In Part 1, we began by noticing that God is asking many of us, “Where art thou…on the mission field?” Beyond all doubt, that applies to far too many of us; and the evidence heavily supports it.
But there is yet another time when the Lord may direct toward us the question, “Where art thou?” It is a time when that question is directed at many professed Christians at once: it is on every Sunday night and Wednesday night, when God’s people are assembled together for a time of worship and study.
In Acts 2:44-46, Luke provides us with a veritable “snap shot” of what true Christianity really looks like. Matthew Henry masterfully commented on this description thusly:
They had not only a mutual affection to each other, but a great deal of mutual [communion] with each other; they were much together. When they withdrew from the untoward generation, they did not turn hermits, but were very intimate with one another, and took all occasions to meet; wherever you saw one disciple, you would see more, like birds of a feather. See how these Christians love one another. They were concerned for one another, sympathized with one another, and heartily espoused one another’s interests. They had fellowship with one another in religious worship… Note, they were daily in the temple, not only on the days of the sabbaths or solemn feasts, but on other days, every day… God loves the gates of Zion, and so must we. They were with one accord; not only no discord nor strife, but a great deal of holy love among them; and they heartily joined in their public services.1
How apt and potent are the words: “God loves the gates of Zion, and so must we.” Yet, many Christians seem to loathe the gates of Zion, and her citizens—for they arrive just before, or even during, the announcements, and are out the door by the time the post-worship chatter begins, and are M.I.A. for the next 166 hours.
But what’s worse, they will not be back later that evening for another period of worship, nor will they grace their brothers and sisters with any edification and encouragement for mid-week Bible study. “What’s the big deal,” some have opined, “there is no such thing as ‘Sunday night worship’ or ‘mid-week Bible study’ in the New Testament! That is nothing more than the invention of men.” Despite the fact that this is scripturally incorrect (see below), it is also self-condemning. These brothers and sisters (in name, at least) are fully aware that the church will assemble together later that afternoon or evening for worship; yet they willfully choose to be elsewhere.
Think of it: if the church is here, and you are there, what does that say about you? To be sure, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to solve that riddle. As a dear brother once quipped, “I believe Jesus is going to return to take His church home on a Sunday night.” What will the Lord say when a person tries to explain why he “missed the bus”? Perhaps Matt. 7:23 gives us a little hint.
As a matter of fact—despite popular opinion—there are plenty of scriptural reasons why the tragic trend of “Sunday A.M. Only”-ing is a direct sin against God. Call it what you will, but one thing it is certainly not: it is not Christianity. Below are five reasons (among any number of others) why “Sunday A.M. Only”-ing is not Christianity, and is thus sin:
1. IT VIOLATES JOHN 15:12; ROM. 12:10-13; 1 COR. 10:23,24; HEB. 3:12,13; ROM. 14:19; HEB. 10:24,25; PHP. 2:2-4; COL. 3:12-17; ET AL.
That is, it flies in the face of Christian “one-another-ness,” which is the responsibility each Christian has to their brothers and sisters—with which the New Testament is richly saturated.
2. IT VIOLATES EPH. 4:11-16 AND 1 COR. 12:12-31.
The principle of “the working in due measure of each several part” and “every joint” supplying the necessities of the body, “unto the building up of the body of Christ.”
3. IT VIOLATES HEBREWS 13:17 (cf. ROM. 13:1,2).
That is, it is an act of rebellion and disobedience against the elders of the congregation—which is, in turn, a sin against God, just as a sin against the civil authorities is a sin against God.
4. IT VIOLATES LUKE 17:1,2; ROM. 14:15-21; AND 1 COR. 8:9-13.
There is simply no denying the fact that “Sunday A.M. Only”-ing provides brothers and sisters with an occasion(s) of stumbling, which Jesus says will result in punishment that is worse than being cast into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck (Lk. 17:1,2)! In fact, Paul said it is a “sin against Christ” to do anything that will cause a brother to stumble (Rom. 14:15-21). Thus, the beloved apostle said that if eating perfectly good and consecrated meat will cause even one of his brothers to stumble, he would never touch meat again (1 Cor. 8:9-13). If Paul was tempted to neglect the assemblies, one can be sure he would apply this rule to that as well.
