Attend a church for any length of time and we’ll likely discover its imperfections. We may find things we don’t like about it. We may find reasons to miss a worship service here and there. We may even feel tempted to seek out greener pastures.
In the book of Hebrews, the writer cautioned his readers: “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” (Hebrews 10:25, italics mine). For the Hebrew believers, they were likely fearful of persecution and out of that fear, neglected gathering with their fellow believers.
What about us in the church today? What keeps us from attending our local church? What tempts us to forsake gathering together to worship with fellow believers?
While there are certainly Biblical reasons to leave a church—the pastor engaging in false teaching being one of them—there are also not-so-Biblical reasons we may be tempted to forsake the church. They don’t provide for our particular ministry needs. There aren’t enough people our age or in our stage of life. We don’t like the songs they sing in worship. It’s too big or too small. We’ve heard gossip about the leadership, etc…
When we were in Israel last year, we went to the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus taught. “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Mark 1:21). Have you ever considered the fact that our holy and righteous God, in the second person of the Trinity, attended the synagogue? He knew what holy worship is, for he commanded it. He knew what kind of worship glorified God and what didn’t. More than anyone else in history, he knew what makes a good worship service and had every reason not to attend, yet he did. Faithfully.
As B.B. Warfield wrote: “Have we not the example of our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we better than he? Surely, if ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found him seated in his place among the worshipping people, and there was no act of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to discard. Even in his most exalted moods, and after his most elevating experiences, he quietly took his place with the rest of God's people, sharing with them in the common worship of the community. Returning from that great baptismal scene, when the heavens themselves were rent to bear him witness that he was well pleasing to God; from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from that first great tour in Galilee, prosecuted, as we are expressly told, "in the power of the Spirit"; he came back, as the record tells, "to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and"—so proceeds the amazing narrative—"he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day." "As his custom was!" Jesus Christ made it his habitual practice to be found in his place on the Sabbath day at the stated place of worship to which he belonged.”
Churches are imperfect. It’s true. They are filled with sinful people. We will have many reasons to be disappointed and frustrated with our churches. And there will be times when it is appropriate to find another congregation. But let us not forsake the church because another church offers more. Let us not neglect meeting together with the body of Christ because we have more pressing things to do. Let us not critique the church against measures the Bible doesn’t even use.
The church is an integral part of our life of faith. We need the sustenance and spiritual nourishment provided through the preached word, corporate prayer, worship in song, and the sacraments. We need the spiritual encouragement of fellow believers and the oversight of our shepherds who protect us from false teaching and wolves in sheep’s clothing. We need the teaching and discipleship the church provides so we can live out the gospel in our lives. We need fellow church members to walk beside us in the trials and sufferings of life, spurring us on with the hope that is ours in Christ. And they need us to do the same.
As the church, we are united to one another through the blood of our mutual Savior shed for us. Each of us is an integral part of the church body, and without her members, the church cannot grow. “…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
We need the church and the church needs us.
Christ went to great lengths to rescue and redeem us so that we would be his. He died to create the church, his bride. Let us not forsake her.