I know that this is probably a pastor thing, but as is often the case with pastors, when I meet someone after having not seen them for a while or for the first time, they will generally awkwardly work in to the conversation for no particular reason that they haven’t been going to church but they probably should. Then they will tack on some excuse like “my refrigerator is acting up” (yup… that’s a real life example). As if not going to church for the past several months involves some intensive refrigerator mechanics. I’m not complaining. They are generally funny excuses, and as a pastor, I try to focus most of my energy on the people who want to be a part of the church family more than the ones that couldn’t care less, but it always gets me asking the question “why is church important?”
The question of the importance of being a part of the church is best tracked to Hebrews chapter 10. There, the author writes about the transformation that takes place through the gospel. In the midst of this he then writes…
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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. -Heb 10:23–25
Genuine faith in Christ leads to genuine transformation. It causes us to think, act, and look at the world differently. Christians are never called to continue the status quo of their old lives. They are supposed to change, and that change is born out of a true understanding of who Christ is and what he has done that leads to a loving pursuit of Christ. The transformation of the gospel leads to what we see here. It leads to a confession of hope and to the church and the activities thereof. The encouragement is not to neglect the church because it is there that we find encouragement and transformation. We draw strength from the community of believers. Without this strength and the testing and growth that it fosters we are in danger of falling back into our old lives as if the gospel never came along. This is an insult to the very cross of Christ.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. -Heb 10:26–31
Imagine that. Christ came, died for us, we understand that concept, and we still think “well… that’s no big deal, I’m just gonna continue on my way.” What an insult to the one who died for us. This is a warning to believers. Without the support, accountability, teaching and encouragement of Christian community, we are at risk of “trampling” Jesus and His gospel. It is only with the help of others that we can best live out our Christian faith. If we reject the church with apathy, then Hebrews warns us it will not be long before we reject Christ, the head of the church, with the same apathy. This is why church is important. The first time I went white water rafting, in a slower part of the river, the team captain made us do an exercise. He had one person row and everyone else just sit and watch. No matter how hard that one person rowed alone, the river would take them to every weir and rock. It was only when the team rowed together that you could reach your intended destination. If the church’s intended destination is Christ, then we make progress when we pursue Christ together. Otherwise, we will meet every rock and weir in our spiritual life. No Christian is an island. No Christian is meant to simply live out their faith privately at home. We all NEED other believers to aid us in our pursuit of Christ. That’s what God designed the church for. That means two things. First, it means that when we fail to be a part of the church, we ourselves are in a dangerous position in our faith. Second, it means that when we fail to be a part of the church, we can put others in that same position because we have failed to “stir up one another to love and good works…” or failed in “…encouraging one another”.
One item may need clarification. The statement of Hebrews is a very poignant one. It says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” This is not to be interpreted as if one who fails to change their life loses their status of grace with God and becomes unsaved, rather, what is being said here is that when people fail to be changed as a result of the gospel then that is in fact evidence that they have failed to accept or understand the nature if the gospel. As a result of this, they may still expect judgment but they have completely missed grace. In other words, the warning could be worded like this; If you fail to seek Christ both personally and through the body of Christ, you probably don’t have a true understanding of who Jesus is. No, going to church doesn’t save you, but it is a natural byproduct of understanding the gospel. If we don’t understand a reason for church or for the pursuit of Christ, then we don’t understand the gospel. This is a sobering reminder for us, and I am not just saying that because I am a pastor. I am saying that because I want to pursue Christ and I would love for you to join me. Next time your refrigerator is on the frits, remember the importance and design of the church.