Three years ago pastor Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan posted an article titled, "The Scandal of the Semi-Churched" (available here).
Pastor DeYoung is concerned about those who 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.In what may be called a "tragic irony," 21st century Christians are fixated more than ever on "winning the culture back" and are fixated more than ever on "practical Christianity," yet increasingly they neglect the most practical act of cultural renewal available to them - Lord's Day worship.
Thus Pastor Kevin DeYoung asks 5 questions to provoke personal reflection:
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. It will only take 5 minutes of your time and is a helpful effort toward practical Christian living.
With that introduction I would like to go on and add just one more question to DeYoung's five and one key motivation to his overall exhortation. My hope in doing this is to deepen and fortify our repentance on this matter of worship attendance and to put our feet on such a good foundation that we will gladly run in the way of God's commandments. If you think this is all a species of legalism, then see the articles down below under, The Reformed Read of the Week.
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 always recommend to others what we ourselves are believe and do before God. 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 the worship of God a mere 25 times a year I am actually declaring that this is sufficient for my Christian faith so it must be sufficient for the faith of others.
Your own habits as a Christian make up the overall disciple-making ministry of your church. 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 get under people's skin in a bad way. It sounds like too weighty a responsibility. A push-back 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 more noble and honorable than my example to compel faithfulness in other believers?
That objection may sound wise, but, to put it frankly, it is not. The scriptures clearly reveal that God expects our example to help other believers take up all the duties and privileges they have as children of God.
(1) 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 forth his own 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.
(2) 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 to all the other believers in their region of Macedonia and Achaia (v. 8).
(3) 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.
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 men and women. 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 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 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, disgraced sons of Adam. We are Christians now, children of God. We have forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the light of God's law, the ongoing high-priestly ministry of Christ on our behalf. By virtue of our union with Him, we have better excuses for throwing off selfish ways than we have for continuing in them.
The gospel means that weak sinners always have the opportunity to be an example through repentance and faith in Christ. This is why Paul could expect all the sinners-now-believers in the churches to become examples. He left them the chief resource they needed - the gospel. As they believed again and again who they were in Christ they put to death what was earthly in them and rose up and walked 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.
Perhaps our motives can be well served by thinking of our lives be as a kind of continuation of Hebrews, Chapter 11: "By faith the believers of 21st century North America worshiped God on the Lord's Day without regret and with sincerity. They sought first the kingdom of God, looking past the visible things, past the promises of youth sports, past the lie that 'me time' is better them than time before God with his flock, past the myth that faith is a private affair, past the many opportunities their affluence offered them to 'get away' again and again. By faith they looked to the invisible things, obeying the invisible Lord, yet seeing in the Lord's Day a foretaste of that final assembling of the great congregation of God to Christ through His blood and Spirit