I won’t be posting this for a few days, but here are my thoughts from last Sunday morning.
Our home is located not far from a church that rings its bells 15 minutes prior to the commencement of worship and then again 2 minutes before. We don’t normally have an opportunity to hear the second set clarion because we have used the first to get us in our car to make the five minute drive to the church we previously attended.
However, our decision to be involved in the establishment of Hills Bible Church has meant that we no longer attend our previous church. And our worship services at Hills are currently held Sunday afternoons rather than during the traditional morning time slot. So now we hear both sets of church bells.
Perhaps it’s a Pavlov’s Dog thing. Every time we hear the church bells ring, we have a desire to get in our car and drive to church.
Is that all church is to us – just a conditioned response – just a habit? Is “church’ simply something we’ve done since childhood and we don’t know how else to fill our Sundays?
I think that I am being truthful when I answer no to these questions. For us, church is so much more.
Throughout the New Testament, the writers employed numerous descriptive terms to call our attention to the nature and identity of the church. It is defined by a variety of literal terms and portrayed by one rich analogy after another. The church is likened to salt, light, sheep, a bride, a spiritual temple, a household, members of Christ’s body, branches in the vine, athletes, soldiers, and heavenly lights. Its people are called children of God, adopted sons, priests, servants, bondslaves, stewards, and partners with Christ, just to name a few.
However, perhaps there is an element of habit in our attitude towards church, but is that a bad thing?
People are habitual by nature. Most of what we do we instinctively do through trained and learned habits. In other words once something becomes a habit, it doesn’t take much ‘willpower’ to do it as it ‘comes naturally’. Of course we can develop good and bad habits, and part of the ‘turning from sin and towards Christ’ process is ceasing our bad habits and developing/learning new, godly ones. This takes much persistence and focused attention, however it is said that if you earnestly persist in developing a new habit, after about 8-12 weeks it will become like second nature. However it’s not easy with some really ingrained habits which is why we need encouragement and accountability from those trusted people around us, in other words be involved in grace-filled relationships, ie receive help from outside our capabilities.
In saying all that no doubt going to church on a weekly basis would form into a good habit. However I think the burning question is why we go to church. Jesus is more concerned with our attitudes/motives then the actions themselves. This will be characterized by how we invest into the church. If we go along each week to sit in the pew and just take it all in, then maybe we need to ask ourselves why we are going to church? Is it just to make us ‘feel good’, or to depict us as a ‘good person’, or even that we think it will grant us a passage into heaven? Or is it in response to God’s grace and provision in our lives and that we want to spend time focused on Him, serving Him and those around us. God sacrificed so much for us, are we willing to do the same for Him?
Basically our attitude to church and why we go is the real question we must ask ourselves. It can be a good habit, an essential habit, but it has to be for the right reasons.
In many ways its not the attitude that I have going to church that really matters, its the attitude I have on the way home that is key. The well known passage in Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing…”. The preceding verse says “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. What are the necessary ingredients for that outcome? I would suggest a receptive and teachable spirit, others of like mind to encourage and challenge me, a message that majors on God’s Word that the Holy Spirit can take to “speak” to my heart.
@ Stu: Good comment. However, I’m prepared to accept almost any motivation that gets one to make church attendance a habit. Although I believe that the “great commission” implies that we go out and witness to the saving Grace of God through Christ, perhaps the first mission place we need to address is the very pews of our churches. Some pastors have suggested that even a majority of people who regularly attend church have never turned their lives over to Christ. This is shocking if true, but it certainly suggests that this represents a mission opportunity.
@David: Thanks for this reminder that God wants us to be faithful in attending church. It’s been my observation over the years that regular church attendance is the first “Christian habit” one relinquishes as they move away from a commitment to God. As you correctly point out church is where we receive nourishment and encouragement.
Don, fair call about a mission field potentially being within our own church family. We shouldn’t assume everyone who walks through the doors of church on a weekly basis have given their lives to Christ. We need to be praying constantly for God to move amongst our church family, always inspiring and challenging people into a greater knowledge of who God is and what He has done for us. The gospel is not something we just hear once so we can become a Christian, but the liberately truth of what Jesus has done for us and our position before God as a result of having saving faith in Him is the key to a life of fulfilment and sincere spiritual growth and perseverence. It’s a message we should never grow tired of teaching and meditating on… because frankly we need to draw on the grace of God every day of our lives!