The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
Attending worship services faithfully is of utmost importance. Many strong Christians have become weak, and many weak Christians have totally fallen away, because at some point they began to miss worship services and Bible study classes on a regular basis. A Christian’s attendance of services has been rightfully declared by many, as a thermometer indicating one’s fervor for the Lord. One cannot truthfully say he is a faithful child of God if he does not attend worship services regularly.
But, does the New Testament teach that Christians must be present at every meeting of the church? This is not a question that can be answered with a simple “yes,” or “no.” There are several elements to the issue that must be taken into consideration.
Reasons Why Christians Should Regularly Meet Together
The Bible says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up [provoke unto] love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
These Christians were to “consider” one another. “Consider” (katanoeo) is meaningful. It is a compound of two Greek words, kata (“down”), and noeo (“mind”). The idea is that of putting the mind down on something, i.e., reflecting upon it deeply and continuously. In Hebrews 10:24, the word emphasizes the intense and abiding reciprocal concern and mutual helpfulness that must prevail among Christians.
When children of God have a proper consideration for one another, they will “provoke” each other to love and good works. “Provoke” normally has a negative thrust in the New Testament (cf. Acts 17:16; 1 Corinthians 13:5), but here it connotes the idea of “spurring on” or “stimulating” others – in a healthy, positive sense.
Our assembling together exhorts and encourages us to greater Christian enthusiasm. Because of the trials, temptations and heartaches we face each week as Christians, it is important to assemble together at each opportunity so that we might be stimulated and encouraged, and do the same for others. It is reassuring to be around those of “like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1). We all need encouragement, but we must attend worship services and Bible study faithfully to receive this precious privilege.
Another reason for meeting regularly with the saints for worship and Bible study is to be a good example for others. Peter declared, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus left us innumerable examples of how we should live. One of these examples is that He kept the Law of Moses perfectly, which included attending all of the different feasts and special days of the Jewish religion.
We, too, learning from the example of Jesus, should regularly attend all of the worship services of the church, as well as all other gathering for the purpose of study and edification. We should do this to please our Father, but also to set good examples for others. Paul said that we are to be “an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). What kind of example do you set for the non-believer or for the weak Christian by apathetic attendance? Not a good one we assure you.
Would one consider a car faithful if it only starts every other time? Would you consider your spouse faithful if she cheated on your marriage once per month? Of course not! Then what makes us think we can be faithful Christians if we are not attending worship service and Bible study regularly? It is vital that we are faithful in attendance – our eternal destiny is hanging in the balance.
Still another reason we should attend worship services and Bible study faithfully is because it is a command of God: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some…” (Hebrews 10:25). Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Furthermore, we also need to remember, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The Holy Spirit informs us that we must assemble at every opportunity with the saints. If this was the only reason for attending worship regularly – it would be enough. Those who really LOVE the Lord will do what he says (read Luke 6:46).
“Forsaking” is a present tense form, hence denotes a practice that is repeated. The phraseology does not describe, as some have argued, a once-and-for-all-time abandonment of the faith. Rather, it depicted what had become a customary habit into which some of the Hebrew saints had fallen – which could lead to total apostasy, if correction was not made. The term strongly emphasizes the sort of disregard for others that characterizes some children of God – in this case those who persistently, without valid reasons, neglect church meetings.
Forsaking the church assemblies is an egregious form of both arrogance and selfishness. Some of the Jewish Christians had gotten into the habit of excusing themselves from the meetings of the church perhaps as a result of the fear of persecution, materialistic pursuits, or downright laziness. These assemblies were the very life of the disciples, without which they could not survive.
IS “MISSING” A SERVICE, “FORSAKING”?
There are various extremes with reference to church attendance. Some appear close to contending that one may not be absent from any congregational meeting unless he virtually is on his deathbed. Others – far more common in number – allege that corporate worship is entirely optional (except, perhaps, for a Lord’s Day morning service), and so one may do as he/she pleases for any preferential distraction. The truth is somewhere between these extremities.
Surely it will be acknowledged that one could remain at home to care for the infirm. Too, aside from the primary Sunday obligation, it must be admitted that other service times are set by the elders (or leaders) so as to accommodate the spiritual needs of the majority. By implication, this will deprive a minority from assembling on occasion.
Moreover, it is a reality of life that not all people are suited, by virtue of education or skill, for a 9:00 to 5:00, Monday-through-Friday vocation. Some, who truly love the Lord and are devoted to His cause, have to work at other times. Shall we conclude that when they are forced to miss some of the services they are apostate? That is absurd. Is the Christian physician who must rush to the hospital at 9:00 on Sunday morning to deliver your baby remiss his duty – while you are not culpable for being absent from the same service?
On the other hand, there are others who are shamelessly flippant about their obligation to meet with the saints. With but the slightest deterrent – be it a sports event, a family outing, or that I’m-too-tired rationalization – it matters little to them. To argue, as some occasionally do, “Prove to me that I must attend the Bible classes,” reveals a pitifully blighted condition of soul. Where else would a spiritually minded person want to be if he/she is able? The truth is, frequently church service delinquency is a heart problem (cf. Acts 8:21-22). The Lord’s kingdom is not first in some saints’ lives (Matthew 6:33); it runs a distant somewhere else.
Here is a provocative thought. Do the elders of the church have an obligation to “feed the flock” (Acts 20:28)? If so, do the “sheep” have a duty to yield to their persuasion (Hebrew 13:17), utilizing the nourishment they provide? Quite clearly they do. If, then, the elders attempt to nourish the church at reasonably appointed times, and the Christian is not occupied with truly crucial responsibilities otherwise, does he have the right to frivolously decide whether or not he will follow their leadership in this regard? A spiritual person will reflect deeply about this matter.
It is not up to the leaders, ministers, or anyone else to micro-manage the attendance patterns of every other Christian within the local congregation. We are, however, on our honor to do the best that we can in our service to the Master (1 Corinthians 15:58). Flagrant, sustained truancy is another issue altogether. Such certainly could become quite possibly a disciplinary matter.