Our twenty-six-month-old granddaughter revealed her growing vocabulary this past Christmas. “Felicity,” her dad asked, “what is bedtime?” “A nonnegotiable,” she responded. No delay, no deals, no negotiation!
Unfortunately, too many professing Christians treat corporate worship as a matter of preference. They go to church if they feel like it, if something else doesn’t appeal to them more, if family isn’t visiting, if . . . well, just about anything. And yet Hebrews 10:24-25 contradicts such an attitude: “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.”
Why is it that professing Christians believe that gathering with God’s people to worship the Almighty is an optional activity? One reason is that many professing Christians are not true Christians. Growing up in the church, they perhaps experienced a well-meaning vacation Bible school teacher or a youth worker who encouraged them to make a “decision” for Jesus, and so they did. Dutifully baptized, they assumed they must be right with God. After all, they did what they were instructed to do.
Similar scenarios occur with adults. Experiencing a crisis in their lives, they look to Jesus as “Mr. Fixit.” Others become discontent with the routine of living. They want something more, something deeper. They get religion. The problem is they fail to get Christ. No repentance, no belief in the substitutionary death of Christ, no understanding of grace, they remain spiritually dead. Their lives remain unfixed. Church becomes routine and relatively unimportant. Fishing or hunting or golf or visiting friends or sleeping in becomes an easy substitute. When the heart does not desire Christ, there will not be much desire to be among God’s people: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV).
Sometimes, though, true believers may drop out of church. The reasons are many. They tire of the politics in some churches. The worship service is too entertainment-driven. Sermons are too fluffy, disconnected from real life. We would counsel such believers to find a church where God is honored, worship is reverent, and content is biblical and substantive.
Having said that, we must caution those looking for the perfect church. Charles Spurgeon wisely commented, “If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all. And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.”
Other times, however, the issue is sin in the life of the believer. Sin separates us from God, and sin separates us from God’s people. Ashamed of his sin, the convicted believer is ashamed to be among God’s people. “If they knew what I have become, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.” I suspect Satan loves such thinking. Christ is not for those who are well. He came for those who are sick. We must never forget the words of Jesus: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, ESV).
The reality is that even those we perceive to be the very best among us continue to be in need of the Divine Physician. Our being received by God unto salvation is due solely to his grace, and our continuing to be received by him is by his grace. Though justified, we are yet sinners. None of us deserves to be allowed to worship God. Let the repentant come.