The 96th Thesis (2): Be there
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” He willed the entire life of the Church to be one of reformation. -Luther’s 96th Thesis
Part I of Church Reformed begins with a section titled, “First Things.” We begin the book by talking about how common it is today for people who claim to be Christians to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We start here. Avoiding assembling together with other believers is strictly forbidden by God:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
“Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.” This sin was common then as it is common today, and we must begin our discussion of reforming the church by acknowledging this is a great danger to each of us. What kind of a danger?
Well, for starters, a spiritual danger. A danger to our souls. A danger to our souls and the souls of our loved ones we have been given responsibility for—as well as authority over. Look at the text above and it’s clear the forsaking we are warned against is in opposition to the spiritual goods mentioned. When we forsake assembling with other believers, we fail to hold fast the confession of our hope. We waver in that confession of hope.
When we forsake assembling with other believers, we don’t think about how we may stimulate our brothers and sisters in Christ to love and good deeds. We don’t encourage one another. We live in forgetfulness that the day of our Lord’s return is drawing near; and forgetting, we become worldlings and encourage our brothers and sisters in worldliness, also.
An elder’s wife in our church was on the board of our local travel soccer club. She had been doing the scheduling of games for her son’s team. During this time, her son’s team was the only team not scheduled for a third to half their games on the Lord’s Day. One day the parents on the board were talking to each other about scheduling and matter-of-factly stated they preferred Sunday games so they’d have an excuse to miss church.
Don’t do that. If you have a difficult slog ahead of you pushing your pastor to preach rather than merely teaching from the pulpit; to preach to the conscience; to preach grace and the law, faith and repentance; to preach Biblically to women, calling for them to submit to their husbands and learn with entire submissiveness; to preach in a way that calls the church to sound doctrine and holiness; if you see a general disdain on the part of the elders for the work of shepherding; if they don’t know the sins of their sheep and neglect helping them in their needs, personally; in other words, if you are in a typical conservative church today with pastors, elders, deacons, and people who demonstrate little fear of God and almost no zeal for the sanctification of the church, you are likely to be relieved when you have good excuses to forsake the assembly of the church.
Don’t do that. Sure, you have a business conference out in Las Vegas one week, you’re going to meet your brother and sister-in-law down at the shore two Lord’s Days later, your son has a travel soccer game every third Lord’s Day throughout the Fall, your going camping with your family the second Lord’s Day in October (the leaves will be turning), your parents are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary December 19th… Good excuses, all of them, but taken together they add up to you leading your family in forsaking the assembling together of the Body of Christ.
No, having some hymn singing with another family or two in your living room and reading the Bible together and ending with prayer doesn’t cut it. Unless, that is, you’re in China and this is the way you avoid imprisonment; or Iran, and this is the way you avoid death; or you’re out in the boonies of North Dakota and there’s no Protestant church within three hours’ drive.
Don’t let your son play on his travel sports team’s Lord’s Day games. Schedule your shore holiday so it doesn’t conflict with Lord’s Day worship and fellowship. Go ahead and camp, but do so Friday and Saturday so you can be back for worship and small group on Lord’s Day.
There are a lot of reasons beyond simply pious obedience of this straightforward command to the Hebrews, but let me tell you a secret pastors know. People who miss church aren’t committed to sanctifying themselves, their families, or their church fellowship. Consistency in Lord’s Day worship and fellowship is the best predictor of Christian character and spiritual growth and maturity that we know, and we watch for it. Each Lord’s Day we watch carefully for who’s missing, and when those missings add up we notice who’s drifting and when those driftings add up to a letter to the pastor or elder explaining departure for someplace else, we already knew it was coming and aren’t surprised.
Start your work reforming your church by doubling down on your commitment to corporate worship and fellowship. And giving—I forgot to mention money, stupid me. Your work of reform must not be on a foundation of diffidence and sporadic attendance. The only foundation for seeking the reform of Christ’s Bride is humble submission to her rhythms, schedules, habits, and personalities.
In other words, the first need for reforming the church is visible, demonstrable, substantial commitment and love for the church. Your church. Start there.
No pastor is going to be sympathetic to the concerns and criticisms given by a man who, along with his wife and children, finds regular excuses to forsake the assembly.
NOTE: This is second in a series of posts on practical matters related to the reform of your church and denomination. Other posts in the series may be found here. The series will have reference to the book Church Reformed and it would be helpful to get a copy and read it as you go through these posts.