We use the expression “going to church” to describe those occasions when we go to the church meetinghouse to participate in worship on the Lord’s Day. But is “going to church” regularly on Sundays really that important? If you don’t go regularly, are you potentially placing yourself in spiritual danger?
God, in His gracious care for His people has provided a number of what are called means of grace. That is, God has provided a number of ways of calling, instructing, encouraging, and protecting His people. These means serve to strengthen one’s faith and to make one useful in His kingdom. They include the preaching and teaching of His word, prayer, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship with fellow believers. These means chiefly find their expression in the context of the assembled church.
In America and especially here in New England, we are prone to elevate and admire “individualism”, you know, that independent Yankee spirit. And yet, the Christian life which God describes in His word knows nothing of this “individualism”, which is really just a form of selfishness. As Christians, we do indeed have a personal relationship with God through Christ, but we are part of a corporate whole, the very spiritual body of Jesus Christ. As such, there is a God designed dependency that exists not only upon Christ, but with one another.
This dependency is worked out in the context of the assembling of God’s people as the church. To neglect, treat lightly, or to be inconsistent in the use of this means of grace of the regular assembling of God’s people is to not only be disobedient to God’s command, but it’s to take the first steps towards real spiritual decline. It’s the spiritual equivalent of going on a hunger strike. To not be in regular attendance is to cut oneself off from not only regular commanded worship and instruction, but mutual encouragement as well, as our verses under consideration tell us.
In many cases, it really boils down to an issue of priority. Too many professing Christians offer excuses for this neglect such as family outings, or a child’s sporting event, or some other activity considered to be more important. Some simply don’t see the need for regular spiritual input from the preaching and teaching of the word. They think its enough to read their Bible and pray at home. They seem to forget that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). That means that God’s ordinary way of working and building faith in His children is in the public preaching and teaching of His word when the church is assembled. How can a professing Christian expect to be blessed in his private reading and praying when He neglects God’s chief means of feeding His flock?
The Psalmist experienced a tremendous sense of loss when he was prevented from assembling with God’s people. He wrote, “As the deer pants for water brooks, so my soul pants for You O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? …I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast” (Psalm 42.1-2, 4).
Sometimes Christians will not attend church because they feel they just can’t while they’re going through a particular crisis of some sort. They feel that everyone will be watching them and that they probably won’t get anything out the message anyway. But that’s the absolute worst time to stay home alone. God has designed the church to be a place where one can be encouraged by one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. Many who have come to church on those occasions when all they wanted to do was to stay home, have found that afterwards, they felt encouraged by being around others who love them and are praying for them. And besides, God’s word has a way of breaking through and reaching even the most downcast and discouraged Christian.
Is the assembling together of the church on the Lord’s Day the most important part of the week for you? Do you see it only as one more activity in the week which can be set aside if something else comes up? Does your soul thirst for God, for the living God?
Or do you see it as an opportunity to be obedient, to offer up to God thankful heartfelt worship, and to be a source of encouragement to your brothers and sisters, stirring them up to love and good works, and exhorting one another? Watch out, don’t be one who treats this regular assembling together with God’s people carelessly and lightly. If so, you’re not only engaging in thankless disobedience, but you may be on your way to spiritual decay and even ruin.