i love this for more than one reason...

dr. russell moore, dean of the school of theology and vice president of the southern baptist theological seminary has arrested me with two thoughts in the last two days and i thought i’d pass them on. after all,  part of loving god with our mind is thinking.-not just going through life on mental autopilot. as john piper says, “raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. but if you make the effort to dig, you might find diamonds!”

the first thought was via twitter:
“If you’ll leave home in the snow to earn your paycheck, but not to worship your Christ, then at least you can see who your true god is”

now, if you visit this blog very often at all, (or see my facebook status) you know that i am not above the occasional (or frequent…whatever) provocative statement. when i saw this i smiled, knowing that there would be more than a snowstorm over this quote. i wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment though i may not have thrown it out there with no qualifications. (something not easily done on twitter which has a character limit)

yesterday (and on many snowy sundays) people take snow on the ground as an opportunity to not go worship with their faith family. but that same amount of snow doesn’t keep them from doing other things (shopping, going out to eat, sporting events or other entertainment/activities). we far too often are willing to look for loopholes to not do what we should do but are willing to sacrifice for what we want to do.

[people who want to yell and scream and call me names like “legalist”, “pharisee”, or use phrases like “smacks of legalism”… etc. please read all of the following paragraphs before you torch me via email, comments, etc.]

obviously for some people it was too dangerous for them to get out- whether it be their age, driving ability, or just sheer inability due to the weather and/or the location of their home and/or church building. but i guarantee that the restaurants and stores were full of people who “couldn’t go to church” yesterday because of the snow. and today many people will go and have gone to work in worse conditions than those that “kept them home” from meeting with their church yesterday.

the charge of legalism/pharisaism will not doubt get thrown around a lot regarding this statement (actually it already has). but the fact of the matter is, i would have equally agreed with a quote that said “if you only went to church in the snow to be seen and so people would think you are really spiritual to come out in the snow then you should have stayed at home”.  

the point isn’t that god loves people who drive through snow to get to church more than those who don’t. the point is “what is the *real* reason one went or didn’t go to church with snow on the ground. is it because we don’t really want to go in the first place and this gives us an acceptable excuse? or is it that “i really don’t think i can do it safely”. the former is evidence of misplaced priorities, especially if after missing church the same person gets out to do other things such as those mentioned above. the latter is a legitimate reason and should be free from criticism.

this issue only serves to bring out the greater problem of those who think meeting together with their faith family is optional. scripture is full of instruction for christians to gather together to worship, encourage, exhort, be taught, give, fellowship, etc. one simply cannot be an obedient christian and treat the church like it is optional.

“just me, jesus, and my bible” doesn’t cut it for those whose physical/mental condition allows them to meet with the church. the fact that the weather was more challenging yesterday only highlights an already existing problem that any excuse is a good excuse for many christians to not meet with their church when they are willing to do many other things that may cost them convenience to do. safety is not the issue. desire is. it’s not legalism to do what god has commanded us to do- including being more devoted to him than anything else. [matt. 10:37-39; luke 10:27; luke 14:26; et. al.]
kent hughes writes:

But underlying much of the conscious rejection of spiritual discipline is the fear of legalism…  But nothing could be farther from the truth if you understand what discipline and legalism are. The difference is one of motivation: legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God.” The disciplined heart says, “I will do this thing because I love God and want to please Him.” There is an infinite difference between the motivation of legalism and discipline! [Paul] knew this implicitly and fought the legalists bare-knuckled all the way across Asia Minor, never giving an inch. And now he shouts to us, “Train (discipline) yourself to be godly”! If we confuse legalism and discipline, we do so to our soul’s peril.Disciplines of a Godly Man, Crossway Books, 1991, p. 15.

now, i very much agree with the famous billy sunday quote that “going to church doesn’t make you a christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car”. but regular church attendance/participation, whether it is in a large traditional church structure, a legitimate ‘home church’ (one that has biblical offices of pastor/elder and deacons and observes the ordinances of the lord’s supper and baptism) or something in between, is not optional for the obedient follower of christ. how do i arrive at that conclusion?, aside from simply quoting hebrews 10:25 consider the following

  • the letters that make up the bulk of new testament were written to churches (or church members) with clearly defined membership.
  • the new testament assumes that there are specific members in each church that are treated differently than non-members.
  • jesus’ teaching on handling disputes makes no sense if there is not a specific group of people known to be members who hold one another to accountability  (matt. 18)
  • likewise, paul’s teaching on church discipline makes no sense if there is no distinction between casual attendance and participation (1 cor. 5)
  • over and over again paul instructs believers to use their gifts to edify the body (i.e. the church)
  • church decision making is chaotic if not impossible if there is no defined membership (2 cor. 2)
  • the position of pastor has no authority if there are no people who he is to oversee. the whole concept of a pastor as shepherd is that there are specific people he is to oversee, care for, instruct, guide, correct, etc.  a pastor cannot function as scripture commands if there is no distinction between simple attendance and membership.
  • even in the old test. – the believing community was clearly defined
  • there is no accountability without membership – gal. 6; 2 tim. 3:16 ; heb. 10:25 , et al.
  • ordinances assume membership

so keep in mind all of these things, plus the fact that it is difficult, if not impossible, to obey all of the “one another” commands of scripture if we have removed ourselves from regular fellowship with our church family:

