Why Go to Church

May 17, 2015 / No. 3776

Dear radio friends,
Today we open our Bibles and consider God’s Word in Hebrews 10:25. I intend to treat this verse in two messages—today looking at the calling that comes to every Christian regularly to attend a church that is faithful to God’s Word, and then, in our next message on this verse, which will be two weeks from today, we will look at the calling that every Christian has to be a member of a local church. So today we will talk about why it is important to attend church, and the next time why it is necessary to be a member of a church.
I am convinced that in the day and age in which we live there is hardly a more important and relevant message for Christianity. I say that because Christianity today is marked by the evils of consumerism and individualism. What is consumerism? Someone who calls himself a Christian says, “I’m going to shop around for a church until I find one that meets all my felt needs and that is pleasing to me.” And the churches become “seeker-sensitive,” so that they cater to what people want it to be, rather than being what God says it should be. What is individualism? It is this, that the Christian says, “My life is my business. It’s about me and my God. I don’t need the church. And I certainly don’t need other people to tell me what they think the Bible says about my life and how I should live.” So, again, the church caters to this by getting rid of all formal membership and there is no discipline of sin anymore, there is no accountability. Communion? The sacraments are open to anyone and everyone and there is tolerance for every lifestyle and confession in the church.
Over against these evils, the Bible calls every believer to find and regularly attend the scheduled meetings for worship in a local church that is faithful to the Scriptures. As Christians, we do not have the option of “going-it alone.” And, the standard for finding a church is not what makes me happy as an individual, but faithfulness to God’s Word.
That is what we have in the text for today’s message. Hebrews 10:25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” I want to consider this under two main headings: First, what does this mean? and second, why is this necessary?
The book of Hebrews, you remember, was written to early Jewish believers, who, because of persecution, were tempted to go back to Judaism. In this epistle and, especially in the few verses here that we have been looking at, the writer issues a stirring call to his audience to continue in their faith in Christ. After reminding them of the great privilege of the free access to God that we have through the blood of Jesus Christ (vv. 19-21), he gives three exhortations. First, let us draw near to God, that is, let us worship. Second, let us hold fast to our faith, that is, persevere, do not give up. And, third, let us consider one another and provoke to love and good works, that is, let us stay with one another as Christians. Apparently, though, there were some who had already departed from the faith. And their departure showed itself this way, that they forsook the regular gatherings of the church for worship. That had become a discouragement to those who remained and more were tempted to follow them. After all, being a persecuted Christian was difficult. So, in the text, the exhortation is to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.”
The meaning here is very clear and simple. It could not be put in plainer words. The words “assembling of ourselves together” refer to the gathering of Christian believers for worship and exhortation in a particular place. Those words refer to the regularly-scheduled meetings of the local church. Gathering regularly with the other believers for worship was the practice of the early New Testament church. And it has been the practice of the church down through the ages. This is what Christians do. They gather with other believers in order to worship God and to pray and to hear God’s Word and to receive the sacraments together. The practices of home-churching and the individualistic idea of Christianity that it is just me and my God are foreign to the Scriptures. Instead, we read this of the early believers in Acts 2:41, 42: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” There is no individualism there. The word that they had received was the word preached by the apostles who represented the church. Having believed, they came to the church to be baptized. Then they were added to the church. And then, as members of the church, they continued “stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” that is, under their teaching and in fellowship, that is, their new friends were other Christians, and in breaking of bread and prayer, that is, the public use of the sacraments and in corporate prayer with other Christians. They did not say, “Now that we are Christians, we can just stay at home and do Christianity our own way.”
I want to add here that though there is nothing wrong or sinful in Christian radio, or in the use of the Internet to access Christian resources, those things can be used in a wrong way when we substitute church with radio or Internet. Technology is not evil. But it should not be used as an excuse to stay away from public worship. And it should not be used as a means to isolate oneself as a Christian. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is.” The practice of the early New Testament church in gathering for worship is a pattern and an example for Christians today.
