In some ways, the concept of ‘going to church’ is not a very biblical one. The idea of travelling to a ‘church’ in order to ‘worship’ is not quite what the Bible means either by ‘church’ or by ‘worship’.
Still, there are mentions within the pages of the New Testament of believers meeting together on the first day of the week, and of gathering as local congregations in one another’s homes. And the writer to the Hebrews urges his readers not to give up meeting together (Heb 10:25).
So, as long as we do not imagine that we have totally discharged our obligations or fully exercised our privileges as Christians by ‘going to church on Sunday’, there are good reasons for gathering together on a regular basis for corporate praise, prayer, and proclamation of God’s word.
What, then, might be some of the reasons why people might absent themselves from a worship service that they might ordinarily be expected to attend?
I’m not thinking of obvious reasons for non-attendance, such as illness, frailty, or being away on holiday or business. I’m not even thinking of a general loss of interest, or of competing demands from other Sunday activities, such as sporting events.
What I’m thinking of are situations such as the following:-
- The individual who misses one service in four because he doesn’t like the worship band that does the music on that day: they are too loud, and too repetitive.
- The choir-mistress who, although a bona fide member of the church, only attends services when she and her choir are ‘on duty’.
- The welcomer who comes along to do his rostered duty before the service, but then goes home before the service actually begins.
- The young woman who will not attend a service if the preaching is going to be done by a woman.
As I write this, I’m feeling a bit guilty, because I know that my attendance at church meetings (especially meetings other than Sunday services) is not what it might be. So let it be understood that I’m including myself in this.
As for those who only attend church when they are ‘on duty’, then let’s think about it this way. Jesus did indeed teach that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). But that was in the context of giving and receiving of money and the things that money can buy. In the matter of Christian ministry, we cannot expect to be able to give graciously if this does not flow out of the fullness of what we have received. To put it bluntly, to only attend Christian worship when I have something to offer suggests a shockingly high opinion of my own ministry and a correspondinly low option of the ministry of others.
With regards to those who keep away from certain church services because they don’t like some aspect of it, then it is surely a reflection of our endemic individualism. Or, to put it more constructively, we need to regain a sense of the corporateness of the Christian church.
Having made my decision to attach myself to a particular local church (and to the denomination to which it belongs, if any), then I need, as far as conscience allows, to willingly subject myself to its leadership and guidance, and to its customs and practices.
This will entail some compromise. But I’m no longer young enough to think that ‘compromise’ is always a bad thing.
For example: I may think that I have good biblical and theological reasons for wishing that certain restrictions or safeguards were placed around women’s ministry. I might even set out my reasoning in appropriate fora. But when it comes to the practicalities of engagement with my local church, I need to do everything I can to respect and support the decisions that have been made in such matters.
Everyone knows the dictum attributed ot Richard Baxter:-
In necessary things, unity; in disputed things, liberty; in all things, charity.
Maybe it’s time to take that wise advice a little more to heart.