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Friday, December 16, 2005

Why You Should Go to Church (and not just on holidays)

I'm sure that every pastor is concerned about improving the church attendance of his congregation. Every pastor has sheep that he seldom ever sees, except maybe on holidays or when a wedding or funeral is called for. Some call them the inactives or the delinquents or the under-churched. And when contact is made, there are numerous explanations given, excuses offered, and promises made. I'm not casting stones at those who because of illness or age or uncontrollable circumstances are simply not able to attend church as often as they would like. And I'm not trying to pummel faithful Christians who miss occasionally due to this or that unusual circumstance. This post is only about folks for whom going to church is simply not very important.

It should be noted that these words really only apply to people who call themselves Christians and consider themselves to be Christians. It is obvious why an unbeliever would not come to church.

Many pastors are shy to address this matter because of fear that they'll only offend people or make them feel awkward and thus even less likely to show up on Sunday morning. But I want to try to offer a brief explanation for why people should go to church and answer some of the objections or excuses every pastor hears.

Someone may say, "I can be a Christian without going to church." Well, actually, yes and no. First off, the physical act of dragging oneself out of bed and into a church is not what saves a person. Jesus Christ saves us by his incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. Going to church and Sunday school must never be viewed as "paying one's dues" in order to stay on God's good side.

Certainly, there are many who do gather with a congregation every week but do so without a living faith. These are the hypocrites who outwardly do right, but have no life within them. But you and I can't see their insides. God will judge them.

God's Word does command us to gather and certain promises are given for when we do. Jesus said that when two or three gather in his name, he is present with them. And Hebrews 10 tells us not to neglect assembling together. There is no question that it is the will of God for his children to come together in his name around His Word and Sacrament. To say that you don't really have to go to church is like telling God that you don't really have to do something which He clearly wants you to do. A person who says this is committing the sin of rebellion. So if a person continuously and insistently avoids assembling with the church around the gospel, that person is putting himself in terrific danger.

Others will say that they are too tired or too busy or have too many scheduling conflicts to make church attendance a priority. And somehow, with gentleness, humility and patience, we need to explain that this thinking is incoherent to the Christian mind. Are you too tired or too busy to breathe? Do you have too much to do to drink water and eat food on a regular basis? If you are too tired to breathe, then you are too tired to live and will die. If you are too busy to eat and drink, then you will starve, dehydrate and die.

You must go to church, not because of the mere fact that God commands it, but because you need to hear the Word of God preached and applied to you. And you need this often. More than just at Christmas and Easter. You need it like you need air; you need it more than you need air. Because without air, you'll only stop breathing but without the Word of God you'll go to hell.

The gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is your bread of life. It is your living water. It is the breath which animates you. If a man has no hunger to hear about God's mercy, if he feels no longing to be in the gracious presence of His Creator, if he cares nothing for the means of grace, then.... well, then something is seriously deeply wrong.

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Carl said...

A good post with some excellent points.I'd like your permission to to adapt this for use with our elders as we visit and/or send letters. One thing I would have been more exact about and that is
sin and grace. The reason we attend church is because, as the liturgy reminds us, "I a poor, miserable sinner..." Because we are sinners we need to hear the forgiving words of Absolution, the clear proclamation of the Gospel and receive the true body and blood of our Lord to strengthen our faith. I know that you know all that, I just wanted to make those observations for anyone who reads this. Thanx!

Anonymous said...

What do you do if you are in sharp disagreement with your church (the only one for 400 miles) over practices and doctrine, effectively making you an isolated believer?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

You have my permission to use anything I write for your purposes. Feel free to adapt, correct or improve where necessary. The only thing I'd ask is that you'd let me know when you do this, just because I'm curious to know how people respond to what I write.

And on that whole sin and grace business, you are absolutely correct. Good point. And thanks.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I sincerely sympathize with your predicament. That is hard. Unfortunately I don't have a pat answer for you. No one-size-fits-all response.

First of all, I admire you for being a person of conviction and taking a stand for what you believe.

We know that it is not good for a person to be alone. We need the corporate body of believers. And we need to receive the means of grace via the ministry established by God.

If the only church anywhere nearby is heterodox, you have to make hard choices. You could move to a location where sound churches are accessible. You could stay at home and read your bible and good devotional literature. You could do whatever necessary to found a new congregation. I don't know how feasible any of those options might be.

From what you've said, this is like the man stranded on a desert island example. God is not going to condemn you, certainly, because you live somewhere without a sound church to attend. But for your own sake, I do hope you are able find a church with a pastor who will minister to you with the gospel.

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