Be of the same mind Romans 12:16; 15:5
Build up Romans 14:19; 1 Thess 5:11
Be at peace Romans 14:19
Receive/accept Romans 15:7
Admonish/comfort t Romans 15:14; 1 Thess 4:18; 5:11
Greet Romans 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14
Care 1 Cor 12:25
Serve Galatians 5:13
Bear burdens Gal 6:2
Forbear, be patient Eph 4:2; Col 3:13
Be kind Eph 4:32
Submit Eph 5:21
Esteem highly Phil 2:3
Forgive Col 3:13
Seek the good 1 Thess 5:15
Stimulate/encourage Heb 10:24
Confess sins James 5:16
Pray for James 5:16
Be hospitable 1 Peter 4:9
Be humble 1 Peter 5:5
Fellowship in the light 1 John 1:7
Do not owe anything but love Romans 13:8
Do not Judge Romans 14:13
Do not devour/consume Gal 5:15
Do not provoke/challenge Gal 5:26
Do not envy Gal 5:26
Do not lie  Col 3:9
Do not hate Titus 3:3
Do not speak against/complain James 4:11; 5:9

some more quotes on the topic of church attendance (from grace christian quotes):

Nonattendance, in the early years of our church, was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending. -mark dever

 If a member shows prolonged negligence in gathering with God’s people, how can he say he loves them? And if he doesn’t love them, how can he say he loves God (cf. 1 John 4:20-21)?  -mark dever and paul alexander

Being disconnected from the local church, for whatever reason, is a dangerous way to live. Not only do these “ lone rangers” miss out on the blessings of functioning within the context of the body of Christ, but like lone sheep away from the safety of the flock and the watchful care of the shepherd, they are vulnerable to predators of every sort. – nancy leigh demoss

 On the most elementary level, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship. -kent hughes

 Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.”  So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church attenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills – and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll complain and probably bail out–my thumb is always out for a better ride.” – kent hughes

 The problem with conservative churches is not that they lack members. The problem is that many of those members are not converted. Millions of members of evangelical churches are absent from worship services each Sunday and are equally absent from Christian living during the rest of the week. Biblical illiteracy and unethical conduct by Christians seem to be on the rise. Many people who attend are indifferent to the truths of Christianity, and others are divisive, even mean-spirited. – paul house

 The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. – john wesley

 Objection: I can profit as much by staying at home and reading the Scripture or some good book; it is the word of God which they preach, and it is that which I read at home.  The books that are written by learned men are better than the sermons that are preached by our ministers.

Answer: What foolish pretences are these against the plain command of God and our own necessary duty!  When God hath appointed you your duty, will He allow you to forsake it upon your own reason, as if you were wiser than God, and knew what will profit you better than He?  -richard baxter

 To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.  – martin luther

 Though true Christianity uniquely involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it is also a corporate experience. Christians cannot grow spiritually as they ought to in isolation from one another. -gene getz

 An empty tomb proves Christianity; an empty church denies it. -unknown 

by all means, stay home from church if you are too sick, or someone under your care is. yes, take a vacation and go out-of-town (though i hear there are other churches in other towns!)and yes, sometimes (SOMETIMES) the most spiritual thing you need to do is rest. it is not the unpardonable sin to miss church. but missing every once in a while isn’t the point being discussed. it is the habitual “i don’t need to go to be a christian” attitude or the one that says, either in word or attitude, “church isn’t a priority” that is the issue at hand.

 worship is indeed a lifestyle and we should worship everyday in everything we do. but that biblical idea doesn’t cancel out the biblical concept of church membership and participation. if we are willing to get out in weather for work, leisure, or entertainment, then that same weather shouldnt be too bad for us to participate in the life of our church. it is a matter of priority and can be a barometer of our true devotion.

now, on to the 2nd thing dr. moore said, which is not a quote but an article, and is not so much controversial as it is thought-provoking. here is a link to his article “did jesus ever get a stomach virus ?”

 i hope that you will read it and allow it to aid you in marveling that jesus left his heavenly home with all of its comforts and became a man, with all of our frailties, so that we could have eternal life, peace and joy.

may the lord help us to use our minds to think through issues, and not simply respond knee-jerk, emotional reactions. even when we disagree, we are better for thinking through our reasons for disagreeing than for simply reacting. and in cases like the article regarding jesus and the flu, thinking about things we may not have otherwise may lead us into worship and improve upon our gratitude to our lord.