Some years ago the popular Christian author Donald Miller created a real ruckus online when he blogged about the fact that he does not attend church all that often. Here are a few selections from his original post:
I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.
I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.
I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.
It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.
I’m fine with this, though…
…How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model?
The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him…
…So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest.
Like I said, it’s not how I learn.
I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.
After the post received a huge and often passionate response for and against, Miller offered a follow-up post. Here is a selection from it:
Monday I wrote about why I don’t attend church regularly. I was naive to open such a sensitive conversation without expecting a backlash and was taken aback at the response. Many people thought the blog was saying people shouldn’t go to church or that I had something against church. None of that is true. And yet, most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church.
To be sure, there are many and creative ways that Christians can rightly do church. The traditional church service is certainly open to critique. I am a pastor and I critique church services all of the time! Yet there is a reason why many people were alarmed at Miller’s post. Might it not open a door for the abandonment of all corporate gatherings of God’s people for the purpose of worship? I am not, of course, saying that this is the only way we worship, but I want to show that there are certain basic elements of our lives together as Christians that we dare not abandon, and they include the following: (1) consistent, (2) corporate, (3) gatherings, (4) for the purpose of worship and fellowship. Again, there are numerous ways to do that, but scripture does call on us to do that.
The first covenant statement under our third canon acknowledges the importance of corporate worship.
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another,
protecting one another,
considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by
studying God’s Word faithfully,
learning the gospel together in family worship,
giving ear only to sound doctrine,
living out the gospel in our lives,
embracing the whole counsel of God.
We covenant to bring glory to God by,
gathering for worship faithfully
We do not want to say morethan what scripture says, but we also do not want to say lessthan what scripture says either. We certainly do not want to suggest that the way we do church is the only way to do church, but we do want to advance a sound biblical theology of the gathered church worshiping together.
Christians are people whose lives have been now and forever turned around by their encounter with the risen Jesus.
We begin with the fundamental whyof worshiping together. That whyis found in the person of Christ and what He has accomplished for us. Our primary text will be Hebrews 10. Consider how verses 19-22 lay out a foundation for corporate worship.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
The “since” in verse 19 lets us know that the writer of Hebrews is taking us someplace. He is about to establish the premise of a particular conclusion. What are the component parts of this premise?
- “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh”
- “we have a great priest over the house of God”
- We now have “a true heart in full assurance of faith”
- And “our hearts [have been] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water”
If you have embraced the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, this is what has happened to you. Christians are people whose lives have been now and forever turned around by their encounter with the risen Jesus. You have been changed, forever, by Jesus! Your life is now fundamentally different. You are not like what you were. Yes, we are all still in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ, but that transformation is now underway, regardless of where you are on the journey. Your feet have been placed on a new path. You have a new calling. You have now both the responsibility and the privilege of following Jesus Christ!
You now have confidence where once you had fear.
You are now on a new and living way instead of an old and dead way.
You now have a great priest whereas before you tried to be the captain of your own soul.
You now have a true heart whereas before your heart was deceitful and deadly.
You now have the full assurance of faith whereas before you were wracked with fear and uncertainty.
You now have a heart that has been sprinkled clean instead of a dead heart of stone.
You now have a good conscience whereas before you had an evil conscious!
All of this has happened to you because of Jesus Christ! You are now a new person just as all who have come to Jesus are new people.
Consistently meeting to worship and to do life together is how Christians corporately celebrate the glory of God and help one another follow Jesus.
If all of these amazing things have happened to you, it only makes sense that you would want to gather with others to whom these same things have happened. In fact, there are a number of practical changes that now come about as a result of you knowing and following Jesus Christ.
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
Notice, again, the progression of thought:
- We should “hold fast the confession,” the gospel.
- We should not waver.
- We should “stir up one another to love and good works.”
We should do all of these things and we should do them on the basis of everything the writer of Hebrews said before: that we have been saved, redeemed, cleansed, and can now draw near to God because of our great high priest Jesus! Because of what Jesus has done, we should hold fast to the faith and encourage one another to do the same. It is only when the writer of Hebrews has said this that he makes his statement about the church’s corporate life:
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.
Because of what Christ has done for us and because of what we must be for one another we must not neglect to meet together! Tragically, this neglect of corporate gathering and corporate worship had become, even in the early church, “the habit of some.” This is depicted as an unfortunate occurrence. Rather, the church was to gather consistently to “encourage one another.” Why? Because “the Day” is “drawing near.” Christ Jesus is coming again! So we dare not separate and we dare not try to live our lives on our own, neglecting fellowship with other followers of Jesus.
The reality of the church is therefore a reality arising from the truth of what Christ has done for us and from the necessity of our helping one another live in and live out the implications of that truth. It has nothing to do with mere habit or custom, though good habits can help us for a season when we lose sight of the deeper rationale for the church. No, church and corporate worship has more to do with need. We need to be together as a people who have experienced something world-altering. We need to be together to encourage one another to live out what has happened to us! We need the church because we arethe church and the church is simply the logical and, dare I say, common sense manifestation of what happens when a group of people who have experienced a similar life-changing and beautiful upheaval seek one another out before the God who wrought the upheaval! Church is the gathered community of the forever-altered, the forever-changed, the never-going-to-be-the-same-again!
We see this in Luke’s description of the early church in Acts 2.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
There is nothing casual about that. There is nothing merely habitual. This is life together among a group of changed people who simply must be together in the name of and for the worship of the risen Jesus. Their gatherings were on Sunday, the first day of the week. Even the day of their gatherings reflected the nature of the transformation that had taken place, for the first day of the week was when Jesus rose from the grave. In Acts 20, we get another snapshot of their gathering:
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
“On the first day of the week,” the day that Jesus rose, “we were gathered together.” To which we should say, “But of course! Of course! Why would you not be? For that day and that event changed everything!”
We bring glory to God when we gather consistently and faithfully as a community of the redeemed to exalt His name and the wondrous work He has wrought through His Son Jesus the Christ. We gather because we are compelled to do so by the beauty of Jesus and our desire to extol His name with others who have been similarly changed by Him. We gather because the gospel has been entrusted to us as a family stewardship. We are charged with telling the story to one another and to a world that needs to hear it! We are privileged to be stewards of the good news, and this good news is animating us and enlivening us as we steward and proclaim it! We dare not neglect the assembling together, for we need it just as we need one another in this journey.
And we dare not forsake the assembling together for the Lord Jesus said “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Christ among us! Christ with us! We gather because Jesus gathered around Himself a body of followers, a family of faith in Him…and so He does even today. And that family is the church. What a privilege it is to be the church!