Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Don't Go to Church?

DB asked:

«What would you propose is a better way to encourage those who say they are Christian, but only go to church on Easter or Christmas?»

A better way, DB, is what you have already done: to quote Hebrews 10.25 in its entirety. This stands in stark contrast with the following which, incidentally, you just quoted in another post:

For example, if God requires you to be an active part of a local church — Hebrews 10:25 indicates that He does — any decision that prohibits you from that is against God’s revealed will.

That is one of the last things you should want to say to someone to motivate them, even if they’re willful and obstinate with regard to Christian fellowship. It’s like saying, “Look here man, you HAVE to go to church. You HAVE to pull yourself out of bed every Sunday to sing songs of a style which you hate and which is often unnecessary anyhow. You HAVE to drag yourself out of bed to sit with a bunch of people you don’t like and listen to a sermon that you largely don’t agree with. So be obedient to God, and go suffer like a man in church every weekend.” Again, this stands is great contrast with what the writer of the book of Hebrews says:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 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.

First and foremost, one is not under a biblical mandate “to go to church.” No, to the contrary one should encourage other members of the fold, even through regular meetings of believers around word and sacrament. This is not far removed from what our brother Paul says in Colossians 3.16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

This is the kind of reasoning by which I voluntarily started going to Sunday School years ago.


Meanwhile, the average Christian is not exactly an ignoramus and a peon who is meant to be molded and shaped by the cold, manipulative hand of organized religion. To be sure, one must indeed submit to the authority of elders of regular meetings of believers; however, our brother Paul informs us that all believers are to submit to one another (e.g., Ephesians 5.21), which means that organized religion in terms of ecclesiology should not be a matter of anyone’s lording it over other people (cf. 1 Peter 5.3).

Indeed, hierarchy in meetings of believers should come from a recognition that some things are to be organized as are other things in life; some people have studied the Bible, theology and philosophy more thoroughly and keenly than others, which means that some are better suited to preach and teach. In fact, even where there is an equal number of people with a high level of knowledge and expertise in theology, there still needs to be just a few people organizing meetings of believers such that you don’t have a chaotic situation of “too many Indians trying to play chief.” So it is necessary that people agree to defer to other people to let them run things, even when there is meanwhile an unspoken understanding that one is not better or even more knowledge or wiser than other.


Finally, it bears noting that excommunication is something that our brother Paul (1 Corinthians 5.5) treats as being remedial toward believers who sin. If a Christian’s being cast away and left alone works toward the end of that person’s being saved in the day of the Lord, then it follows that virtually every believer who regularly meets with others around word and sacrament is more blessed and better off than those who do not “go to church,” even if they do not like to regularly meet with others in the first place.

Based on the wording of the Corinthian verse we can speculate that believers who do not regularly meet with other believers in any way are more subject to temptation, and also moral failures. After all, if fellow believers are avoiding you, then you now find yourself faced with two choices of people to hang out with: yourself, and unbelievers; temper this with the fact that Paul says elsewhere that a little yeast works its way through an entire batch of dough (1 Cor 5.6, Gal 5.8-10) and that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor 15.33).

The end of the matter is probably the excommunicated believer’s reaching a level of debasement, dissipation, depravity or the like such that his low estate forces him to come to his senses and to turn his back on sin entirely. (After all, there is a difference between the sinful mind of Romans 8 and those who have been born of imperishable seed; how many Christians who sin are truly happy in doing so?) This seems to be what Paul has in mind in pertinent sections of 1 Corinthians 5; this in turn means that even if believers who do not meet with other believers around word and sacrament still interact with believers “outside of church,” there is something to be said about one’s interacting with one’s own kind. (Iron sharpens iron.)


On second thought, let me throw in a postscript: a reminder that nowhere in the pages of the New Testament is anyone categorically required to build church buildings and to have meetings there. The first churches were pretty much house churches, and in an ideal world more people would have a good option of meeting with congregations small enough to meet in people’s homes.

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