“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
It is high time that Christians stand flat footed, even toned, sure hearted, and with great resolve in their voice call back to church all of those who “used to be” faithful to the Lord.
Living and pastoring in the buckle of the Bible belt, the Lord has opened my eyes to an entire people group that is being ignored by the faithful, and encouraged by the foolish. It is the crowd of people who at one time in their life was a faithful servant of the Lord.
Whether they have been marked off as backsliders, or ruled out as hypocrites, I hear no voice to stand and say, “Come back to church.”
Now that being said, many people quit serving the Lord for many reasons, none of which are acceptable. There are acceptable reasons for leaving a church, but only to join with another one. The truth is that there are a number of people not just leaving “a church” but leaving “every church” and someone needs to stand and say “come back.”
The Biblical truth is that in the whole of New Testament scriptures, rightly divided, there is no such thing as a “churchless Christian.” People may leave a church, for various reasons, some legitimate, some not, but to leave “churches” altogether is not acceptable by New Testament standards.
Among many reasons I’ve been given in my ministry, inevitably there are a number of people who fit in to the “used to be” category, that would speak back to a bad experience in a particular church. If I were to say that bad experiences only happen in bad churches then you and I both know a tale has been told. But may I say to you, that regardless of bad experiences in churches filled with saved sinners, the New Testament instructs us to be there. I am not speaking of coming to church with a pandemic disease, and a 110 degree fever because you love Jesus. I am speaking of the total abandonment of serving the Lord through His church. The Bible speaks directly to this issue, and gives us the directive to “not forsake” the assembling of ourselves together, or in other words, abandon the church altogether, and that is a “come what may” truth.
First of all someone may say, “Preacher, I can serve the Lord in ways other than the church.” Yes you can. You can serve the Lord at work, you can serve the Lord on the golf course, you can serve the Lord on the lake, but you and I are TO serve the Lord in the church. Service elsewhere is never a substitute for church, or a license to leave it altogether. “Unto Him be glory in the church.”
Second of all, bad experiences with God’s people, or the devil’s for that matter, will never give anyone permission to go AWOL. It does not matter what one church has put someone through, God will never accept that as a license to abandon what He started and commanded.
Let me say some things that run opposite to the conventional way of thinking. God does not want you to be happy. God does not want you to be pleased, comfortable, satisfied, or fit in . . . if it takes abandoning the church to do so. In fact God doesn’t want any of those things for our lives if we have to disobey Him to get them. Every believer needs to realize that the Lord knows every thing about the churches that He instructs us to be a part of.
He knows there are mean people in them; and He still said do not forsake it.
He knows there are abusive leaders in them; and He still said do not forsake it
He knows there are liars, cheaters, thieves, brawlers, and hypocrites in them; and He still said do not forsake it.
He also knows that there will be people who ignore your presence, won’t notice your absence, and not minister to your needs in them; and He still said do not forsake it.
I have found in service to the Lord that there would be a lot of problems in my life walk out the door, if I would stop serving in the Lord’s house. In fact I have preached to our people before that if they will leave Jesus alone, a lot of trouble in their life would go away. But I also know this; the pains and problems of serving Jesus, are far better than any false peace the devil can offer. At it’s very core, nothing could be more hypocritical than to stop serving the church assembly that Jesus established because of pains, problems, and people. That insults our Savior, betrays our selfishness, and reveals the true degree of maturity or lack thereof.
A year or so ago, I read a blog article from a so-called Christian commentator, calling on people to leave churches altogether. Practically no message could be more polar opposite the scriptures than such a thought. I would not and do not intend for this to be an insult, it is just a direct statement; no message could betray more Biblical ignorance than that one. It is difficult enough to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is downright tragic to fight such ideas coming from underneath the banner of Christian, and behind a veil of discipleship.
I recognize that sometime the coal of our heart cools off, and becomes distanced from the fires of faithfulness. For whatever reason sometimes, through the cares of this world, and distractions of our days, people can simply “forget” their faith, not intending to “forsake” the Lord’s church. Some people will never come back, but some people have just yet to come back. It is that very reason that now more than ever, we need pulpits standing with strong feet and loud voices, to stoke the fires of those who used to be faithful, and call them back into the service to the King they once lived. Jesus has never left, and is worthy of our obedience, our worship, our praise and our work through His church.
One thing that gets lost in all of this is the wonderful people that still do serve the Lord in His church. For all of the difficulties that come when polar opposite personalities get mixed into one room, the fact remains that there are precious people, filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that makes their fellowship unmatched by worldly standards. There is no joy, like the joy, of being with people who love Jesus more than anything, and are willing to serve Him through the pains, and problems, that come with obeying God. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 133:1 – “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
One last thing that I will point to is the last part of the verse in our heading. “And so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” The writer of Hebrews warns us to encourage, and exhort, and meet so much more, as we see that Day coming. If nothing else can be said, it can surely be understood, that one of the reasons, men are not flocking back to the Lord’s house from the world’s ways, is that they no longer look for that approaching day. What a difference a focus makes. I will stand and say without doubt or debate, that all of those who “used to be”, returning to their place of service in the Lord’s house, would be a glorious change worth making.