With one of the biggest Sundays on the Christian calendar coming up, I wanted to address this issue because some people will feel compelled to attend Easter Services even if they go no other time of the year. I usually would be at church front and center, but lately, I have not been a member of any congregation. It may not always stay that way, but I just have not felt led to any place at this time. After 30 years of going 4 times a week or more I know he is all-knowing and understands where I’m at in my spiritual walk. Involvement in a church community, and not just attending once or twice a year can be a beautiful thing.
The Bible encourages this connection if we are in a position to do so. There’s beauty in doing this. You will find that good church leaders will attract good and sincere Christians. You will see others who love Christ and be inspired by their strength in struggles and their walk with God. You will find people that can share your burdens. If you’ve experienced a bad church situation, and later feel safe to get involved in a congregational setting, many beneficial things can come from this. Using your gifts can help you grow. You will see that you are not alone in your struggles and you can learn from those relationships.
It’s clear that “gathering” and assembling together is something the early church regularly did. It is encouraged in scripture. When done well, it’s beautiful to come together, worship and enjoy good teaching. It’s amazing that I still have faith in this process, but I do.
Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages us that we should not turn our back on the act of assembling together. Forsaking is and always will be an act of the heart. When someone is missing, love should be extended and understanding should come from the rest of the body, not condemnation.
This passage has several encouragements starting with “Let us…” which are the real reasons for this entire passage. From verse 1 to this point, the writer is talking about the work that was done for us on the cross. He is not berating them about their lack of church attendance, but the focus is on the work of Christ in our lives and celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
20 by this new and living way which He initiated and opened for us through the veil [as in the Holy of Holies], that is, through His flesh, 21 and since we have a great and wonderful Priest [Who rules] over the house of God, 22 let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]; 24 and let us consider [thoughtfully] how we may encourage one another to love and to do good deeds, 25 not forsaking our meeting together [as believers for worship and instruction], as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more [faithfully] as you see the day [of Christ’s return] approaching. Hebrews 10:20-25, Amplified Bible
In my church, they started sadly, to teach this last verse as a command that was a doctrine and a sin of omission if not followed, simply because the following verse started “if we sin willfully”. That following verse 26 has an entirely different focus than church attendance. But it was taught in an oppressive manner. But this was to create fear regarding missing church services and thereby keep the seats full. It often created a wrong atmosphere of establishing a pattern of works that one could brag about.
Being at every church service doesn’t mean you’re on your way to heaven anymore than being first in line at the grocery store means you’re eating well. The focus was all wrong; it was purposeful, which is kind of evil.
It is manipulative on so many levels to teach this oppressively. The result–the fruit– was that often our children suffered because if an event fell on a church service night, it was “life or death” that we attend. We may be encouraged to participate in church services for our spiritual health, true, but nowhere is it commanded and its omission described as a sin. Every person that loves God will want to hear the word of God preached and connect with other Christians, and serve others. This is an organic outgrowth of the seed of the word being planted in our hearts.
There is a middle ground though between encouragement to attend church and oppressive practices.
Here’s some ways to tell when encouragement to come to church crosses the line:
-no excuse is allowed in the eyes of the people or leaders for missing church
-When members don’t feel comfortable that God is pleased with them even if they have a legitimate reason to miss attending.
-when discipline and accountability are used as a way of making you feel guilty where God has not.
-when the idea that you are causing others to lose their experience with God is used to manipulate your attendance, and you have to hide your reasons for missing church, so that others won’t know it’s ok. That’s manipulating the masses and that’s not what God is doing in scripture here.
– When your children cannot ask or feel uncomfortable asking you to do anything for them or with them because it falls during a time there’s church service, even if you haven’t missed any in the last year, you feel compelled to go because of guilt or shame that your ‘record” will be marred or broken.
-Using the church schedule as a reason to turn down a job offer, even if your family needs income from that job, you feel like you would be unfaithful to God for missing every Wednesday even if its simply for work. Your not dedicated enough to God.
-Placing a church schedule as the highest criteria for whether you do anything even if you would only miss on a special occasion.
-Fear that missing one time will put on you on the wrong track when there are video and audio of the services you can listen to later.
-Feeling that no matter how much you explain an absence, it is not accepted.
-Knowing that your attendance is simply being used against you as an oppressive measure or to simply fill a seat and not for the good of your soul. Evidence being that when you’re absent no one is really concerned about how you’re doing spiritually anyway.
-When you feel that you constantly have to give reasons to the entire local church body as to why you and family are not there, for one or two services or you will drop into hell.
-Feeling that you have to get “approval” from someone to be absent even if God has given you an “OK” , you feel it’s necessary to tell someone, anyone the “why” as if God doesn’t already know your reason. You call it being accountable but down in your heart you realize it’s the approval of the leader and the people that your seeking,