5. IT VIOLATES MATT. 6:33 AND LUKE 14:26-33.
Even if nothing else, “Sunday A.M. Only”-ing constitutes a blatant failure to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and that goes without mentioning “His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). The important thing for readers to understand in this (and almost every other) context is that “the kingdom of God” (and “the kingdom of heaven”) is NOT heaven—making Jesus say we need to “seek heaven” in some abstract, undisclosed way. Rather, “His kingdom” is His church (cp. Matt. 16:18,19). Thus, the Lord commands that the #1 priority in our lives should be the church—for that body is that for which He poured out His body as a drink offering on the cross (Acts 20:28). The church of the Christ is where the Christ of the church is; and there are multiplied millions of people on this earth who emptily claim to “follow” Him, but who will follow Him only when He goes to places which they pre-approve—and one of those places is not the meeting place of His saints. Likewise, Jesus commanded that, in order to be His disciple, one must to renounce all that one has, and to love Him more than one’s family, friends, and even oneself (Lk. 14:26-33). Surely, whatever it is that keeps self-professed Christians from the Lord’s assemblies on Sunday and Wednesday nights signifies a failure to do one, or both, of these things.
In reality, the question of “church attendance” is not really a question of “church attendance” at all. In truth, it is a much, much bigger problem—a deep-rooted infection of the soul. The fact of the matter is:
1. A lack of “church attendance is a symptom of a lack of love for the church.
2. A lack of love for the church is a symptom of a lack of love for the Lord (cf. Mark 12:30).
3. A lack of love for the Lord is guaranteed to keep you out of heaven (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).
When we hit the “Pause” button on the free fall that is our daily Western lives for even a moment, it really becomes quite simple and obvious: If one spends one’s life apart the church on earth, what makes one think one will spend one’s afterlife celebrating with the church in heaven?
Remember: the Lord does not accept excuses—even those which man readily accepts. To Him, “legitimate excuse” is an oxymoron. Certainly, there are legitimate reasons why someone may be unable to attend the assemblies on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights; but a reason is not an excuse, and the line between the two is often so fine as to be invisible.
However, every person who examines himself with an open and honest heart knows whether or not his “reasons” are actually excuses. He knows whether or not he could assemble with the saints at any given meeting day and time; and even if a person cannot detect that his reasons are actually excuses—due to self-deceit (a terrifying and devastating malady—1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7; Jas. 1:16)—God will not be fooled. He knows (cf. Psa. 139).
It is the firm conviction of this writer that the annals of history will diagnose lukewarm Christians as the cause of death of the Lord’s church in the Western world, and that the Lord Himself will concede with this diagnosis. So dangerous is lukewarmness among God’s people, that Jesus told the Christians at Laodicea that He would rather they be ice cold than lukewarm (cf. Rev. 3:15,16)! The reason (among others) is because cold “Christians” don’t pretend to be Christians; cold Christians don’t provide their brothers and sisters with perpetual discouragement and tempt them to be indifferent and antagonistic to the cause and bride of Christ. Cold Christians hurt their brethren for a moment, but that hurt also serves to tighten the bond of the faithful, knitting them more closely together (cf. Eph. 4:16); lukewarm Christians, on the other hand, kill the church from within—often before it even knows it is infected.
Ask yourself, and consider:
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GET ME TO FOLLOW JESUS?
WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR ME TO PAY GOD WHAT I VOWED WHEN I OBEYED THE GOSPEL?
WHAT DOES GOD HAVE TO DO FOR ME TO GET ME TO STOP LIVING FOR MYSELF?
He has done so much for you already—not the least of which was sending His beloved Son to die a horrifying and humiliating death for you, in your stead (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8; et al.). Is that not enough? What more could He do for you? And who among men would have the gall to demand it?
How utterly tragic it is that “Where art thou?” is not the only question God asks those of His children who seek to run and hide from Him in idolatrous practices—but there is another:
“Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how shall you escape the judgment of hell?”
— Matthew 23:37,33 —
For, as “the Preacher” once wrote, and another preacher reiterated:
“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better than you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay.”
— Ecclesiastes 5:4,5 (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20-22) —
1 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Vol. 6. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991. p. 23. Print. Emp. and ital. added.