Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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 10:19-25)
What does it mean to come to church?
It means more than just being in the church building. It means more than just speaking to a few people. It means more than just attending a committee meeting. It also means more than just listening to a sermon.
The word “church” is ekklesia in Greek and it means “the called out ones” and it was commonly used in the New Testament to describe the local fellowship of believers in Christ. The word assumes several things, including:
- It is Christ-centered: It assumes some One has called them by His own authority, and it is Christ who calls the church into existence.
- It is Purpose-centered: The word does not mean “the ones who are cast out” but the ones who are “called out for a purpose.” Since Christ calls it is His purpose that must predominate.
- It includes Fellowship: The word means that people are called to come together under His Lordship.
The Troubled Church of Corinth
In the two letters to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addressed the issues of division and unity. The church was dominated and divided by strong personalities who competed with one another for attention. They did not respect one another when it came to the Lord’s Supper and they started the observance before others could arrive, excluding them from participating. They each also claimed to be the “real church.”
Paul reminded them that the entire church was the temple of God: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) He explained that they needed one another just like the physical body needs each part: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body”(1 Cor. 12:12).
So churches today, regardless of the size, must recognize their singular unity as one local church under the Lordship of Christ.
Coming to Church Means Coming to Worship Christ with the Body
In the Hebrews 10 passage above there are three “let us” phrases. The first is “Let us draw near,” and this means that coming to church is first about drawing near to Christ. The worship of the church was based upon the worship services of the jewish synagogues, and even to this day we follow the basic same order: prayer, singing, giving, preaching.
In fact the word translated “meet together” in Hebrews 10:25 above is episynagoge, and is connected to the word “synagogue.” This entire idea of coming to church means first and foremost coming together to worship Christ, or coming to Him. And we are to come together in unity, not in fractured groups that exclude one another, but in a united worship.
The first church in the Bible was not a small country church, but a large city church with multiple worship services. Acts 2:46 describes the church as continually meeting together, and since there were 3,000 believers from the first day, and no worship hall in all of Jerusalem could hold that many, they had multiple worship services.
But the thing that drove them to come together was Christ-centered worship. they drew near to Christ in songs, hymns, and the proclamation of the word of God. For every church since, to come to church means not just to stay in the hallways and speak to a few people, but to come into the sanctuary and to worship the Lord with others.
Coming to Church Means Affirming Together the Biblical Faith
The second “let us” in the passage above says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope,” meaning that coming to church is also about affirming together our faith. This is done by the whole body coming together under the instruction of the Word of God by the pastor. If you do not agree with the teaching and preaching of your church’s pastor, then find one whose teachings you can support.
I believe there are three important traits of effective sermons. Good sermons should be (1) biblical, (2) relevant, and (3) interesting. Every pastor needs to hide behind the cross of Christ, and not use the pulpit as an opportunity to talk about himself. He may use personal illustrations from time to time, but even those should be used sparingly. He must seek to present Christ and the truth and compassion of God in his preaching. He should seek to unite the people of God under the Lordship of Christ and not under the personality of the pastor. We read in 1 Corinthians:
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no division among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Cor. 1:10)
If people cannot agree with the message of their pastor — and I suppose there is always the possibility of minor disagreements on some of the finer points of biblical interpretation, I am not speaking about those — then they should not hold alternative worship services, whether in another part of the church building, or on another location, or in the hallway, or any place, and preach their own message. That would be divisive and detrimental to the health of the church. If they cannot support his preaching and teaching then respectfully and graciously leave the church and go to one that you agree with.
But hopefully, that will not happen. Pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Be patient with him. No one is always interesting to listen to. If one sermon is not as good as others, just pray for him. Preaching meaningful and effective sermons to the same people week after week requires a great deal of work — more than most people know.
Coming to Church Means to Encourage One Another
The third “let us” is: “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works … encouraging one another.” It is a simple thing to discourage one another. All we need to do is to ignore each other, or criticize, or to say something mean-spirited. But this is not what Christians are to do. Rather we are to encourage each other, saying good things about the Lord and about one another.
The King James Version used the words “let us provoke one another to love” and “provoke” is a strong word, usually used for “provoking to anger.” So the idea is not to merely passively tolerate one another, but rather it means to get directly involved with one another and encourage one another.
In the church there will always be some people who have faced difficult times, or are dealing with difficult problems. We should especially encourage them, but not only them. We should have a basically positive view toward one another and lift each other up in prayer, in helping, and in saying good things about the Lord and about one another.
So coming to church on Sundays means to come together for united Christ-centered and biblically-based worship services, and to encourage one another in the Lord. If you missed worship, you were not in church. If you did not encourage someone, or receive encouragement, you also missed sharing in the blessings of God.