What’s So Important About Attending Church?
The Christian faith has so many aspects to it, that it makes it very difficult to handle all of them from the pulpit. Some aspects are better addressed in written form, because it allows us to sit back and reflect on what we read.
In the previous post we started with the first and second part of an essay by Cooper Abrams on the topic: “What’s So Important About Attending church?” In this post we will look at part 3-5 of the booklet.
Part 3 What is the Effect of a Believer Being Unfaithful to Church Services and other meetings of the Church?
Those who choose to forsake assembling themselves together with their fellow Christians are, by example, teaching others that attending church is not important. Their actions say that attending the scheduled meetings of the church are not worth their time. If one thinks the activity worthwhile, they would be present. I once heard the story of a pastor who announced Sunday morning that in the evening service there would be a special vote on whether the church would continue holding that service in the future. Next Sunday morning in the church bulletin there was no mention of a Sunday evening service. When asked why, the pastor replied the church had voted to cancel the services. This greatly upset some people and a group of them got together and complained to the pastor that they had not voted to stop these services. The pastor then asked, “Were you here last Sunday night?” “No,” they replied, each with a different excuse. “Oh, yes. You did vote,” the pastor responded, “And you made your vote clear.”
Think for a moment, what effect your unfaithfulness has on your family, other believers, new Christians, children and the youth of your church? Most of all, think about how this affects you spiritually.
Attending all of the services of your church takes personal sacrifice and commitment. It is not always the easiest thing to go to church. Scripture does not say that we are to serve and obey the Lord only if it is convenient. We have conflicts at times, however Christ commands us to give him preeminence in our lives (Col. 2:18). Our first responsibility should be to Christ. The church is at the center of God’s plan for a believer. You cannot be faithful to Christ and be unfaithful to your church. It has been said that the reason some people miss church is the reason we have church. (Think about this statement for a minute, and it will come to you!)
Part 4 What Else Does the Bible Say About Attending Church?
Ephesians 5:25, states that Christ died for the church. To many, the word “church” is normally thought of as encompassing all believers, but it has a more narrow and specific meaning. The word translated church is the Greek word “ekklesia” (e la see’ ah) meaning “a called out assembly, (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation.” The verse says that Christ gave Himself for the local assembly of believers. Christ did die for all believers of all ages, but that is not the emphasis here. This stresses that Christ is Head of the local church (Eph. 5:23) and He died for the local congregation! In most places in the New Testament the word “church” refers to a “local” body of believers. Thus, the Bible’s emphasis, regarding the church, is that of a ‘local’ congregation. The local assembly of believers is important to Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, that He would “. . . establish His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” The word that Christ used is the same word in Ephesians 5:23, 25.
Christ set up the local church for believers. Acts 2:41 relates that, at Pentecost, three thousand people were saved and baptized. Verse 47 tells us that these saved people were added to the church daily. Again this is the same word, “ekklesia”, meaning these were added “by God” to the local congregation there in Jerusalem.
You cannot separate a believer from the local church. God clearly and always presents a believer as a part of a local church. One example of this truth is found in giving gifts or talents to believers. The gifts or talents that God specially gives to believers are given for the local church. Nowhere does the Bible teach that believers are free agents, working outside the local church.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us that there is a diversity of gifts or talents given to believers to enable them to carry on the work of the Lord. He uses the word “body” in referring to the collective membership of believers. Many ignore the context of these verses and assume that Paul is speaking of a universal body of all living believers, but note that the context of this instruction is about gifts. In 1 Corinthians 11:18, Paul makes his introductory statement: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” Paul is not addressing a “universal” church, but a local congregation of believers! His comments “when ye come together” means the local church. This highlights the importance of gifts or talents being used in one’s local church. It shows that the local church is a body made up of many different believers who God has brought together and given special abilities to carry on the work the Lord has given to them collectively, as a church.
Further, note verse 22: “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not” (1 Corinthians 11:22). In verse 33, he is again talking about when they come together. Clearly he is talking about the local gathering of believers, and he is calling them the “ekklesia”, the church. Then in Chapter 12 Paul continues his instruction. There is no break in the thought or progress of his teaching. The chapter divisions, in the Bible, are not in the original Epistle. His thought continues without interruption.
Note that he summarizes his teaching by saying: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28). Clearly Paul is talking about the local church and the local congregation of believers.
I belabor the point because it is vital for us to understand that Paul is saying that God’s intention for believers, after they are saved, is to be part of a local church. Thus, the believer is not a free agent working within or without the local church at his discretion. The ability to serve the Lord and to carry out God’s will for the individual is centered in the church. The plan or organized program of God for believers after they are saved is the local church. God gives specific talents to the members of the local church, so the members can carry out God’s will (1 Cor. 12:18, 28). The focus is on the church as a collective body, working together to carry out God’s plan. Every member of the local body has a job to do, and when everyone uses his God given talent, God’s work is accomplished.
Note Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 14:12. “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” Paul is saying that the believer is to seek to “excel” in the use of the talents God gives him. The word “excel” means to “superabound (in quantity or quality), to be in excess.” The believer, then, is to actively be using his gift with great enthusiasm. If one’s gift is given for service within the local church, it must be concluded that we are to be vigorously using it in the church. Being unfaithful or apathetic toward the ministry of the church would certainly show that one is not obeying God’s clear teaching on this matter. Further, one’s God given gift is valid only within its use in the local body of believers.
If this is God’s plan, that all believers be a part of and faithful to a local congregation, then clearly, it is abnormal for a believer not to be faithful in attending and serving in a local church. If each member is not enthusiastically doing their share, then the work of the Lord suffers, and they suffer spiritually.
Part 5 God’s Plan is that Pastors and Teachers are Called From Within the local Church.
It is also God’s plan that pastors and teachers are appointed and work under the direction of a local congregation of believers. Paul and the other missionaries were called to their ministries by the Holy Spirit. “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Act 13:2). God called them, but He directed the local congregation at Antioch to send them out.
Ephesians 4:11 12 states, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These offices were given in the context of the local church, to provide the leadership necessary to carry on the work of the Lord.
There is no example in the New Testament, after Pentecost, of believers working outside the local church. When one understands this, it helps to see how important it is to attend and be a vibrant part of Christ’s local church. Philip who was sent to witness to the eunuch, was sent by God out of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-40). Those that started the church at Antioch came from the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:19 20). Paul, Barnabas and those that accompanied them on their missionary journeys were sent out from the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1 2, 14:27). Timothy was the pastor of the church at Ephesus as was the Apostle John later. God’s program on earth is carried out by God through the local church. To be unfaithful to one’s local church is to place oneself outside God’s plan for the propagation of the Gospel.
[Next time we will God willing continue with Part 6 of Cooper Abrams’s essay on the question: “What’s So Important About Attending Church?”]