On Interstate 65 in South Alabama, there is a sign that has been put up by a private citizen on their land that says:
I am sure this individual meant well when they erected this sign, but the message is just a little simplistic, if not a little off base, in my opinion. You might think that is the tenor of this issue of the Kernels of Truth as you read it, but I hope you will stay with me till the end and see the completeness of what I am attempting to communicate.
The reason for addressing this subject this month is that as a pastor, I get to hear a lot of well-meaning philosophies addressing the idea of attending a particular church on a particular day. One that seems popular is to downplay altogether the value of gathering with God’s saints for worship and fellowship. As I was thinking about these theories and the value of regular church involvement, I was reminded of what Luke recorded concerning our Lord Jesus in chapter 6 of his gospel. “…as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” It’s pretty clear how Jesus felt about gathering with God’s people at a particular place on a particular day. Luke recognized that it was customary for Him to go each Sabbath and join with the fellow believers in the synagogue. Now, this isn’t an issue of The Kernels to beat people up with a condemning word about church attendance. But, rather it is an attempt to get us to see the value, and yes obedience, of allowing ourselves to become a part of a local body of believers and integrate with that body as a customary thing.
The issue isn’t whether or not we are in a room at a particular time at a particular place for the purpose of being counted as present. The heart of the matter is we are one of the “living stones” who make up this organic group known as the church. Twice in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul states that they/we are being fitted together to become a dwelling for God by the Holy Spirit. I hope we have long ago dropped the idea of the church being a physical building. A building is just a place to come in out of the weather and gather with the real church, the rest of the living stones. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t matter whether or not your group has a church building. The type of meeting place is not important to me, but what is important is that you meet or gather in some form.
I don’t think it makes much difference if you gather on Sunday, Friday, or any other day of the week. The apostle Paul wrote that we should not elevate one day above another. I knew of one church that met only on Wednesday nights for a long time. And yet, this church had over 40 outreach ministries in that city. I hope you are seeing a pattern here. We are not gathering to meet some quota. But we are gathering together to encourage and motivate one another. We are gathering to corporately offer praise and worship to our Master. Almost no one can be in attendance each time a particular body of believers gather, but the desire to be an active part should cause us to want to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we have the occasion.
First of all, allow me to address the matter of there being a variety of types of churches and gatherings. Not every church is a building with a meeting room and chairs or pews for people to sit on. But neither is there anything wrong with that approach. There is also nothing wrong with a church that meets in someone’s house…that is just as much a church as the gathering with a steeple high up on the roof. In the Scriptures, we see letters to churches like the church at Philippi, the church at Ephesus, the church at Rome…you get the point. There are other examples like the church that meets in the house of Priscilla and Aquila. Paul writes a letter to “Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker… and to the church in your house.” He also includes in his salutation to the church at Colossae, “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nympha and the church that is in his house.” I could continue on, but I think we see the idea that there is no defined method of being or doing church, but it is the gathering that matters.
The Bible states that we are all members of the Body of Christ and that makes us members of one another. It also teaches us that we need supply from brothers and sisters around us to strengthen and encourage us in our Christian life. God has so ordained it that He has made deposits in His kids that are intended to be drawn out by some of His other kids for their benefit. This occurs through relationship and fellowship among the living stones. Thus the verse in Hebrews that admonishes us to not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.
The New Testament makes several references to the church gathering, most often on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 is the occasion where Paul preached till midnight and one of his listeners fell out the window after falling asleep on Paul’s sermon. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” Other instances are, 1 Corinthians 11:18 “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church,” and 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble…”, not if you assemble. Again, this is not brow beating you to make you feel guilty as a member of a local body, but rather an attempt to communicate the idea of gathering being very biblical (I haven’t even scratched the surface of biblical references) and very beneficial to your Christian life.
