Let Us Not Neglect Meeting Together
By Pastor David Huffman
There’s a lie frequently told and readily believed. I hear it often. Perhaps you have heard it. It is the lie that “going to church is not necessary for the Christian life.” Other phrases reinforcing this lie have become increasingly popular as well. Phrases like; ‘We don’t GO to church, we ARE the church,’ and ‘I don’t need the church to grow in my faith,’ or even ‘You don’t need church to be a Christian.’ Popular Christian speakers, authors, and even pastors have used similar language as well. Admittedly, I myself have been taken-in by some of these claims before, and have even espoused them while serving within a local church. But truth be told these assertions are at best misguided, and at worst anti-gospel.
Wait... isn’t that a little much?” I don’t think so! Because being a part of the universal church without submitting to a local church is not possible1, let alone healthy for your Christian walk. Many of the New Testament books themselves are addressed to local churches, and the authors continually instruct the original audience to love and cherish one another, to meet consistently for prayer, worship, fellowship, the Lord’s table, with devotion to the apostles teaching. Not to mention, the New Testament repeatedly points to the “institution” (buzz word) of the local church by encouraging the appointing of elders and deacons to manage the affairs of the gathering body (Tit 1:5), and then charges believers within those local churches to submit themselves to the authority therein (Heb 13:17).
So if the corporate gathering with fellow believers is scripturally commanded, why do we see such a trend away from the gathered assembly (ekklesia)? A recent Pew Research Survey2 reveals why many increasingly avoid and even stop going to church. Surprisingly in our current culture, its not a lack of belief that initiates this decline in attendance, but it is more often because of practical and personal reasons. This tells us many things... but most importantly there is a fundamental problem in our understanding what the ekklesia is! As it turns out, many’s understanding of church has become diluted to something that is ancillary, supplemental, and unimportant. This rings true at least in my neck of the woods, where I often hear people’s belief that church attendance is an added bonus but not fundamental to their faith. This misunderstanding only feeds our human desire toward withdrawal.
Dr Jason Clark, professor and pastor, speaks to this withdrawing and isolation, saying:
“Human beings have been hiding away, withdrawing from God and one another since the garden of Eden. And, like Adam and Eve, we Christians are very good at making excuses for withdrawing, believing the lies we tell ourselves that underpin such backing away. The internal stories are often these: ‘I need a break, I need to focus on my kids/family, I want time to myself, I have to get this marathon/triathlon/course done’, etc. We then succumb to, and placate, any doubts we might have about our stories with more fabrications. ‘I can get back to church later’, ‘it won’t affect me’, and, even worse, ‘this is what’s best for me’...Satan is indeed the father of lies, prowling around looking to devour us. His greatest ploy and tactic has not been a full-frontal assault on belief; instead it has been the insidious entropy of attendance. A lion secures its prey by first isolating it, so it is then free to devour it.”3
This pull towards isolation and withdrawal can be seen throughout human history and even the church. Hebrews 10:25 was written for this very purpose, because some in the early church had already given up on meeting together in corporate worship. Perhaps it was due to persecution and struggle, or maybe like today it is a result of preference and convenience. Regardless, the author of Hebrews encourages the readers to continue to gather as a body. To fight the temptation to withdraw and isolate. Because disconnecting yourself from the local body will only make the you more vulnerable and the body more weak. As Paul says to the church in Corinth, “For the body does not consist of one member but many.” (1 Cor 12:14).
While I firmly believe that spiritual consumerism is one of the biggest enemies to Christianity today, the hard truth is that consumerism is not just a reality for people going to church, but also for people leaving church. Disconnecting oneself from faithful community ultimately pushes you more toward Christian consumerism than it does further your growth and discipleship. It says “My walk is on my schedule... my worship time is when it is convenient for me... my authority whoever I choose.” The age of the iPhone has helped and hurt us in this. Helped because we have more information and resources from Godly people at our fingertips than ever before, yet hurt us because droves of people are replacing the scriptural commands of gathering together regularly in a body and the commitment it requires... for a video clip of whomever their appetite craves on that particular day. This is dangerous and destructive.
Admittedly, some of the reasons many are separating are at least understandable! It is difficult to view the local church as a gift from God with so much failure on display. Even this month, the report of over 700 victims of abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention4 is enough to cause weeping and gnashing. Submission to authority is seen as a danger when authorities within the church have abandoned their post morally, scripturally and spiritually by abusing those whom they are called to protect and pastor. While authority abuse will be left for another article where I can give more time addressing it, I must encourage those who are experiencing that in a localized context... perhaps separation is the right course of action. But don’t leave Church altogether, there is no scriptural support for that. Prayerfully find a gospel-centered church that fulfills it’s biblical command of pastoring well, and proclaiming the good news of Christ... and then commit to that body as a member of its local family.
All that said, we must rediscover that the local church is a gift from God, designed as one of God’s primary tools of sanctification in our lives, discipleship in the Word, equipping with the gospel, and mission to the world. It is a gift to his children, and a gift to a world in desperate need of the gospel. Church life can be, and will continue to be messy. But it is a mistake, albeit a trendy mistake, to walk away from the gathered assembly (ekklesia).
So I encourage you in the Lord... gather with a gospel-centered local church this weekend. Do not neglect meeting together. Celebrate the risen Christ alongside fellow believers. Value the Word corporately. Sing praises thankfully. Fellowship with one another vulnerably. And make regular attendance a part of your spiritual diet. Because gospel work is being done, whether you “feel” like it or not.