“I am tired of people leaving the church because they got butt-hurt.” It is a little bit more crude than I would phrase it but it nicely sums up the general point. My friend and I were talking about a young seminarian had left the church because the pastor would not let him run things. I find this to be ironic because anyone who is graduated from a seminary should know about the necessity to local church membership and submission to authorities God has placed over you. Again, a seminary degree does not always a good theologian make.
Unfortunately the feelings of this “impetuous young lad” as Mr. Bing Crosby would say, are all too common. Membership and attendance of a local church on The Lords Day is not a priority for most Americans who profess Christ. Reasons about and blame can be laid all over. The Cancer that is the seeker sensitive movement looking to entertain and be relevant thus making attendees consumers rather than obedient worshipers. Pastors who never taught the commands of God that we are to gather to worship in the ways God has required. People who are simply lazy or idolatrous of other activities and entertainments, ex. church vs. soccer game. The rise of the internet and the ability to watch a sermon and call it “church.” The difficulty of finding a church that is theologically solid and not a battle to become involved in. Finally, baggage from previous church(s) that have made trust and openness difficult.
Much hay has been made over these but there is one issue that I would like to tease out and give encouragement to one person in particular on.
We are to receive the commands of God as just that, not suggestions. So when the fourth of the ten commandments, to worship God on the appointed day and to rest physically and in Him, is given then we are required to obey it.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11
Jesus Himself Obeyed it
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. – Luke 4:16 (emphasis added)
I will continue with this point but keep in mind that if Jesus does not get a hall pass on skipping church neither do you.
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 10:2
I appreciate how Scripture is brutally honest in that there are some who who have a habit of skipping gathering together. They are not to be brow beaten but encouraged. One simple thought is to consider if someone is in rebellious sin or if they are merely a weaker brother who has never been taught obedience to this command is not optional.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
So those who are in disobedience to the command should be corrected. But also notice that though Hebrews specifically admits that there are those who neglect the command none of these verses give exceptions for doing so. This does not mean that there are not exceptions. The Bible is always focused on the rule rather than the exception. Consider, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands and sometimes that lazy bum wins the lottery.” There are exceptions, the problem is many Christians think that they have one, when in actuality they don’t.
In Which I Take Exception to the Exceptions
The bone I would like to pick has to do with my perception that emotional hurt in one church allows for the departure from that church or all churches. I would like to set forth that I have multiple dogs in this fight. I have been raised in the church first as the Pastors son, then after a nasty episode where my father disqualified himself from ministry and was rightly fired. My mother was hired as the children’s minister at a different church where she was fired wrongly. I was asked to leave another church after they didn’t like how I wouldn’t cast the pastors son in the lead of the Christmas pageant. I have been in a church that tragically and horrifically split then showed the college ministry I was in the door. I have had to leave a church for shifting theologically left. In short I have seen some of the worst a church can do. I know first hand the pain and on many levels. I get the good the bad and the ugly. However in all of this I have held to the incontrovertible fact that the church is The Bride of Christ and He does not tend to look to kindly on those who ignore or despise her. In other words, If He is faithful he died for her He forgives her of her sins and I must be like him and be faithful, particularly when things go horrifically wrong. And if I am being Christlike I may have to die to my preferences and forgive where holding a grudge would certainly make Sundays more conducive to sleeping in.
The Church is made up of sinners, no one body is perfect. All will fail on one level or another until the last day. And in humility it must be recognized that you and I are a part of that flawed body. If there were a perfect church out there and we found it, it would be ruined the moment we joined.
My point is this, just because we were hurt by a particular pastor or church body does not mean we can abandon the entire institution. A certain church may not be a church. Cults exist. A pastor my be wrong or even out of his depth. Those are places to avoid, but staying out of one unhealthy church does not preclude us from finding, joining and being faithful to another part of the universal church*.
I Tell You a Story
This particular post will obviously be read by others, but this next bit is for a particular person. They have been on the wrong end of the church stick and gotten the worst of it. My sad tales pale in comparison. They spent their childhood at a straight up abusive church, with a leadership Christ would have said travel across land and sea to make one disciple and then make him twice the son of hell they are. My friend has moved to another another state and church, and is being faithful. It is not easy. Friendships are not easy to come by, people are sinners. When you have been sinned against in many ways you become very alert for warning signs. And yet this person continues, quiet faithfulness, even when others tell them they should throw in the towel they go, they try to get involved, they are faithful. And that is a mark of real sanctification. I hope they are encouraged.
A part of being a Calvinist means that you obey knowing God has told you the end of the story but not the middle. An example of this played out is the story of Lazarus. As soon as Mary and Martha send the servant to Jesus with the message, “The one that you love is sick.” Jesus’s response is to tell everyone present, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” That is the end of the story, but He never says anything about the middle. And in that space of time things get as bad as they can get. It was very easy for Martha and the disciples to get lost in the story and completely ignore the end, even after Jesus reminds them, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” The question at the end is key, “Do you believe this?” One day the church will be perfect, all our tears will be wiped away. Jesus has told us the end of this story. There will be a banquet, the bride will be in splendor. That day is coming. The day before my wedding was the rehearsal, and my bride experienced her one bridezilla moment, and it wasn’t pretty. That night her mother had a fit and there was drama and tears. None of that was easy or fun. I had to keep in mind how the story of this wedding would end, with a beautiful bride. We obey, we assemble on The Lords Day, with a mess of people who are a mess, and together we worship remembering what the end of this story will be. Glory, splendor, perfection. But now we sing (or should)
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
To my friend, I hope you are spurred on. I know none of this has been easy, sometimes downright miserable. Continue in your quiet faithfulness, be of good courage, remember the end of your story.
*I wanted to say Catholic but the church of Rome has confused that term. I specifically mean another Protestant congregation. Reformed is in the name of the blog so I think this point should be obvious, but you never know.