume that they also had a list of the local church members. Why have a list of the widows and not of the members? It would only be from the list of members that they would be able to apply the rule as to who may rightly be called widows.

Jesus laid down the rules for discipline within the church in Mt 18:15-17. Paul also tells us how to treat "believers" who live like unbelievers in the church in 1 Cor 5:11-13, "[11] But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  [12] For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  [13] God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'" (ESV) The point is, how can one discipline someone in the church without them being a member of that local church? Paul very instructively speaks of outsiders and insiders. Paul makes it clear that within the church we judge those who are inside the church and not those who are outsiders. He could not simply have spoken about an unbeliever who wanted to attend church. He is speaking here of someone recognised as part of the church that needs to be excommunicated. This could only happen if a list was kept of those that were formally associated with the church.

How can we claim to be Christians if we do not want to spend time with God's people?

Just thinking...

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