Earlier this week, reformed pastor Kevin DeYoung posted an article titled, "The Scandal of the Semi-Churched"(available here).
DeYoung is concerned - and rightly so - about those who have made a public profession of faith in Christ, united themselves to a local church in membership, but have become more absent than present when that local body of Christ gathers to worship God.
DeYoung asks five questions to provoke some penetrating personal reflection. Here they are:
1. Have you established church going as an inviolable habit in your family?
2. Do you plan ahead on Saturday so you can make church a priority on Sunday?
3. Do you order your travel plans so as to minimize being gone from your church on Sunday?
4. Are you willing to make sacrifices to gather with God’s people for worship every Sunday?
5. Have you considered that you may not be a Christian?
After each question DeYoung briefly explains what is at stake in our answers. I encourage you to read the article. If not for yourself, then for a "friend." It will only take three minutes of your time and it is a helpful effort toward practical Christian living.
With that introduction, of sorts, I would like to go on and add one question to DeYoung's five and one motivation to his overall exhortation. My hope in doing this is to deepen and fortify our repentance on this matter of worship attendance (the one question) and to put our feet on such a good foundation that we will gladly run in the way of God's commandments (the one motivation).
The one question I would add is this: "How healthy would the worship of God be in my church if everyone followed my example?"
The premise behind the question is that we commend to others what we believe and do before God ourselves. I do not see any way of escaping this premise. Our actions speak and sometimes they speak more loudly than our words.
If I attend to the worship of God but once every three weeks - a mere 17 times a year - I am actually communicating that this is sufficient for my Christian faith and so it must be sufficient for the faith of other Christians. My habits as a Christian make up the overall disciple-making ministry of my church. So, if everyone imitated your worship habits, how vital would the worship of God be? Would there even be a church if everyone followed your example?
I know this kind of question can really get under people's skin in a bad way. It sounds like too weighty a responsibility for sinners to bear. An objection might sound like this: "Why would God want the example of a such a weak sinner like me to have so much responsibility for the faithfulness and obedience of other Christians? Is there not something much more noble and honorable than my example to compel faithfulness in other believers?"
Those objections may sound wise, but, to put it frankly, they are not because the scriptures do indeed reveal that God expects our example to help other believers take up all the duties and privileges they have as children of God.
In Paul's letter to the believers at Phillipi he exhorts the brothers to "join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Php. 3:17). Paul sets his own life forth as an example for Christian discipleship, but not just his own life. Others are to be watched and imitated, he says, who are not apostles. Who are these others? Any one of us.
In 1 Thessalonians 1 Paul praises the entire church for following his example by joyfully enduring affliction (v. 7). Then in the next breath Paul praises the entire church for being examples themselves to all the other believers in their region, Macedonia and Achaia (v. 8). In 1 Timothy 4 Paul tells his student, Timothy, to "set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (v. 12). If Timothy was expected to set such an example in Ephesus, it is not difficult to conclude the believers there were expected to follow it.
It is indeed the case that God would have us be examples to one another in all things. We can not excuse ourselves from this arrangement simply because we know ourselves to be weak and foolish men. You see, even though we are sorely tempted to avoid the worship of God, poorly prepared to engage in worship, and easily dulled when at worship, it is not too late for us to yet be a godly example. How? Through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me explain.
The gospel is always beckoning us to continue our repentance, to repair our affections for Christ and to make significant course corrections in our lives. The gospel of Christ calls down to us in our deepest ruts of worldliness and it calls into the thickest darkness of our sin. The gospel reminds us that we are not merely weak and foolish men left alone in our regrettable and wrathful ways. We are more than inglorious sons of the fallen and disgraced Adam. We are Christians! We have forgiveness of sins. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have the light of God's law. We have the ongoing high priestly ministry of Christ on our behalf. By virtue of our union with Christ then, we have better excuses for throwing off selfish ways than we have for continuing in them.
So you see the gospel means that weak sinners always have opportunity to be an example through repentance and faith in Christ. This is why Paul could expect the sinners-now-believers in all the churches to become examples. He left them the chief resource they needed - the gospel. As they believed it again and again they could put to death what was earthly in them and rise up and walk in "the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
You may now see that this question of example is now converging with the matter of motivation.
To see the one motivation for attending to worship more clearly, let's go back to that earlier objection. I suggested it might be asked, "Is there not something much more noble and honorable than my example to compel faithfulness in other believers?" Indeed there is, but this "something" gains much of its plausibility before our souls in the examples of others who see it. What is it?
Hebrews 13:7 is very helpful here. The apostle says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." The faith we are to imitate, found in our leaders, is not something merely about them and their habits. It is not merely a subjective thing as if mimicking the habits of men would itself be sufficient to compel lasting faithfulness to Christ. Not so. Their faith is their commitment to something outside of them, something objectively revealed by the "word of God" they speak, but still something that compels them to order their lives the way they do.
So the motivation for all faithfulness, especially in gathering for worship is that something which faith sees. Faith sees the unseen things of Christ's kingdom and finds them more compelling and radiant than all the bright glittering things of this present age. We are to imitate this whole arrangement as we find it in our leaders: believe what they believe as revealed in the word of God and order our lives as they order theirs around this eternal vision of what is true and lasting. This idea of imitating the faith and its consequent habits in others is the whole point of Hebrews chapter 11 - "By faith Abel...By faith Enoch...By faith Noah...By faith Abraham"...and so on.
In the spirit of Hebrews 11 then we might say this about the motivation to worship: "By faith the gospel believers of 21st century North America consistently worshiped God on the Lord's Day without regret and with zeal. They looked past the visible things, past the promises of youth sports, past the lie that "me time" is better them than time before God, past the myth that faith is a private affair, past the many opportunities that affluence offers to be away again and again from worship. By faith they looked to the invisible things and saw that each Lord's Day was a foretaste of that final gathering of the great congregation of God to Christ through His blood and Spirit."