Where do I belong? That is a question most of us have had to wrestle with at one time or another. So, we are a member of the body of Christ…where do I function in that capacity? First of all, let’s please get beyond choosing what local body we will be a part of by the programs, style of worship, and what the building looks like. Those are all matters that are not to be ignored. If you resided in the city of Corinth in the New Testament times, it was easy…you were a part of the church at Corinth. There weren’t fifty-five churches competing for your membership and attention (more on that a little later). You couldn’t get mad and move your membership across town, because there was no church across town.
That reminds me of the story of the guy who was rescued after being found alone on a deserted island. The rescuer noticed three huts on the island and curiosity got the best of him and he had to ask.
“What is that building?”
“Oh,” came the answer, “that is where I live.”
“Well, then what is that building?”
He replied, “That is where I attend church.”
“Well now, I must ask then what is that third building?”
“Oh, that is the church I used to attend.”
The main criteria when determining where you should function as an active member of a local congregation is remembering what Paul wrote to the church of Corinth in chapter 12 and verse 18, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” So, the most important thing is that through prayer, seeking, and maybe some counsel, you are where God has designated you and your family according to His desire. If we could get more people into the local body in which they belong, my opinion is we would have less “church” problems.
Now allow me to address the most grievous part of churchdom, in my opinion. When someone asks for recommendations for a local church, inevitably there will be those that chime in with _______ is the best church, you should come with us. I would like to state a principle that is eternal, etched in granite, and probably on the backside of the stone on which God wrote the Ten Commandments… there is no such thing as a “best church!” When did we start promoting our churches like they were a business we had invested our dollars in and to win the contest, we must draw human beings into our seats, even though many times we are syphoning them off of fellow congregations? Andy Taylor was complaining about a visiting preacher one time and stated how he liked Reverend Tucker, who had been their pastor for a long time. To which Aunt Bee exclaimed, “Andy, they are on the same side!”
Saints, all the local congregations in an area are supposed to be on the same side. Please, let’s lose this competitive approach to church, selling our programs, worship, preaching, etc., like goods on the stock exchange. There is only one church in any given locale…and your church is simply a local expression of that church in your community. Jesus stated the world would know that we are His disciples if we had love for one another. They will be hard pressed to see that if we spend all our times promoting our particular local congregation as better than all the rest.
So what must we do? I’m glad you asked.
- First of all, recognize that upon being born from above by the Spirit of God, you became a member of the body of Christ in the earth and heaven. In so doing, you inherited an eternity of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and some of them are still here on the earth.
- Now (most of you have already done this), you must determine where the arranging Father has designated for you and your family to walk out daily and weekly this relationship with Him and His kids. Again, it may be a large (you can define large) church, or a handful of saints who gather in someone’s living room. Remember, it’s not necessarily where you are comfortable, but where God has purposed you.
- If you are where you know the Father has designed for you to be, then be an active, participating member in that body. I don’t really mean by that to find somewhere you can serve in the church. Local churches certainly need those who serve in some capacity to keep the church functioning. But I mean be involved with the other saints (not all of them; that’s impractical). It is after all a faith community, so…commune.
- It is a fact that at times the Father, in His wisdom and Sovereignty, will relocate folks from one local church to another, and that isn’t always limited to geographical moves. It is His church and He can determine that He needs you over there now. I must hasten to add that we should not try to make that happen in our own wisdom and knowledge. As a matter of fact, if we are where we are supposed to be (for now) and God leads us to join another local expression of the body of Christ, it should make us just a little sad.
- For God’s sake, when it is time to move your “membership” to another local body, please…please…please don’t just vaporize on your current congregation and pastor. It is very disheartening to notice someone missing, and to learn they have moved to another local church and never told anybody.
- Lastly, as much as is possible, when your spiritual family comes to the dinner table, make it a point to sit at the table with them. No one (not even the pastor) can be at every gathering, so that is not expected. But recognize the value of gathering with the fellow saints to which God has joined you and go beyond the convenient and join in the corporate worship.
Act 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Acts 2:46 “And day by day, attending the temple together…”