Here are a couple more examples from Scripture. In Acts 20:6, 7 we read this (Luke is writing and he says): “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” Here the missionary, Paul, arrived in Troas on Monday or Tuesday. Then, on the following Sunday, the first day of the week, all of the disciples in that area, came together to break bread. This was their regularly scheduled meeting for worship. Already early in the New Testament church they gathered on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath and not the Jewish Sabbath, which was Saturday. They came together for what? To break bread, that is, for the administration of the Lord’s Supper. And they came together to hear the preaching of the gospel. This day they had a guest preacher with them—missionary Paul. This is the kind of meeting that our text has in mind when it is talking about not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together—public worship, on the Lord’s Day, to hear God’s Word and to receive the sacraments.
Here’s another passage, I Corinthians 16:1, 2. This passage highlights another, different, important element of worship for the church. We read here: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” Here Paul is talking about collections for the poor. And he says that on the first day of the week they should set this money aside. Why does he tell them to do this on the first day of the week? Because that is when they gathered for public worship. These collections were a part of that worship. And this is the way things were set up—not just in Corinth, but in all the churches of Galatia. So again, you have the church gathering for public worship on a set day.
And now, in Hebrews 10:25, in the negative, believers are urged not to neglect these public gatherings for worship. The writer is saying, “There are responsibilities that you have toward the local church. And one of them is that you show up for worship with other believers; that you participate in this aspect of the life of the church.”
Why would Christians stay away? Maybe that is a question for you to answer for yourself if you are not regularly gathering with God’s people in worship. We see here in Hebrews that already forty or so years after the ascension of Christ, some who profess to be Christian had already developed a habit of not attending regular, weekly meetings for worship. Why? The text itself does not say. But elsewhere in the New Testament, and from some early church literature, we can glean some reasons. Some feared persecution from the Romans. Others bowed to the pressure from Jewish family and friends and they put their family and friends above worship. It is very likely that some were embarrassed by the smallness of their Christian congregations in comparison to the large and well-attended Jewish synagogues. Still others had business engagements on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day. And others were simply spiritually lazy. Now, none of those are mentioned in the text here. That is because none of them are legitimate reasons for the neglect of public worship. But I mention them because in our day of consumerism and individualism, these are the exact reasons that people will give for neglecting to gather with God’s people in worship.
You see, there is nothing new under the sun. Some today will say, “The church is so small, I might just as well stay at home with my family.” Others will call Sunday a “family day” and they will put family above worship. Still others will let work and business interests trump the worship of God. And some are just spiritually lazy—“Sunday is my day; I sleep in on Sundays. It’s the only day I can do it. Going to church is too demanding. The people there are difficult. If I have nothing else to do, I’ll be there. I don’t have to be in church to be a Christian.”
And all of this that you will hear among Christians today reveals a dreadful understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the church. Instead of seeing the church as the chief instrument through which God administers His grace to His people, and instead of seeing the gathering of believers as a coming together of the body of Christ and the members of that body so that, as Christians, we can be a strength and encouragement to one another, the attitude is: “I don’t really need the church. Other Christians will survive, they’ll be fine without me.”
But the Bible teaches very clearly that the church should be considered as a body that is made up of many different members. Each member is essential, and each member has a gift that he must contribute for the sake of the other members. So we ought not neglect the gathering together of the church for worship on the Lord’s Day.
Why not? Why is it necessary to gather in worship? This is my second main point in the message.
There are many reasons. The most important one is this, that we need to hear the preaching of God’s Word. When we talk about worship and the gathering of believers for worship, then we must understand that God’s Word and the preaching of God’s Word is the main part of worship. The church is not a club of people who share a similar interest. Believers do not gather to be entertained. Nor is church simply a time for a motivational speech. But, in worship, we draw near to the God who has first come to us. He came in His Son. He has opened the way. And now He comes to us in the gospel. Paul says of this gospel and the preaching of this gospel in Romans 1:16 that “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” In Romans 10 he tells us that unless we hear the preaching of the gospel, we cannot call on God in order to be saved.
And, with that in mind, it is important that, as believers, we find a church that proclaims and is faithful to God’s Word, that preaches the truth. If we love God’s Word in truth, if we love Christ and the gospel, then we cannot be happy just anywhere, in any group of people that calls itself a Christian church. But we need to find a church where the gospel of salvation for sinners through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and where the sovereignty of God is declared in predestination and in the work of salvation.
