Why isn’t the church growing? Why is it having so many problems? Why are members becoming so Biblically illiterate? Why aren’t we as evangelistic as we used to be? There may be several reasons we could address in order to answer these questions. I would like to address a heart problem that is at the center of each of these concerns.
As I talk to folks in our local community, I come across many “religious” people who refuse to worship anywhere, though they claim to believe in God and Jesus Christ. They say things like, “the church is full of hypocrites,” or “I have my own relationship with God,” or “I can worship in my house by myself.” It seems that too many people subscribe to the view of the late singer Don Williams who said, “I don’t believe that Heaven waits for only those who congregate.” This is a very popular view, but is it truth?
I find in my Bible that one becomes a Christian when he is baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:15-16; Rom. 6:3-6; 1 Pet. 3:21; et al.). It is at this point that he is added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47). This point is reiterated in 1 Cor. 12:13 when we see that we are “baptized into one body” and that this one body is Jesus’ one church (Eph. 1:22-23). Can a Christian then return home and never assemble with the body? No more so than his physical body was intended to be divided into pieces and exist alone in separate places!
Hebrews 10:25 has often been a misused passage when it comes to worship attendance. I’ve heard some say that this verse forbids a member of the church from ever missing a single service (excluding illnesses, etc.), while others comment that this isn’t the context, and it has nothing to do with whether or not a member misses services. What does this verse teach?
When we study the book of Hebrews, we notice that inspired the author clearly has a purpose for writing, a problem to deal with. That problem was that the Jewish members of the church were still struggling with Judaism and how it did or didn’t fit in with Christianity. The writer therefore uses several comparisons/contrasts to show that Christ brought a new and better covenant (8:6-7) and that the old covenant was never able to take away sins (10:4). Many of these brethren were apparently leaving or contemplating leaving the church altogether and returning to Judaism. It is this problem that he is addressing when he writes in 10:25, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is….”
This passage is not addressing a Christian missing a single assembly. It is actually much deeper than that. These brethren to whom Hebrews is written were struggling with the question of which system to follow, Judaism or Christianity. Some were forsaking the assembling of themselves as the church because they thought another system of religion was better. They were not skipping services because they’d been up late on Saturday night, or were on vacation, or just had something better to do. They were committed, but to the wrong system. They simply needed to realize that Christianity was the right way. Had this not been an issue, these brethren would not have needed to be told to assemble together. They would have been doing it.
So what is our excuse today when we miss worship? Is it because we think Christianity is not the true way and we’re searching for a better way? Are we not at worship or Bible study because we’ve decided to return to Judaism? Certainly not! Even members whose attendance is lacking usually understand that Christ’s church is the only way to Heaven. Yet, amazingly, they won’t assemble! Must each Christian assemble with the saints? If we must ask this question, we have a heart problem. Why would a Christian—one who has had his sins washed away by the blood of Christ—not want to meet with others of the like precious faith and worship the very God who forgave his sins? Why wouldn’t a Christian jump at every opportunity to learn from God’s Word, to encourage the brethren, and to be encouraged? This person clearly has a heart problem. Remember that our word church comes from the Greek word meaning “called out; assembly.” The church, by definition, assembles together.
Why isn’t the church growing? Because too many members have heart problems. Their hearts are too focused on other things as higher priorities (none of which can save their souls). If we expect to grow as a church then we must first grow as individual Christians. Fortunately, this can happen, but only when we stop ignoring things as fundamental and foundational as church attendance, and decide to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18).