Monday, March 26, 2012

Some Thoughts on Church Attendance and Corporate Worship - Pastor Chris Oswald

            If I were face to face with a friend who was not well informed about the importance of regular church attendance, where would I go in the Bible to show him God’s will?  A lot of people are familiar with Hebrews 10:24-25 which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

            This passage is pretty clear.  You really could stop right there if the question were limited to whether or not God wants His saints to regularly assemble.  The passage not only commands regular participation in a local church, it anticipates that some will have, for various reasons, fallen into the habit of not gathering together.  Church absenteeism can easily become a habit.  Getting to church becomes more and more difficult the longer we are absent.  Isn’t it amazing that even this early into the church’s life, new Christians were already struggling with the discipline of church attendance! 

            Not only does the passage command regular church attendance, it commends a particular kind of church participation.  Verse 24 keeps us from approaching our relationship with a local church with a consumeristic attitude. 

            “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works...”

            This verse also reveals what our time away from church is supposed to look like.  Part of our week’s walk with Christ should involve putting real effort into “considering how to stir up one another to love and good works.” If we spend time throughout the week considering how we can encourage others, we will approach our time at church with a sense of purpose and expectancy. 

            In recent years, many Christians are neglecting regular and selfless participation in a local church in favor of staying home and doing “family church.”  This approach fails to understand the uniqueness of what the English Standard Version translates, “meet together.”  How does this phrase specify corporate worship?  Couldn’t we understand “meet together” to be fulfilled in a Christian home?  Couldn’t we understand “meet together” to be fulfilled in social gatherings among Christians?  How do we know that the author of Hebrews has in corporate worship in mind?

            We find this exact word construction used only one other time in the New Testament.  In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is talking about the return of Christ and says, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him...” (2 Thessalonians 2:1)

            One aspect of Christ’s returning work is the gathering of His saints together to him.  Our gathering together before the throne of God is one of the ways we are going to find ultimate joy in heaven.  It is also one of the ways in which God is going to receive ultimate glory in heaven.  The worshipers of Christ in the book of Revelation often specifically praise his gathering work,

            “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

            Note the diversity of the gathering in heaven.  “People from every tribe and language and people and nation...” are praising in unity.  This what our corporate worship in the present should be looking forward to.  Note that Hebrews 10:24-25 gives the return of Christ as a key reason for ever increasing gathering together here on earth. 

            “...and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

            So we can conclude that it is God’s purpose for us to regularly assemble in a similar manner to our future assembly in heaven.  In doing so, we express hope and delight in Christ’s final gathering work.  Note, this passage eliminates staying home and doing “family church” as a legitimate alternative to church attendance.  Family worship is wonderful, but it does not meet the “gathering together” criteria set forth in scripture.  Your worship experience should look like heaven’s.  By necessity, that involves a level of diversity a single family cannot offer. 

            The passages in Revelation which give us a view of what that ultimate gathering will look like, become for us a sort of standard by which we measure the quality of our corporate worship gatherings here on earth.  While all of our Christian get togethers should reflect some of the qualities of heaven’s ultimate assembly, corporate worship is uniquely positioned to more completely and consistently reflect the ultimate state of God’s people. 

            We are going to conclude our thoughts about corporate worship and church attendance by posing a series of questions.
The Bible shows that God is uniquely glorified in unified diversity.  What I mean is that when many different people join together for the common purpose of praising God, their agreement of purpose, in spite of all their differences, magnifies God.

Question 1: Where do you go to participate in this special activity?
Hebrews 13:17 says “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  While your shepherds have a sacred responsibility to seek you out and help you grow.  You have the responsibility to seek them out and to hear what they are saying.

Question 2: How are you seeking to obey this command? 
Acts 6:4 suggests that pastors are supposed to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. 

Question 3: Are you supporting their ministry with your attendance?
Acts also tells us that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings.

Question 4: To who’s teaching are you regularly committed to listening to?  Do they know you? 
Among other activities, Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim 4:13 to devote his pastoral work to “the public reading of scripture...”

Question 5: Where do you go to hear the scripture read publicly?
Jesus commanded the disciples to remember his sacrifice through a corporate observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Question 6: Where do you observe the Lord’s Supper?
Ephesians 5:19 commands that we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,”

Question 7: How are you obeying this command?
Scripture teaches that not only are we to pray for one another, but we are to pray with one another.

Question 8: Where do you regularly pray with the Body?
Christ initiated church discipline as a means of helping believers hold one another accountable for unrepentant sin.  The ultimate means of discipline for unrepentant sin was the temporary exclusion of fellowship.  The hard-hearted person would be excluded from participating in church gatherings until they repented.

Question 9: If you needed to experience church discipline, how much of a difference would that make in your life?
When David was experiencing spiritual depression and God seemed very distant, his memory of past corporate worship experiences encouraged his heart.  He said, “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”  (Ps 42)

Question 10: Have you cultivated the habit of regularly gathering with God’s people?  Has the memory and expectancy of public worship encouraged your soul?

            Corporate worship isn’t the exclusive answer to any one of these questions.  Yet I suspect that if you’re honest with yourself, you’d agree that devoting yourself to corporate worship is going to help you obey many of these to a greater degree than you are likely to do without that discipline. 

     Pastor Chris Oswald
Pastor Chris Oswald is a Pastor and founder of CrossHaven Church ( He has been a Youth Pastor at several churches as well.


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