And let me add this here. That is really the purpose of our radio ministry on the Reformed Witness Hour. We do not do this as a substitute for church, but it is intended to help you, our listeners, grow in your understanding of the gospel and of the truth so that you will be equipped to seek out and find a church that is faithful to God’s Word.
So, we have here the primary reason that we need to attend church, so that we can receive the Word of God, which is spiritual food for our souls, to save us, and to keep us in the faith.
That reason is not actually mentioned here in Hebrews 10:25. But it does stand behind the two reasons that are here. Two other reasons are given. First, so that we can exhort one another, and, second, because we are living in the last days. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
We need to exhort one another. This is really a repetition of what was said in the previous verse. Here is one way that we (as verse 24 has it) “provoke one another unto love and to good works.” We do this by exhorting one another. And, you see, unless we come together, unless we get to know one another as fellow believers in a local church, unless we spend time together, unless together we hear the instruction and admonition of God’s Word in the preaching of the gospel, it is impossible for us to exhort one another. But when we do come together, when we become familiar with each other as Christians and when we share one another’s struggles and get to know one another’s weaknesses and personality, then we can effectively exhort one another. We sit together in worship under the same Word of God. Then we can walk out of church and we can say to one another, “Did you hear God’s Word? Did you hear the promises? Did you hear the encouraging truth? Did you hear the gospel that stirs us up to godly living?” And, you see, in this way God’s Word binds us together as we gather together in public worship.
I imagine that after Paul preached in Troas all through the night and then left the next morning, that the saints there exhorted one another and encouraged one another from Paul’s sermons for a very long time following.
So we come together to exhort each other, to hear and to speak to each other the Word of God. And, you see, if you sit at home or if you neglect worship for some other interest or some other activity, you miss out on this. And then you miss out on the communion of the saints. That is not good. If I cut off circulation to one of the members of my body, it is not going to last too long. We need each other as believers.
And that brings us to the other reason in the text. Why should we not neglect the public gatherings of the church? Why are they necessary? He says, “So much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The day he speaks of is the day of the return of Jesus Christ, the day when He will come on the clouds of heaven in judgment and salvation.
Now the text here is not so much interested in that day itself, but rather the approach to that day, what leads up to that day. So he says we see that day approaching. What he is saying is this, that as the day of Jesus Christ gets closer, things in the world will get worse and worse for Christians. Jesus tells us in the gospels that there will be a great falling away, a time of intense persecutions such as was never before seen in history. And there is a build-up to this as history progresses. As the day of Jesus Christ approaches, we see these things more and more. There is an increase of wickedness. There is more and more opposition to biblical Christianity. There is an increase in persecution. And seeing these things, the writer says, gives us greater reason to gather with other believers. “So much the more,” he says, “so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” There is an urgency. In the last days we need each other more than ever. And are we not living in these days? Does not wickedness abound today? Do we not see more and more opposition to the Christian faith? Is it not becoming more and more difficult in some parts of the earth, because of persecution, for believers to get together for worship? And then, all the more, we need to gather with the church.
So, this is God’s Word for you today: Do not neglect the church. Do not say, “I’ll go it alone as a Christian.” Do not say, “There are other things that are more important to me or more interesting to me than worshiping with God’s people.” Do not say, “It’s too difficult, there’s too much opposition, or I don’t get along well with other Christians.” No, stay with Christ. Stay with the gospel. Stay with His people, for there is your strength in the evil days that lie ahead. As he said in verse 23: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”
So, this is why we need to go to church. It is not just being there as a warm body to fill a pew or to increase the volume of the singing or to put money in the collection plate for some ministry. But this is something that we need: we need each other so that we may be found faithful in the day of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Lord our God, keep us, we pray, by Thy Word. Preserve us in our commitment to the church of Jesus Christ and to other believers. And, Lord, for those listening today who have not a place in the church, who cannot find a faithful church, open the way for them to find true fellowship with other believers around Thy Word for the sake of their souls. For those who have forsaken the church, Lord, soften their hearts. Bring them back into the fold. And keep Thy church, we pray, in the evil days in which we live, till the day of Jesus Christ. We pray this, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.