19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
~ Hebrews 10:19-25
Have you ever been tempted to ‘skip’ church?
Maybe you had a lot on that week, and just needed to stay home and rest. Perhaps you were invited to a friend’s baptism at the same time as your Sunday service and thought that it wouldn’t hurt to miss a week (after all, you’re still ‘going to church’, right?). Or, maybe your non-Christian friends were having a social gathering, and decided that it would be better to spend time with them.
Jesus died so that we would be saved into a community of God’s people. Because of this, we can draw near to God in faith, confidence, and hope and know that He is not far from us. Practically, this means that Christians are those who can know that we can pray to God, come to Him for forgiveness, and serve Him with a clear conscience. Most importantly, we can do this together.
The writer of Hebrews implores his readers to relentlessly hold onto the hope that Jesus gives us and do so while spurring one another on toward love and obedience (Hebrews 10:23-24). And the way in which we can do this is by continuing to meet together in order to encourage one another as we wait for the day of Jesus’ return (Hebrews 10:25). Christians gather regularly in order to lovingly serve one another and encourage each other as we continue to trust in Jesus. This can happen in small groups, informal gatherings, and one-to-one catchups. But it can also happen in our church meetings.
This is the big reason why we keep meeting with each other on Sundays. Christians chose Sunday as the day we would gather due to it historically being the first day of the week and because it was the day when Jesus was raised from the dead. The weekly, Sunday gathering is a testimony to the death and resurrection of Jesus where we can care for and encourage one another in congregational communities. It is a day that we set aside in our week in order to witness to the world that we are Christians who are committed to one another and who are waiting for the return of our Lord. And it is a way for us to start the week rightly, devoting it to God, and entrusting the circumstances of our life to Him regardless of what the Monday-Saturday brings.
Now, there are instances when we may not be able to meet. For example, if there is an injury and we are physically unable to make it to church then that is completely understandable. Additionally, if there is a death in the family and it would be beneficial for us to mourn and grieve with our relatives then love would dictate that we should remain with them.
However, a systemic, continual attitude that sees church as an optional extra to our Christian lives can reflect a heart that doesn’t truly appreciate the gracious privilege it is to be saved into God’s community. This can be reflected in the notion that we can ‘skip’ church if we feel tired, or if we wish to go to a social engagement. Most people would not skip going to their job even if they were tired, and yet some will willingly skip church. Most people would not skip a family dinner that was a weekly established routine in order to go to another family’s dinner and think that as long as they’re going to a family dinner then it’s all ok.
And yet, some believe that they can miss going to their own church to go to another church, as long as they are ‘going to church’ on a Sunday. But we don’t ‘go to church’ as a show of religious piety and devotion. We also don’t go just because of the sermon (which is why it is insufficient to just ‘podcast the sermon later’). We gather to serve brothers and sisters, to love brothers and sisters, and to encourage brothers and sisters. That’s why the Sunday gathering is never to be a passive experience. We enter fully engaged and ready to serve and be served. We remain committed to one another. We pray together, sing to one another (and to God), sit under God’s word together, and seek to care for each other in an on-going way.
Now, my purpose here is not to give a definitive list of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ reasons to miss a Sunday, but to emphasise the importance of maintaining a commitment to our gatherings and especially the Sunday gathering. In Christ, we are free to ‘go to church’ or not ‘go to church’, but for the sake of love we should limit our liberty in order to serve and be served by others inasmuch as we are able to. There are justified reasons for when we cannot make a commitment. What matters is our reason and our heart.
I finish with this: consider what a witness it would be if your friends and family, Christian or not, knew that without fail you were relentlessly committed to gathering with God’s people. What if they knew that you were devoted to serving and being served by your blood-bought sisters and brothers and sought to be present with them whenever you could? After all, it is but a pale reflection of the love of Christ who is relentlessly committed to us and who died that we could be His people. May we honour His sacrifice as we wait for His return.