Yes, we are a creative lot, us humans. That 37% of recently surveyed respondents indicate a preference for practicing their faith in ways beyond organized religious institution attendance should be no real surprise. Even in ancient times our species devised ways to worship almost anything at almost any time. In the Pew Forum research (click here if you'd like to review the study), the inclination to have it your way was most evident in people with genuine religious convictions but who rarely or never attend religious services. It is, of course, a left-over from postmodernism, when the trendy boast of pop religion was that a person could be spiritual but not religious.
The options of the buffet church, or what some observers call the supermarket church, give people bored by ho-hum traditionalism ample room to maneuver to their particular likes and dislikes about church. It is a consumer culture, you know. Still, a pulsating convenience factor and other lifestyle variables tap our creative juices for possibilities of spiritual expression without the hubbub. So, we're finding alternative ways to practice faith, perhaps do-it-yourself systems to satisfy our spiritual urgings, however small. They're as numerous and unique as human innovation---prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and service opportunities more suitable to busy family and personal schedules.
So, what else is new? Over the centuries people have had to address their spiritual needs according to the dictates of unusual life circumstances. People living in isolation for one reason or another have found genuine, biblical guidance in venues beyond the reach of a local church---prisoners, military personnel, pioneers, medically restricted individuals, workers in "far away places with strange sounding names" (remember those lyrics?), and many others. Believers are, in fact, a "royal priesthood" (see 1 Peter 2:9) and can effectively worship, study, and make disciples of all nations where an organized congregation cannot exist. What is more, one trend in contemporary church life is a return the house church so visible in the New Testament. Community groups, work-place meetings, and many other small groups can surely provide solid biblical worship and teaching. Sadly, even these alternatives violate our growing convenience needs. More and more people are sleeping in, catching a televised service, or accessing podcasts, YouTube productions, or the live streaming so available today. All too often these choices reduce the matters of spiritual practice to whatever satisfies and fulfills the spiritual impulses of me, myself, and I.
There are several strong biblical reasons Christians should attend church. May I offer a thought or two?
1. There is biblical instruction about gathering together.
The author of Hebrews wrote this---"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 10:25, ESV). Fellowship, encouragement, discipleship, and worship are corporate in nature. We need to be with other believers on a regular basis. Jesus said, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20, ESV). The gathered Body was surely in his heart and teaching.
2. The "one another" passages of the New Testament give us corporate identity.
More and more I am challenged and comforted by the fifty-nine "one another" passages so visible in the Gospels and Epistles. They are God's design for our relational experiences. These choice verses provide spiritual direction that we cannot expect to receive in the world system. We need the touch of "one another", whether to lift us up, correct troubling life-style issues, or organize for mission and ministry.
3. Scripture directs us to experience the dynamics of influence.
Beyond the "one another" passages the Bible reminds us often of the giving and receiving of spiritual influence. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians "Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33, ESV). To the Colossians, he wrote, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6, ESV). The give and take of spiritual influence is a profound interaction in the community of faith.
4. Mission is a corporate reality. The Apostle Paul wrote many instructions about the Body of Christ. Every one of us is endowed with spiritual gifts to pursue the mission Christ envisioned for his church. Not one of us is the entire package of giftedness. We need each other for the church to function as his Body. Paul wrote, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12: 7, ESV). Mission is obscured when we are separated from fellow believers.
5. Faith is about being his church.
Yes, the preacher cohort likes to verbalize all the reasons we should attend and participate in a local church. More to the point, however, we should always remember that we are the church. Paul wrote, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12: 27, ESV). Our witness is about being his Body in this dark world.
Yes, church attendance is down, and the number of people who seldom or rarely attend church is growing. Many people who identity themselves as Christians have invented alternative ways to express their faith. But, being Christ's Body places us in the community of believers. We are his church, and should behave accordingly. DIY fits the work plan of chores around the house, but not in practicing faith.
More on Friday.
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